Claire Hailwood believes asking ‘can women have it all?’ is not be the best question to ask.


As Jacinda Arden resigned as the Prime Minister of New Zealand, the BBC headline posed the question – can women really have it all?

So can, or even should, women pursue both career and work opportunities and family life ‘successfully’, and even if they can, is it the ‘right’ thing to do?

1. Equality?

Arden said that she didn’t have ”enough left in the tank” to continue to lead. One of many reflections was the impact that years of leadership, through a global pandemic, had had on her family, but the headlines were full of the tension between family and professional life.

I’m not sure the same headlines would have been written had the outgoing Prime Minister been male, even if he had referenced his family. Have you ever heard anyone ask whether men can ”really have it all?”

There are still very different expectations for women who work and are parents, than men.

2. Privilege = choice

For some men and women, their financial privilege means they can ‘choose’ whether they want to work alongside parenthood or whether one or both should go part time.

It’s important to acknowledge that this is not a choice that many, men or women, are in a position to make, whatever their preference might be.

So, while I’m not going to try and answer the question posed in the BBC headline (because I’m not sure it’s a right or helpful question) as I reflect on career ‘vs’ motherhood, it’s important to acknowledge the context is nuanced, complex and challenging.

I’ve been a Mum for 15 years. In that time I’ve had the privilege of adopting, fostering and birthing children. Before I was a parent both my husband and I worked full time. Over the last decade and a half, I’ve had maternity and adoption leave, been both full and part time, a SAHM (stay at home Mum) and truthfully I’ve felt the tension in every iteration, always.

I have friends who want nothing more than to be a parent with no other paid work alongside, and others who have seriously considered whether to grow their family because they are so committed and feel called to their work.

I continue to live in this tension. I continue to bring it before God regularly because my greatest desire is that I would be living how He wants me to, raising my children to know and love Him and outworking the calling He’s placed in me. Here are three things that have been helpful to me in pursuit of God’s best in each season.

3. The body has many parts

1 Corinthians 12 paints this brilliant picture of God’s people as a body with many parts, each of them different, no one more or less valuable than another, and cautions us (as though God knows what we’re like!), not to compare one with the other, or to think we need one part of the body less or more than any other.

It’s easy to apply this to the church, each of us with our different gifts, but I wonder if it also has resonance in this context. We’re not all the same and neither is the call on our lives. What God has put in us is not the same, therefore, our families will not look the same, nor our roles within them.

Perhaps the question is not, should I be doing what that person over there is doing (because they seem to be getting it ‘right’) and more, what is God asking me to do?

What if we then followed that? Where there is a genuine choice, changing our perspective on what’s ‘right’ could be genuinely freeing.

4. What are you modelling?

We’ve raised and are raising both boys and girls, and I’ve always been (sometimes to a fault) determined not to fall in to stereotypes. For example, when my boys played with trucks and vans I’d ask the name of the woman driving it, or if they picked up a doll I’d talk about what a lovely Daddy they’d make. My husband would sometimes tell me that my boys would think vans were only driven by women the way I always spoke about it!

More than moments like these or things that I say, my children will follow how I live. And that includes what I’m modelling in relation to work. We want to talk, to our sons and daughters, about the joy, privilege and calling of both work and family, to work hard in the things that God has called us to, whatever that is.

God has placed unique, extraordinary potential in each of us, including our children, male and female. I don’t want any of them to feel that potential quashed by societal pressures or norms, but instead play my part to raise them to fulfil the call God has placed on them.

5. Stewarding

Psalm 127:3 tells us that children are a gift from God, however our families are put together. Colossians 3:23 tells us that whatever we do, we should work hard as though working for the Lord. Perhaps the question of how many hours we should or shouldn’t work, as men or women, is the wrong one, but the question we should be asking instead is, how do I steward well the gifts and opportunities that God has gifted me with?

If we seek first His Kingdom, in our family and work life, and with humility, steward well what He’s given us, then whatever the outworking of that in our lives, He will equip us (and the children we’re called to raise) for the tasks in hand.