What is Mom’s Role?

I was having a conversation with a friend yesterday. She works. Her husband works. And the younger of their two kids is three. And while her husband wishes he could split the work at home 50/50, she says she’s lucky to get him to take on 25%.
“I made a list of what I do,” she told me. It included:

  • Plan Food: Grocery shopping/ Cooking /Packing
  • Go to kids’ doctors’ appointments: sick visits, well visits, allergists, dentists, orthopedists…
  • Organize nights out: Hiring the sitter/Invite friends/Book restaurant
  • Plan birthday parties: Cake ordering, decoration buying, invite sending, gift sending, location, arranging and set up, favors
  • Write thank you notes
  • Keep up with school crap: Attending meetings, Volunteering, Buying supplies, Sending in forms, Befriending the people who remind you when stuff is happening
  • Maintain house: fixing stuff, staying home to meet maintenance people, cleaning, laundry, hiring a housekeeper
  • Plan family gatherings
  • Arrange vacations: book flights and house/hotels, research restaurants and activities, shop, pack

And there was so much more.
We were left gasping. How can anyone do all of this – AND work? If it were up to her husband, he would slash this list in half. Thank you notes, no way. Volunteering at school, we can’t. Doctors’ appointments, have Grandma take them.
“The thing is,” she told me. “I look at my list and think ‘This is what a Mom should do.’”
And that’s where our funny b***-session turned a tad somber.
“But is it?” I asked her.
With so many dual working households and so many services (Care included) to help, why do we moms feel so much pressure to do it all?
She told me: Think of the people you want to respect you as a Mom. I include, my own mom, my grandma and my friends. If any of them knew I had my au pair take my child to the doctor, they would cringe. And if they knew that I didn’t know who the best teachers were in the school, and wasn’t actively trying to get my daughter in their classrooms, they’d think I don’t have the right priorities. And these are the opinions that help define how I feel about myself as a mom.
The thing is, there’s just way.too.much. We moms can’t do it all or we’re going to break down. Even stay at home parents feel they need help. (And I truly hope their partners feel grateful for them every day.)
So what do we do?
It seems we need to redefine “Mom.”
And Dad. The other day, I moderated a webinar on the Modern Dad for the Workplace Solutions team at Care.com. It seems the majority of Dads actually want to help 50/50, even though they know they don’t. However, they feel conflicted, because they also want to advance in their careers. They don’t know the definition of Dad anymore. Being a successful parent and partner is more important to them than work. But they don’t know how.* And it doesn’t help if we Moms don’t let them – or assume they can’t.
Stereotypically, Moms like control. We like cleanliness and order. We tend to nurture and soothe our children. And we like to feel special in the lives of the people we’re raising. Who wouldn’t? But do we have to control it AND do it? No, I don’t think so.
Historically, we make less than our male partners. But by doing it ALL at home, this “Mommy Tax” isn’t just hurting us at work, it’s hurting us at home. We have to stop telling ourselves, “I’m the Mom, I should do this” and “I make less so I should do more.” No, actually, if our partners value our office-work, no matter what the pay is, they need to take some of the burden off our shoulders. And when I say “some,” I mean half.
But it’s not just our partners who need to change their ways. It’s us. We’ve trained our brains to feel that we are the only ones who can do certain things. We soothe the baby the best. We know what to talk to the doctor about. We plan the best parties. And we think, “It’ll take just as much time to explain what I need as it would to do it. So I should just do it.. and do it right.” I hear ya. I’ve planned three birthday parties in the past three months and I might have a mental breakdown. So while I’m telling you this, I’m also telling it to myself.
And we also tell our brains that we should be doing it. Our mothers did it. Their mothers did it. It’s what moms do. We pride ourselves for being the “primary caregiver.” Numero Uno. But what if that distinction didn’t have to be made? What if we were both primary?
And yes, to get change to happen, it does mean more work for us – but it’s more work letting go, so the division of labor can be more equally distributed.
Today I asked our nanny to take the baby to a doctor’s appointment and my husband to take our son to camp. It’s something I usually do, but last night, I had a “moment.” There was too much to do at work and in life and we all needed to chip in (and help a mutha out!). And instead of feeling guilt for it, I’ll call today, progress. This family actually takes three of us to run it. I can admit that. Mom is special, but she isn’t Super Human. And she actually has other very important obligations besides y’all.
And you know what? Everyone was happy to do it.
So if I were to ask the three people/groups whose opinions matter most what they think of that… they’d probably say I’m a genius. They’d probably tell me they wish they’d done this years ago.
And that’s something to remember: We are role modeling parenthood and partnership for sons and daughters. These divisions of labor will help them decide what to expect from their partners and themselves – and the guilt or conflict that they feel about it (or don’t feel at all).
So while we try to figure out the roles and definitions of mom and dad, dad and dad or mom and mom (whatever your case might be), we need to give ourselves the ability and freedom to look at our lists, and redistribute. And remember: let’s do this now, so our children don’t have to.
Good luck. And tell me how it goes.
*Research reported in “The New Dad: A Portrait of Today’s Father” by Boston College Center for Work & Family, 2015.



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