Work-family life balance is like a unicorn. People talk about this concept as if it is real. Some say they have had sightings of it and yet, it is so elusive that it remains a myth to most people. People operate under the misconception that one day it will all balance out… The job, the kids, the partner, the hobbies, the errands, the social life etc. but it doesn’t balance out and so they are left feeling like there is something they have done wrong. The truth is everyone is in this exact same boat; waiting for a miracle to balance out their lives, but that miracle never appears. You cannot control all the external conditions of your own life enough to achieve balance.
I realize this blog post may elicit emotional reactions for some, but I do not believe in avoiding sore subjects; so today, I’m going there.
You cannot look at the Women's Rights Movement and say that it accomplished nothing. If you lived in the 1950s as a woman and then lived today as a woman, you’d see obvious proof that the revolution rescued women in many ways. But it also condemned women. Women wanted equality. That is not what they got. What they got is the societal expectation that they should “do it all”. Working women are now the most stressed out demographic in the world. It’s as if in response to the women’s rights movement, men said, “Oh, you want the right to work? Ok. Then work, but you still have to raise the children too, and keep a clean house, and have dinner on the table by 5:00.” Most women tell me that it feels like they flew out of the frying pan and into the fire. Women may have gained the right to work and receive equal pay (that’s actually up for debate), but they lost the right to stay home with children whilst maintaining their dignity. In today's world, women are between a rock and a hard place. Raising children is a full time job. And in a society where we do not live in intentional communities yet, it is a job that most women have to do with minimal support. So what are women supposed to do when raising children is a full time job and they also work full time jobs? Even more, what are they supposed to do when they are single mothers who work full time jobs, but the cost of daycare IS the price of the salary of their full time job? So many women are in this exact position.
In today’s world, as a woman, you cannot stay home to raise your kids without simultaneously loosing your dignity. Women are conditioned to believe that if they make the choice to be a stay at home mom, they are a disgrace. Women are conditioned to believe that their lives are a wash and that they have let womanhood down by falling back into the domesticated role they tried so hard to break out of. When women chose to be a stay at home mom, people treat them like they are either lazy, stupid, unattractive or have given up on themself. The unforeseen aftermath of the women’s rights movement is that there is a prejudice against stay at home mothers. Now, keeping that in mind, let’s look at what happens when a woman chooses to work instead.
Today’s world is expensive and complicated. It is a rare woman who finds herself in the position of being able to quit her job when she has children. There are more single mothers today than ever before and even those who are married or partnered up, are not often paired up with men or partners who make enough money to enable them to quit their jobs. So, they must “balance” family life with work life. But what happens when women either choose to work or are in a position where they have to work after they become mothers? They discover that the women’s rights movement did nothing to change what is expected of them as women. Maternity discrimination aside, if they work, they are treated like they are selfish, non maternal, career bitches who do not have their priorities straight. There are still massive double standards that women face in society when they choose to work. This double standard exists even if women do not have a family yet. But the harsh reality that women face is, in today’s world, they are damned if they do and they are damned if they don’t.
I have personally experienced both the rock and the hard place of this particular situation. When I had my son, I decided to be a stay at home mom for the first year of his life. After all, I am a major breastfeeding advocate who believes wholeheartedly in the concept of the “fourth trimester” and I didn’t want anyone else giving my son his first taste of human connection. At the time I decided to become a mother, none of my friends had children, so I was the first one to “walk the plank”. I was surrounded by an eclectic mix of professional athletes and spiritual/new age people. The athletes thought I had come down with some kind of rare mental illness that had caused me to believe that a mewling infant was more important than a shot at an Olympic gold medal. The Spiritual people thought I had come down with some kind of rare mental illness that had caused me to believe that a mewling infant was more important than the freedom of traveling to mount Shasta or attending a week long vipassana retreat. When I told many of my friends that I was pregnant, the overwhelming reaction was “Oh my god… why did you want to do that?”
When I decided that I could no longer be happy whilst avoiding my true purpose/passion, I embarked on the career path that I am on today. I figured that those days of being looked down on for being a stay at home mom were behind me. I was right. They were behind me. But now I faced a different kind of problem; the plethora of difficulties that come along with being a working mother and the prejudice against career moms. Quickly, I realized how impossibly hard it is to balance time with family and time working. This is even truer for those of us women who own our own businesses. The workday does not end for us. There is no clock in and clock out time. The business itself is like a second child in need of constant supervision. When I started my own business, I discovered just how impossible it is to feel like a good person and be working mother at the same time. It’s the guilt that gets you. It’s the look on my son’s face when I have to tell him “someone else is going to read you a book tonight, because mommy has another radio show”.
The minute I decided to be a career woman, I started being chastised for being a self centered, success freak, as if my son (and husband at the time) would certainly be neglected in the wake of my ambition. The most shocking thing was that most of this prejudice against working women was coming from other women! I still get comments from other women that blow my mind and serve to drive the guilt in even deeper. Not even a month ago, I was on a radio show explaining how instead of telling children that monsters don’t exist, you can use children’s “monster in the closet fears” to tap into their true desires and true feelings. I opened up publicly about my own son having told me that the monster in his closet “wants to be sung to sleep” (meaning of course that he wanted to be sung to sleep). I sing my son to sleep every night but because no one knows this, I received three separate e-mails from women telling me that I need to re assess my priorities because it was obvious to them after listening to the show that my son feels neglected by me and that he needs me and that he longs for the day when I "used to" sing him nursery rhymes but that he doesn’t know how to tell me that.
Plenty of men intimately understand this difficulty of balancing work life and home life, but since this article is really about women, it needs to be said that as a woman in today’s society, you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Today, I’m interested in hearing your perspective. If you are a man, what is your perspective on this subject? If you are a woman, what is your perspective on this subject? Post your answers in the comment section below.