With the onset of frozen dinners, pressure from advertising and TV role models changing from June Cleaver (Leave it to Beaver) and Carol Brady (The Brady Bunch) to Angela Bower (Who’s The Boss?) and Claire Huxtable (The Cosby Show), there was a belief in the 1980s and 1990s that women should, and could, balance it all.

Our moms were the first generation of women who weren’t expected to choose between being a stay-at-home mom or work. Women’s magazines helped foster the idea that there was a way to manage both while also looking beautiful, feeling carefree, and, heck, maybe even fitting in a match of tennis or date night at the ballet! Well, it was a nice dream while it lasted.

Anyone living in the real world knows that you can’t have it all; something’s gotta give! But how do our choices differ from men? The Motherload, airing on CBC Television’s DocZone this Thursday, explores the reality that working moms in North America face today, be they financially-strapped single moms or powerhouse CEOs.

“I made this documentary, in part, because it was only when I had a child five years ago did I realize that things were not the same for men and women. And it was—strangely—shocking to me,” says Director and Producer Cornelia Principe. Principe is just one of many women who are churning the contemporary conversation about equity in the workplace. In the past year, The Atlantic ran a feature entitled “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” that went viral and shattered our preconception of work-life balance.

Facebook COO Cheryl Sandberg has captured the working world with her best-selling book Lean In. Just last month, Toronto Life ran a feature entitled “Moms on Top: The Rise of Power Wives, House Husbands and the new Single Income Family”. It has sparked controversy which can be seen in the range of opposing comments.

Suffice it to say, this is a hot topic. And while some media choose to show how particular families manage, or how women with children can make it to the top, The Motherload examines how the current structure of our society prevents fair advancement for working moms.

Mother or not, these are issues that impact all of us. In anticipation of the documentary’s premiere this Thursday, we asked filmmaker Cornelia Principe some questions.

SDTC: After making this documentary, what does the statement “You can have it all!’ mean to you? 

CP: Sadly, it seems to have turned into a bit of a cruel joke.

SDTC: With the current system that we have, what choices do working moms have to make? 

CP: For most, I suspect difficult choices—usually between advancing in a career or seeing their kids awake—and judging by women’s stalled advancement across industries they are “choosing” kids over career. I use quotes around choice because really it’s not a real choice between two viable options. Though I must add that there are a number of reasons women are not advancing through the pipe line and women’s “choices” are only a part of that. Though for the growing number of single moms, “choice”, however questionable, is perhaps a luxury.

SDTC: Through all the interviews you did for this doc, what sticks with you as particularly memorable or shocking? 

CP: What was so surprising were the similarities—the same sense across all those I interviewed of frustration, disappointment and surprise at how life turned out. And how larger issues that shaped and are shaping a generation of women—and men—were playing out so similarly in their day-to-day lives no matter their socio-economic, cultural circumstances.

Also, the fact that mothers today spend more time with their kids then stay at home mothers did in the 1960s. That statistic was shocking to me—yet it made perfect sense thinking back to my own childhood.

SDTC: Who can we look to as an example of a culture who is doing it right? 

CP: The Scandinavian countries—Denmark, Norway. Sweden—seem to have a better sense of balance then we do. Though they also have found women stalled out in advancing in many fields—so clearly it’s not perfect.

SDTC: So, how do we begin changing things? What is the priority?

CP: Big question. Not sure I can answer that in a few sentences. What I tried to do in the doc was give an overview of the factors effecting working mothers and why—which takes up most of the documentary!  In the final act of The Motherload, we look at solutions and I wish we had more time for this because frankly it’s as complex and varied as the problem. If the goal is gender equality then we need to start with gender equality in the home—and that means men should be taking some if not fully half of parental leave. This has been shown to have a lasting and profound impact not only on fathers but mothers.  Women need to stop trying to be superwomen and more importantly supermoms—let go, stop the guilt, and stop the judgment of self and others. Work places need to start to recognize that their employees have lives outside of work and expecting them to be available 24/7 is making for a burnt out, stressed (and therefore less productive) work force. Society—governments—need recognize that helping families cope, with parental leave benefits, affordable, good childcare etc., is a necessary investment in the future not a financial hand out. Also, I agree with Sandberg—women should not be giving up on their careers (though to lean in to the system we have now seems to repeat what our generation did and found wanting). Women—mothers—have for too long now carried the majority of the burden (and joy) of parenting and little will change until that responsibility becomes truly shared across genders and collectively as a society.

 The Motherhood premieres Thursday, January 9 at 9p.m. EST on CBC Television.