Being a woman is wonderful, but it comes with heavy responsibilities.
This has led to a big dilemma for the modern woman who has more opportunities in her career and love life than her mother or grandmother: Can a woman truly have it all?
There are those who believe that, yes, you can have it all. They argue if you are committed enough or plan well or work the hardest, you can achieve it all. Still, women who want to have it all often find themselves struggling to achieve. And they end up looking down on themselves.
Then there is another group that believe the only women who have it “all” and have managed to be both mothers and high-flying careers are rich or self-employed or simply, lucky.
This can lead to not only a sense of failure for many, but the idea that choosing to have a family automatically damages their career progression. To them, ‘having it all’ seems like such an impossible goal.
Find what makes you whole
Jackie Keya, a psychologist, counsellor, and life coach, believes that having it “all” may not be a realistic achievement depending on how one defines “all”.
“I do not like to think about it as having it ‘all’, but instead as determining the things that make you whole whether it is family, career, health, social life or spirituality. Then learning how to balance them. If you are in a season where family, career and having a social life make you whole, then it is important to realise that you will not always be able to give 100 per cent to all three.
“There will be times when your children are young or sick, and as a result you will have to give more of your time to the family. It is all about understanding the season you are in,” says Keya.
“I want to encourage all women who constantly find themselves having to choose between their career, family, and having a social life that there is nothing wrong, it is just a part of life and finding balance.”
Keya says it is also important for women to nurture and be intentional about the things that make them whole.
“Whole is not a blanket statement, but a deliberate way of life considering that as human beings there are different aspects of who we are that make us a whole being. Things that are important to us individually.
“That is why we should not judge a woman who leaves a high paying job to take care of her kids because that is what makes her whole, and accept that for another woman that may not be an option because it would not make her whole. Or maybe she may not be able to afford to make such a decision,” says Keya
She says having it “all”, whatever that means for a person, requires having a support system.
“When working, one needs to have networks to help you grow. In family, one also needs community to be the best mum or wife. In spirituality one needs fellowship to help get nourishment,” she says.
Keya also advocates for women to communicate their needs and wants with those they love.
“At home loved ones should know that mum is not just mum, but she is also a friend, a CEO, a friend, a sister, a creative, etc. Communicate the different sides of yourself that help to make you whole to those we love.
“And if you need help ask for it, and importantly do not be too hard on yourself because you cannot have it all in one season, you have to give up something for the time being. It is all about balance and understanding the season you are in, and realise that seasons do not last forever.”
Not at the same time
Janet Mbugua, media personality, author, and founder of Inua Dada Foundation believes that women can have it all, but not at the same time
“I believe that women can have it all, but not at the same time. These are not my original words, but I have heard someone else say this and it resounds with me.
A woman who is working and is the majority caregiver for the family has to make a lot of sacrifices when it comes to her career and ambitions.
Janet says that as a mother, although you have the same drive and ambition just like men do, there are seasons, especially when the children are young where you are forced to put your ambitions on hold for the sake of family.
“In the African set up, the majority of care of children is left to women, in other places like (Nordic) countries, it is different or so I have heard. I signed up for shared responsibility, but at the end of the day I got majority of the responsibility. So sometimes you will have to put your desires on hold.
Janet reiterates that the workplace and society needs to integrate the needs of women in order to provide support.
“Women should not have to apologise for having a career and a family. Workplaces should introduce flexible working hours for mothers, or allow them to work from home, and also provide a crèche or nursing area.
It should not be an exemption that companies provide all the above, but the norm. The society should be more supportive so that women are not made to feel like starting a family means the death of one’s career,” she states.
Janet notes, that she is lucky to have flexible working hours.
“I am privileged I get to decide my hours for work, and for me in this season my kids come first. My boys are six and three. They are still young and need my attention. I have to say no to some opportunities and events because I want to be home to tuck in my boys. I wish events would also include an area where guests could bring their children and nannies. Today, I had to leave a workshop early not because it was not important, but because I had to pick my son from school. Please extend some grace and empathy to that woman who has to leave early.”
Her closing advice to women on having it all: “Do not let society gaslight you or make you feel less than in the name of having it all, and remember there are women who are lucky enough to have it all because they have access to resources or adequate support, but they are the exception, not the majority. So do not drive yourself to parental burn out or beat yourself up because you have to pick your family over work in one season or vice versa. Also, do not be scared to ask for help.”
Diana Wangeshi Wambua, 38, a nurse, and lecturer at Dedan Kimathi University of technology, is a wife and mother of three girls. She faced this very dilemma of whether she could have it all and leave her young family and move to Hungary for a PhD.
In 2018 she decided to do her PhD for career progression. At the time, her daughters were two, eight and 10, and she had been married to her university sweetheart, Nicholas Wambua for 13 years.
“I remember talking to my husband before even applying for the government scholarship and he agreed that he would support me and take care of the home front while I was away studying,” explains Diana
She says that although her husband and children fully supported her, not everyone was understanding. People tried to discourage her. She believes it may have been driven by the perception that men are unable to take care of the family alone.
“My colleagues, friends and even my mother tried to discourage me. A few friends asked me to change my mind for the sake of the children, others warned me this would break my family and I would never forgive myself for making such a selfish decision. Ironically, if it is a man who leaves his family for further studies no one has a problem with that,” she says.
Diana recognises that women generally struggle with having it all: a happy family and a thriving career.
“I am blessed to have a wonderful husband who not only believes in me, but is my best friend and understands my love for education, and so he was able to support me by being the primary caregiver while I was away, not everyone has that.
“Also, I have a wonderful house helper who has been there with me for the last six years, so that gave me comfort and helped me to give my best while in school. I was able to do my Ph D not because I am hardworking, but because I had a good support network,” she says.
She, however notes that she originally struggled with mum guilt for being away.
“I struggled with some mum guilt, but because I have confidence in my husband and I know he is hands on father, I was able to put it aside and finish my PhD. I will be graduating in July.”
Money versus husband
Rose Ellah Ngari, is a lawyer and investment consultant known for speaking about women and financial freedom. She shared her thoughts on women balancing between family and personal life and finding financial freedom in a previous interview.
“Let’s appreciate the fact that women invest more than men. However, we are more risk averse as women when it comes to our investment. When investing we try as much as possible to incorporate everybody else who is in our lives.
“As an individual, as a woman investor who is single, you have everything planned for the future. Then at some point you realise you have to get married.
“You need to keep on doing what you were doing when you were single (after marriage). Keep building yourself and your dreams. Women find themselves in debt because we want to fit in with the standards. It is good for one to understand where they are financially, yourself and your family.”