what we give up to 'have it all'

For the past week I have been thinking a lot about children and career and guilt. It all kind of stemmed from taking part in a Channel Mum Twitter party alongside a television programme on Kids v Career. It was a great programme; it didn't draw conclusions about right and wrong but simply discussed some of the issues faced by parents when they have children and have to make choices about their jobs and childcare arrangements. That chat on Twitter was brilliant too and definitely seemed to define for me that "having it all" - and whether women can have it or not - is relative, and different for each and every family.

Honestly I'm not entirely sure that you can ever completely "have it all". Life is about making choices and compromising. Something always has to give somewhere along the line, and having it all seems to be when whatever you've let give is what was the best thing for you. For some people that's returning to work after having a baby to chase their careers, for some it's returning to work in order to keep a roof over their heads and pay the bills, for others it's part time work where they can find a happy medium between work life and home life, others still change career and work from home so that they can have the best of both worlds. For us, it was the somewhat old fashioned approach of my giving up work and my career entirely to focus on raising our children.

Telling people that you don't work... at all... at least not in the conventional "earning money doing a job" sense of the the word, is often met with suspicion, or pity, or admiration. While a generation or so ago it would have largely been expected, now it seems to be far more unusual. "What, so you don't do anything?" ... yes I just sit around at home all day, pop out to the shops, paint my nails. Because that's exactly what parenting is like, right?

Parenting is a tough gig. It's long hours, relentless and often totally thankless work. It means putting yourself at the very bottom of the to-do list; underneath everyone else's needs and requirements. An average day for me entails umpteen trips in the car taking my children to school, preschool, clubs and commitments; countless nappy changes and even more nursing sessions; organising nap times and housework around our other appointments; negotiating with tiny overtired terrorists at bath and bedtime. It means wrestling children into clothes and out of the door, only to realise on the school that in the rush I didn't remember to brush my own hair this morning, or even worse, my teeth!

Don't get me wrong I wouldn't change a second of it. And I feel very lucky. But it is neither easy, or hard. In fact I'd argue its not compatible with any other job... because it is your life in a way that no other job ever could be.

Before we had children, I was a teacher. A job I loved, a job I trained hard to get, a job I worked hard for, a job I was really very good at. But a job that I happily gave up and don't feel compelled to return to five years later. I'll gloss over all the political stuff that makes me wonder if I'll ever return to it, and simply say that I didn't want to put 30 other people's children ahead of my own. Because I know what it takes to be a really ace teacher, and once I had a little boy of my own to look after, I simply wasn't willing to give what it takes anymore. I knew the the price I'd have to pay in terms of his childhood and my motherhood too, and they weren't things I was willing to give up. I also wasn't willing to be half the teacher I knew I was capable of being. Being both a teacher and a mummy felt to me like I would compromising too much on my ideals for both. 

But that decision to give up work and commit to being a full time mummy wasn't an easy one. Compromises had to be made. And lots of things have had to give because of it.  

Disposable income was one of the first things to give, and was a thing we gave up for a long time. My husband could afford to cover our bills and living costs on his earnings but luxuries like holidays and lots of new clothes and fancy gadgets went out the window. For years we bought each other neither Christmas or birthday presents, focusing instead on things we needed, like new sofas. 

Over the years our finances have gradually allowed for a little more fun, but that's because my being at home and dealing with all the childcare has allowed Rich to focus fully on his career and push himself to progress and climb. He works damned hard. It can be really hard on us all. I know he'd like to spend far more time home with the kids than he does. Heaven knows there are times I wish he could be here more, and I know that the children wish he could be. But I focus on my job so that he can focus on his. He just wouldn't have been able to commit to his job the way he has if I also worked, and his role and pay would more than likely reflect that.

He worries a lot, I know, about shouldering the burden of responsibility for keeping a roof over our heads by himself. I help, yes. Blogging brings in money, but nothing like what my teaching salary would have, even if I'd only worked part time. And I worry that he worries. We are lucky and are relatively comfortable. But we think carefully about big expenses and we aren't flash with cash.

