Twenty years ago, British journalist Valerie Grove decided to interview women who “had it all” for at least 25 years. She defined having it all as:
“…they had to have been married for more than 25 years and have had three or more children, as well as a brilliant career.”
She turned her findings into a book, The Compleat Woman: Marriage, Motherhood, Career – Can She Have It All? Her conclusion was that it was very rare for a woman to be able to successfully juggle a husband, children and successful career.
Now, a British newspaper has marked the twentieth anniversary of the book’s publication by going back and interviewing some of the women whose lives were chronicled in it to see if they think it’s gotten any easier to “have it all.” The very interesting (and lengthy) article is worth reading, but if you’re pressed for time, I’d like to share a couple of key points these women now make, as they look back on their lives from the vantage point of old age.
1) Women try too hard to give their children the perfect childhood.
Author Faye Weldon, 77 and the mother of four sons, says:
“Today, we try to fight that destiny and give our children the perfect childhood in the hopes that it will make them perfect. I think children are the better for a little healthy neglect. Mine certainly were.”
I don’t think she means neglect in a bad way. What she’s saying is that if we give our kids more autonomy and stop trying to micromanage their activities, they’ll do just fine and we’ll be less exhausted. This is a point we homeschooling moms, who are already involved personally in our children’s daily education, need to take to heart.
2) Women should realize they can have a career while raising children, but it won’t be easy, and the children must come first.
Shirley Hughes, 80, the mother of three children and a well-known children’s author, recalls writing at home with children underfoot:
“…despite publishing more than 50 books, Hughes managed without a nanny.
“I would have been too jealous of her relationship with my children,” she explains.
“We did have au pairs to help out domestically, but I would never have left them in sole charge of the children all day…..But fractured concentration due to interruptions from children is the bane of a working mother’s life, especially if you work from home as I did.
“But it was the right thing for me. I was able to be there for my children, and so glad I was self-employed and did not have to disappear off for long days away from the home.”
3) Women expect to have too many material things that don’t matter in the long run.
Sheila Kitzinger, 80, a mother of five grown daughters and honored by the British government for her years of work for the National Childbirth Trust, says:
“Women now think they need so much more. Everyone must have a second car in the family.”
She also seconds Ms. Weldon’s concern about providing a wealth of perfect educational experiences:
“But also, we feel the need to do so much more with our children. There are constant educational trips – must see the Tutankhamun exhibition, must see the Chinese warriors at the British Museum.
“It’s relentless, exhausting and very expensive.”
Ms. Hughes agrees:
“Perhaps women think today they need to have too much. We all say we work because we need the money, but are there sacrifices to be made.
“Perhaps not having a second car; maybe moving to live somewhere cheaper.
“It’s very sad when people think they cannot afford to have more children. What do you regret at the end of your life? Is it the expensive stuff, or not having a child?”
According to the article, these women with such successful careers look back over their lives and see where their time was best invested: in their husbands and children. As Ms. Hughes put it:
“My only regrets are that I got too bogged down with getting the shopping and household chores. I should have let it all go to pot a lot more than I did.
“What I wish I’d done more of is sitting and talking to my children round the kitchen table.
“And conversations with my husband, too, now that I’m widowed. Once your husband dies, that is what you long for above all.
“But when you’re young and busy with work and family, you are always rushing on to the next thing. That’s life.”
We can all learn from those who have come before us. And with that, I’d better go make dinner and spend some time enjoying it with my family