One "huge" juggling act ... That's the key to success, says Julia Newton-Howes, chief executive of CARE Australia. Photo: Josh Estey
I always make the point, when presented with the chance to interview a working mother, of asking how she does it. The juggle, the daily grind, the second shift. What are her secrets, her tips, her advice on how to combine two jobs: the most important one and the one that pays you money.
This week I interviewed Julia Newton-Howes, the chief executive of CARE Australia for a story in next weekend's edition of Relax, and I asked her what her secret was. There isn't one, she said, it's just a matter of prioritising, admitting that for her it was the kids and career, and there was ''a huge amount of juggling'' that went on, given she was also a single mother for the most part of her children's lives. She admits she just chose to miss out on some things like catching up with friends, going out to the theatre, or the cinema. That's just how it was.
I started thinking about the whole having-it-all thing again this week after watching the Sarah Jessica Parker movie I Don't Know How She Does It the other night. It's the film version of the Allison Pearson best-seller of the same name. I've written about this book before. It's worth reading, if you like that kind of serious chick-lit, and the film's not too bad either in a ''it's 9.30 and the kids are finally in bed and husband is catching up with work on the computer in the study and now I'm just going to have a cup of tea and collapse'' sort of way.
Sarah Jessica Parker, star of the film I Don't Know How She Does It. Photo: Getty
I thought, though, when I first read Pearson's book, that it might actually present some solutions. But it didn't, surprise surprise - it just reinforced the idea that the ambition to have it all is an impossible one.
And anyway, what is it all?
I know a couple of lovely ladies who are pregnant at the moment and one of them told me she and her partner had had an ''expectations'' talk the other night. They spoke about what might happen once their baby was born, how it would all work. Don't expect dinner on the table every night, she told him. Good on her, I thought, and good on them, that they're thinking about things well before the baby is even born. Communication is the key right through any stage of a relationship, so they're off to a good start. But I wanted to warn them that things might not turn out the way they plan, that they, like all people who have taken the leap and decided to have a baby, actually have no idea what's in store. You can be as prepared as you like, but nothing prepares you for it. Until you actually have that little baby in your arms and you realise you have to take it home from the hospital. And that you have it for the rest of your life, whether it's four weeks or 40 years old.
I wanted to tell her to set her expectations low, but didn't, because I thought it sounded too depressing.
But then I went home, after doing a busy shift at work, coaching my daughter's hockey team, picking kids up from swimming, and getting a load of washing done and the floor swept inbetween, dinner on the table and stories read, kisses and cuddles good night, a cup of tea and an episode of M*A*S*H where I shared a few laughs with my husband. I thought, OK, this might not be having it all - the house was still a little messy, I had stories I needed to write banking up at work, there were things waiting to be put in the diary and I didn't find time to go for a run that day and I hadn't spoken to my parents for ages among all sorts of things I needed to do - but it was my ''all''. For that moment, that day, this was my all.
And it occurred to me that every day, that all is different.
Is having it all really about being happy and content with each day, each moment? About being grateful and kind? About letting each day unfold as it might and doing your best with that?
Perhaps it's about realising that you will fail, you will fail to do everything on the list, you will fail to meet expectations, but all you can do is what you can do. It's about prioritising, as Newton-Howes said, and realising that today you might not get that load of washing done because you chose to read to your kids. You might not get to meet that girlfriend for a coffee because there was a pressing matter at work. But tomorrow you might. It's not about lowering your expectations; that's the totally wrong way to describe it. It's about accepting, embracing, what your life has become and finding joy in that.
Don't get me wrong; we all need to have expectations about where we want our lives to go. But we shouldn't beat ourselves up if we're not reaching those lofty heights we once thought we could.
Be true to yourself, live an authentic life, find joy and peace in every moment. Continue to strive but realise it's about the journey not the destination. Now I'm starting to sound like an episode of Oprah.
And, my dear pregnant friends, if those moments feel like they're coated in stale milk, poo and vomit, be grateful you're holding that little baby. Be ready for that journey that will take you places you never expected to be. And that's the most exciting part.