Skip to main contentSkip to footer

What if I don't want to 'have it all?'

Writer Georgie Duckworth, 40, realised women are doing it all, not having it all. And she's not happy about it

Cute little baby playing on the floor by her working mother.  Young mother with a baby and a dog, sitting on the floor and working. High angle of view.
26 January 2024
Share this:

We’ve all had those conversations that get our blood boiling; the type that leaves us imagining the perfect cutting retort hours later (and yet sadly never in the moment).

For me, this was a fleeting comment made by a male friend. I admit, I’d been venting. My youngest was ill off school, my house was in such a mess that even the dog was looking embarrassed, I had a PTA meeting to attend, and oh, my full-time job to squeeze in. I was definitely having a harrumph moment.

Perhaps I was looking for sympathy. Possibly some words of encouragement. Hell, maybe I just wanted a pat on the back for being so stoic. Instead, in what I think must have been a pitiable attempt at banter, my (so-called) friend laughed and said, ‘Come on now, women say they want to have it all… and now you’ve got it all. What more do you want?’

Blonde woman smiling in a selfie
Georgie Duckworth realised having is not what it seems

I was outraged and wanted to punch him in the face. But as I lay in bed that night stewing over the absurdity of the remark, I was more alarmed by the quiet voice in my head asking, "Does he have a point? What if this 'having it all' isn’t quite what it cracked up to be?"

What if I don't want it all?

I’ve been very privileged and lucky in life. To say that I 'have it all' would make me deeply uncomfortable in a very British, self-effacing way. But if having a great job, lovely and supportive partner, two beautiful kids and a nice house in a nice place is deemed as 'having it all', then yep, I’m just about there.

But the truth is, I’m exhausted. I spend my days running around like a headless chicken trying to do too much at once and not doing anything very well. I started chatting to my female friends about it, and turns out they’re exhausted too.

The more I contemplated my friend’s remark, the more I wondered whether women don’t have it all… women do it all!

So, is the concept of women 'having it all' a misnomer?

RELATED: Is this the reason we're all so exhausted right now? 

We're all exhausted

Take my situation. Don’t get me wrong, my partner is fantastic, and certainly gets stuck into the household duties and childcare. But on a day-to-day basis, he’s in the office from 7.30am – 6pm doing his full-time job.

For me, while attempting to focus on my full-time job, I’m also doing the school run, walking the dog, sorting the kids' dinner/clubs/social life, replying to child-related WhatsApp messages, batting off daytime calls from my mother, and remembering that it's Aunt Agatha’s birthday on Sunday and that I need to send a card.

Woman on laptop with children
Working from home around kids is a juggle

I appreciate that all households are different and work in different ways. I know men who take on the lion’s share of childcare and household duties and I also know couples who have managed to successfully split work and childcare equally. I also know plenty of single parents who are, quite frankly, wonder women and men.

However, looking at recent statistics, it seems like I’m in the majority. According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), more women, including mothers, are in work than ever before (72.3%). Likewise, more women are now in full-time work than in previous decades. On the face of it, this is great news. These figures represent a welcome step towards equal employment opportunities and I’m all for that.

But, there’s a problem. While the workplace may have taken a step towards gender equality, the division of labour at home has not. ONS figures from 2022 show that it’s still women who spend the most time on unpaid childcare (84 minutes per day) and household work (169 minutes per day) compared to men (55 minutes and 106 minutes collectively).

Rather than skipping merrily into a world of equality, by pursuing a career, have I just doubled my responsibilities…? No wonder it’s bloomin’ hard to keep up.

READ: Nobody told me motherhood would bring so much darkness and joy simultaneously 

Striving for perfection

And there’s an extra sting to this story's tail. Not only do women have to do it all, we have to do it with perfection. That’s right, we may be juggling 1000 balls at once… but woe betide anyone that lets one of those balls drop.

The pursuit of perfection is suffocating. We have to be vocal, present and successful at work lest we face criticism and accusations of 'not coping' or 'not focusing'. Like the Stepford Wives, our homes must be clean, up-to-date, and kept in perfect order (those women were robots, remember!?)

Rear view of Mature housewife standing while preparing for cleaning at home.© Getty
We have to let go of the idea of immaculate homes

And then there’s the children. They have to be raised perfectly. Screen time is bad, outdoor time is good. Wholesome family activities with smiles all around are essential for upholding the Instagram/Facebook persona. They must eat well, dress well, be polite, attend clubs, be cajoled into homework and get to bed at a reasonable hour. Oh, and by the way, we have to 'treasure these times' because the kids will be grown up before we know it!

READ: Why are women expected to stop having fun in our thirties? 

The sacrifices of having it all

Having it all has meant that I’ve had to sacrifice part of myself. Hobbies, free time and the dream of reading a book are out the window. Instead, I find myself checking emails at breakfast time whilst simultaneously emptying the dishwasher, practicing spellings with the youngest, replying to a WhatsApp about the next village hall committee meeting, and trying to encourage my eldest off his mobile phone (hypocritical, me?) and to be honest, I’m not doing any of it very well.

Sad and depressed woman sitting on sofa at home.© Getty
We're exhausted by trying to have it all

So, what’s the solution?

Fortunately, I don’t think this is a new permanent state of being for women. It feels like we’re in a transitional period, moving towards the equal distribution of labour in and out of the workplace, but we’re not quite there yet. I use those families that have achieved this already as a beacon of hope for the future

Lower your expectations

For now, I’m going to lower the expectations I have for myself. Perfection be damned! I’m not going to reply to work emails at 10pm or 6am. I’m going to send the kids to school with toothpaste down their jumpers and chocolate smeared around their mouths (because they ATE IT FOR BREAKFAST) and I’m going to allow my house to be a tip because cleaning sucks.

I know you may be thinking, "Will someone please get this woman a small violin?!" With so much terror and sadness in the world right now, it feels wrong to raise my little hand in complaint.

But this piece is for any other mothers/women/fathers/men/grandparents out there who feel overwhelmed; those who feel the promise of 'having it all' was a bit of a damp squib. I hear you, and I raise a toast to you in all your exceptional, multi-tasking, imperfect brilliance.

Visit HELLO!'s Happiness Hub for inspiring stories on how to be happier

Sign up to HELLO Daily! for the best royal, celebrity and lifestyle coverage

By entering your details, you are agreeing to HELLO! Magazine User Data Protection Policy. You can unsubscribe at any time. For more information, please click here.

More Parenting

See more