Having It All? – Hilary Devey – Telegraph comment

I read with interest yesterday’s Telegraph article in which new Dragon’s Den member Hilary Devey comments “women can never have it all – it’s how God breeds us”. This is actually something I’ve been pondering a lot recently. I was born in the 60s, grew up in the 70s and have never questioned the assumption that women can have it all. The feminist movement, socialist politics and general optimism of those eras really did inspire girls to see their lives as full of unlimited possibilities, which to an extent they were.

I attended a large comprehensive girls school in central London where despite being a single sex school, almost all subjects were available to study. Suddenly the prospect of university education for working class girls was a reality and no longer was the prospect of a House wife’s life considered the norm. However, now in my late 40’s I sadly have to admit that Hilary may be right. Having worked full time all of my adult life, been in a long term relationship and having children I now realise that I haven’t been able to climb to the heights that I expected I would. When it comes down to it, the ultimate responsibility for childcare rests with me and quite honestly that feels right. I never had any ambition to be a career mum and certainly don’t consider myself to be a helicopter mother but childcare is always the first consideration both in terms of how I juggle my time, the employment I take and the salary I accept.

My own parents both worked full time and I remember mum working all day in one factory, rushing home to give us four kids and Dad our tea, then rushing off to work in another factory at night. She did all the shopping, housework, everything. I remember being ill and mum taking me to school and telling me not to tell anyone I felt ill because she had to work. That’s the way it was then and I’m sure mum never felt she had it all – she was too busy and knackered to stop and think of anything like that.
I am a lot more fortunate than she was in many ways and can’t say my life has anything like the slog hers had, but it is extremely difficult trying to carry on working because I enjoy it and achieving anything like what I could have if I didn’t have to spread myself around so much. Of course it’s easier (logistically) for women who are in high paid jobs because they can afford the Nanny, Cleaner, Personal Assistant but is it really about that either?

I can remember being sent to school holiday clubs because mum worked and absolutely hating it, being envious of friends whose mum’s didn’t work and were with them during school holidays. I remember school friends who used to go home for lunch because mum was there to cook for them and sometimes I’d go with them – it was lovely. That’s why I really want to be with my children during school holidays, after school, when they’re ill. Actually I enjoy being with my children and feel that they’re my greatest achievement.

I don’t know if Hilary is right in believing that mother’s feel this way because it’s the way God breeds us. For myself it could be my own childhood experiences or it could be genetics but I suspect it may be a combination of both. Certainly I feel at the age of 48 I am heading for burn out in trying to achieve it all and rather disappointed that it appears to be impossible but I would still encourage young women to try. What do you think? Add a comment reflecting your opinion!

Joanna Davis

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  • Liz Weston aka @cambridgemummy

    I want to say that I don’t agree with you. I want to say that you’re wrong. I disagree with you on most of what you have written. A woman or man in any given relationship can have it all, so long as the other partner is at home keeping everyone on track. I don’t think it needs to be the woman. But of course I would say that as I’m back at work full time!

    The thing in your writing that has struck me is the bit about the school holidays, so I’m going to go off on a tangent on that one! I work full time and Lovely Bloke is a stay at home dad with our two boys. Now that one is going to primary school and the other is going to be at primary school next year, he’s wondering what jobs he could look for that will allow him to be at home with them when it’s the holidays – half term, Easter and summer.

    Lovely Bloke was “shipped off” (his words, not mine) to summer play schemes and says he hated it. He doesn’t want it for his own children. He wants them to be at home, playing with us. But I don’t know how that can work if I’m working full time and he’s going to go back to work as well – whether it’s full or part time.

    There’s very little out there. I think it’s one of the reasons why there is so much competition for teaching assistants jobs and special needs assistants jobs in schools. Other than re training to be a teacher, that’s his best option.

    And just to add to this rambling, I don’t think a school is child care – it’s education, so we should expect to have someone available to care for them in the summer. I don’t expect someone else to solve this for us, I want it to be us that solves it, for ourselves.

    So perhaps we can’t have it all, after all? And I find that really annoying…..

    Liz Weston aka @cambridgemummy

    • http://www.vidamoda.co.uk Joanna Davis

      Thanks for your comment and views Liz. I suppose, on reflection, what I’m saying is that I have it all but it’s not as I thought it would be. On my experience I would say that having it all actually does translate as doing it all. Yes the opportunities are there but the traditional role remains the female domain in most women’s experience. I am lucky that I have been able to work term time but this facility is now not as popular with employers as it was a few years ago and I think that many “term time” or “part time” women may now find in the days of redundancy that they might be viewed as more “disposable” than full time employees.

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