It’s Time to Dispel the Myth of ‘Having It All’
In a raw Instagram reel, ‘Bachelor’ star and new mom Ashley Iaconetti shares why she’s realized ‘having it all’ is impossible for most of us.
Years ago, as a parenting journalist who was not quite a parent myself, I noticed attitudes towards the concept that moms can “have it all.” To think otherwise was considered outdated, even sexist. The prevailing idea—the one we heard from high-profile celebrity mothers and business leaders—was that of course you can thrive in a career and motherhood at the same time.
And to an extent that’s true. You can absolutely have a thriving career and be a great mom. But having it all? An involvement in family, career advancement, a workout routine, a marriage that meets our societal ideals of a “healthy relationship” (weekly date nights!), friendships, a daily self-care practice, a perfectly clean home, a home-cooked meal on the table every day, the ability to experience the first steps and the soccer games and the school concerts while also getting ahead at work? It’s just not in the cards, at least for most people.
Three years ago, a pandemic came along and changed everything, including our ideas about both parenting and work culture. The intersection of those two things snapped into focus….but we’re still not seeing it for what it truly is.
There’s a new idea in place that being “family-friendly” means allowing parents to work from home—but not providing any other forms of support or help. Our cultural ideas tell us that this is it: We’ve unlocked a way to let parents “have it all.” But the reality? Having it all, in this context, really just means doing it all, at least for those of us who can’t outsource the bulk of our labor.
Why ‘Having It All’ Is a Red Herring
There’s a reason those high-profile moms have been the ones who’ve been telling us we can have it all. Their platforms are big, their voices are loud, and as a result, they’re often the ones setting the conversations and shaping the ideas about parenthood. But those voices don’t speak for the majority of us—they don’t get to the heart of what everyday moms and parents are fighting through every single day. Because let’s face it: Having it all is a lot easier when you have privilege, especially a lot of it.
In the caption of a recent reel on this very topic, Bachelor star Ashley Iaconetti says it best. “Whoever came up with the expression, ‘You can have it all!’ definitely had a nanny, housekeeper, personal trainer, chef, and driver,” Iaconetti, who welcomed her first child earlier this year, writes in the caption for the video, in which she sobs openly about the stresses of motherhood.
Iaconetti goes on to shut down assumptions she made about being able to juggle work alongside motherhood before she attempted it herself. “Even though I’m SO lucky to have found myself in this career [as] an influencer and podcaster, it’s still very much a time consuming job, despite what many may think,” Iaconetti writes. “(I can debate this another time), I foolishly thought that by working from home, I wouldn’t need help. HA-HA-HA. Working from home is still working and I can’t get into work mode when it’s just [my son] Dawson and me home alone.”
It’s a sentiment many of us will understand, but one that’s still met with so much societal resistance. As a work-from-home, self-employed mother (who, like Iaconetti, admittedly does have a considerable amount of privilege, though not of the driver-and-chef-at-my-disposal variety), I’m constantly seeing evidence of these societal ideas too.
Yes, being able to work remotely is often a marker of privilege, but that doesn’t change the unrealistic weight of expectations that stem from our ideas on having it all. And while having workplace flexibility helps in so many ways, it’s not the magic solution it’s framed to be.
The Ongoing Fallout of a Pandemic
In 2022, ideas about having it all shifted, but they’re still missing the mark and affecting parents in some really damaging ways. Because clearly, we’ve forgotten what it looked like in those early days of the pandemic, when we finally began having conversations about how impossible it is for parents to continue going about their business without childcare or access to a village.
Parents are still left holding together the pieces amidst a childcare crisis, raging viruses, and a cultural shift that expects mothers especially to do it all at once, while being grateful for the opportunity to stack work responsibilities on top of domestic work with zero compartmentalization between the two.
Clearly, this is weighing on parents in some very real ways. See: Iaconetti’s reel and the episode of her podcast, I Don’t Get It, in which she details her struggle to hold it all together while dealing with the pressures of work-from-home motherhood. “Whenever I’m with Dawson…I always need to be doing something else and I can’t ever enjoy my time with him,” Iaconetti sobs. “I feel like I never enjoy any time of my life.”
Having It All Means Having Guilt and Distractions Too
Iaconetti’s raw (and frankly, brave) confession gets right to the heart of what so many work-from-home parents experience: The constant distraction. The persistent guilt of not doing enough for one realm while dealing with the other. The internal and external voices telling you to just be grateful. And the pressure to do it all, because you’ve been given this miraculous thing that makes our version of “having it all” in America a possibility for you. Except…it doesn’t. Not unless you have adequate support and privilege and the ability to outsource some of the other stuff like cooking, cleaning, chauffeur.
At the end of the day, privilege exists on a spectrum. Moms like Iaconetti certainly have a great share of it (no one is saying that work-from-home motherhood is any harder than, say, single parenting while holding down multiple jobs and lacking resources to enlist help, as some of the comments suggest). At the same time, the people with infinite privilege, who in many cases set the standards for how we evaluate parenthood, have given us unrealistic ideas about having it all.
I find Iaconetti’s take far more relatable than, say, Kim Kardashian’s (refresher: In 2014, the star called the idea that we can’t have it all “not a positive outlook”), or Sheryl Sandberg’s, which rightfully tackles the sexism behind asking if women can have it all, but fails to dig into the nuances that make it impossible for the vast majority of moms. The expectations and forces mothers face are different, as evidenced by 2002 Harvard Business Review findings on having it all. Twenty years later, ideas about having it all are still in need of some major work.
Image: PAUL ARCHULETA