Superwoman Needs Superman

Dana Brownlee

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If anyone understands the value of an involved dad in the modern family, it's a mom! Unfortunately, we typically hear about the importance of dads around Father's Day or other special occasions, but moms yearn for their active involvement and support daily (if not hourly).

As a fairly new, working mom trying to figure out the crazy balancing act of running and growing a small business, satisfying existing clients and winning new ones, maintaining a "successful" marriage, mothering two small kids, paying bills and running a household, coordinating vacations and school activities, participating in school events, and finding time for myself in the process, I decided to ask other working moms HOW THEY DO IT?

I launched the Professionalism Matters Working Moms' Work Life Balance Survey in April of 2015 to ask other working moms if they were struggling (or was it just my imagination that this balancing act seemed much more challenging than any calculus final I'd taken in undergrad), and if so, how were they "making it work"?

Fortunately, the survey feedback certainly confirmed for me that I wasn't crazy (or a wuss). "Hanging on by a thread" seemed to be quite a normal description of a typical working mom's experience day-to-day, but overall, most moms seemed to reflect that they enjoyed being a working mom and wouldn't trade it. Interestingly enough, there was only one question (of the 19) that seemed to elicit an overwhelming, almost visceral response:

What do you think your spouse/partner least understands about your day-to-day struggles?

  • "That I never get to take a breath or minute to do something on my own. I'm exhausted and crash at the end of the day."

  • "The overwhelming sense of anxiety that I feel trying to keep track of all the house operations (from house supplies to keeping up with everyone's schedule) on top of my work responsibilities."

  • "How many tiny little details I have to remember and juggle to keep the ship afloat."

  • "That the house doesn't clean itself, laundry doesn't do itself, and meals don't magically appear on the table."

  • "How many things I do to keep the household going without him having a clue. How much I focus on the home/kids, etc. He doesn't seem to see that, but he sees it if I work occasionally in the evening."

  • "There is no way to sum this up. His needs have only increased with time, and his expectations of me as a wife have only grown. Now that we have two children under the age of four, I resent feeling like a failure to him every day."

  • "Nothing. He only has to work. I have to work and be mommy/wife."

  • "Hubby doesn't understand why I'm so committed to the job that causes me to stay late often."

  • "How trapped I am as the sole breadwinner to just suck it up and make it work."

  • "The sexism I face every day at work."

  • "That I feel so alone."

  • "Very little, I take care of him, too."

  • "How hard it is to still be nursing while also trying to be full-time at work."

  • "I am amazing!!! And he got an amazing woman!! Just because I don't fold laundry doesn't make me less smart."

  • "My hubby is a perfect co-parent and partner. I've got nothing for this one."

  • "I make it look easy, and so he believes it is easy."

  • "The amount of decisions I have to make on a daily basis is overwhelming. Don't ask me to pick up dinner, too!"

  • "It's 2017, not 1980, and I'm not anything like his mother."

  • "Why my clients are so important to me."

  • "That we both work full-time and we both do a lot of chores, but I organize most of the family events which requires a significant amount of additional energy (calling babysitters, calling doctors, reminding kids of their chores, asking if homework got done, etc.)"

  • "He gets it."

  • "Even though I seem to have it all together, I am a step away from crashing due to exhaustion."

  • "That 'tired' from working all day and driving home in traffic is not the same 'tired' as woke, dressed the kid, took her to daycare, worked all day, drove home in traffic, picked the kid up, cooked dinner, cleaned up, bathed kid, and serviced husband. Wife - 1, Husband - 0."

  • "I work from home so he discounts a lot of what I do and expects housework to be completed regardless of my work schedule."

  • "Every goddamned thing."


