How to thrive even when the dismal state of working mothers has you down

stats

This week I was invited to be an expert commentator on a report of working mothers by WalletHub. The questions included whether it is easier or harder to be a working mom today (my answer: EASIER!), and what states and companies can do to facilitate work-life balance for working parents. The takeaway is what you already know to be true: legislation, corporate policy and our culture do a lousy, lousy job of supporting people who have kids. Which affects, like, everyone.

I could elaborate here on the findings of that study — and many others! — and I could expound on what companies and governments must do to turn these trends around. There are many wonderful people working inside, around and against those institutions that do remarkable work on behalf of working moms like you and me, and to them I say: GOD BLESS! and THANK YOU!

But in my own life, I mostly ignore these reports. The working-woman statics that cross my Feedly, Facebook and Twitter feeds are usually dismal and if I spend to much time fretting over them I a) feel guilty for not doing more to campaign against them, b) get angry and exhausted, c) shut down, answer another email, pitch another client, promote a blog post and do what I can to afford to send my kids to camp this summer. Because I am just one barely-superhuman woman making the best of what I have. And so are you.

It is a fine line between being an informed citizen and participating in the meta discourse about what it takes to create a truly equal playing field at home and at work, and thriving.

And so I [mostly] ignore the statistics. As I recently wrote for my “That’s What You Think” column at DailyWorth:

We’re a number-hungry society. We obsess over studies and surveys. How many pennies women are making on the dollar compared to men. The chances of finding a marriage-ready man in New York City. The correlation between the money you invest in preschool and your child’s chances of growing up to be a 1 percenter.

I love numbers, too. I’m a journalist; we live for numbers! And I’m an educated and curious person. I want to know what’s happening in the world and how we’re progressing on different issues. Studies, reports and surveys can provide that. 

But when it comes to assessing your own life? Ignore the stats. Cover your eyes and plug your ears. LALALA! I can’t hear you, numbers! 

Why? As anyone who has taken a statistics course will tell you: Numbers can be deceiving and, often, tell but a portion of the story. Plus, statistics often represent giant social movements, trends or patterns, so they may not be an accurate representation of your life or circumstances. Worse: Statistics can be paralyzing or falsely reassuring, which can affect your confidence and your decision-making abilities in bad ways.

Years ago I worked with a woman a generation older than me who would complain loudly, all day long, about the sexism she perceived the plague the newsroom where we worked. She was convinced chauvinist bosses were part of a sexist society that was holding her back professionally. From where I sat, it was her incompetence and unprofessionalism that kept her back. She was also obsessed over any study or statistic that supported her sense of discrimination — and victimhood. That was her experience; far be it from me to tell her she was creating her own misery. Except she was creating her own misery. She was focused on what she could not control (chauvinist bosses, an industry/culture/company/nation that fails at equaling the gender playing field), and not on what she could control (in her case: shutting the eff up about her perceived victimhood, facing her professional shortcomings, finding another employer or creating a company in which she could thrive).

On one hand, no one had room to argue with her: The world is sexist. She (maybe) was a victim of that. But ultimately each of us is responsible for our own happiness and success. And she lost the plot, self-destructed professionally and last I heard had sued the company (settling for a small sum) after being fired. I think of this woman often when I see these statistics. I put my blinders on lest I get distracted. Distracted from my focus on building a career that I balance with life. Distracted from being successful on my own terms. And distracted from doing my own part to close the gender pay gap.

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