What Do We Lose When We Try To Have It All?


My head is heavy on the pillow as I sense my husband gently peeling back the bed covers and, inch by inch, easing his way out from our family’s slumber. He momentarily catches my gaze and we smile good morning to each other. I check the time, 4:53am. Despite being a rainy Sunday morning, I know exactly where he’s going: down the hallway to our study to work in all-too-rare-these-days peace and quiet.

My somewhat smaller sleep companion, our three-year-old son, rolls over and kisses me on the cheek before nuzzling in to nurse. Maybe he’ll fall back to sleep, I hope. Then I hear it, “Mama, sorbet…please!” No such luck. Our little man had a fever two days ago and mango sorbet was a treat which has now become an expectation. I attempt to negotiate, but he’s determined at this early hour and I give in easily.

Thankfully, his Dad reappears with my son’s request, crawls back into bed and with it, our day begins. I curl up with my husband for all of ninety seconds before our son leaps on his father’s head and catches me with a familiar elbow to the cheek. He asks us to “cover ears” as he roars like a dinosaur while simultaneously pushing me to the edge of the bed, readying himself for a dose of boys-only roughhousing.

Relegated to my female corner I day dream about what it would be like to sleep in one day, safely enveloped in my husband’s arms, waking up slowly and chatting to each other without the nonstop interruption of a cheeky toddler.

I miss my husband. I miss sleep. I miss a lot of things.

But, I remind myself the one thing I don’t miss is the pain of yearning for a baby. It took us three long years to conceive our son and seeing those two magical pink lines after so many failed attempts was one of the happiest moments of my life. This internal tug-of-war is familiar to most parents as we battle to find our new normal, reconcile our mellowing sense of self and adjust to our evolving marriages.

We accept life is irreversibly transformed and some parts of our pre-children lives are forever lost. It’s hard to do – life was simple and straightforward before kids and it’s healthy to admit we miss it. It doesn’t make us ungrateful parents, it makes us human. It means we’re honest.

I often feel the most potent catalyst fuelling my internal tug-of-war is not the reality of parenting itself, but the disparity between what we’re told it should look like and the way it really is. Expectation is a powerful thing, transforming the same reality into a heaven or a hell. Unfortunately, parenting is littered with false expectations.

I feel a dangerous and growing misconception in our consumer-driven society is the notion we can and should have it all and I wonder if it impacts our parenting choices more than we realize. The idea that we can have a baby and also have eight uninterrupted hours of sleep. The expectation we can have a rewarding career and a family.

The world is changing at a rapid rate and the inconvenient truth is we can’t have it all.

There’s always a compromise and we have to make a choice and set clear priorities. If we don’t we risk becoming so overwhelmed we make short-sighted decisions, such as leaving our babies to cry themselves to sleep. The great irony is the more we seek the impossible dream of having it all, the more unhappy we become and the more we resent those who promise to bring us unprecedented happiness and joy, our families.

One of my defining traits, which is both a blessing and a curse, is my drive to see things for how they really are…and to say it. It means I’m not great at small talk, I often find myself in hot water (online and in real life) and I can’t fake a smile to save myself. So, when it comes to parenting this trait pushes me to question the status quo and to find my own truth.

I encourage you to find your personal truth on this parenting journey. It helps me silence the noise of convention, overlook judgement from others and gives me the courage to act on my natural instincts. It’s the only thing that has helped me calm my internal tug-of-war. To accept my free time is now counted in minutes, not hours. To appreciate small pockets of time with my husband. And to find gratitude in the most unlikely of moments.

So, as I lay here happily watching my two boys wrestle it out at this pre-dawn hour I’m grateful for my unconventional, crazy life I share with them.

I accept working traditional hours has gone out the window and if we want to care for our son on our own 5am on a Sunday is now a productive hour. I acknowledge if I want this website to be a success, while still working my day job, I’ll be run ragged for a while. But, I know I have too many balls in the air and rather than juggling faster, I need to find a way to gracefully drop a ball, to bring more balance into my life.

