The fantasy of what a working mom-to-be looks like: happy, relaxed, clean desk.

The overloaded working mom is not a new subject.

I just read an essay in which the writer, a working mom, detailed all the ways working mothers are burnt out. The way they try to measure up to someone else’s expectations or are shamed because they aren’t raising their kinds in the so-called “right” way. How there’s insufficient spousal sharing of parenting responsibilities. And she mentioned many other stressors  that pare part of a working mother’s life.

A bottom line

I noticed that the entire list had one thing in common: the woman’s inability to claim her needs and especially her own time.

What struck me in horror was the powerlessness reflected in the essay. This is a problem as large as working mom burnout. And in fact, may be the root of the stress and anxiety that are inherent in burnout.

So let’s break it down: societal expectations don’t change easily. Many men are more apt to view their parental role as “helping” rather than sharing, even if the woman works. Most businesses do not cater to parents, although that’s changing. But not fast enough.

These things should not be surprises. They merit thought and attention well in advance of having children.

What we can do

It’s up to us to exercise our own agency and claim what we need. And to make decisions at the front end after a full understanding of what we can count on and what we can’t. Some things are givens: we know how the world works. We know women have to initiate agreements with partners about child care responsibilities. Men aren’t going to do it.

And we know that sometimes we end up single moms, unexpectedly. It happens. That reality dictates the need for contingency plans.

Why feel shamed?

For sure it’s up to us to NOT feel shamed because we do not match up to some so-called ideal.Because by now, I certainly know that the ideal is rare and a false goal. Most women know this. But then again, knowing it and feeling it can be quite different.

After I hit 30 I badly wanted a child. By 40 I had considered adopting or having one as a single mother.  But after assessing the reality of my life I knew it would be a bad decision. As much as I wanted a child, I knew that it was best for me and for the child if I gave up that idea,

This was not an easy decision. Getting there was not a fun assessment. I still wish that I’d had a child.  It’s a longing that has never gone away. But I can say with certainty that it was the right decision for me and my life.

I’m not saying that women should decide what I decided, but I AM saying that an honest analysis of what working motherhood would be like is a must. So is not buying into someone else’s idea of what’s right. And accessing our own power.

Practical actions

working-momA hard look at what a woman’s life is like if she both works and raises kids is eye opening but it also allows the woman to attempt to put in place systems and assistance that can help ease her way. To make agreements with a spouse (and hold them to it). And to make career decisions that reflect the choice to also mother.

It’s not possible to have it all. Not for most of us. Something must give. That something will be different for every women.

The takeaways today are three:

Notice what working moms around you go through.

Assess your own situation with brutal clarity.

Make a plan to claim your own power and exercise it.

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