Moms are being told the lie that they can have the perfect family and perfect career without sacrificing their commitment to either, when in reality it’s impossible to truly balance the two. One of these inevitably suffers. We’re being told that what is natural (feeling fulfilled in motherhood) is actually wrong and that in order to be a contributing member of society, moms should have the desire to play dual roles – being boss inside and outside of the home. Not only that, but we should also demand the same hours and paychecks as men.
There are two general views of the role of motherhood in our society today. In one, a woman’s success is defined by what happens inside her household. In the other, her value can only be measured outside of the house in boardrooms alongside men. In the first, the role of ‘Mom’ is applauded and the strength of the family, whose mom is dedicated to the things inside her house, is praised. In the latter, moms are told they shouldn’t be fulfilled by staying at home with their children and that they should ‘have it all’ and they can do this by juggling your responsibilities as Mom with a job outside of the house.
I returned to work on a part-time basis a few months ago and while I am fortunate to have understanding coworkers who value family and allow me to work from home to continue to maintain that bonding that’s so crucial during these early months, it doesn’t make going back to work any easier. No amount of testimonies from the mommy blogs about going back or mental readiness really prepares you for going back. Why? Because, it turns out that motherhood actually is natural. There is an innate desire to care for your little one right out of the womb and while you’ll be hard pressed to find a mom tell you she cherishes the 3am feedings, the 6pm witching hours, and unfathomable exhaustion as a result, there’s no denying this biological truth.
But despite this natural inclination, the pressure to come out on top in the working world is still widely felt across the “mommysphere.” I can’t recall how many conversations I’ve had with other moms at the park who use similar phrases to express this societal pressure they feel to get back into the workforce – saying things like they “feel the need” to go back to work because staying at home with the kids all day might “make me go insane.” I found myself saying the same words before returning to work. I also can’t recall how many times during my pregnancy and early postpartum that I was asked, “when will you go back to work?” I was rarely if ever asked, “will you return to work?” Granted this is partly the result of living in career-driven D.C., where, if you answer I’ve decided not to go back to work you’ll get raised eyebrows. And don’t you dare even think about using your ENTIRE maternity leave. Regardless, it’s an indicator of the type of expectations moms face to prioritize work outside of the house over taking on the responsibility of being a full-time mom.
So where is this pressure coming from telling moms that in order to truly ‘have it all’ and to be a woman of the 21st Century you must play dual roles? Why did I find myself saying those words right alongside the other moms? When did this become the more acceptable definition of motherhood? Let’s start by looking at what our nation’s leaders have to say about Mom. Obama has made it clear that he believes America doesn’t want stay-at-home moms. And Hillary has told us that the “rightful place” for women is alongside men in the workforce.
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