Our living situation is another thing that's had to give. We really do not have enough room where we are, and we haven't for a long time. But my lack of earnings and us living in one of the more expensive areas in the country means that we've had to stay in a too small home far longer than we would have liked. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and hopefully we will finally be moving this year. But when we moved in here we'd planned to have one child here before moving; having five of us here, plus two cats was not the plan. I try to remind myself that the children have never known any different, that they love sharing a bedroom, and that they want for nothing... because all those things are true. But it doesn't stop me wishing that we could provide them with a little more space to call home. The kind of space that their friends with two working parents have... because keeping up with the Joneses is a real thing.

Of course my own career had to give. Don't get me wrong, it's a choice I made and still believe in wholeheartedly. I am happiest at home being a mother. Far happier than the classroom ever made me, and I loved being in the classroom so much while I was doing it, so that says a lot. But I do worry; about wasting my skills, my talents and my training; about how I'll ever return to it if I wanted to when so much has changed since I left. I worry a lot about the example I'm setting my children by not "working". I hope that they'll see that I did it for them, but maybe they'll think I was lazy. Maybe it will impact on them and they'll not be as ambitious and driven as if I was also chasing a career like their dad is. I would like to hope that they'll do whatever makes them happy, but would I be setting a better example by working as well as being their mum, even if that made me feel like I was doing two part time jobs averagely, instead of my one job to the best of my ability.

I do sometimes feel like I forfeit a big piece of my independence in giving up work. For a time I felt a bit like I lost a big part of my intellectual identity when I stopped being a teacher, but blogging has kind of filled that space. Blogging has allowed me to continue to learn and push myself so that I don't end up brain dead. But I definitely don't feel independent anymore. In fact at times my dependence on Rich to provide really irks me. I feel like I always have to ask to spend money, not because he's ever implied I can't, but because it doesn't feel like it's mine to spend. I will buy things for the children, because they are his children too... but for me, it feels awkward, and I always feel so grateful because I don't feel I've earned it. I guess I have, by being free childcare for his children. I'm the live in childcare that allows him to go to work early and leave late and take overnight trips as and when needed. But I don't feel like I do all of that for him, I do that because I love my children and because they are my job.

I guess what I'm trying to say with this post is that any choice entails compromise. To have it all something has to give.

I do feel like I have it all. I feel like a lot of people probably look at our family and think we have it all. We are lucky. And we do have what we want, but I'm not sure you could ever say that we have it all. We have it all in our own way, but it hasn't been without its price. A price I'd pay again tomorrow, but a price all the same.


  1. Such a fantastic post Lucy and one I nodded along with. I think you have hit the nail on the head at the start when you said that 'having it all' is relative for every family and we all have different variations of what having it all and what sacrificing means. For us, I know being so close to you all, that you know that for years we were incredibly 'tight' with money- we didn't have any at all and we were tied into huge bills which meant that I HAD to go back to work after Mads and then I HAD to make money working for myself after LL.I couldn't be a full time mum even if i wanted to be, although I have always wanted to earn money for myself in some capacity. I couldn't not because J's salary didn't cover our bills. There were times when we would have to beg my mum to let us come for dinner for the night because we couldn't afford to eat. Yes there was the argument I could have gone back to work full time, but for me, personally as every situation is different, I just would rather have gone without and been there for my children the majority of the time, but also earn as well.

    We have been very lucky in that recently my work started doing better and as you know J got this contract which enabled him to work from home. This past year has been incredible in that we have had money coming in from him that has meant we have been comfortable for the first time in ages. It really has felt like we have had it all because I get to work and earn money but have him at home which has just been lovely. BUT you just don't know what is going to happen, I know his work won't last forever and then he will no doubt be back out at an office job, leaving me to do the childcare and probably not earning anywhere near as much, so I am enjoying every single minute while we can.

