A: Some of them don’t have a choice.
Earlier this week I went on Eddie Nestor’s BBC Radio London call-in show to talk about ‘supermums’ and whether women were under too much pressure to ‘have it all’. The image of a ‘supermum’ who has a successful career, a marriage, and usually a wardrobe brimming with boho dresses, slogan sweatshirts and designer bags is all-too prevalent in the media. But is it harmful?
I always love going on Eddie’s show when he’s having a motherhood debate or discussion. The conversation never goes the way you think it’s going to pan out. He has a way of asking questions you weren’t expecting, to catch you off-guard, that make you open up in a way you never intended to. He’s exactly the kind of interviewer I wish I had been in my days on the red carpet. And our discussion on this topic, and his discussions with subsequent callers, got me thinking about the unfairness of the whole ‘supermum’ debate. Not to mention the very concept of a woman ‘having it all’.
And I don’t mean from the gender perspective, either. It goes without saying that it’s unbelievably unfair that men aren’t subjected to these constant boring categorisations, put under scrutiny and judged for every decision they make. As a woman, you’re judged for being single, for not having kids, (whether or not you wanted them,) then once you do become a mum, judgement season really begins. A man who has a family and a job isn’t labelled as ‘having it all’. The man without the family also ‘has it all’. Hell, the man with no career and no family ‘has it all’. He is a man.
But what I got to thinking about after speaking to Eddie, was the very privilege of being able to make the choices that define whether or not you’re a ‘supermum’. As we spoke about how women were put under pressure to go back to work, or put under pressure not to go back to work, and how mums made that choice, and how they were judged for that choice… I realised what a luxury being able to actually choose is.
As a single mum, there is no choice. I have bills to pay. If I want myself and my son to have a decent-ish standard of living, I have to have a job. In actual fact I have several jobs. There are single mothers across the country also working multiple jobs to support their unconventional little families. Do I ‘have it all’? Alas, the key ingredient of a man is missing from that magic formula, as standardised for women everywhere since time began. Do I feel like I ‘have it all’? And then some.
And I write this fully aware of my immense position of privilege. Yes, I’m a single mum, with no choice but to work, to aim for that bonkers ‘supermum’ construction of a successful career woman-by-day, devoted parent-by-evening-and-weekend. But I have a career that allows me flexible working. I work for a company that lets me work part-time and from home, travel off-peak, and fit my job around my childcare responsibilities. I can top up my earnings with freelance writing when there is an expensive period ahead, or the car breaks down. I have support from my son’s dad and his and my families for weekend and occasional weekday childcare, so I can take breaks, say yes to work trips, and have time for myself. I have the space and freedom to sit back and make these parenting ‘choices’ that define whether or not we’re ‘having it all’ and reaching those ‘supermum’ gold standards. I have the luxury of choices.
This is a shout out to the women who have no choice. To the mums who haven’t got the luxury of time to consider whether they ‘have it all’. To the single mothers just keeping on, keeping on. To the low-income households where work is taken where it can be found, and the muddling through can’t be paused while parenting goal-posts are measured and lived-up-to. To the women suffering with post-natal depression who are surviving day by day in the best way they can. These are the places these elusive ‘supermums’ are really found.
Can a woman ‘have it all’? Yes. But she needs to be able to set her own ‘all’. I encourage you all to set the bar wherever you choose.
And to find contentment in the reaching of it. (Constant readjustments recommended.)
Read about my Single Mother Project here