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Family Comes First and Other Lies Working Moms Tell …

Family Comes First and Five Other Lies Working Moms Tell Themselves… via @JusticeJonesie

Work life balance is something many working moms struggle with. Is it really possible or is work life balance a myth? Do women who say they have it lie to themselves  to cope? In this guest post, fellow lawyer mom shares her thoughts… 

As a working mom, balancing one’s professional life with one’s personal life is the most difficult task that most of us have undertaken. And the rub is, despite all of our education, it is the one thing for which we have no formal training.  That’s probably why there are so many of us blogging about the experience…

As a working mom your job controls your life. It determines what you earn and how much time you spend away from home.  Accordingly, by default, it dictates your parenting and household choices. We tell ourselves that our families come first. However, the truth is, they get what’s left over. And sometimes, that isn’t much.

As working moms, our jobs are the epicenter of our lives.  There’s an old saying, “whoever pays the piper chooses the tune”. For most working moms, our paychecks fund our lifestyle.  Indeed, the Pew Research Trust released a report last spring saying that working moms are the primary breadwinner in four out of ten households with children. That means mama’s money is essential for the mortgage getting paid, groceries getting purchased and childcare being provided.

It creates the curious dynamic of being beholden to one entity while loving another.  Our households may have our hearts, but the majority of the time our jobs have our bodies, time and attention.  With the advent of smartphones our jobs distract us from our families even more than they did historically. Ironically, we have the ability to “work from anywhere”. However, most companies still have on the job work requirements and “Face Time” remains a part of it is the work that you do at the office that counts most of all.

As a working mom who is an attorney, my job is even more demanding than most.   Practicing law is intense.  As an attorney, you are the fiduciary to your client(s), which means that you look out for their interest first.  As a mom, the stakes are really high. “Messing up” as a mom means that you may see your kid on “America’s Most Wanted” one day your failings will be broadcast for all to see, including your judgmental mother.

From the beginning of time people tell you that your family should come first.  However, from my experience, that belief must have come from a stay-at-home mom who was able to provide her family with laser focus.  As a working mom, the truth is your job can sometimes get more of you and the best part of you and your family just gets what is left over. It is sobering, upsetting and yet it remains true.  Accepting that is often too much.  For that reason, we lie to ourselves so that what we believe is consistent with what we were taught to be true.  And that isn’t the only thing that we lie to ourselves about…

Here are some lies that working mothers tell themselves:

  1. Our families come first.  For working moms who are attorneys, our families often come in distant last after regular work, special projects, work travel, responding to email instead of being present and networking events and conferences.  There are only 168 hours in the week.  So, it is hard to argue that your family “comes first” if you ‘re working 50-70 hours a week, sleeping 45-55 hours and doing things like commuting, bathing, personal grooming and talking on the phone with your friends.  On the low end, most working moms spend about 105 hours doing things that have nothing to do with their families. That leaves 63 hours where they might want to do something selfish like go to the bathroom.

  2. “Having it all” is not possible and you shouldn’t even try. Women who truly love their children and married well “opt out” of their careers, focus on their children, adopt attachment parenting, make all of their food from scratch and look like super models so they can keep those financially well off husbands. (And wearing Lululemon yoga pants is essential. If you need support for opting out just look at the former CEO of that company.”)  Last year, Anne Marie Slaughter wrote a compelling piece in “The Atlantic” that was designed to give working mothers a break.  She described the challenges of being a working mother and said that corporate America is simply not supportive allow working mothers to have it all at the same time.  Later that year, Sheryl Sandberg called this is a lie directly from the pit of hell. She said that working mothers can have whatever they want if they just try hard enough, plan well enough, “lean in” to their jobs and marry the right guy.  So, shame on me for having a house full of piles of laundry. I must be lazy…

  3. “Having it all is possible you just can’t look good doing it.”   We tell ourselves this lie after we lose our figures from eating too much comfort food to try to appease our moods that take a beating because we feel so guilty about the time we spend away from our families.  Nobody enjoys a “working dinner” like a working mom.  Since we didn’t have to cook it or clean up the mess we LOVE them, probably a little too much.  After we pack on the pounds we tell people that it’s residual baby weight, a slowing metabolism or a thyroid problem…

