Reassessing the meaning of "having it all"


This pic was taken one morning in October 2008 after I was asked by the Limerick Leader newspaper to take part in a feature titled "Can Women Have it All". I remember getting myself and my daughter ready that morning - we both got all dressed up and ready to be photographed. After the photographs were taken I was called by Anne Sheridan, a journalist with the Limerick Leader to ask me what I thought about working mums having to juggle their careers and motherhood and could we really have it all?


It is funny reading back through the article 10 years later as while I spoke about the positive changes motherhood brings to your life and also the pressure I did feel to get back to work as I had my own company I also said "..if you're willing to accept that there's going to be change, and are willing to balance it, you can have it all." Right there and then at that point in my life I did see that I had it all - I was creative director of my own successful award winning design agency and I was also an equally successful mum as my daughter was now 2 years old and I was managing everything perfectly well.

What exactly is "Having it all"?

Now that I am 10 years older - and hopefully 10 years wiser - I would now have paused when asked that question and asked  "Well what is having it all?"

When I became a mum I was very fortunate that my husband was looking after the business side of the company so I could concentrate on the design and art direct the designers we had working for us but I still worked so hard and all the final branding and design - which was at the end of the day what we were selling - was down to me. 

I briefed the designers, I oversaw the design from start to finish - I was also designing myself, coming up with concepts, taglines for new logos and presenting the designs to our clients. This also meant I needed to look my best at all times - because in the branding and design industry how you present yourself is part of your own brand. The business had been built on our reputation for attention to detail so everything needed to be done to the highest of standards. We were an International award winning design agency and there was a reason for that.

The pressure we put on ourselves

I approached motherhood in the same way as I approached everything I did in my life - I wanted to give it 110% - I knew that from the moment I became pregnant and because I was extremely sick for my entire pregnancy (between my back and hyperemesis) her arrival felt even more beautiful. Due to the titanium rods in my back I needed to have a general anesthetic for her delivery so I felt so lucky to hold her and after I was awoken from my operation and held her for the first time - like any mum will understand - I felt so much love for her and I had an immediate urge to give her all the attention and motherly love she deserved.

I was going to be the best mum I could possibly be and 2 years later when this interview was done I knew and felt I was doing a good job. Was I completely knackered? Yes, all of the time! But once I felt that I was doing everything as best I could, me feeling tired didn't really come into the equation. I just kept on going. My husband would say it to me all the time to take a break and rest but while I listened to him say the words I never really did anything about it. I just kept on going.

I decided shortly after my daughter was born that I would work a 4 day week so I could spend more time with her but because it was my own business I never really switched off for that day. For the first year and a bit I had the support from both grandparents so my husband regularly suggested that maybe I should look at leaving my daughter with his mum on a friday morning so that I could have a few hours for myself - or to catch up on things I needed to but I wouldn't hear of it. I was consumed with so much guilt as a working mum that I insisted on taking my daughter with me - including doing the food shopping!

By the time she was 2 she was full-on and energetic (as most mums who have ever had a 2 year old know), so food shopping could be exhausting but I felt that once she was with me that's what mattered. By that time she was also in a creche as she enjoyed being with other children but I never once considered sending her to creche when I was off so I could do the shopping and maybe even a cup of tea on my own (- what??? A cup of tea on my own??? That would be the most selfish thing any working mother could do - right???) I never thought that my daughter might actually benefit from a relaxed, recharged mum picking her up at lunchtime!

I never thought that my daughter might actually benefit from a relaxed, recharged mum picking her up at lunchtime!

I brought her to the library or the park after I did the shopping - everything that I had dreamed of doing as a mum and I would spend every Sunday cooking everything from scratch for the week ahead from every Annabelle Carmel cookbook written. All to be "the best mum" I could be to her. Or at least what I thought was the "best mum I could be".

I rarely stopped to slow down to take a breath and listen to what I needed. That was at a time when I hadn't a clue what self-care or self-love really was. If the term had been mentioned to me I would have just thought it sounded selfish. Full stop. I knew what I was doing after all - didn't I?

Self-Care is Never Selfish

Back then I never made the connection between being on an airplane and the oxygen masks being deployed in the cabin - and motherhood - who do they tell you to tend to first? The message is always loud and clear - put your own mask on before you attend to your children. Self-care isn't just about having your hair or nails done - as I would have thought - it's about really taking care of yourself by resting, listening to your body, relaxing your mind, being present with yourself and really knowing what your needs are.

