Women today are blessed with choice. Women in the Western world get to choose whether they want a career, to have kids, or both. They get to choose if they want to get married or spend their lives traveling the world and live a vagabond lifestyle. It seems to be a rule of law however, that whatever choice a woman makes today someone is ready to point out that her choice is the wrong one. Let me explain the catch-22 of being a woman in the 21st century and how women can move from a place of judgement to empowerment.
When I was pregnant with my only child I knew I would return to work after my one-year maternity leave was over. Hats off to those parents who choose to stay home with their kids but I always knew I wasn't going to be one of them.
While I was on maternity leave a columnist in a national newspaper wrote an article entitled "Stay off the Mommy Track". She claimed that if women want to break the glass ceiling we were going to have to stop forgoing our careers to take care of our kids. The theory here is that when women decide to stay home with their kids it will have a negative impact on the career trajectory of other woman. Women fought a hard battle to be able to work in any field they choose yet in the 21st century if a woman's chosen field is to be a work-at-home mom apparently she is hurting those women that are trying to climb the corporate ladder.
Shortly after returning to work full-time I had to travel for my job. Upon hearing that I would be away for several days a female colleague looked at me and said "What is your son going to do at suppertime when his mother is not there to feed him"? "I am guessing he will eat whatever his very capable father prepares for him" I quickly retorted. You can imagine my frustration here with the mixed message that if I choose to stay home with my child I am letting other women down but if I have to travel for my job apparently my son will starve to death.
I now own my own business but things haven't changed. For the second time this month as I attended a networking event I have been on the receiving end of what I call the mommy-guilt speech. If you are not familiar with this dialogue, it goes something like this; "Wow, you have a lot going on with your business and you have a little one at home. How are you managing that? Don't forget that job number one is being a parent because if you mess that up you can't go back. You can fix your business but you can't fix your kids".
This golden nugget of advice is usually coming from an older woman who has raised her kids and maybe she thinks her advice is helpful. Regardless of the intention, what these older moms don't realize is that us younger moms don't need to hear it. Most moms that I know, myself included, lay awake at night questioning whether or not we are doing it right. "Am I spending enough time on my career or business?" Am I spending enough time with my kids?" These are the questions that go through our mind every single day. I asked my husband if men ever get this speech. His was response was simply, "No".
I would hope that by the time a woman approaches the age of sixty that people would finally start to back off. Imagine my disappointment when I read a Facebook post from the enormously successful entrepreneur, Arlene Dickinson where she writes about her experience of someone telling her that she needs to 'find someone'. Her post is filled with the same exasperation that I and many other women feel when we are on the receiving end of one of these speeches. If people still feel that a woman like Arlene Dickenson, who has clearly proven how smart, competent, and independent she is, is incomplete without a man and she still has to put up with 20th century shoulds like 'you should really find someone', then what hope do the rest of us have?
So, I propose a solution that includes not only calling for an end to the 'can't win' paradigm for women but also to replace it with an empowering, positive dialogue that support women in all of our choices.
Here are some ways that women can change the dialogue and support each other:
1. Don't assume that women who have a family and a career must be out of balance is some area of their life. Instead, give her the benefit of the doubt and have faith that she is doing it right. Applaud her for her strength and abilities.
2. Offer up an example of a time when you had a lot on your plate and how you were able to manage the many demands of career and family. If there is one thing that women need is to hear more positive stories and examples from other women that it is possible to create a healthy work-life flow.
3. Trust that all women, including you, know what is best for them and are making the best choices they can in this moment. Sometimes when we doubt the choices of others we are really using someone else's situation to express doubts about ourselves. Having faith in others starts with having faith in ourselves.
It can be hard to find our voice in a world of double standards. The best thing that women can do for one another is to honor our individuality and intuition by appreciating, not judging, each other's choices. We have to trust each other's decision-making abilities. Let's put an end to the speeches and change the narrative of how women talk to each other.
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