I don’t know what life will look like next for our little family but I sense a change is coming: a change which involves less, not more. In acknowledging there are some things I just can’t have right now, in this season of my life, I feel a great sense of relief, of unloading, of freedom.

And by expecting less I hope I open the door to having more of what makes me truly happy.

  • June 14, 2016

    This article is inspiring. Although we all live different lives, most of us can relate to the warm feeling of being in the arms of the person you love.

    No matter the life changes that come, keeping a core and grounding oneself helps maintain sanity in a world full of crazies. Thank you for this article. Thank you for writing.

    • June 14, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Thank you Jada and I’m happy you enjoyed it. You’re so right and the common thread is what makes us happy is having time to spend with the people we love. And thank you for commenting – it’s what keeps me writing! 🙂

  • June 14, 2016
    Laura Shallue

    My sister (Tracy) has put into words some of the feeling that I have felt in the past few months; of trying not to be lost in a place that I have never been. It has given me courage to speak some of my truth. While we don’t all share the same journey or feel that we can relate, hearing a person in their own words not through others perceptions helps us to understand. Being a single mum to a beautiful little boy is hard work, the hardest job I have ever done, it is relentless, rewarding, lonely & at times I feel like I’m going to hit the ground & not get up, then my son smiles or wraps his fingers around mine as I change his nappy & I feel nothing more but love for this little boy who will shape this world. My energy returns & I know this little world we have created, our family, gives me the love I need to get through.

    • July 09, 2016
      Janice Glenn

      Good luck on your wonderful adventure of parenting, Laura! I’m sure you’ll have so much to enjoy as your child grows up and you will be rewarded with so much more than you’ll ever give or have to give up. Listen to your heart and let love be your aim. You’re lucky to have a sister in law with good wisdom to share! Take care… Janice

  • July 09, 2016
    Janice Glenn

    Hello Tracy! I am always inspired by your writing, and as a mother of four boys, aged 9 through to 16, feel a connection with all mothers who are searching for happiness and meaning in life. Motherhood has been so rewarding, but in the past, I haven’t always coped well. Looking back at the hard times, I realise now that they were actually the wonderful years, and realise now that one has to grasp each moment for what it is. Often comparing ourselves with others means our expectations are unrealistic as our abilities and inabilities are all different. We need to just strive for optimum happiness in whatever situations life presents us with. Embracing the gift of now – even at 5am in the morning, means that whoever the opportunity, it’s time to unwrap that gift of today. Its true that for us parents, unrealised expectations often leads to dissatisfaction. But when we remember the true worth of our children, no compromise or amount of lack can ever replace the value of the most precious gifts that we are bestowed with. And so we compromise our wants and are rewarded with true abundance in the things that truely matter: love. joy and peace. Good luck on your journey and thank you for sharing your pearls of inner wisdom. It is wonderful to inspire and be inspired to live with simple contentment and with conscious awareness and gratitude for all we already have.

  • September 02, 2016

    Thank you for another inspiring article Tracy. I often come to your website when i’m nursing my four month old little boy. It’s been a massive help for me so far on this parenting journey. You have a such a great way of articulating a lot of my parenting instincts yet rarely come across in the other mums I meet. We’re off to the library to day to see if we can pick up any of the six books you recommended. Thanks again for doing what you’re doing 🙂
    All the best, Sophie (over in England)

    • September 02, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      My pleasure Sophie and so happy you enjoy the site. I love writing it and hearing comments like yours make the late nights worth it! 🙂 You’re not alone – I don’t know many people in real life who parent the way I do. I hope to be able to build a community here so we can support each other and feel like part of a tribe of kick ass mamas who do things our own way 🙂 I lived in the UK for five years – very fond memories. Thanks again! xx

    • September 06, 2017

      I agree with you Sophie, I’m also in London and struggle to find people who share this perpective on parenting; Tracy – your articles really are inspiring and it’s a real support to know there are other parents out there who want to parent this way!

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