Is the ‘working mom’ ideal dead? (A mini-rant)

working mom ideal

I have four sisters and one sister-in-law. We are all mothers and we all work (this statement is redundant, because of course all mothers work, but stay with me because I’m going somewhere with this…)

The Amazing Working Mom

One sister (mother to three amazing kiddos, one with special needs) is helping her pastor-husband plant a church and works part-time at a local boutique. Another sister is homeschooling two of her three children full time and only recently scaled back her at-home services of hairstyling. Yet another sister works part-time from home for her husband’s business while caring for two little ones. The fourth sister (mother to two, under three) has her own small business as a bridal hairstylist. Our sister-in-law is pursuing her doula certification while caring for her sweet baby. Finally, I am working to finish my BS in Bible & Theology (while writing and submitting freelance pieces) and mothering three wild boys. Our situations are not unusual.

sara longenecker blog working mom
side kick helper buddy

I have mama friends all over the country who bake, cut hair, sell luxury skincare and essential oils, write online, teach international students, take photos, do taxes, manage advertising departments, deliver babies, work on movie sets, work the late-night ER shift, run non-profits, and renovate houses. And they all do their work while faithfully caring for home, hearth, and hungry children.

She Works Hard

But what does it even mean to be a “working mom” in 2019? To be a mother that also “works” automatically conjures images of a frazzled woman juggling a briefcase and a bottle, while dropping her baby off at daycare. And maybe this describes your situation exactly, but I doubt it. Statistics show that in the U.S. more women are choosing to stay home, but the majority still work at least part-time. Most mothers who take on work outside the daily responsibly of their home (even if the job rarely requires them to leave their house) do so for both professional and personal reasons: to pursue a passion, to provide a social outlet, to serve their communities, or to help contribute toward family financial goals (e.g. buy a house, go on vacation.) And these are all really great reasons to work! Being a “working mom” (whatever that means) looks like a million different things and I’m glad about that.

So when I recently saw a headline on a popular website for an interview with a CEO mama of two that touted her “productivity hacks” for being a working mom, I couldn’t click fast enough.

sara longenecker working mom blog two
smile! (there’s vanilla wafers in my pocket)

How Does She Do It All?

The interview, however, proved to be nothing more than a glossy commercial for one woman’s fabulous life. The profiled “working mom” lives in Manhattan, with her husband and young children, where she runs a company inherited from her father (among other creative pursuits like book writing, blog/social media managing, and female-led venture capital endeavors.) With a detailed description of her daily life, complete with three nannies (one overnight, two during the day) and a full-time housekeeper, her experience couldn’t be further away from my own. I’m not faulting this woman for having an awesome life—if she has the bankroll to hire a staff of help, then good for her! I would probably consider using some of the same resources if I were in her expensive shoes. But that’s not my point.

The interview teased the reader with an example of a high-powered mom looking glamorous in NYC but failed to deliver anything that resembled a usable “productivity hack” for the average mama. The only tip that was worth anything instructed the reader to “outsource grocery shopping and all errands,” using an app like Instacart to have your groceries delivered–but even this one is limited. Yes, ordering your groceries to be delivered helps save time, and you pay for the service. But if you live outside of an urban or suburban area? Not an option.

I’m also curious about the “and all errands” part of the tip…I wonder, can I hire someone to take my car in for an oil change? Can I hire someone to go pay my water bill to the place in my small town that doesn’t have a way to pay online? What about dropping off used baby clothing to the local charity? Will an app do that for me, too?

The interview teased the reader with an example of a high-powered mom looking glamorous in NYC but failed to deliver anything that resembled a usable “productivity hack” for the average mama.

It’s Not Always Pretty (and it’s never perfect!)

Maybe I’m just grouchy today, but the fact that elite journos (and like-minded bloggers, apparently) love to offer up wealthy women like this as a standard for what the modern “working mom” looks like just makes me mad. It is pretentious, completely unhelpful, and totally disconnected from the experience of 99% of mothers in the United States.

It sets up unrealistic expectations for young women headed toward motherhood. It glamorizes being away from your children (the Instagramable galas! the four-day conferences!) when most mothers struggle to even enjoy the extended time apart. It subtly throws shade on all the mothers who have to bring their kids along on the side hustle. I wonder if CEO mom ever has to bribe her eighteen-month-old with an iPhone game just so she can sign a contract at the post office? Or go without a date night with her husband for months because they juggle taking care of the children on opposite shifts and can’t afford a babysitter?

Again, this isn’t a personal attack on this particular woman. I’m just sick of the most privileged percent of moms being thrust at the rest of us like some kind of over-scheduled, highly manicured standard to attain. No thanks.

The Real Working Mom

I want to hear about the productivity hacks of a mom of four who runs her own business and still makes chili on Tuesday nights. Is that asking too much from women? Of course not. I know her; she lives a couple of miles from me.

I don’t need to hear about “self-care” from a woman with three nannies—I want to talk about juggling motherhood and personal time with my friend who has a toddler and works on publishing deadlines from her sofa.

I don’t need another interview with a mom who achieves a plethora of career goals at the expense of having dinner with her kids. I’d rather call one of my sisters and invite her, and her three kids, over for frozen pizza and mutual advice.

I say, let the Hollywood-ized Us Weekly version of the “working mom” ideal d-i-e! If you are lucky enough to have one or two friends like the ones I’ve described, then you don’t need another glossy mag telling you what the ideal “working mom” should look like–because you have her right in front of you.

Published by Sara Beth Longenecker

Sara Beth Longenecker is a writer and blogger based in Nashville, TN. She helps women sort through the noise of our culture by bringing them truth, beauty, and everyday theology.

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