  • When I shared this feedback with a colleague, she told me she was blown away by the results since seemingly "times had changed," and men today were ostensibly much more "domestic" and involved in child rearing. I saw her point that yes, we've moved away from the Leave it to Beaver model of household management where men might have been completely hands-off. Unfortunately, while dads changing diapers may be more commonplace today, various other factors have changed, increasing the overall workload for working moms, and hence creating tons of frustration directed toward their partners:

    1. So many moms today are working outside the home or expected to be working. Eighty-three percent of the 524 survey respondents characterized themselves as "employed, working full time." The survey confirmed what so many working moms know already: Running a household/managing a family (or being the "default parent," as one respondent put it) is a full-time job in and of itself, so for working moms, they get to have two full-time jobs (and often only get acknowledged for one).

    2. In contrast to our parents' generation, the jobs that women hold today are typically more demanding and time-consuming. The chauvinistic Mad Men era certainly had many shortcomings as a workplace environment for women (that's another article). But the upside (if you can call it that) is that women typically held positions with less responsibility, fewer hours, and fewer demands overall. Again, this is not an attempt to naively glamorize sexism, but instead to acknowledge the reality that the typical secretary working mom of yesteryear is a far cry from today's working mom who might reasonably be leading a global team, running a small business, leading a company, launching a clinical trial, or speaking at international conferences.

    3. Technology has changed everything! With the ubiquitous adoption of smartphones, social media, intranets, Wikis, blogs, etc., working moms, like everyone else, are no longer working 9-5, but instead often working around the clock and struggling to define the blurred boundaries between work time and family time. To make matters worse, we're now inundated with information to keep us abreast of the latest school rankings, community discussions about potential neighborhood re-zonings, coupons for travel, alerts on food recalls, anti-virus software expiration warnings, and of course, the latest on Kim and Kanye. It has become a chore to separate the noise from the nuggets of relevant information. The irrelevant information is a huge, constant distraction that at worst creates a sense of anxiety that we're missing something if we don't read it, and at best wastes that last 20 minutes we had left to fold clothes.

    My response to my colleague was this: In my humble opinion, I do think dads of 2017 are doing so much more around the house than dads of 1985. Helping with cooking, cleaning, and carpooling is much more the norm. Indeed, expectations of the role of husbands have shifted (expanded) in many ways over the years.

    The intensity that I sense in the responses to this question is that husbands (often, not always) are typically nowhere near as involved in all the details of the day-to-day childcare/household responsibilities. It's not the big stuff that they're not helping out with, but the little stuff which yields this "feeling death by 1,000 paper cuts" for so many working moms. While there may be an equal division of household labor, moms often still take care of all the time consuming, energy draining details, and their partners oftentimes have no clue of all the work that's involved (and subsequently don't acknowledge it because they had no awareness of it in the first place!)

    What details am I talking about? Time-consuming, albeit important, tasks, like registering the kids for summer camps before they fill up, researching schooling options for the next year, completing paperwork required by the school, changing out the kids' closets with the change in season, emailing teachers to ask about a child writing letters backwards, scheduling dentist appointments, purchasing school-approved mosquito repellent, sunblock, and sandwich bags, researching family vacation options to coincide with the school calendar, coordinating nannies/babysitters, ordering summer reading books, scheduling household repairs, etc. a caveat. I must admit that through self-reflection, I've realized that some of the work is self-imposed because moms often have specific standards about how the job should be done. No, the kids won't die if they don't have organic fruit in their lunch every day, but to so many moms, every single detail is important.

    Like most American stories, this one has a happy ending, as well. While the question about spouses reflected an overwhelming desire for more help, I was similarly surprised that when asked: "With whom do you crave more time?" (options including spouse/significant other, children, manager, peers/colleagues, personal friends, extended family, self), the most popular response (34%) was spouse/significant other! So, it seems that working moms don't just want more help from dads to share the workload they want date nights, stimulating conversations, and hand-holding, too. Yes, dads are important! Not just for the kids, but for their moms, too. [Symbol]

    Dana Brownlee is an acclaimed keynote speaker, corporate trainer, and team development consultant. She is President of Professionalism Matters, Inc. a boutique professional development corporate training firm based in Atlanta, GA and can be reached at danapbrownlee@professionalismmatters.com

    Originally published on Professionalism Matters.

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