    I think in whatever family situation we can see often feel like the grass is greener on the other side, thats life. I know I often feel it about lots of different families, even you guys in the past. That is just the nature of life. But we all ultimately do what we can do and what is best for our family situation. I know I say to you a lot that you should give yourself credit, which I know you do sometimes, but R couldn't do what he does without you. You are an incredible mother and I sometimes I don't envy you at 7pm when you are putting three tired kids in the bath on your own most evenings. Parenting is tiring and the HARDEST job there is and you do a lot of the main slog on your own. But you are both a team and by doing that and R working so very hard, it means that you will both reap the rewards. You both should be so proud. Of both of you. We all compromise, I know as a family we make compromises every day and we worry every day about the future with J's job. But the main thing is you are doing ultimately the very thing you wanted- to bring up those three gorgeous little people to the best of your ability. And you can tell by meeting them even for a second that they are confident, polite, loving and happy little people. And when you are old and grey, they honestly will be your greatest achievement, as mine will be to me. I don't doubt that for a second. xxx PS Sorry for the essay, love you lots! x

  2. This is so so spot on. I don't think anyone can have it all and we, as individuals, really do have to choose what is most important to us. I think it's hard to park your career, at least, I found it hard. But then I wouldn't trade my kids childhood for it. I'm lucky I was able to go part time, it just made financial sense for us as otherwise it would have been big childcare bills and someone else having the fun of those special milestones and moments. Every so often I do look over at the greener grass but it's for a split second and I definitely wouldn't change a thing. We've vaguely started talking about moving but I am hoping we can get a few more years out of our house yet. We were never meant to stay here for long either and we ended up here a bit by accident. I hope your move goes really well this year into the next exciting chapter of your life x

  3. Great post Lucy and I totally relate, I only work a few hours and am financially dependant on my husband which I can find hard sometimes. It makes more sense for us also for me to look after the kids allowing him to concentrate on his career, he works really hard and me being at home allows him to do that. I love being at home with my girls, but it is hard and we do compromise, there will be no holiday abroad this year, I rarely buy new clothes and sometimes I even feel guilty getting my hair cut. However I am happy with my choices, we are lucky that Hubbie can cover the bills on his wage so it does allow me to look after our family. I am a great Mum and my girls are happy and that is what is important. x

  4. What a wonderful post sweetie. I totally get you. You just have to look at your three to see that you do an amazing job with them.
    It is hard knowing what to do sometimes. Mark is the only one working here and that was a decision we made. We both wanted me to stay home with the children for as long as I could. I'm not going to lie and say its all rainbows because it isn't, sometimes we struggle. Its damn hard living on one wage.
    I wish you all the luck in the world with moving x

  5. What a brilliant post. I gave up work when my son (soon to be 5) was born because both my husband and I had unsociable and unpredictable careers for which only my little boy would suffer. Our second child came along a couple of years later and I've been juggling them both ever since while my husband's career progresses. Most of our 'mum friends' have gone back to work and constantly defending staying at home feels like a tough gig when being a parenting is hard enough. I know my children, my precious children, would suffer if I returned to work even though a £30,000 plus salary feels attractive!!
    We have no family to rely on and while my toddler is at a good pre-school a couple of mornings a week, it is no replacement for having me at home the rest of the time. And I want their summers and school holidays to be filled with happy memories and endless sunny(!!) days running about in parks or on beaches not being shipped from one daycare facility to another while we both go to work. Not to mention that my son has gone to school being able to write his name, among other things, recognise his numbers to 100 and beyond and be able to pick up a simple reading book and read it to himself because while he hasn't had flash holidays and endless toys and treats he has had my time.
    Staying at home to raise young children is no small undertaking and as a mum you very often find yourself at the bottom of a very big pile of children, husbands, washing, housework and everybody else's commitments. But trust me, you're doing it right, and an awesome job at that.

  6. Can totally relate to this. I was really young when I had my first and didn't have a secure job so I just quit, things didn't work out with his dad but I always knew I didn't want to be a full time working mum. When my now hubby reappeared in my life things just clicked and we were on the same wave length with our ideas on raising my son, and to go on to our other 2 other children. Depending on his wage alone is HARD, really really hard. We have no one on hand for child care and it wouldn't have been financially viable for me to work and pay for child care with 3 children. Now I have started working as a photographer its been amazing, but also incredibly unpredictable as I just don't know what each month will bring me income wise. Some months I bring home nothing and others I bring home the same as my Husband who is also self employed and working his backside off!! Its just SO up and down, BUT i wouldn't have it any other way. Yes, ideally it would be great if I had a steady flow of photoshoot and my husband brought home a bit more money, but I would hands down vote for raising our children over having a bit of extra cash. I do often look at other peoples lives and wish we had a bit more money, our own home instead of renting and the little weekends away in the summer. I can't lie and say it doesn't get me down, but like you say, we can't have it all. And its learning to know that thats okay.

