I’m in my happy place. I have found an hour, just for myself, to turn my brain off and just be. Just veg.
Just read an Us Weekly.
Go ahead – judge away. Dosed judiciously, it is one of the most effective (and cheapest) forms of de-stressing. And I’m making great progress.
Until I see this:
And I stop. All that runs through my head is one word: Bullshit.
This is bullshit.
It looks perfectly innocuous, doesn’t it? What could be wrong with an image of a mildly exasperated woman holding her liquid sanity while effortlessly balancing a laptop on one leg (have you ever tried that? I have. The laws of physics have something to say about that). Three adorable if energetic kids run oh-so-silently around an artfully constructed fort. And to top it all off? A rather large dog, wearing a hat no less, lies peacefully on the floor while a child jabs at it.
What could possibly be wrong with this scene? Isn’t this the image of modern motherhood?
No. A resounding NO.
Because this is the bullshit ideology that I fight every single week.
These fairy-tale-alternate-reality depictions of what mothering apparently is today.
And it’s not just me. It makes all of us feel like crap. The stay at home moms that choose not to pursue anything more than caring for their kids (as if that isn’t enough somehow). The working moms that can barely find the energy to read a bedtime story at night after a grueling day, let alone construct an architecturally sound fort (where the hell is that string strung from because I’ll be damned if I’m putting a hole in my living room wall for a laundry line).
And btw, who in the hell would open up their laptop with 3 kids, a dog and a cup of HOT COFFEE?! Like seriously. Is anyone shooting this campaign even a parent? Do you comprehend how Murphy’s Law even works?
Let’s start with the fact that there is zero chance you’re able to unlock your computer before a) the toddler tries to “help” b) the preschooler yells “lookatmelookatmemooooooommmmmmylookatmeeeee” or c) the school aged Jon Bon topples over onto you and puts a quick end to your laptop and your aspirations of being Daisy Do it All.
And let’s not even get into how coordinated these kids’ outfits are. As if that 4 year old chose a pleasantly neutral color palette across the top, skirt and leggings. It doesn’t even mildly hurt the eyes. So not believable.
But let’s discuss why I’m really pissed:
First. This ad wrongly perpetuates this bullshit concept of having it all as a simultaneous proposition. Hate to burst your bubble but it isn’t. At best, it’s a sequential process. A continual juggling of precious glass ornaments – focusing on one and leaving the others to the whims of the world and then turning your attention to those just as they’re in danger of hurling to the floor and shattering.
There is no “all at the same time”. Anyone who has ever tried to get any work done while also caring for their kids knows it can’t be done. Or at least not in a way that maintains your sanity or your work quality or respect within the relationship with your child.
So everyone! Stop creating images of what this mythical toxic la-la land might look like if the laws of well, let’s face it, reality, didn’t exist. Instead, show what’s closer to real life – a day spliced into ever so thin slices of a thousand things. Countless handoffs between spouse and caregivers and family. A mental list that has no end. Sound exhausting? It is. But it’s also honest.
Number two. Our kids don’t need to see us on our devices any more than they already do. I know this because I could write a dissertation on the topic. Apart from maybe investment bankers about to close a deal I could be the very worst example of a parent attached to her devices. For the past year I have built a start up from my personal phone. One that parents need from 6am to midnight. And while I love that I’m able to do all manners of things because I can tend to them via phone, my girls and J see me choosing the people on the phone constantly and consistently over them. Sometimes my 4 year old tries to tell me that I’m not paying attention to her and it’s 1000% the truth. I’m not. I tell myself that it’s only for now and until we get more resources. But it doesn’t change the reality of what they see in front of them right now. For so many people it’s something that has to be accepted as part of the new way work gets done. Let’s just not glorify it or in any way condone it. I hate that I have to do it and I’m not your role model (and really, I don’t “have to” – ultimately I choose to, but more on that shortly).
Third. Worst of all – look at the woman’s face. With all of this magical balancing, she doesn’t even look like she’s particularly happy. A sort of “someone saint me now for what I have to deal with” expression.
Somewhere along the line, this “mother as martyr” imagery has been created and I simply can’t stand it. Parenthood is popularly depicted as this ordeal to get through. And that our kids or our work or both are some kind of burden to be shouldered.
And really, this gets to the heart of why I’m actually so worked about this silly print ad. I’m angry at myself. Because just last week, in an effort to show the world that I could do it all, I almost broke one of those fragile glass ornaments. I almost betrayed the things that I vowed would never be compromised.
I was so caught up in this mythic ideal of how far I could push myself and my family that I couldn’t see what my choices were adding up to. I was blaming everyone but myself for feeling frantic and rundown and stressed.
And it hit me. I was doing it to myself. And I had no one to blame but myself. Here I had everyone supporting me to do whatever I needed to do and I was taking advantage of that by trying to do everything.
Lucky for me I realized this before I got on the plane for a trip that would have been my undoing.
It really comes down to this – if you live in this country, are well off enough to be able to own or rent that home with those nice things in them and have 3 kids that you chose to have, that look well fed and are well dressed, then you’re doing awesome. More than awesome. Your (and my) worst reality is that we’re tired. That we snap at our husbands. That we missed an important meeting. And we choose to fill our lives to overflowing.
That’s not on anyone but ourselves.
I wake up every morning thanking every god out there I am not a mother in Syria (to cite only one example), having to make choices that no mother should ever make. And while I think I’m completely entitled to feel frustrated with my days and wonder how one person is supposed to handle all of this, I am also accountable for everything that I have chosen to fill my days with.
No one is making me do any of this. So let’s not make anyone a martyr or put them on a pedestal. We climb up there ourselves and then wonder why no one is helping us from toppling off of them.
It’s time to own our choices. It’s time to stop complaining about what we’re filling our lives with because we are fortunate enough that it’s our choice.
I love my life and every single choice that I have made to have it. But I’ve found myself falling into the martyr trap everytime I get asked “how do I do it”. Inside I puff my chest and say to myself. Look at you go. You’re awesome. Doing it all.
And then I’m smacked back into reality. Something breaks. If work is going well then it’s on the family side. If I’m feeling great as a mother and a wife, then I’ve let something unattended at work. I’m reminded again there is no “doing it all”.
It’s taken me 14 years and countless career and life moves but I absolutely, from my fingertips to my toes, love what I’m doing now. In a way that I’ve never felt in my life. And no, it’s not easy by any stretch of the imagination. But it’s mine. I’ve fought like hell for it. And I’ll keep fighting for it. Every sticky, snuggly, savory piece of it.
So yeah. The rational part of me knows this is a simple ad designed to get me to buy more coffee. But my heart can’t help but feel that it’s dangerous in its inaccuracy. It portrays a reality that simply shouldn’t exist and it perpetuates this martyr persona.
It keeps on pushing us to add more than we ought to. Or feel bad about not adding more.
So please. If you’re inclined to create campaigns that need to portray life for parents today, I implore you do it with honesty and grace and joy.
Show this mom actually enjoying playing pirates and princesses with her kids and then kicking ass at whatever her work is. Show her tired but happy. Show her proudly owning her choices even though doubts will always linger around the edges.
Show her filling her life with her joys just to the brim. But not to overflowing.