Career, relationship, children – can our daughters have it all?
Yes they can (with forward planning and compromise), says the new president of the Girls’ Schools Association
Back in the 1980s legendary Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown said we could. She didn’t have children herself, but she coined the phrase ‘having it all’ in her book: ‘Having It All: Love, Success, Sex, Money... Even if you’re Starting with Nothing’. A decade later, financial high-flyer Nicola Horlick raised the stakes and earned the title ‘superwoman’ by managing a high-profile career in finance with being mother to six children (though she made no secret of the fact that she relied on nannies and housekeepers).
Even now, the reality of maintaining a career of any kind and being home in time to supervise homework and put the children to bed is stressful, exhausting and expensive. And the guilt as you deposit your weeping toddler at nursery or arrive late for parents’ evening, is compounded with a sense that your inability to juggle all this elegantly means that you have somehow let down the sisterhood.
Gwen Byrom, the new president of the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA), has brought this debate into the 21st century. She’s the headmistress of Loughborough High School, the mother of five children aged between two and 19 and reckons that women can absolutely have it all – if they have a stay-at-home partner. Indeed, her husband, also a qualified teacher, has looked after their children for the last 12 years while she has worked full-time.
According to a report in The Sunday Times, she tells girls at her school that they can ‘have it all’ by challenging gender stereotypes, such as the idea that the family breadwinner must be a man. She advises them to talk to their future partners about how they will balance their work and home lives between them.
‘The message is you can have it all to a degree, but there are compromises,’ she says. ‘The compromise we made was that I would be the major breadwinner and my husband would stay at home and look after the children. Girls have that choice and I encourage them to talk to their partners about that balance. I think what is lovely nowadays is that there are options.’
When it comes to options, Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister, is a case in point. She recently announced that she’s expecting her first child in June and that her partner will be a stay-at-home dad. Or to quote her directly: ‘I’ll be prime minister and a mum, and Clarke will be “first man of fishing” and stay at home dad.’
One thing’s for sure – everyone has to make compromises. And in an ideal world it’s important to discuss the division of childcare well ahead of time. The fly in the ointment is that it’s all very well to discuss it in theory but it’s another matter entirely when the baby arrives. Some women decide they want to stay at home with their children after all and resume their careers later on. Some men renege on their promises to share the childcare or find it’s impossible and perhaps too costly to implement. A study published last year found that less than one per cent of eligible parents took advantage of the shared parental leave system introduced by the coalition government in 2015.
So while Gwen Byrom’s advice makes sense and we agree that women should definitely talk to their partners about how to combine careers and children, we’re not sure if it will make a difference or not. What do you think? We’d love to hear your views so do email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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