    Thank you for sharing this, i'll be spending the evening pondering on life now ;)

    Charlotte x

  7. I absolutely love this post Lucy and you said it perfectly "it's all relative" to each family. I think sometimes we get wrapped up into what other's may have or how they have it and not what we have and appreciate what's right in front of us. The grass isn't always greener even if it looks that way and I love to stop and take in my family and be so grateful I have a roof over my head, a belly full of good food and family around me to love and be loved back and so many in other countries don't have that and yet in our society it seems we always want more and more. I think having it all is exactly how you described it and it varies for different people. I really do feel like I have it all in my own way and grateful for that. I love this post so heartfelt and beautifully written.

  8. I love the honesty of this post. I'm in a similar situation to you Lucy - I didn't think twice about giving up my career in journalism for my children. Although that didn't happen until I had our second daughter, because after our first I was able to work very successfully on a freelance basis as a writer. But when number two came along it was game over for that and I don't regret it for one second.

    For me to continue to try and pursue a career while mothering my children was simply splitting myself in two. I couldn't do either to the best of my ability and everybody suffered as a result.

    I'm fortunate in that I can still keep an oar in with the odd freelance piece, and I'm very fortunate like you that my husband has really become hugely motivated and very successful in what he does, so while we aren't rolling in cash we aren't on the breadline either. It's a nice place to be. But like you also I find it odd not having much/any income and like I have to ask for money. I have noticed I have become a bit more passive in other ways, starting to defer more and more decisions to my husband and I am keeping a sharp eye on that. It's all come totally from me - he in no way expects to make the decisions or expects me to 'ask' to spend money, and he will always check in with me about what he's planning on buying.

    I really hate the 'having it all' concept because what it actually means is 'doing it all' - the expectations put on women and that we put on ourselves to be high-flying breadwinners, perfect mothers, a size 8 and so on are horrendous.

  9. I can so relate to this post too. I loved my old job but gave it up when I had my little two as I did not want to pay someone else like a nursery to look after my children when I wanted to be looking after them. Also childcare for two under twos was soo expensive! We have had to cut back too and also live in a far to small house but are looking to move in the next few months. xx

  10. Such a lovely post and so refreshing to hear a mum being honest about being a full time mum. There seems to be such a stigma attached to being at home full time and you feel like you need to jump to your own defence and provide some sort of list to anyone who asks which shows all the things you actually do throughout the day! We shouldn't have to justify doing what we think is best for our children whatever path we choose be it staying at home or working. For me though it's lovely to read an honest post from another mum who has the same thoughts so thankyou. I've been following your blog since I had my first three years ago and love your posts :) such a beautiful family x

  11. Great post, I agree entirely, life in most circumstances is a matter of compromise, marriage, buying a house, the lot, we rarely are able to "have it all" and I definitely feel that we shouldn't have to. That we can be happy with our lot. I am struggling with the decision at the moment having landed a new job part time I am struggling to fit childcare in with a little one and a school age child and wondering if it will all be worth it or to stay at home - and blog! I am lucky that my husband earns enough for us to live just fine but there has to be cut backs, and like you that means that childcare and all other aspects really are down to me. A lovely read of an honest post, and I think your children will know you did a fantastic job and you did it for them. x

  12. I think you have done incredibly well with five of you in your current place, although I know from having a similar experience for the past five years with my own small house and growing family, that it's actually very easy to make it all "work" and to just put up with the things that don't work so well. We were always planning to stay in our small two bed when baby number three came along, but then the plan changed when we were able to move a little earlier than we originally thought.

    It's funny what you say about being more dedicated as a young teacher without their own family yet - Arlo's teacher is very young, and I've had various conversations with grandparents being shocked at how young and lacking in "proper" experience she must be, but I agree with your point that, actually, she probably has more energy, motivation and benefits from an objective experience with the children.


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