Working Mother recently shared an article on their Facebook page by a woman lamenting how much harder her life is than that of her parents, a stay-at-home mom and a working dad. She outlined the ways she feels she is getting the worst of both their worlds – having all the work pressure her dad had with none of the leisure he enjoyed because of his non-working wife. And, also, all of the home pressure of her mom without the same amount of time to do it all because of her work.
I struggle to know how to react to articles with this kind of message. On the one hand I believe very strongly that women need to tell the truth about their lives. It is only in this truth that we can find path solutions that will allow everyone (women and men) to live rich, whole lives. On the other hand, I worry that articles lamenting how hard it is to be a working mom perpetuate a cultural narrative that actually makes it harder for everyone, especially women, to live the lives they want to live.
I think these articles perpetuate three myths that are holding us all back from leading the lives we want. Let’s bust them, shall we?
MYTH #1: Our parents’ lives were much easier (and more different) than ours
Have you talked to them about this? I’m willing to bet the idyllic childhood (if you had one) is more nostalgia than reality. It’s also worth noting that even in the supposed time that most women were home – they actually weren’t. While it is more common today for women to work outside the home (the majority, in fact, do so) there’s was always a larger percentage of working moms (even in those glorious 50’s, 60’s and 70’s) than the media storytelling would lead us to believe.
MYTH #2: The way our dads worked is the only way to work successfully
This myth, unfortunately, is believed by both employees and the companies that employ them. To think that parents today (and yes, I mean both parents – dads and moms) can work the way the mythological 60’s dad did is illogical. A more flexible way of working is possible. Yes, flexible work arrangements (sometimes) requires company policies but they also require self-discipline to maintain boundaries and focus on achieving results, not just clocking in hours.
MYTH #3: Moms need to be in charge of everything at home (whether or not they work outside it)
I really can’t wait for this myth to die. I see evidence of it cracking. Case in point: Drop the Ball, a great book by Tiffany Dufu on how she cured her “home control disease” and engaged her husband to pick up his half (and how she acknowledged the parts he already picked up AND the parts he did better than she did). Another article, also featured on Working Mother, outlines how Katherine Winsch, CEO of The Mom Complex, keeps herself sane by, in part, sharing responsibilities with her husband. What’s amusing about her story is the “shock” she encounters from other moms when she reports that her husband is in charge of sports activities. We need to stop being shocked by men who parent their own children and starting being shocked by the ones who don’t.
So how do we bust these myths? For the first one, I think engaging your parents isn’t a bad way to start. You might be surprised to learn what they found challenging about being parents. For the work myth, engage with your boss and your team in a discussion about shared goals and metrics for achieving them that aren’t based on hours in the office but instead are focused on results. Work with your team to figure out how you can craft flexible schedules that allow you to cover for each other, meet your personal obligations and achieve the business’s goals.
For the last one, you need to practice letting go of obligations that don’t bring the family joy and engaging your partner (and your kids!) in getting everything done at home. It starts by assuming that everyone in the family is equally responsible – then it’s a question of figuring out how to divvy up the actual work. The mindset shift is the most important piece – and also the hardest. But once that new mindset is achieved, the rest is details.