The notion of someone “having it all” has always sounded so greedy to me. Like a childhood wish-list left out for Santa requesting a golden-egg-laying dragon and a never-ending supply of Tim Tams.
But of course for women, “having it all” doesn’t mean having everything you remotely desire in life, but rather having a baby and career. It’s not so much a matter of “having it all” but rather “having what should be achievable and fair.”
But for many women, including myself, this simple goal quickly becomes an exceedingly difficult weigh-up.
This year I turned 28, and for the first time ever, big decisions started to loom ominously over my head. On the one hand, my career has never been more enjoyable or rewarding. I’m starting to step outside my comfort zone, take on more media and speaking opportunities and leverage my networks. I love what I do, and desperately want to keep going.
But in my head, there’s a conflicted dialogue. One that centres on the fact that I have always envisaged starting a family before thirty, and, with a pre-existing fertility concern, putting things off for years on end doesn’t seem like the best idea.
But what will happen to my career if I choose to have a baby soon?
We’re fed a narrative our whole life, that maintaining work and family successfully and happily is near impossible. Mothers with big careers are frowned upon for somehow being selfish or non- maternal: “How could she possibly be there for her kids when she cares so much about work?”, and other variants.
This is an unhelpful and inaccurate determination. Women, like men, should be able to achieve this balance. However, this is unquestionably predicated on a number of social structures, which to be honest, continue to be decisively stacked against us.
For starters, Government paid parental leave is laughably insufficient. 18-weeks at minimum wage is barely manageable, especially for women running a business. It shouldn’t take a genius to conclude that being forced to return prematurely to work would change your perspective of work and your desire to be there.
On top of that, women are still overwhelmingly taking on primary care responsibilities without so much as a discussion with their partners. But, this needs to be a discussion. There is nothing about a mother that makes her an innately better parent, and a blanket expectation of gender-roles puts pressure on both parties. I am lucky that my own partner has infinitely more patience than me, and wants nothing more than to be a house-husband.
(When I first found this out, I nearly sighed aloud from relief. I have always wanted a family, but the thought of staying at home by myself, raising kids for years on end, has never held appeal.)
Still, the thought of one of us having to take extended time off, makes me panic. A single-income isn’t an easy thing to navigate, but often there’s little choice. Gone are the days where childcare options were easy to come by and affordable for the average family.
All of these factors put pressure on working women (and men) and make the prospect of starting a family more stressful than exciting at times. No wonder so many women that want children are putting it off.
We need to shift our expectations, and policy makers need to work toward reforming social structures and supporting every Australian who dares to “want it all”. It shouldn’t be an unrealistic aspiration.