Moms are a chatty bunch. We rely on each other for support, advice and commiseration. When I’m having a bad day, I reach out to my best mom friend who can pull me out of my funk. When one of my kids are struggling with a mystery illness, the first place I go is my trusty mom group to see if they’ve dealt with anything similar. And when I feel like I can’t handle the stress of juggling work, kids and life any longer, my tribe of other working moms are right there to offer words of understanding.
But I’ve noticed a few myths about motherhood that have spread within our support systems. Certain “stories” are easily shared. Over time, these stories become common assumptions. Today, many of those assumptions are taken as fact.
Over the last six years that I’ve spent specializing in working family issues, I’ve identified a handful of pervasive myths among working moms. These myths have become so commonplace, they seem impossible to contradict. But as a working mom myself and as someone who supports working parents of all stripes, I know these myths are fundamentally untrue. And the longer they go unchecked, the more time we spend enduring working motherhood rather than truly enjoying it.
It’s time to replace these easy-to-believe myths so we can finally reclaim our time, energy and sanity as working moms. Here are three myths that need to be busted once and for all:
1. “Survival mode” is unavoidable for working moms.
“Stretched thin.” “Exhausted.” “Depleted.” “Burned out.” “I’m drowning.”
I hear those phrases many times a day from working moms. It seems to be all I hear some days. In fact, if you meet a working parent whose life seems great, did you stumble upon a unicorn?
No, and I’m calling shenanigans. There are pockets of happy working moms everywhere. They’re just hiding in the shadows because claiming to feel happiness and calm seems like a judgment of all other working moms who are struggling. As soon as a working mom insists that it’s possible to enjoy life with work, the claws come out. People accuse her of “lying” or “faking it.” Her experience is often attacked and resented. And I get it. It feels like the happy mom is rubbing salt in the wound of anyone struggling. But the trend is clear: happy moms have learned to keep quiet.
This leads to a lack of sharing. Women who are actually doing it—living full lives and enjoying the experience of working motherhood are quiet. And that shouldn’t be the case as they have insights and wisdom that contradict this myth that life as a working mom is destined to be a grind. But if we open ourselves to the possibility that survival mode is a choice, and not a necessity, we can approach working motherhood in new ways that actually work for us. There’s inspiration in stories of women who have crafted a balanced life that works well for them. And then start making new choices that lead to our own fulfillment.
The key to busting this myth? First, don’t be afraid to question it and second, look for support from those working moms openly enjoying their lives.
2. My husband should “just know” what I need.
I used to be fairly codependent. My emotional and mental health relied exclusively on the emotional and mental health of those around me. I had no idea where my own identity began, and that of those I loved ended. My loved ones’ achievements lifted me up. Their struggles dragged me down.
I became codependent not only because of a failure to express my own needs and desires…but also a complete incapacity to even recognize them. My focus was so directed outside of myself, it was impossible to know what was best for me. I knew what everyone else needed and did everything I could to anticipate and meet their needs. My resentment, however, built up when they failed to do the same for me. It became toxic to all of my relationships.
When my husband and I had our oldest son, I immediately became so overwhelmed with life that I expected—no, I desperately needed—my husband to know, anticipate and meet my needs without any guidance from me. I had done it for him and everyone else all those years before I became a mom. Couldn’t he do me the same courtesy?
It seems obvious that no one else can know how to meet your needs better than yourself. But every day, I see working moms putting the responsibility on their husbands to develop super-human mind-reading skills. They expect their partner to set aside all other needs (including their own) to lift the weight of the world off their shoulders.
Are there husbands out there not pulling their weight? Of course. And in those cases, some clear communication and boundaries (and in more serious cases, a therapist), can be a game-changer. But I’ve found that the most effective approach to getting support is via a three-step process:
- Identify what I need.
- Identify who is in the best position to help me in that moment. Sometimes that’s my partner, but these days I rely on a lot of different sources of support.
- Clearly make a request for help. No passive-aggressiveness. No guilt. No expectations. Just ask for help I need.
This myth that my partner should just know and provide what I need has led to resentment and anger on my part over the years. That’s depleted a lot of my time, energy and sanity. I constantly remind myself that it’s up to me to make sure my needs are met. It’s not all my husband’s (or anyone else’s) responsibility.
3. If I work harder and faster, then I’ll finally get some time for myself.
As working moms, our to-do list is a mile long. We have demands and responsibilities from the moment we wake up until we collapse into bed. We feel bad for taking a lunch break for fear of losing a few precious moments of productivity. Our lives are like a race against time.
We hear that we must “make time for ourselves” or “focus on self-care.” While that sounds good, most working moms believe they need to power through their overflowing to-do list before resting. Only once everything and everyone else is taken care of can they then relax. At least for a few minutes until they’re in demand again.
The issue with this myth is that we know the truth: We’ll never get ahead long enough to actually put ourselves first. We work harder and faster and yet never hit that magical moment, free from demands on our time, energy and focus.
I no longer wait until everything is done before taking time for myself. I’ve learned to reverse my approach. Today, I carve out buckets of time—time to relax, my downtime, time to spend with my family, time to write my book and anything else that truly provides meaning in my life. That time is all scheduled first, before anything else each week. Those are sacred appointments and everything else must fit in around them. I no longer allow anything to encroach on that time.
And I’m militant about commitments. Each week, I make conscious choices about my priorities and I don’t deviate from them. That list of priorities includes work goals, family time and solo time (which I hold dear). I get a lot of requests and invitations beyond those things, and the answer is always “not right now, but thanks.” I’ve crafted friendly but firm responses for anyone who asks for my time outside of those weekly priorities.
Protecting our time, energy and sanity as working moms can feel impossible. But I’ve found that discarding these three specific myths in my own life has been the key to reclaiming the joy that feels so fleeting most days.
Sarah Argenal, MA, CPC, is on a mission to eradicate the burnout epidemic so working parents can finally enjoy these precious years of their lives. She is the founder of The Argenal Institute based in Austin, TX, host of the Working Parent Resource Podcast and creator of the Whole SELF Lifestyle™, which offers a sustainable and long-term approach to personal fulfillment for working parents. Get a taste of the Whole SELF Lifestyle™ now, or visit her website at www.argenalinstitute.com to learn more.