  4. If only women would “lean in” to their work and stop obsessing about becoming mothers, they would achieve enough professional success that they could create schedules that support their family choices.  This lie is one taken from Ms. Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.  The premise is the only thing standing between women and success is that they lack the will to lead, lost focus or didn’t try hard enough.  This lie is comforting to younger women who haven’t confronted the demands of being a working mother, the lack of institutional policies supporting parents or the antiquated notions of what it takes to succeed.  The truth is many corporate jobs require that workers show up when they tell them to. So, the notion of “creating” one’s own schedule is not an option for many.  Just look at what Marissa Mayer did at Yahoo last year when she disallowed working from home.  The reality of what it means to work for someone else means that you play by their rules.  For working moms that means that you may be high ranking and have a nice paycheck and still be unable to make it to your daughter’s field trip.  For many corporate jobs, someone really needs to ask the question, if you can work from anywhere why is there such a need to office time?

  5. Enjoying our jobs means that we don’t love our kids.  Many working moms complain about working because we feel disloyal.  If we really pulled a Sheryl Sandberg and started telling people outside of Silicon Valley about how much we enjoy our jobs they would judge us and talk behind our backs.  Any good mother would want to stay home with her children. It’s such a pity that you “have to work”.

  6. The only reason we work is because we have to.  Like I said above, many working mothers are working for the paycheck.  However, some of us, especially the college educated variety, have chosen jobs that we know will keep us away from our families; stress us out, and at times be overwhelming.  These high stress jobs are not the only ones out there even in this tough economy. Why do we take them? Because we actually like them. We like getting dressed up, talking to grown-ups, and being valued for something beyond our nipples.  If we did the math, some of us could afford to take a pay cut and take a less stressful job.  However, we believed those US Army commercials that we saw growing up and want to be “all that we can be”. And besides, being at work means getting a break from the laundry…

Here’s the reality.  The lies we tell ourselves are based in a basic truth. Being a working mom is hard and it is a journey is filled with conflicting emotions. And, over three years in, I never feel as if I have gotten it right.   I also often feel as if I am coming up short in some area.  Notice, I haven’t even touched on what it takes to be a good spouse.  Perhaps it is not coincidence that female lawyers and surgeons also have higher divorce rates? That’s a topic for a different post though…

Family Comes First and Five Other Lies Working Moms Tell Themselves… Bio – Chatón lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania along with her fiance’ and beautiful toddler. In addition to being a mother, attorney for UPMC, and public speaker, she has also been an avid blogger since 2007. Since having her daughter she turned into a “mommy blogger”. She writes about her quest for balance in stilettos and is passionate about helping women make appropriate choices about child rearing, employment and finances. She is also passionate about transforming the workplace so that women can make heartfelt choices instead of imposed ones. She has achieved success as a blogger including being profiled in “Pittsburgh is Kidsburgh” magazine as one of Pittsburgh’s new mommy bloggers. Please visit her fun and thought-inspiring blog at http://chatonsworld.blogspot.com/

 

Comments

  1. This was a good read and I could relate to most of it after only being a working mom for 2 years. Lie # 5 especially resonates with me because it’s the lie that holds all the rest together. Afterall what sane person would continue to neglect her family if she didn’t need the money?!! The reality is I like what I do and I worked hard (for years!) to get this degree.

    Now my marriage….ha! My husband and I joke that the reason so many engineering faculty marry each other is because no one else would put up with the crazy 6-8 years of tenure track! This helps to keep faculty divorce rates low compared to our lawyer friends married to non-lawyers ;)

    • I didn’t realize engineering faculty tend to marry one another. I think I’d go insane if I’d married another lawyer! :-)

  2. I can relate to most of this post. Great post Chanton and thanks Nadia for letting her share it!
    Some of us work jobs because we actually like what we do. Tada! you nailed it for me. Instead, I have a house cleaner and don’t feel guilty about that at all.

  3. Wow! Chaton, that was quite an emotional rollercoaster for me… I surely identified with some points and Yes! I do enjoy what I do :) This was a good read, I enjoyed it!

    • Thanks for commenting! It’s tough, right? I’m on maternity leave right now and going through that hormonal roller coaster. I’m going to be telling myself a lot of lies when I go back to work!

  4. Definitely a topic every woman can relate to, mom or not.

  5. I chose a part-time solution that worked for our family. So I do think family is first – I gave up 70% of my salary, the title, etc. to work only 15 hrs/week. But I feel like I lost a big part of my career self, which often leads to some jealousy of my “important” husband. I battle with who I am often! But I am really thankful for the family time I’m able to have. All families are different. No matter what, moms have a hard job! I applaud working and SAH moms alike. We are all muddling through!

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