Editor’s Letter: The Truth About Mothers Having It All 

Jessica Ruth Gibson is a single parent as well as Founder and Editor of Travelista.  In this think-piece article she explores the real truth about ‘mothers having it all’, with a little inspiration from Shonda Rhimes CBE.

Before (or without) having kids, I think women can go through life feeling relatively equal to their male counterparts. When child free; neither man nor woman have had any lengthy career breaks, they’re equally as reliable and they can do overtime as and when needed. I remember those days, where the world felt progressive and as if we were right on the cusp of attaining the nirvana of gender equality.

Then I became a Mum. 

Everything I thought I knew and understood about gender equality came crashing down when I began to feel the weight of ‘the mother load’.

I think Mums first truly feel the mother load at the point of returning to work. Whether out of choice or necessity, the majority of women have to go through a process of finding their feet as working Mums. 

Many women have done it before me and many will do it after me. Now I’m through the transition, I see my friends go through the process and can instantly recognise the signs. They sort of have this glazed look in their eyes as they slowly realise just how demanding their days will be for the foreseeable future. I hold my arms out to hug them, welcoming them in to the new dimension. Welcome to working motherhood, my friend

If you can’t immediately relate to this, let me elaborate a little. 

It’s the pull between wanting to excel work, as well as be the best parent you can be (but simultaneously feeling like you’re not really doing a great job of either). It’s the feeling of having every single hour of your day accounted for, from the moment you open your eyes to the moment you (finally) get your child to sleep at night. Then throw in the other facets such as maintaining a home, practicing self care, dating your partner and finding time to socialise or exercise and mothers are left feeling maxed out. We’re left wondering… how do all other women do it all? 

The truth is – they don’t

Stay with me…

The Truth About Mothers Having It All

Editor’s Letter: The Truth About Mothers Having It All 

I recently listened to a speech that resonated with me and influenced me so much that it changed my entire way of thinking towards working motherhood. It made me create a kinder more accepting narrative in my head which, overall, has brought me a great deal more peace. So now I am passing on the torch. 

The speech I’m talking about comes from prolific American TV producer Shonda Rhimes CBE, the vision behind hit TV shows including Bridgeton and Grey’s Anatomy. Rhimes is a hugely successful single working mother and the empire she has built in Shondaland is nothing short of revolutionary. 

The speech took place at on the 8th June 2014 at Dartmouth College (University of Southern California), where Rhimes is now part of the Alumni. In total coincidence, I discovered that this speech was delivered almost exactly 10 years ago at the time of this article being published, but the words remain more relevant than ever. 

The overarching message of this speech is this; working mothers can have it all, but not at the same time. 

She explains how people always ask her how she does it all, as a single mother of 3. She said for once she is going to answer the question with complete honesty, and this was her answer; 

“Whenever you see me succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means I am failing in another area of my life. If I am killing it on a Scandal script for work, I am probably missing bath and story time at home. If I am at home sewing my kids halloween costumes, I am probably blowing off a rewrite I was supposed to turn in. If I am accepting a prestigious award, I am missing my babies first swim lesson”

If I am succeeding at one, I am inevitably failing at the other. That is the tradeoff. That is the faustian bargain one makes with the devil that come with being a powerful mother. You never feel 100% OK, you never get your sea legs, you are always a little nauseous. Something is always lost, something is always missing”.


But she goes on to say that the trade off is not all bad. Within this trade off, her children get to see her as a successful working mother who is happy and fulfilled by her work. Her children will know that women work and that their own Mum is a powerful decision maker – and that sounds pretty cool to me. 

The main realisation I came to after hearing Rhimes’ speech is this; not everything can be a priority all at once, and that’s OK.

Even powerful working mothers who have become hugely successful in their careers, like Shonda Rhimes, still feel the exact same pull I talked about at the start of the article, but they carry on and do it anyway. So next time you feel ‘the pull’, remember that every other working mother around the world is feeling this too. You are not alone. 

After this realisation in recent weeks, I’ve been doing things a little differently. My mindset has changed. I’ve decided that I get to choose and rotate my priorities each day, and let everything else wait – without guilt. Choose what fires to extinguish and let everything else burn. Choose to get comfortable with chaos. Motherhood is not about perfection. Accept that now, or kill yourself trying to attain the impossible.

Let me put this into some real-life scenarios that are true in my own life (remember that we all have our different limitations. I am a self-employed single parent, working full time).

  • If I decide to do nothing but relax once my son is asleep, the dishes will still be in the sink the next morning – and that’s OK. I deserve some downtime.
  • If I need to go away and travel for work, my son won’t see me for a week – and that’s OK. I am working to provide for my son and he will get more quality time with his Dad.
  • If I attend my son’s school play at 2pm, I won’t be as productive at work that day – and that’s OK. There is nothing urgent, so work can wait.
  • If I need to do domestic admin like cleaning the house or doing an online food shop, my son is going to be put in front of the TV – and that’s OK. My son will benefit from a stocked fridge / a clean home.
  • If I decided to give my son my undivided attention all Saturday, the house will feel a mess and I’ll have mountains of washing to tackle – and that’s OK. I only get every other weekend with my son so I want to maximise them.
  • If I decide to do something for me, like set myself a goal of going to the gym 3 times a week, I’ll have eat into daytime work hours and catch up in the evenings. Exercising improves my mental health, which makes me more focused at work and a better Mum.

The only one really punishing myself for any of the above trade offs was me. So instead of being my own biggest critic, I am trying to become my own biggest cheerleader. Because whilst something or someone always has to miss out in these trade offs, all of these things contribute to the overarching goal of building a happy, healthy and stable life for me and my son.

As working mothers, we are all doing our best within our own limitations. Every woman has a different combination of support and resource available to them as they learn to juggle things as a working Mum.

Some of us may have supportive loving partners who help to share the load. Some of us may be single, doing it alone.

Some of us may have a great support network with friends and parents to call upon when needed. Some of us might live in a place with no family or friends around.

Some of us may have the disposable income to hire nannies, cleaners and personal trainers. Some of us may be desperately struggling through the cost of living crisis with zero help.

Some of us may be fit and strong. Some of us may be battling major physical or mental health issues. 

So next time you’re feeling overwhelm, I hope you remember Shonda’s honest and authentic take on working motherhood. We are all constantly spinning, dropping and picking up ALL the plates. The real truth is that we all still get up every single day and do our very best for our children, within our own limitations and capacity. And let me assure you, that is enough.

What are your thoughts on the topic of working mothers having it all? If this article resonates with you, we’d love you to share it, or leave a community comment below or over on Instagram. Let’s keep the conversation going. 

Read more Travelista articles on the topics of family and career.

Watch the full speech from Shonda Rhimes

Jessica Ruth Gibson is the Founder and Editor of Travelista and an award-winning travel content creator of 10 years. She lives in York, UK with her son and has travelled to over 50 countries; her favourites being Italy, Canada and Vietnam.


  • Beth Harvey

    A really powerful post with an insightful, valuable message. Thanks for sharing Jess. I’ll be sending to all my mum friends for a dose of solidarity and to encourage self-care.

    • Thanks for the comment Beth, I’m so glad you found this article valuable! I put a lot of thought into it and thanks for also sharing with your friends. Huge love! X

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