I have a Madonna/Whore complex about being a working mom and you do, too. But that is OK.

madonna whore eve apple

Darling, go ahead and enjoy that juicy career.

 

No one is prouder of being a professional mom than me. My career is not only critical for my family’s survival, it is also an enormous part of myself — intellectually, socially and creatively. I believe that it is normal for women to be financial contributors to their households. It is natural to rely on your work for personal fulfillment. But I still feel guilty for the time my career takes away from my kids.  This week I wrote extensively about this topic for DailyWorth:

The culprit behind this (working mom guilt) insanity is the notion of the stay-at-home mom who devotes her time solely to the unpaid care of her children and home. This is an advent of the last 50 years. Until then — and still today, in the vast majority of the world — women have always contributed financially to their families. They worked in fields and did other farm work right alongside the men. They also ran households when this was a task of manual labor — splitting firewood, tending a vegetable garden (and not a hobby crop of heirloom tomatoes — produce required to live), preserving food and scrubbing floors far before Cuisinart and Roomba made these tasks fun and easy. Except for the very wealthy, women had no choice but to work in order for their families to survive. Oh, and they did this all while raising babies.

This is the crux of so many professional women’s Madonna/Whore complex as it relates to being a working parent. If you buy madonna whoreinto the fantasy that once there was a utopia where women cared for babies all day without any economic obligations, then it is a very bitter antidepressant to swallow each morning when you drop your kids off at daycare or pick them from after-school care. If you spend your whole work day feeling lousy for working – even if you know in your mind and heart and bank account that you must work — it can be difficult to ignore the societal message that a mother who works is a lesser parent.

It is not just societal messages that add to your Madonna/Whore complexes about being a working mom. Reality means you must choose in ways – sometimes tiny, and sometimes huge. I must choose. You must, too.

Last night I missed putting my kids to bed so I could attend a really, really awesome professional event. The cocktail party invitation for a small  gathering of very successful entrepreneurs was flattering, the guest list populated by fascinating and influential people, conversation and networking were fantastic. Some very attractive men were in attendance. Clearly that event was a priority. My kids spent the evening with a favorite babysitter dining on their favorite shrimp and broccoli from our favorite Chinese food joint. It is rare I hire weeknight babysitters. I prefer to spend those evenings in the routine with my children.

So, when both my kids had trouble sleeping, each taking turns trying (unsuccessfully) to climb into bed with me, I believe that was not a coincidence. When I woke this morning, my heart nearly broke – they were both sleeping on the couch, each of their little heads on either end, no blanket covering them. That has never, ever happened. Another mom may have accepted it as just another anomalous kooky kid thing. My gut told me their routine was messed up because they missed me and our evening routine. My professional boon took its toll at home.

I recently spent the afternoon with a mom friend who is high on her recent professional success, which is poised only to blossom further. She is thankful for her supportive husband who manages the brunt of childcare duties (along with his own career) while she travels several night per week. She is thrilled with her work and believes in her value as a role model to her young children, but she is still conflicted. “I have always been a proponent of being able to have it all,” she told me as we sipped classes of chardonnay in the kitchen as our kids played upstairs. “I still believe that, but something has to give. It would definitely be better for my children if I were more accessible, or not sleeping away from them two out of five nights.”

My career is less demanding than my friend’s, and that is partially by design. I could be even more aggressive in my career. I could set my financial goals even higher. I don’t, in part, because I worry about the toll that would take on my family.  I recently started traveling for speaking engagements, which is thrilling for my professional whore. But it comes at a price to my family’s routine and is taxing for my inner Madonna mom.

There is a certain demographic of professional women who really do have the ultimate choice: We can choose to work less, earn less and devote more time to our families. We are feminism’s ultimate success story – one that I try very hard not to take for granted. But it is still a stress — and guilt — inducing proposition. More choice comes with, well, more choice. Choices are inherently stressful.

The answer is to accept that life is not perfect. While I see clearly that being a fulltime stay-at-home mom fulfills an unrealistic fantasy about how life should be, so is a home life that is sometimes less than perfect. I often advocate for not shielding children from reality — help them contend with the loss that comes with divorce, death and other inevitable, normal challenges. So, too, must you help them be flexible and deal with disruptions to their routines. But before you can, you must first come to terms with these challenges yourself. Accept yourself that life is not perfect or predictable.

And so I am preparing for a business trip this week. I feel excited, but I also feel a little guilty for upturning the kids and my weekend schedule. My goal is to cut myself some slack: Slack for not being 100% of everything to everyone all the time. And slack for doing the best I can to reconcile my inner mom Madonna with my inner work whore.

  

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3 thoughts on “I have a Madonna/Whore complex about being a working mom and you do, too. But that is OK.

    1. Nicely done, Denise. I appreciate Alcorn’s work (we did a G+ chat and I had her on my radio show twice) but I worry that focusing on institutional shortcomings only stresses us out further — after all, not much a preggers mom can do about our nation’s maternity leave shortage. Or some societal commitment to constant cupcake baking (wtf, anyway!). But there is a whole lot each of us can do about managing our own attitudes and expectations of ourselves. It can be lonely to break free from what everyone else expects of us – but it may be the only path to sanity.

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