As women we sometimes feel we need to prove so much to each other and to ourselves.

As women we sometimes feel we need to prove so much to each other and to ourselves. We want everyone to know we're doing a great job and we have our 'sh-t' together, when in actual fact it's perfectly okay to say "I'm not okay", or  "I'm struggling a bit", or "I find it difficult sometimes" We're not machines but sometimes we feel we have to operate like one - and even machines get to unplug every now and then! So many women don't open up about this and as a result it can lead to many women suffering in silence.

Listen to Your Body

I suffered alot with my back after my second child was born and once again I had had hyperemesis - but this time it was worse and I also had it all through my pregnancy. The recovery is also slow due to the general anesthetic and the complications with my back so I ended up being off work for a while after my son was born with my back but once again found it very difficult to rest - there was always something to be done! Well, that's what I kept telling myself anyway. My husband would constantly say "leave it" or "don't worry about it" but I never listened.

You would have thought after that and other injuries that I developed after 2 car crashes I was involved in that I would have now started to listen to my body or at least connected with it in some way? Not a chance! I was eager to get back to myself but would never have dreamed that resting might just speed the process up - I was too impatient with not moving - too impatient with recovery - too impatient to slow down.

It took tinnitus and becoming deaf for my mind to finally listen to my body. The loud noise ringing in my head was like my body screaming at me to pay attention.

It took tinnitus and becoming deaf for my mind to finally listen to my body. The loud noise ringing in my head was like my body screaming at me to pay attention. The MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) Course I completed was the start of a new mindset change for me. Mindfulness and meditation has completely changed my life. I have written about all the benefits I have experienced in other blog posts so I won't go into too much detail here but I am now at a place in my life when I feel more contentment than ever before. I practice every day, I have for me what feels like the perfect balance between work and being a mum and now that I give myself the time I need each day to sit with my myself in meditation and my practice I now have a clarity in my mind that means I can be present for my children when I am with them. I have recently made decisions in my career that gives me the freedom to continue to work and use my creativity in my design but above all it has given me the clarity to make choices that are best for me, and for my family. Not clouded decisions based on what you think is the right thing to do or worse - what you think everyone else thinks you should do!

Empower not pressure

Thankfully I built my design business at a time before the hashtag "Girlboss" existed and often when I see quotes like "Hustle your muscles" and watch women doing all they can to get ahead - it concerns me. I can see so many young girls who become so focused on staying on top of their game and getting ahead in business that they can loose so much focus not only on what they are about but also on their real needs. There's a fine line between empowering women and putting pressure on women - knowing the difference is what's important.

There’s a fine line between empowering women and putting pressure on women - knowing the difference is what’s important.

One of the most amazing things about practicing mindfulness is it teaches you to live in the now as opposed to past but it doesn't mean you can't learn from what the past has taught you. I will never regret working as hard as I did for those years - both professionally and as a mum as I believe everything you do in this life makes you stronger but if I could give any advice to my younger self I would have taken more time to check in with myself and ask myself "how are you doing?" once and awhile. I would definitely introduce myself to the power of the breath and taking a moment to listen to it because back then I can't ever remember having a breath!

I fully understand that so many of us women have to work and are doing so for financial reasons only - not career choices or because they want to but it doesn't matter what your circumstances we all have the same needs as women and we all - every single one of us - need to realise the importance of checking in with ourselves and taking small moments to breathe throughout our busy days because whether you work or not - or whether you are a mum or not - life is fast and hectic.

Ten years older and thankfully wiser

So if my now 12 year old daughter in the above pic ever asks me can women have it all - I would probably answer the same - "Yes, 100% we can have it all!" - because we are brave, powerful and strong but never lose sight of what you're about - what you already have in your life and what in actual fact makes you happy.

The more we connect with ourselves the more clarity we have to see what works best for us in both our personal or professional lives. This will help us develop the tools to see ways to make small changes to find the balance we often yearn for or make big changes if we feel they are necessary.

We may even discover that 'having it all' doesn't have to mean 'doing it all'. 'Having it all' can be as as simple as being awake and aware enough to realise and appreciate that in actual fact when you stop to notice - you already do.