Career Woman

Do women even want it all? (and 7 realisations for those that do)

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In some ways, having it all isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Stretched in lots of different directions, lack of time, lack of support, unfair and conflicting expectations and negative inner monologue can really put a dampener on us fulfilling every desire and potential. But, why shouldn’t we have it all? We just need to be aware of what we’re dealing with and how to make it work for us.

Women get judged and put down for choices we make that no one would think to scrutinize a man over.

Take for example, Hillary Clinton. During her ill-fated campaign to be elected US president, her appearance and what she wore were the focus of a great deal of media news during the election campaign. In fact, she calculated that she spent 600 hours having her hair and makeup done during that time and was constantly maligned for wearing pantsuits. Last time I checked, there has never been any such discussion about male politicians wearing similar suits.

Likewise, a study found that Theresa May gets three times more comments in the media on her appearance than her male counterpart and late last year was even criticised for the way she held a wine glass!

Similarly, when Julia Gillard was PM of Australia, her wardrobe and personal presentation was an almost daily topic of discussion. To my knowledge no male PM has been scrutinised about the jackets they wore and how they looked from behind.

Then there is the pregnancy of the New Zealand Prime Minister. She has been asked openly and publicly when the baby was conceived, when it is due and exactly how she plans to work in the top job and still be a good mum. If Jacinda Ardern chooses to get a nanny and go back to work immediately, she will be judged. If she chooses to take three months off and stay home with the baby, her suitability as Prime Minister will be questioned.

As a woman, it is almost impossible to be oblivious to external criticism and judgment. Often, we become our harshest critics and we internalise the negative voices. We begin to question our performance at work; whether we’re neglecting our families; if it would be worse to miss work or our daughter’s school production; whether we look ok; if we’ve put on weight and whether anyone’s noticed; what they’ll say at work if we leave early because our child is sick.

We are riddled with guilt and ambivalence which adds to our stress levels.

Over 50% of women are the bread winners in their families and yet are still responsible for over 80% of household chores. Women are usually the primary care givers to their children and even when fathers are very involved, it is mainly women who carry the responsibility (and the mental load)while men help.When a father stays home with the kids, it is often calledbabysitting.When a child is sick, it’s considered unusual for the father to take time off work to be there.

Woman still carry a huge load comparatively and if we don’t manage our stress, burnout and exhaustion can follow.

7 realisations for ‘having it all’

1. Stress is caused by a perceived overload.

If you don’t think you are overloaded, you won’t feel stressed. Step back and evaluate your load. If it is too much, cut back. If it’s not, reframe. Give yourself more credit for what you can and do achieve and take each day or each hour as it comes rather than worrying too much about everything you have to do overall.

2. Get rid of the guilt.

Guilt is only appropriate if you have done something morally wrong like abusing your child or stealing money from your boss. It is not a sin to work. There is no evidence to say children whose mothers work are worse off than children of stay-at-home mothers. In fact, there is emerging research that indicates that mothers with high self-esteem who feel fulfilled are more likely to raise kids with high self-esteem.

3. Strive for balance in your life.

The trick is not to have all work and no play. There is a misconception that works life balance means 50:50. For many of us, work is energising and enriching. Balance means nurturing all parts of ourselves – physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual and social. For example, a week of work-life balance may look like 40 hours of work, three hours for exercise, 2 hours ofmeditation, an hour for coffee with a friend, 15 minutes each night reading a book, and dinner once a week with your partner.

4. Everyone is different.

Know your personality type. If you are driven and ambitious, you thrive on hard work and only need a small amount of leisure time to prevent burn out. If you have a relaxed personality, you will burn out more quickly and need more time away from pressure.

5. Examine your inner values.

Are you living in accordance with your authentic self? If you are working because you have to earn an income, but your inner value is that being a stay at home mum is best, you will feel unhappy and stressed. You need to resolve this, perhaps in therapy. However, if you believe it is good to work and you want to contribute, you need to fortify these beliefs and not let the negative thinking of others creep in. Socialise with likeminded people, read up about other successful women and commit to being your own autonomous self.

6. Notice when you are slipping and adjust your priorities.

If your sleep is disturbed, it means you are stressed. If you are irritable, take time out. Making mistakes, forgetting information, getting sick often, suffering from unexplained pain — like stomach aches or headaches — you are becoming burnt out and need to give more time to your other priorities. The key is to address issues as soon as they crop up and not let them escalate.

7. Be resourceful.

As women, we tend to be better than men at asking for help. Ask for advice, assistance, support; whatever you need. There is a lot of support out there and there is no need for you to shoulder your load alone.

About Renee Mill

Renee Mill is a Senior Clinical Psychologist at Anxiety Solutions CBT, and author of Anxiety Free, Drug Free and Parenting Without Anger. She has worked as a clinical psychologist in private practice for over 30 years and is the owner of stress and anxiety clinic Anxiety Solutions CBT, located in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. She has successfully treated hundreds of individuals, couples and families, and has appeared as an expert commentator on stress, anxiety and depression for TODAY, The Morning Show, ABC Radio, News.com.au and more.

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