Earlier this week, in between bringing my Offspring home from school and rushing out the door to go grocery shopping, I looked in despair at the washing up. I’d done some that morning before going out, but there was still a frying pan from the night before, and I’d not yet unloaded the dishwasher, so the breakfast dishes sat on the drainboard, too. Everything looked cluttered and messy. I sighed. Some days, the kitchen looks amazingly clean. When the Offspring are napping or away at school, I’ll spend an hour or so cleaning the benchtops, clearing off the dumping ground which is the sideboard, drying dishes and putting everything in its place.
That day was not one of those days.
Neither is this day, although it probably will be later. But on one of those days, where I was washing up dishes and wiping down the oven, it occurred to me that this was how things are. Each day is a medley of roles. Today I’m home with Third and Fourth Offspring, the latter of whom is running a mild fever. This works both for and against me. He’s much quieter than usual and has requested to watch Dora the Explorer, which allows me to get on with other tasks. However, I’m also checking on him more often to make sure he’s not getting worse, and that he’s comfortable. As I write this, Third Offspring is drawing and keeps coming to show me what she’s done. Later, when her brother goes to bed, I’ll persuade her to lie down on her bed with me and ‘rest’. (Big Children who go to kindergarten don’t need naps, apparently. Except they do). With any luck, she’ll fall asleep and I won’t, and I’ll be able to get up to make lunch for the Handsome Sidekick and myself.
After we’ve eaten, I’ll hang out some washing and put on another load, then use the remaining quiet time (the Offspring will hopefully still be sleeping) to edit a novel and perhaps, if there are a few moments spare, find some more links for Sunday’s post. I’ll also find the immunisation records for First and Second Offspring to take to school, and write a note to each of their teachers.
Once Third and Fourth Offspring are up, they’ll have lunch and then play. Sometimes that will involve me, sometimes it won’t. If it doesn’t, I’ll hang out another load of washing and do a little cleaning up. Then it’s time to collect the school-aged Offspring, so the Handsome Sidekick takes time out from working, and watches the younger two while I walk down to school. (I’ll probably forget the immunisation records and the notes, and will curse aloud when I remember them as I’m almost there).
On arriving home, I’ll make afternoon tea for us all and then, if all is quiet, spend half an hour editing or writing. Then I begin the evening meal, the book-cuddle-bedtime routine, and finally, a cup of tea with the Handsome Sidekick while we watch something on television. Afterwards, I’ll edit or write, and when my eyes are too tired, I’ll head to the kitchen to set the breadmaker going so that it’s ready for breakfast in the morning. And then I check on each Offspring, lock up, and tumble into bed.
Some days are different – I might go running, the Handsome Sidekick and I might head out to run errands, I might do more housework and less writing, or I might go to playgroup and appointments all day. But on no day can I get it all done. At times I feel frustrated that the house is not as clean as I’d like it, or that there is too much washing, or that I don’t get any time to sit down and ‘work’. And as I stood at the sink the other day, the washing up water pleasantly hot and the kitchen slowly emerging from the clutter and the spilt tomato sauce, I thought about an article I’d read a few years ago. It was refreshing to read something which pushed back against this idea that women could ‘have it all.’ Career, family, personal fulfilment, everything. The article explains that it’s a lie women perpetuate, making life incredibly hard for themselves, because they are chasing something that is not achievable. They’re chasing it because they think men have it, and as feminists, they understandably consider that women should have it too. But that ignores the fact that men don’t have it all. Working full time out of the house, men don’t get to take their children to playgroup, or blow bubbles in the garden for them. For most, it’s a full time job and then life is shoved into the spaces left. And for women, it’s often even more extreme. Most women who work full time are still the primary carers for their children and are often responsible for running the household, as well. ‘Having it all’ for women just means more work.
And in that sense, yes, Anne-Marie Slaughter is right. You can’t have it all and expect to enjoy everything. Something’s got to give, and it’s usually the woman’s mental health. Like men who work in high-pressure jobs, women who are trying to juggle family, a social life, the household and a career end up with high stress levels and the illnesses associated with them.
That’s it, then. We can’t have it all. Women can’t, neither can men. Time to give up completely?
Of course not. As I left the kitchen after finishing all the washing up, and all benches were clear and the stovetop fairly shone, I realised I’ve been looking at it wrong. When we talk about ‘having it all’, we’re just being impatient. We can have it all. We can have children, and a career, and fulfilling relationships, and time for ourselves. We just can’t have it all on the same day. Or in the same week or even in the same year. Sometimes, you’ll have to give up some things to do others. But that’s OK. There’ll be time. We just have to be patient.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to have it all. But wanting it all at the same time is not only a bit greedy, it also ignores the fundamentals of time and energy. We can only do so much in one day. So enjoy that which you do, and know that there will be something else to do tomorrow, and look forward to it.