Stop using these three words to hold women back.





“It’s a pooooooo! It’s a poo-poo!”

I have been trying to write this story about “having it all” for two days.

During that time, I have been interrupted approximately 200,000 times, most recently by the voice of my 2yo son, shouting about poo. From the bath.

A poo in the bath, any parent will tell you, is A Very Bad Thing. The clean up is not pretty, and everyone feels dirty afterwards.

It is actually the perfect metaphor for the arguments about a working mother’s rightful role.

I definitely Have It All. All the chaos, All the stress and All the joy of  a young family, a busy job and many, many Responsibilities.

Recently, I made a decision that went against pretty much every fibre of my being – I decided to Have A Bit Less.

I decided that I couldn’t – right now – do my demanding dream job and be a present mother to my two small children, a decent partner and all the other roles in my personal life that I want to fulfil.

I realised that I was spreading myself too thinly, trying to do too much, and that my health and happiness were fraying at the edges as a result.

So I’ve stepped back at work. It was a difficult thing to do, and remains a difficult thing to admit.

But here’s the thing. People are delighted.


I’m not talking about my children, who yes, are happy to see a bit more of me. Or my partner, who’s just pleased that I look at him when he’s talking, rather than sliding my eyes towards my phone, anticipating its every beep.

I’m talking about People. People like the doctor who said to me, “It’s a brave decision. You don’t want to be one of those mothers who outsource parenting.”

Or another person who told me, “I blame feminism. Our mothers’ generation have sold us all a dangerous lie.”

People who love to say things like the following:

“You can’t have it all. Stop trying.”

“You can have it all. But not at the same time.”

“No, women can’t have it all, and why would they want to?”

I want to say something to those People. I want to tell those People to get f*cked.

This is the way the world likes to see working mothers. Is your life like this? (Post continues after video)

It’s the same thing I want to say to the British Government, who this week presented a report on the pressures young women face. In the preface to the report, the British Minister for Women makes the observation that mothers (those dastardly mothers) are damaging their daughters by ‘foisting’ onto them the “entirely unrealistic cultural rhetoric of ‘having it all’.”

This tumbling rush to embrace the idea that women have stuffed everything up by being too greedy, needy and ambitious, is unsettling and insulting.

It’s Not What You Think….

Don’t get me wrong. “Having it all” is indeed bullshit. But not for the reasons these people think.


The woman who is widely credited for coining that phrase was the iconic US Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown. She did not have children, and was not thinking about working mothers when she published Having It All in 1982 which was an entertaining jaunt through the notion that a woman could aspire to having a career and a husband. That a woman could earn her own money and still have sex and fulfilling romantic life.

I know. So audacious. So greedy.

Helen Gurley Brown, the woman who wrote Having It All, was not talking about working mothers.

Since womankind has roundly kicked that goal of having money and sex, we’ve moved the phrase “having it all” to something with a higher degree of difficulty: the idea a woman can have a career and children. Children who can recognise her face, at least.

Impossible, right? Wrong. Because 65% of mothers are “having it all” all over Australia right now.

Except they’re not. Because that’s not what we mean by “having it all”, is it?

A Ridiculous Premise

I am not the first person to point out that no-one accuses a man who wants to have a job and a family of trying to “have it all.” In fact, in mainstream Australian culture if a man is not working to provide for his family, he will likely be viewed with some suspicion and disapproval.

And no-one suggests that a low-income-earning single mother, trying to hold down a couple of jobs, is “having it all”. In fact, if she stopped working, and say, claimed government assistance to help feed her family, she would quite probably be seen as a lazy, shirking bludger.


No, “having it all” are 3 little words that we reserve for shaming a particular breed of parent – the mother who is perceived to have a choice.

It’s a weapon we use against women who dare to stay interested in their jobs after they procreate. Who dare to admit that even if they didn’t HAVE to work for financial reasons, they might still want to. Women who don’t want to waste their education and experience, and yes, they might see it as a waste for their professional relevance to wither as they spend years at home dealing with other people’s poo.

Women who dare to admit that they still gain satisfaction and pride and yes, possibly status, from something other than motherhood.

*Those bitches*.

Rather than smacking frazzled women over the head with these ridiculous three words, let’s look at what really needs to happen.

Annabel Crabb’s brilliant book, argues that it’s time men were involved in every conversation about work-family life. 


Less Angst, More Help

The genie is out of the bottle. We are not going back to the 1950s. One income is not magically going to buy you a home in a major city. Financial and intellectual independence is not going to stop being important to women.

In fact, the next generation of Australian women will be the best educated in history, and they are not going to forget their education and ambition the moment two lines blink on their pregnancy-test app.

Let’s talk about more flexible working arrangements in senior positions, more affordable quality child care, a cultural shift to men being able and encouraged to opt out of full-time work at the same rates as women. Let’s talk about the ability to job-share, the possibilities of working remotely.


All of these things are concrete, helpful things that will make women’s lives less fraught, and in turn children’s lives better.

Not So Fast….

So yes, some People are pleased to see the end of the notion of “Having It All”, but I do not stand with them.

I do not stand with People who feel validated by seeing a woman stumble.

Holly with her daughter.

I do not stand with People who believe that a woman wanting a life that’s meaningful outside and inside the home is being greedy.

I do not stand with People who think that if a woman can not afford to put her professional life on hold for the five or seven or 10 years that you have deemed appropriate, she is an irresponsible role model.

I do not stand with People who don’t believe that rich lives are busy and full, and that children don’t thrive with two fulfilled, engaged parents.

No. I stand with all the parents who are out there dropping balls. Sometimes, one of those lands on your own head. Or your partner’s. Or your boss’s. Sometimes, your child will cop one, and those are the worst.

But we’re not greedy. We’re not delusional. We’re not dangerous. We’re just busy.

And to those People who are happy to see us struggle, because it sits well with your small view of a woman’s life, we’re sick of dealing with your poo.

We’ve got enough of that at home.