Many working moms may have read the article in the July/August issue of The Atlantic magazine entitled, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.” If you haven’t read it, perhaps you have seen the author interviewed on one of the morning talk shows or read the chatter on various forms of social media. I believe most major news sources have featured some aspect of this topic in the last few weeks, and I have purposely allowed some time to lapse before broaching the subject.
As a society, we still have cultural mindsets that need to change, which might happen, but will certainly take some time. Until then, I want to make a few points and provide some insight and peace of mind to help parents who struggle with the stress of balancing work and raising a family in today’s world.
Parents often feel conflicted when making decisions for their child. I think this springs from many sources but primarily from a feeling of deep love and responsibility. I also believe that we, as a society, send conflicting messages to families struggling to “do it right.” Stay-at-home moms feel guilty for not giving their child all the advantages of the early care and education experience. And the parents whose children have been in care since a young age feel tremendous guilt because they have not had enough time with them. Guilty feelings are very common in parenting, and learning to manage that guilt is critical to a sense of well-being. I strongly believe in common-sense parenting. Common sense requires us to look at our guilt and ask, “Is it reasonable or unreasonable?” Reasonable guilt requires action in how you are managing your family. Unreasonable guilt requires action in how you are managing your own life. If you have both types of guilt, action is required in both areas.
Reasonable guilt, which is also called healthy fear, is what you feel when you know that something isn’t working right for you, your child, or your family. Your instinct is telling you that what you are doing isn’t healthy, and you should never ignore your instinct. Pay attention to this type of guilt and take action to resolve it. If your child is screaming every single day when you leave her and is withdrawn and unhappy when you return, you need to figure out why. Listen and keep listening until you know you have resolved the issue.
Unreasonable guilt is what you feel no matter what you do. I talk with both stay-at-home moms and working moms who have unreasonable guilt. You feel guilty even when things are going well—your child is flourishing, your family is happy and well adjusted, everyone appears to be okay, and you are spending a huge amount of time investing in your family—and yet you still worry. It is very important for you, your child, and your family that you find the skills you need to drown out that voice and move on to enjoy the love and success of your family. Learning this skill will probably assist you in other areas of your life, too. If you are feeling unreasonable guilt regarding your parenting, chances are that you feel it about other matters, too.
While the feeling of guilt will never go away, there are some things that families, and their employers, can do to help make moms feel more at ease, regardless of whether or not they work outside the home.
* Continuously evaluate the needs of your family. I have seen many families that assumed because their firstborn thrived in a situation that their second child would thrive, too. This is often not the case. For example, one child might do very well with a non-traditional schedule while another child finds that confusing. You must listen to the needs of the child and of the family unit on an on-going basis and make adjustments as needed. Stay in tune with your family—if it isn’t working, find a solution that will work.
* A family unit requires compromise. I find it amazing that people believe that three, four, five, or even more people can live as a family unit and expect that each one can have everything exactly as he/she wants it. Nowhere, under any circumstances, does that happen in real life. Compromising, creating win-win scenarios, and listening to the needs of all parties involved are skills required every day in every area of life. Why would you not practice these in your own family? Mom and Dad can both enjoy great jobs—they just have to accept the daily give-and-take and have a great understanding of what really matters in parenting.
* Employers need to work with employees and their families. They can be crucial to supporting a healthy work-life balance, which will not only improve the well-being of their employees but increase productivity and loyalty. One way to do this is to offer on-site early care and education for young children, a tremendous benefit to employees. Parents then have the option of having their children with them each day to share a meal, take a walk together, and talk/sing during commute time. Studies show that parents who have access to the benefit of on-site childcare are happier and more prolific.
* Honor our children by placing a higher value on those who care for them. Parents, early care and education providers, and nannies are truly shaping our society. Scientific research has proven that the first three years of life are crucial to the person the child will become. The physical wiring and development of the brain is affected dramatically in either a positive or a negative way based on the child’s experiences, relationships, and environment. We are literally impacting the future.
There isn’t an answer that will magically make this issue a non-issue in our society. Common-sense parenting tells us that children must have someone loving, capable, and knowledgeable to guide them through the early years. They must have loving, secure, and deep bonds with their family. This can be accomplished in many ways, and what works for you may not work for someone else. Your job is to make sure that what works for your family continues to work for your family. Don’t assume that what worked last year will continue to work. Stay in tune with the evolving needs of your children. Be informed. Listen to your instinct as a parent and don’t be influenced by trends, by your peers, or by someone else’s values. No one can have it all … man or woman, but you can make it work.