We can (not) do it all

Sep 26, 2014 | 2 comments |

As a teenager, I had an image of my adult self. I wanted a job where I carried a briefcase and wore a suit. The message I’d received was girls could do it all – have a successful career, happy family life and an immaculate home too.

I was reminded recently of the teenage girl I once was. Touring a potential senior school with English Rose, I listened to the headmistress speak about the benefits of a girls-only education. She concluded with a slide headed, “We can do it all.”

Although I clapped dutifully, her words made me think of things I’m sure she didn’t intend.

When I began writing romance, early feedback focused on weaknesses in how I handled conflict. Essential to moving the story forward, conflict is what keeps the hero and heroine apart, the obstacles both within and beyond themselves they must overcome to earn their happy ending.

It sounds simple but I spent several years wrestling with how to use conflict effectively in my novels. Unlike some writers, my problem was I had too much conflict, not too little. I gave my characters too many issues to resolve in one book.

I was unintentionally mirroring the reality of most women’s lives, mine included.

All those years ago, I bought into the myth of what success looks like.

I got the suit and briefcase job but it came with a heavy personal price.

As for the immaculate home, I had one once, before the advent of Tech Guy and then English Rose. But that sparkling home was empty, devoid of the clutter that comes with love and family.

Life turned out to be messy and complicated, with twists and turns I never expected.

The words of the headmistress troubled me. By continuing to tell girls they can do it all, we’re doing them and ourselves a disservice.

I write about real women. Those juggling family responsibilities, jobs and big emotional issues, not looking for a man to complete them but to complement and balance them, even if they don’t recognize it initially.

And in life, as in fiction, I’ve learned neither I nor my characters can do it all, at least not at the same time.

So what will I tell English Rose?

Follow your dreams and find your joy. Aim high but don’t judge yourself against impossible standards. Success comes in many different guises and don’t settle for anyone’s happy ending but your own.

What about you?


  1. Susanna Bavin

    Lovely, thoughtful post, Jen. It’s true. There is so much pressure on women and girls to “have it all,” but it isn’t that simple. I hope English Rose takes your words to heart.

    • Jen Gilroy

      Although English Rose may not understand what I meant until she’s grown up, like you, I hope she remembers my words. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments, Susanna.


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