Two years ago, as I was sitting at my computer going on the 11th hour, and the shift change came for my night nanny to arrive and my day nanny to go home – yes, you read that right – and my then two-year-old crawling up my leg because she hadn’t received adequate attention from me that day, with emails flying into my inbox at the speed of light, demanding my ETA on when I was going to turn the credit agreement the client needed before midnight for some reason, I had a breakdown revelation:
Motherhood and working in America are unsustainable.
Okay, okay, okay. Maybe “unsustainable” is a harsh indictment. But in all seriousness, if you are an ambitious woman who loves being a mom, but also loves the idea of building a meaningful career – something outside of your kids and family that is both intellectually stimulating and fulfilling – it can be downright difficult.
I honestly didn’t get it. My mother didn’t seem to struggle as much. So, I asked her: “Hey mom. How the hell did you handle THREE young children while you worked and traveled? I can barely seem to handle one.”
Her one-sided smirk let me know I was in for an obvious and rude awakening. “I didn’t live in America when you guys were young. Everyone was around. Any other way, and you’ll just be tired.”
Tired, indeed. Understatement of the century, amiright?
Let me explain what she meant.
Community-Focused vs. Individualistic Cultures
My mother had my brothers and me (I’m the youngest of three) all within 5 years of each other. So, most of the time we were with her, she was toting around three very young kids ranging through the varying developmental stages where our emotions were the most high-strung and our capability of taking care of ourselves was at near nil.
My mom was also an entrepreneur. She had a successful international trading business and owned a few retail stores, which meant she traveled a lot. And yet, I have a lot of memories of being with her.
So how did she do it?
Ever heard of the phrase “it takes a village”?
Well, she lived in Africa when we were young. Specifically, Nigeria. A culture that espouses community vs individualism. There, the whole village is actually responsible for a child.
My mother’s revelation unlocked what seemed to be hidden memories. There were always a lot of people around on my family’s estate – aunts, uncles, cousins, you name it. Us, kids, knew we couldn’t act up because the whole village would tan our hide like they were our actual parents. And then they would tell your parents who would in turn dish out their own punishment for whatever offense you committed.
But, the upside was we were never “on our own.” We always had a mother figure watching over us and we always had playmates. And even though my mom worked and traveled, I never felt like she wasn’t present (debunking the myth that if we aren’t there every second of every day with our child, they somehow won’t form a healthy bond). We’re actually pretty close and now live within 10 minutes of each other.
America has an individualistic culture, which is the antithesis of the “village” concept. If you need help, you either have to rely on immediate family nearby, or you pay for it – daycare, nannies, babysitters, mommy-and-me activities, you name it. And it is not uncommon here for people not to feel attached to, or live nearby, their families. So, you guessed it. Most of us are paying for help, which can also be unsustainable.
Back in the day, America was a little less individualistic. I came to this country in the era when you could disappear with friends in the neighborhood during summer all day and weren’t allowed back into the house unless you were ready to help clean or go to bed. I believe there was some secret underground of neighborhood moms that alerted each household where their kids were at any point in the day because, otherwise, that would just be … negligent? 😅 Haha, we all turned out alright. 👀
Challenges for Working Moms in American Culture
But in today’s day and age, we working moms are faced with cultural challenges that make being a mom difficult and, at times, even depressing. Here are a few of these hurdles:
- Supermom Syndrome: Our society often puts pressure on moms to be superheroes who can effortlessly juggle multiple roles. We’re bombarded with images of perfect Pinterest-worthy birthday parties, immaculate homes, and perfectly behaved children. This unrealistic expectation can leave us feeling overwhelmed and inadequate.
- Workaholic Culture: America has a culture that glorifies long working hours and prioritizes professional success above all else. As a result, we working moms often find ourselves struggling to maintain a healthy work-life balance. The constant pressure to excel in both the office and at home can be exhausting and disheartening.
- Limited Support Systems: Unlike some other countries, the United States lacks comprehensive support systems for working parents. The cost of quality childcare, lack of paid parental leave, and limited access to affordable healthcare can all take a toll on the mental and emotional well-being of working moms.
- Mom Guilt Amplified: American culture often perpetuates the notion that being a good mom means sacrificing your own needs and desires. This leads to intense feelings of guilt when we prioritize our careers or take time for ourselves. It’s crucial to challenge this narrative and recognize that self-care and personal fulfillment are essential for our overall happiness and ability to be the best moms we can be.
- Unrealistic Expectations: Society often romanticizes the idea of the “perfect mom” who can effortlessly balance every aspect of her life. But let’s be real—we’re human. And perfection is an unattainable goal. It’s important to redefine success on our own terms and embrace the messy, imperfect beauty of motherhood.
What We Can Do
So how do we recreate an environment that mimics other countries’ focus on community for mothers in America?
We probably won’t get change anytime soon in areas that have been made political – i.e., parental leave and the cost of quality childcare. But, we can focus on what my good friends and I call cultivating “the Sister Circle.”
The Sister Circle is a village you hand-pick. That can be family you get along with, or a group of fellow moms and mom supporters that truly get the journey and can offer help, advice, a shoulder to lean on, and most importantly – community.
If you’re not close to family or have any close-knit friends, there are still options. You can join local support groups, attend parenting workshops, or explore online communities and forums that meet up in person every once in a while.
The key here is finding a way to not doing it alone. Sharing your experiences with others who “get it” can provide camaraderie and validation. It also takes the load off your shoulders and allows you to focus on what truly matters.
What are some ways you create community? Leave a comment below and let me know! You’ll also be helping out fellow working mamas reading this blog. 😃