I am a full time working mom. Every day I go and sit in an office from 8:30am to 5pm. I am the head of my business area and oversee a team that works underneath me.
When the workday ends, I pick up my kids from after-school care, take them home, feed them, wash them, talk with them, read them stories, make sure they know that they are loved and then I put them to bed. Then I crack on with the laundry and my writing and anything else that needs doing during “me time”.
In order to make sure that my kids still get every opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities, we fill up our weekends with dance and swimming lessons.
This is our life. We follow this routine, week in and week out. It isn’t any more “difficult” or “challenging” or “tiring” than any other form of motherhood. I know, because I’ve tried them all. I’ve been a SAHM. I’ve been a WAHM. Now I’m a working mom.
This is why the phrase “I don’t know how you do it!” really grates on my nerves. I know that the speaker means well, but I equally realize that they aren’t thinking through the ramifications of what they are saying. “I don’t know how you do it” is truly one of the most insulting phrases attached to motherhood. There are some very nasty messages underlying that pseudo-complimentary line.
It’s too much for one woman…
When did working and having kids become too much? At what point did we sit down and decide collectively that women, masters of the multitask, were not capable of holding down a job, being good at it and still being a good mother at the same time?
When did filling up your days with meaningful activities become the Mt. Everest of motherhood?
I couldn’t do it….
Of course you could do it. In fact, you already know how I do it. It’s the same way you do it. There isn’t any secret superpower or advanced degree required to live your life. We both get up in the morning and then go flat out doing a mix of the things we love and the things we hate but have to do anyway. The fact that my To Do list is different from yours is irrelevant.
And what about the kids?
We just had our parent-teacher meeting this year and the first thing the teacher said to us was “Wow, your daughter must be the hardest working kid here! I see her first thing in the morning and she’s still here at after-school care when I leave at night. She must be tired at the end of the day.”
Given that my happy-go-lucky child was sitting right there next to me and the report showed her working at levels that “exceed expectations”, what is the point of making a comment like that? What on earth am I supposed to say? Yes my child has a bowl of cereal at school in the morning. If she didn’t have it there, she’d be doing the same thing at home. Yes she goes to after-school care, where she has a big snack and plays for a couple of hours with all of her friends. Three guesses as to what she would be doing if she came home instead!
Shouldn’t we be telling our future generations that it’s okay to ‘have it all’ regardless of what your ‘all’ looks like? Do we need to insinuate to a, by all accounts, successful six year old that her parents are somehow failing her because they both work? Do we need to undermine the hard work her friends’ SAHMs are doing?
Can you imagine the reverse?
There’s a flip side to every coin, and this one is particularly nasty. Could you imagine if I said to a SAHM, “Wow, I don’t know how you do so little?” Back when I was a SAHM, I would have clawed your eyes out, and with good reason. Frankly, I’d be hard-pressed to come up with any mom I know that isn’t working her butt off in one way or another. The idea that there is a class system is utterly ridiculous.
Admiration for others is a great thing. However, even greater is finding a way to express it without undermining them or yourself.