The unspoken truths of mothers on top
It was like one of those Chinese Food conversations--the kind where you ask a million questions, get a million answers, and no matter how much information you consume, you're still hungry for more a moment later. I could have gone on forever if the other women at the table didn't have their own questions too, damn them.
We talked social media (Anna promised her children she'd never join Facebook). We talked women in the newsroom (there were none). We talked career accomplishments and Philadelphia accents and how great Lisa Belkin is; stay-at-home dads and the joys of public schools, the New York Times paywall (a good thing) and why teenagers aren't so bad after all. And of course, we talked about her new novel Every Last One, which is, so far, exquisite. And then as we segued into the old life-work balance mythology conversation, I asked her about a topic that's been on my mind for a while: entrepreneurial women.
Or specifically, female entrepreneurship when you are the primary earner of the family.
I have so so few people to talk about this with. And what can I say--Anna reminded me of my mom, in the best possible way. So I just sort of blurted it out. And it's been on my mind ever since.
I am in a relatively unique situation. I'm not only doing my best to follow my bliss with my website, my writing career, and my advertising career, but I have to feed my family through it all. Nate brings a lot to the household, but a fat paycheck isn't one of them. So when people ask me how I "do it all" (a misnomer If I ever heard one--I certainly don't do it all. You see all the things I do, but you do not see all the things I don't do. But that's another post.) my first thought is often, well, what should I give up then?
Every day I struggle to find the balance, not just between work and home, but between work and fulfillment. Between security and passion. Between the bills I have to pay, and the whole living my dream thing that we daughters of feminists were promised in the 70's.
As Anna pointed out, working mothers are acceptable and accepted today. In fact more mothers must continue working now because of the economy. One-third of all US households now have a woman as the primary earner. And yet, she reminded us, we still do more of the housework and household management. This is nothing you don't know, my friends; we still send the thank you notes, manage the playdates, buy the birthday gifts, sign the permission slips, plan our own Mother's Day brunches, kiss the boo-boos, attend the PTA meetings, redecorate the kids' room, and fold the laundry, all while reassuring our husbands and partners that they're valuable too.
(Okay, you got me. I don't fold the laundry. A girl's got to delegate something.)
In other words, one-third of us are bringing home the bacon, frying it up in a pan, then washing the pan, and earning the money to buy a new one when that caked-on crud simply won't come off.
Every so often I find an advertising colleague in my boat, and we shut the door of my office and in hushed whispers, describe the fears and the burdens and the exhaustion and the secret, horrible anxiety of what ifs. But in the blogging world, women like this are either far and few between, or we're simply not discussing it. Maybe because we're so busy "doing it all?"
So I want to talk about it.
I want to say that it's hard.
I want to say that I'm tired. A lot.
I want to say that there are inherent challenges when women have more financial power in a relationship. Your partner either has to be wildly confident in himself not to resent you...or, well, he'll resent you. I only know how it works in our household, and I'd say at times it's a little of both.
I want to say that sometimes, I feel more in common with working dads than working moms.
I want to say that mothers face the kind of parental guilt when they work through dinner or miss a ballet recital for a business trip that fathers will never know.
I want to say that I love the "you go girl" aspect of women in business, and I adore those women who push others to follow their dreams, do their thang, explore their passions, quit their dayjobs and write that book/start that website/build that app/launch that consultancy. But I want to hear from those women who did it as single moms. Or as women who didn't happen to marry hedge fund managers. Or as women who don't have rich families to fall back on should Plan A turn into Plans B, C and D.
I want to say that my mother was right when she said "Life is a series of choices." And that you always give something up to get something else.
The best you can hope for is not to be the crane in that Aesop's fable, the one with a mouthful of grapes who sees his reflection in the lake, then drops all his grapes in an effort to grab more.
I want to say that despite all this, I'd do it anyway. Because even though it's counter to the old adage, what I do, in a lot of ways, is who I am. I'd imagine a lot of entrepreneurial women feel the same way.
This week, I'm thrilled to be honored at the Advertising Women of New York Game-Changers Luncheon. I'm going to be sitting side by side with captain-esses of industry who are going to share their accomplishments and encourage us to take risks, initiate change, and forge new paths. But I will be also quietly imagining what unspoken challenges they faced on the way up.
And I will sit back thinking of Anna Quindlen, and the other amazing, presumed do-it-all-er moms of the world, and wonder when we can sit down and really, really talk.