On her powerful, insight-filled podcast Startup Pregnant, Sarah K. Peck asks her guests, who are women entrepreneurial parents, a brilliant question: What don’t you do?
I love this because we tend to assume that we need to be doing everything because everyone else is—because that’s what good, successful, conscientious moms do. And if we’re not doing everything, and if we’re scrambling to get a mediocre meal on the table, our feet get stuck on our sticky kitchen floor, and we’re behind on work again—then obviously we’re flawed. At our core. Then obviously something is seriously wrong with us. And we need to bash ourselves. And we need to get it together.
Why? Why do we feel this way? Where do these beliefs come from?
Parijat Deshpande, MS, a perinatal mind-body wellness counselor and high-risk pregnancy expert, believes they stem from a cultural expectation that asking for help is weak. There’s significant shame in admitting that we need help and that we have help, whether it’s from family, friends or a nanny, she said.
In fact, when we idolize other women who seem to have it all, we rarely ask about the kind of help they have, said Katelyn Denning, a mom of two and a coach for new moms just returning to work, helping them set priorities, tackle mom guilt, and simplify their lives so they can enjoy working motherhood.
Because they do have help.
“Maybe she looks so rested and so put together because she outsources her meals or hires a virtual assistant or has a nanny who is so much more than a nanny,” Denning said. “Or maybe her husband or partner pitches in and truly shares in all the responsibilities.”
“We don’t ask those questions, and we also don’t tell our own stories. So as women, we compare based on outward appearances which leads us to feeling guilty and overwhelmed when we can’t do it all.”
And of course there’s social media. Which is wonderful in many ways—like creating community. But it also creates the illusion of perfection and effortlessness. Pinterest, Instagram and other sites show “small bits of the full picture, and it adds to the pressure of having to do it all,” said Deshpande, author of the must-read book Pregnancy Brain: A Mind-Body Approach to Stress Management During a High-Risk Pregnancy and host of the Delivering Miracles® podcast.
“It can be hard—if not impossible—to imagine that other parents are struggling to get through the day. We rarely see those images,” said Sarah Argenal, a mom to two boys who writes, speaks, consults and leads interactive trainings on work/life balance, intentional living, and connected family relationships for busy professionals at www.workingparentresource.com.
“We’re hyper-aware of what millions of other moms are doing on a daily basis, and it’s hard to remember that not all of those women are doing all of the things we see.”
We also need to look at the systems that produce and shape our reality, according to Arianna Taboada, a maternal health expert, author, and owner of a consulting firm that helps female founders intelligently design maternity leave plans that meet their business model and personal needs.
That is, “‘women doing it all’ is actually a bi-product of our economic system woven together with patriarchy, and the need for low paid or unpaid labor to be done by someone other than able-bodied, educated males in order for that system to function.”
In other words, if you feel like you don’t measure up, that’s understandable. Because unrealistic expectations, messages and images are everywhere.
When I asked Amber Anderson what she doesn’t do, she said, “A lot!” Anderson is the co-founder of MORE and Tote + Pears, a full-service agency that creates and markets products, services and experiences for women. She’s the proud momma of a very special, and active, little boy.
Anderson and her husband split responsibilities. She’s the breadwinner in the house, which means she runs their businesses, and he takes on the primary caregiving and household duties. Her husband homeschools their son, cooks, pays the bills and manages the household.
“We see our relationship as a partnership and our responsibilities as joint tasks,” Anderson said.
Before Anderson’s son was born, she used to take on a lot more because she’s a strategic, big-picture thinker. When something would arise, she’d quickly see how to solve it. After her son was born and their business grew, it was too much to balance, so Anderson and her husband started assigning roles.
“Now when something pops up, it gets assigned to the person responsible for it. And if it doesn’t fit within our existing categories, we talk about it and assign it out based on who has bandwidth—whereas before, I’d take it by default. We’re in a 50/50 partnership where each of us is giving 100 percent.”
Taboada also is the sole breadwinner in her home. She doesn’t iron or clean bathrooms. She doesn’t make breakfast or sort laundry by color.
Deshpande doesn’t do dishes, Pinterest-y birthday parties or laundry on the days her nanny is working. She doesn’t host dinner parties and says no to many evening events because of her son’s bedtime.
Caring for ourselves with compassion and grace—whether you’re a mom or not—so often lies in what we don’t do. It lies in the activities, events and tasks we relinquish and say no to. It lies in realizing that we don’t need to do certain things in order to earn our self-worth. It lies in making choices on a regular basis about what our lives—and specifically our days, hours and minutes—look like.
Stay tuned for part two with more insights from these wonderful women. Update: Here’s part two!