Media and lifestyle critics have been engaged in a frenzy of comment these past couple of weeks over the film ‘I don’t know how she does it’, based on the 2002 bestseller book of the same title by Allison Pearson. The film stars Sarah Jessica Parker as the heroine Kate Reddy, who balances (or doesn’t) life as an investment manager with life as a mother, and you cannot have failed to see the coverage: endless comment pieces about how true or not the film is, and countless reviews, most of which say it is an ‘all right’ sort of a film – lighthearted and without huge substance, but moderately entertaining. It is in the mould of most films, then – and there is nothing wrong with light entertainment, after all.
I haven’t of course seen it – not enough time while actually balancing work and family – but I can appreciate its content. Interestingly, however, although the main thrust of the comment pieces has been that ‘this has happened in my life too’, there is an ascerbic tinge both (according to reviewers) to the movie, and to the commentaries on it. The competition that can exist between women is highlighted – encouraged even – and it is debatable how helpful this is in our striving to move things forward more generally for women, including working mothers. The debate for women often centres around the question of whether it is possible ‘to have it all‘, and there is a certain malicious delight – not a pleasant emotion – which often seems to surface when it becomes clear that you can’t actually have everything in life.
But what a foolish assumption to make in the first place! Taken to its extremes, of course you can’t have everything in life – every consumer good, every experience, every state of being. To have children and not have children at the same time; to live simultaneously in New York, Delhi and the wilds of West Africa … how absurd even to contemplate it! We can add experiences to our lives, and this is one of the messages we should be communicating to our young people – make the most of your opportunities, and you will lead a richer life – but just think of all the information there is in the world: how ridiculous to expect we could know, or even encounter, a fraction of all of it! So much is unknowable, so much is impossible to do.
Seen with in this context of the truly impossible in life, it seems eminently possible to consider that we might be able to conduct the relatively simple actions of (a) having children and (b) working. Why on earth do we create such a fuss about it? It doesn’t mean that it is easy – but why would we expect it to be? Everything that is worth anything in life requires hard work, and therein lies the satisfaction of it. What matters is our attitude to it – a positive, optimistic, ‘can-do’ attitude, which acknowledges that there is no such thing as perfection, and that this is fine. We need to change the language around women’s lives – ‘choices’, not ‘compromises’, for example.
So … do enjoy the film. I expect that I will at some later stage in the future, but it doesn’t worry me not to be able to see it now. In the meantime, go and enjoy your family and your work. We do know how she does it, just as we know how we do it – with humour, determination, and an embrace of all that life has to offer. Go for it!