The care versus career conundrum –
why juggling a career with family isn’t realistic for today’s women


It shouldn’t be surprising that women have this societal struggle: we want to build a successful career while faultlessly being there for our children. For most of our history, women have been the carers while men have been the breadmakers. 

Today we chat about why women can’t have it all in 2022 – liberating ourselves from perfectionistic ideologies and how flexibility has helped but won’t be a fix-all for deeper ingrained issues.

What is ‘having it all’?

Anna Marie-Slaughter wrote an article on her experiences with work-life balance (or realising the lack thereof). She raises a good question. What is ‘having it all?’. Sure, it looks different to different people, but it generally includes happiness and success; happiness in your children, husband, home and success in your career. We also respect that some aren’t thinking about having it all in motherhood and their career – some are simply holding on to what they have to make ends meet. She recognises to create meaningful changes, governments need to step in and help the cause. In New Zealand’s case, subsidising child care only when the child is three years seems to put mothers who can’t afford child care otherwise – on the back step. Being out of the workforce for three-plus years is long enough to knock anyone’s confidence. If subsidies were given earlier, perhaps returning to work would be less daunting.

The ‘Perfect Mother’ Myth

Recently, Dr Sophia Brock met with the girls from the podcast, Beyond The Bump to debunk the perfect parent myth (Episode 146). Dr Brock lists the inaccurate ideologies of what a ‘perfect parent’ consists of:

  • In a cis-relationship, preferably married.
  • Not too young, not too old.
  • Able-bodied and neurotypical.
  • Bounces back from pregnancy quickly.
  • A perfect, uncomplicated birth.
  • Breastfeeds exclusively, but not for too long. 
  • Naturally maternal.
  • Has a thriving career and contributes financially.
  • Always puts children first and never takes time away.
  • Never feels sad, lonely or angry.

The list doesn’t stop there. These false ideas continue from the food we feed them to how they behave. 

Not only are some of these ideas exclusive – making parents feel like they’ve fallen short before they’ve passed go – but most are contradictory. “She [the ‘perfect mother’] loves her work but never lets her kids down because of work,” says one of the hosts. 

Dr Brock suggests this is how we find ourselves in guilt cycles no matter which turn we take. 

Spend more time at work? Feel guilty for being away from the children. Spend more time with the children? Feel guilty for stepping back from work.

Dr Brock explains how society has formed these pressures we exert on ourselves. So how can we find freedom from these unrealistic standards? We can challenge these internal values and reassess our expectations. Unpacking our expectations and reevaluating which ones matter to us can help liberate us from them. Start by picking out where you feel guilt and question:

  1. Is this guilt transferable or inevitable, and we can’t change it?
  2. How is this guilt serving and taking away from us?
  3. What do we actually want and like?  

When ‘having it all’ isn’t the issue: Mothers holding on to what they have

We do appreciate that some parents aren’t thinking about having it all. Some are simply holding on to what they have. Some don’t get the choice of choosing to go back to work and put their child in daycare for the costs are too high. Some must return to work; they rely on their income to survive. Some are single mothers, financially-struggling or unemployed. They are not thinking about having it all – they’re holding on. 

Flexibility to support work-life balance

Working from home, Zoom meetings and part-time hours have recently helped mothers juggle their careers and motherhood. An increase in these flexible working arrangements is likely one of the only upsides of the pandemic. With companies more open to the idea of customised flexible hours – mothers have been able to juggle their many jobs, such as school drop-off, pick-up and dinner times. 

While this increased flexibility is valuable, it’s not a fix-all. 

“Flexibility cannot, alone, tackle deep-rooted issues such as the gender pay gap, workplace discrimination and women’s lack of representation in higher-level positions”,  says Valerie Beaulieu in the article The Myth Of Flexibility In The Workplace For Women

In saying this, it’s a start. I admit I write this as my 8-month-old son uses me as his personal climbing gym while smacking the keyboard with his fist.

By having conversations like these, we hope to help shift unrealistic internal pressures, help companies embrace flexibility among all staff (even high-level positions) and create a meaningful difference for us and the next generation.