Yesterday I had the privilege of sitting up on a stage of accomplished working mothers in a ballroom of 900 people, and being honored as one of AWNY’s Working Mothers of the Year.
When they mentioned my name and asked me to stand–the kind of moment that is generally a blur, as you stand there smiling like an idiot and hoping you won’t pass out in front of 900 people–for once I remember it clear as anything. Because not 25 yards in front of me were family, my amazing coworkers, and then Thalia and Sage, jumping up and down in the center aisle, arms raised and fists pumping like someone had just announced we were moving into Cinderella’s castle.
May every working mother have a moment like that in her life–not an award per se (although that part was nice), but an image that I can conjure up whenever I miss them. Whenever I skip a pediatrician appointment for a business trip. Whenever I race home to squeak in a quick 30 minutes before they toddle off to bed. Whenever I feel a twinge of that stupid mom guilt that I’m increasingly learning is useless and nonproductive.
It was an image that said that my daughters were proud of me.
It was a perfect.
And yet, motherhood is not filled with perfect moments like those all the time.
But you wouldn’t have known it from yesterday’s speeches.
Each of the 20 or so of us were asked one question, and had one minute or less (the audience will be shocked to learn that part, ha!) to answer. I was hoping to hear the honest stories of sacrifice, the funny anecdotes of working mom guilt. I wanted to hear about the coworkers who look at you askew when you tell them that you can’t make a client meeting because it’s your daughter’s hiphop recital. The baby puke stains on the business suit. The piles of dishes in the sink. The insurance that nearly lapsed during a layoff. Or heck, just the promise that we can do better when we create ads that portray mothers in the most God-awful stereotypical roles.
I mean… an entire podium filled with working mothers from advertising and marketing and not one of them brought up the cliche portrayal of mothers and fathers in advertising, and how it still generally stinks?
(I swear I was going to, but I really did try to stick to the one minute thing.)
I’m not saying I wanted a luncheon filled with complaints. Just honesty and insight. Just the acknowledgment that we have sacrificed. That we still sacrifice. That we make trade-offs for accomplishments. And that we live and work in a society that’s still not entirely supportive of working parents, even if many of us are fortunate to work for companies that are.
It was a chance for the industry to learn a little more about the realities of working mother and possible solutions so that maybe they can give us the support we need. And maybe our country which seems so big on “family values” these days could actually start supporting the working families of the world a liiiittle bit better.
Instead, I heard scant few good anecdotes–I loved McDonald’s Molly Starrman emotionally describing her retired father moving to Chicago to take over childcare full time for her so she could continue working. And Jessica Igoe of Google talking about how important it was for her to unplug when she was with the kids. But mostly there a lot of [acceptance speeches] stories in which everyone has a perfectly supportive husband, doting children who never miss us, stellar colleagues, and no need for “me time.” (Seriously, two different women dodged the “me time” question. Which means either they truly don’t have any, or they don’t think it’s important. Hello, pedicures? Movies? Downton Abbey? Something?)
So when it came to my question about ambition and whether it’s a good word–me being me–I talked about how it’s a positive thing; how my parents always told me to be anything I wanted, provided I worked hard and do it well–and that I want my daughters, particularly in this age of the female ambition gap to aspire to more than being princesses. I want them to fulfill their ambitions and dreams and work hard at whatever their passions happen to be.
Then I held up an article printout from Working Mother that sat at all of our place settings, featuring the a giant headline: HOW DO YOU DO IT ALL?
And you know how I feel about women who look like they do it all.
In a word: We don’t.
So I called it out. (Which may never get me invited back to one of these things again, on hindsight.) I said, because God, I felt like someone had to say it–no mother does it all. No one.
We trade doctors appointments for the day of the big meeting. We give up the excellent projects because it falls the same time as the family vacation. Successful working women do not get there without sacrifice. Some of us may do a lot. And some may make it look easy. But no one does it all. And that’s maybe not what we should be aiming for anyway.
I certainly want my children to know it: fulfilling dreams does not come without trade-offs.
And that goes for the stay-at-home moms too. Maybe even more so.
I guess I just feel passionately that we need to stop pretending that some women DO IT ALL. We might as well hold up mythological Greek gods up as role models and say hey–be more like Artemis, won’t you?
So I may be biting the generous, kind, gracious hand that handed me this beautiful, crystal star-topped award that I’m so proud of–but I hope that next time we can inspire the audience with truths; not long acceptance speeches and shiny falsehoods meant to convince our colleagues in the audience that we’re just peachy, thank you (and by the way please don’t fire us for someone with more free time to work on the weekends).
Our industries need to know our truths, and our society needs to know our truths.
And the sooner that happens, I think the better off we’ll all be.