I’ve started becoming obsessed with how our perceptions as women are shaped by what we see. This includes what movies or shows we watch, what books we read, the advertisements that inundate us. These narratives about women have impacted us since we were young girls and continue to inform us as we grow into women. And I’m frustrated to admit that I’ve fallen prey to them.
Narratives I’ve believed to be true include: men being the breadwinner, moms should be perfect, working moms should feel guilty, childbirth is a horrible experience, promoting yourself is bragging, amongst many others. These narratives are designed to make women feel less than and guilty and, as a result, cause them to second guess themselves.
I consider myself an intelligent, well-read person and as a thirty-three year old, frankly, I am fed up with these narratives that limit us as women, as moms, and as professionals. The most important narrative I’d like to address is the “myth of the perfect mom”. First of all, why anyone uses these words baffles me. I’ve never been perfect, not even close and have never wanted to.
What a waste of an awesome life to strive for something that doesn’t exist. Want to know what I do as a mom? Wake my kids up with a silly song, snuggle them in bed in the morning or let them watch a few shows in bed while I sleep. I take showers with them (at what age should I stop this?), try to give them a healthy breakfast but sometimes give them cookies because that is fun, scold them for being late to school (every morning and mostly, it’s my fault) and read to them some nights. I leave them to go to work every day, go out at night with my friends so I don’t go crazy, travel for work because I enjoy it, breastfeed them until I decide it’s too hard for me, go out to dinner with their father and leave them with a babysitter because I love him so much and yell at them when they are being annoying and having bad behavior,
I’m just a mom who is working hard to create an environment where my kids feel safe, loved and taken care of. I also know that love is not limitless and your heart continues to grow. One of the best lessons I can teach my kids is to trust easily and to love a lot of people. That means nannies, au pairs, grandparents and other parents at school that pick my kids up when I can’t. I’ve never wanted to be a perfect mom because I’m far from perfect at mostly everything in my life. Why go into something as important as parenting with unfair expectations?
But I am frankly sick of the narrative that “I’m not a perfect mom” because “fill-in-the-blank”. Because you work, because you have childcare, because your kid is late to school, because you didn’t make them a homemade cake for their birthday, etc. One of my favorite writers, Anna Quindlen has this great quote that I think lends itself nicely to all aspects of life, but particularly parenting “I show up, I listen, I try to laugh.” Being a good mom to me is simply striving to do the best job you can on any given day and trying to laugh.
Another narrative I find troubling surrounds what a ‘working mom’s’ life should look like. First of all, is my husband a working dad? Have you ever even heard of a working dad? All moms work. When I was growing up, my mom stayed at home and most of the moms I knew stayed at home. The narratives I saw on television growing up were of stay-at-home moms, or moms who worked but frankly, you had no idea what they did. I have been a voracious reader ever since I learned to read and, unfortunately, there are so few stories about what a working mom does. And if we cannot see something, we cannot know that it exists and if we want it.
Having a paying job outside of the home while I have three little kids has been one of the best decisions of my life. I don’t feel guilty about working because I understand that “mom guilt” is another narrative we’ve unfortunately fallen prey to. Do I miss my kids during the day? Sometimes. But I make sure that in the mornings, when I come home and on the weekends, I’m all in. We go hiking, swimming, traveling and other activities where I can give them the attention they need.
Co-founding iFundWomen, a company whose mission it is to empower women by providing them access to capital and coaching makes leaving the house every morning relatively easy. I know that I am doing important, impactful work and, as a result, I’m making the world a better place. On top of that, I’ve always loved working and making money. I like being busy. I like learning new skills. And most of all, I like getting paid.
I get pride and pleasure from the fact that my husband and I both contribute financially to our household. which for us means that we both have equal say in how that money is spent. I don’t feel guilty for providing for my kids, even if that means I don’t get to see everything that they are doing all day long. I’ve always believed that life is long and careers are long. I know that my kids will grow up and leave the house to have their own lives beyond me, so I make sure I have my own life beyond them.
I won’t go into dispelling narratives on childbirth being horrible, but in case you are interested, do some research on this and talk to moms who haven’t found childbirth to be horrible but actually, really amazing.
The last narrative I’d like to see removed is the idea that promoting ourselves is bragging and that’s an unattractive quality. I grew up in New Jersey and frankly, have never been really uncomfortable with the idea of talking about myself. This runs very counter to my very Nebraskan husband who rarely talks about himself. There was a quote I heard once from Walt Whitman that says “If you done it, it ain’t bragging.” I love that quote and think of it every single day.
When I talk to entrepreneurs in the iFundWomen community who hesitate to self-promote themselves and their business, I repeat it to them. I tell them to be proud of their success and to tell people know about it, because if they don’t no one else will. I think about it when I promote events where I’m representing iFundWomen on social media and I get the tiniest feelings of being self-serving. If we want to change the narrative of what success looks like for women, what running a women-led business looks like, what being a working mom looks like, we need to write the narrative ourselves.
Social media has a lot of negative qualities but the aspect that I love about it is that it gives you a platform to re-write the narratives we have been told and create new stories. I’m so lucky to be exposed to the amazing stories I have seen of black female CEOS, moms with four little kids running huge businesses, dad’s staying at home to raise their kids, and people with special needs being fashion models. We no longer have to wait for big media brands or production companies to portray people who look like us, we can do it ourselves. We can follow people who are telling great stories, we can watch people who don’t look like us sharing their deepest thoughts, we can listen to podcasts told by a colorful quilt of characters. We get to choose what content we listen to, who is creating it and what stories they are telling and we get to choose how it is going to make us feel. I am so lucky to be able to show my daughters and son all of the incredible things they can be when they grow up. I’m excited that I am able to show them footage of me being interviewed or a journal article their dad wrote, or examples of people who don’t look like them doing jobs we never even knew existed.
As we get enter a new decade, my wish for women is to pay attention to the stories that are being told, look into who is telling them and why. If you don’t like the story, change the narrative. Write yourself as the main character and do something you’ve never seen anyone do before. Even better, have your kids challenge you to do something you’ve never done before and let them watch you struggle to figure it out. I believe that is how we can all make the world a better place for ourselves, as women, and for our kids.
Kate Anderson is the Co-Founder of iFundWomen, member and contributor to heymama.