Can women have it all? Lily Allen says having children 'ruined her career'

British singer Lily Allen poses on the red carpet upon arrival to attend the West End world premiere of
Lily Allen spoke frankly and honestly about the pressure to 'have it all'. (Getty Images)

The idea that women can "have it all" – balancing family life with a successful career, without having to sacrifice anything – has been around since about the Seventies, as women pushed for gender equality both at home and in the workplace.

But, more than three decades later, women are still struggling for gender equality. The burden of childcare and household chores still lays disproportionately on the shoulders of women, and although by law, men and women must get equal pay for equal work, the gender pay gap still exists, with men getting paid 14.3% more than women.

Speaking about the concept of women "having it all", Lily Allen recently shared her frustrations and said that having children “ruined” her career.

During an appearance on the Radio Times Podcast with host Kelly-Anne Taylor and fellow guest Miquita Oliver, the Smile singer said frankly: "My children ruined my career. I love them and they complete me, but in terms of pop stardom, they totally ruined it."

Allen, who shares two daughters with ex-husband Sam Cooper, continued: "I get really annoyed when people say you can have it all because, quite frankly, you can’t."

Despite her feelings about how having children affected her career, Allen said her choice to step back from her music career and focus on raising her kids was the right one.

Lily Allen, who is married to David Harbour, shares two daughters with her former husband. (Getty Images)
Lily Allen is married to David Harbour. (Getty Images)

"Some people choose their career over their children, and that’s their prerogative. But my parents were quite absent when I was a kid, and I feel like that really left some nasty scars that I’m not willing to, you know, repeat on mine.

"And so I chose stepping back and concentrating on them, and I’m glad that I’ve done that because I think they’re pretty well-rounded people."

Why do women feel pressure to ‘have it all’?

Brogan Garrit-Smith, businesswoman, philanthropist and podcast host of Getting There, is a mother herself and tells Yahoo UK that the huge responsibilities placed on women to take care of nearly every aspect of home life, as well as have a fulfilling career, play a big role.

"Historically, women were homemakers, and that was no easy feat. They would be responsible for raising children, the chores in the house, and looking after their husband’s needs, and then with the fight for women’s independence and to be in the workplace, they were never really excused from that role and still accountable for fulfilling the roles and jobs they previously held," she explains.

"As a society, we’ve never shifted and deflected from that perspective. I feel like, as women, we are so hard on ourselves to have it all because we’ve been given this ‘opportunity’ and should be grateful, yet we are still responsible for our children, homes and everything else that goes in it.

"So, for me, it feels like as a society, we don’t view ourselves as successful unless we are balancing both plates - which is almost impossible."

Watch: Zara Tindall says trying to juggle everything is a 'real struggle'

What does it mean to be successful as a modern woman?

Garrit-Smith believes that we need to reevaluate what it means to be successful. Doing so would give women the space to figure out a different way forward.

She points out that before it became the norm for women to work, they were able to cover the bases of running the home and raising children.

"Frankly, when you are at the mercy of children, you have no control over your time, or if they are going to be sick, for example," she says. "And you are at the mercy of support systems you have in place because nobody can do it on their own."

Women who are worried that having children would ‘ruin’ their careers need to redefine the word ‘career’ for themselves, she adds. "Is it something you can make work around your new career, which is essentially your children?

"Your career could now be things in your spare time that bring in money, or simply accepting you are at the mercy of these small children, and for now, you need to focus on them.

"It’s so difficult when we give ourselves the pressure and expectation to fulfil a career when in truth, it is impossible. Sometimes it’s best to give ourselves the space and grace to focus on what’s in front of us rather than follow society’s impression of what a career should look like."

Cute little baby playing on the floor by her working mother.  Young mother with a baby and a dog, sitting on the floor and working. High angle of view.
Being a working mother can put huge pressure on women. (Getty Images)

Meanwhile, women who want to continue their careers after having children should be easier on themselves, instead of beating themselves up if they aren’t able to strike a perfect balance between motherhood and work - which might not exist right now.

Garrit-Smith says mums who are keen to get back to work must accept that they "won’t have the same time and capacity you did before, or even the same brain space".

Emphasising the importance of having a support system, she adds: "You will not have as much brain space or capacity to excel and commit as before. So maybe you just wait until you have that space in your life?

"We have expectations that we should have a year off and things [will] be sorted, when in truth, you’re getting the beginnings of a toddler, someone who could set the house on fire when you’re not looking and normally has sleep regression.

"We have unrealistic time frames of when we should go back to our ‘old self’ and it doesn’t work like that."

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