There's a new ideal mommy in town. She ain't French and she doesn't live in the jungle.
This time she's a laid-back Swedish mama and she has a leading role in the book Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink by Katrina Alcorn.
Alcorn juggled a full-time job as a web design executive and two kids all the way up until a nervous breakdown forced her to reassess her life. As KJ Dell'Antonia writes in an article in The New York Times called "Being a Working Mother Always Means Having to Say You're Sorry," Alcorn buckled under the pressures her responsibilities forced on her.
"After the birth of her youngest child: while working five days a week as a web design executive and shuttling three children through their busy lives, she pulled off the road one day and, as a crushing panic attack settled over her, called her husband to declare that she couldn't 'do this anymore.'"
Alcorn started asking other moms how they make it work and discovered something you and I probably already know: none of us know what we're doing. Some days are better than others, but most of the time we're hanging by a thread.
Dell'Antonia, who read the book, paints a vivid picture of Alcorn unraveling amidst the madness of motherhood. Stressed, constantly feeling guilty and apologizing for all of it.
I'm sorry I'm late. I had to pump.
I'm sorry I can't stay longer. It's time to get my kids.
I'm sorry I have to skip the conference. I can't afford more nights away.
I'm sorry I have to miss the pitch. Jake has a fever.
I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm so so sorry.
Alcorn astutely points out how moms are constantly apologizing for their perceived failures, the keyword being perceived. They imagine themselves as failing their children, their employers, their families and therefore spend much of their precious time apologizing for failing to do what is actually impossible.
Alcorn, as Antonia points out, asserts the idea that "you can do everything, as long as you're strategic about it - contributes to our feeling of failure when it truly all is too much. Not everything that overwhelms us is our choice. Instead of examining the circumstances, we examine ourselves."
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the million-dollar question: Is this overwhelmed, over-worked, over-tired scenario of the working mom our choice or is it the fault of someone or something else?
So Alcorn maintains we should examine the circumstances and not necessarily ourselves. The solution? Alcorn suggests we all take a page from the Sweden rule book of parenting. That's where the government mandates that women can get more than a year of paid maternity leave and men get financial incentives to take paternity leave.
Sound like a dream? Depends on who you are. In The New York Post, Naomi Shaefer Riley counters with an excellent point: "Alcorn's prescription inadvertently pushes mothers into a one-size-fits-all kind of parenting. Maybe more women do want part-time work - but how will other women react when they find their bosses assume they'll be taking off years in maternity leave and don't promote them to positions of responsibility as a result?"
Not only that, but how about some personal responsibility when it comes to family planning? While I'm all for the notion that women should stop apologizing and try to feel fulfillment in what they do accomplish, I also think a lot of what overwhelms is by choice, and we need to examine the choices we make that lead to those circumstances.
Many of us set ourselves up for failure by trying to live some kind of American dream that just isn't feasible. If you want to have a huge career, maybe you shouldn't have three kids. Conversely, if you want three kids, maybe you should dial back the career before having kids. Yeah, they have great maternity leave in Sweden, but there also aren't many women in high positions. It's a decision many women are forced to make if they want to be in the workforce. Have kids, delay having kids, don't have kids at all. It's a tough one, but at least we have a choice now.
You can still try to have it all, but you need to accept a new definition of what having it all really means and not rely on others, whether the government or employers, to help you make it happen. Would it be nice if we had better maternity leave in America? Of course. Would it help for employers to be more family-friendly? Sure. But you knew the rules when you got pregnant/applied for the big job. For me having it all means I have the choice to work or stay at home or blend the two. I spent years working my way to the top of my field in journalism and then spent years plotting my departure to full-time writing so that I could have kids. I made these choices, and the result is what I make of it.
- By Monica Bielanko