Let’s Bust the Happy Family Myth
What do we actually mean by “having it all” anyway? I agree with Sheryl Sandburg when she points out that opportunities abound when we open ourselves to the potentials of a rewarding career and raising a family. However I struggle mightily with the emphasis that we put on the mythical state of “having it all.” This seems to suggest that if we manage our lives well and do the right things, we can create happy families, loving children and impressive resumes – all at the same time.
So, I am deeply relieved to hear a professional powerhouse like PepsiCo CEO, Indra K. Nooyi remove the sugar-coating and remind us that there really isn’t such a thing as “having it all” because women who work, both inside and outside the home, will struggle with guilt and disappoint in their parenting. This happens regardless of their access to resources or their ability to manage well.
What if we encourage all individuals to contribute the very best of their skills, wherever those skills are most needed?
A client, Lena, recently complained, “If I go to work and my kids end up a mess, I get blamed for being an absentee Mom. If I stay home and my kids end up a mess, I get blamed for being a poor homemaker. I can’t win!”
This blame game needs to stop. The reality actually looks like this: the vast majority of parents, both moms and dads, are doing the best that they can with the knowledge, skills and resources they have right now. I have never met a parent that didn’t fret about getting it right.
However, in the long run, many a loving, united, traditional family unit, with a stay at home mom and a fully engaged dad, can still produce (and often do) kids and young adults with issues – poorly adjusted or unable to cope and produce in our modern world. And on the flipside, we all know stories of young miracles that arise like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes of terrible, barren family situations.
There is no agreed formula for creating a happy, harmonious, well-adjusted family. Outside of the survival basics, we only know that a few ingredients are key – children who believe that a trusted adult loves them. Recognition and attention at regular intervals, consistency and positive life experiences that foster self-esteem, self-reliance, human connection and curiosity. These things occur in many different family styles and practices and no one can say that they have the market cornered on perfect parenting.
So let’s bust this myth. Parenting is tough – for moms and dads. This is true whether they both work outside the home, or whether one parent decides to stay at home as a primary caregiver. Imagine a world where we recognized that all parents are trying to raise happy, healthy contributing beings and we, as a community, pitched in to help.
What if we encourage all individuals to contribute the very best of their skills, wherever those skills are most needed? A bright, young mother with a knack for business and creating jobs receives support in her efforts to grow a company and to raise a happy healthy family. A father with solid parenting skills and a desire to be a primary caregiver, is encouraged in his path. When both parents work – either out of choice or necessity, those who can and are willing are encouraged to step in and help where possible – instead of casting blame on those who may not be ‘doing it the way that I would.’
So, what might “having it all” really mean? Perhaps it means being accepted for doing the best that we can, connecting with people who want to support, contribute, encourage and coach rather than blame, judge and criticize. It might mean coming together to raise our next generation of healthy, contributing humans – compassionate people who know they are loved and know how to love in return.