Nope, we can’t have it all
I recently shared several articles with a friend, all regarding the topic of the guilt or stress that so many women feel when they work outside the home. This included the recent comment by professional powerhouse, PepsiCo CEO Indra K. Nooyi, who removes the sugar-coating and reminds us that there really isn’t such a thing as “having it all”—that even mothers who manage well and seek a wide variety of help and resources still feel guilty.
“Really!?” She said, “Are we STILL talking about this? I thought we moved on from these issues years ago!”
Nope. And, I don’t believe we will—not as parents, professionals or a community of commentators—until we begin to address the “happy family” myth.
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!
The happy family myth that seems to continue to permeate our national thinking is that if we are good and dedicated parents and if we do it “right,” we will raise happy, healthy kids who will succeed in the most traditional manner, both making us very proud and avoiding bringing any shame or embarrassment to the family. And, on the flip side, if we do it wrong, our kids will have issues. They won’t perform, be happy, get good grades, and worse yet, they may even have problems—with people, drugs, the law, etc. And it appears that mothers are often seen as the culprit.
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!”
The reality actually looks like this: the vast majority of parents, both moms and dads, are doing the best they can with the knowledge, skills and resources they have right now. I have never met a parent who 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 flip side, we all know stories of young miracles who arise like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes of terrible, barren family situations.
There is no agreed-on formula for creating a happy, harmonious, well-adjusted family. Outside of the survival basics, we know that children need to believe a trusted adult loves them. A few ingredients are key: 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— whether you are a mom OR a dad, whether you work outside the home or choose to stay at home as a primary caregiver. Rather than judging another person’s choices, I’d like to hear more conversations about how we can come together, as a community, to create more opportunities for children and caregivers, business-minded moms and soccer dads to bring their very best to every day.
Rather than focusing on all of the things we might be getting wrong, let’s have a conversation about all the things we are probably getting right. In many communities around the world, the raising of children is a shared responsibility with both family and non-family pitching in. Perhaps we need to re-think how we raise our next generation, knowing that, even with the best of intentions and resources, happiness is often fleeting in families, as it is in life. And guilt is never going to be the key ingredient to making happiness appear more often.