As moms, we dive in with gusto and seek to be that ideal mother. The one who is there for every event and doctor’s appointment. The one who makes the lunches and makes sure everyone’s teeth are brushed. The one who doesn’t go to sleep until the kitchen is spotless.
But why? That may sound heretical and out there. But seriously. Why? Why do we ‘do it all’? Does it really matter if the dishes are left in the sink? What about our spouses? What about building a support system?
We interviewed 118 college educated women about their experiences. Of the 77% who had children, many of them spoke about the burden of working and being responsible for the children and home. They spoke of sacrifice and longing for things to be different. They wanted to have both but struggled to see how.
The problem is, once we take over – it often starts right after the baby is born, we start to cultivate an assumption that everything must be perfect or something bad will happen to our child – thereby tethering us to 18 years of servitude because of course, we are the only ones who can provide this perfectly, to our standards. Further, because we take over, our husbands learn early on that they are not as capable as us and so step back, rarely challenging our assumption.
But, what if we reframed the core assumption that we are the ones responsible for home and family? What if we said to ourselves instead that we are both responsible for home and family and that others are perfectly capable of owning the responsibility as well? Many of the women I our study did just that.
As a result, they were able to figure out what worked for themselves and their families. Drop the rule that we are solely responsible and now we are free to figure out what works for us. We are free to put our kids in daycare because the studies show that kids do perfectly fine in daycare. We are free to negotiate child duties with our husbands because both our careers are important and we are both learning how to care for the kids. We can let our husbands have their own approach to parenting that differs from ours and gives our kids another perspective. We can hire out help to clean the house or drive our kids around because these are tasks we’ve decided don’t work for us.
There are a thousand ways that we can raise our kids. If we share responsibility, we can order out dinner without guilt because it’s not our responsibility to have a homemade dinner nightly. We can let our kids go to school with mismatched clothes they picked out because we are sharing responsibility with getting dressed with our child. We can let our kids ride their bike home from school instead of rushing home to pick them up. We can hire out someone to drive the kids to their respective activities.
In short, by sharing responsibility, we can make ourselves an equal priority with everyone else in the family.
Will the world care? Oh they will tell you they care. They will stare at you incredulously as you say no to doing the school project because it’s your child’s learning not yours. They might laugh at you behind your back because your daughter has her shoes on backwards. They might even judge you because your house is messy or because you work or don’t work.
So another place you may need support is in finding other parents who have reframed their assumptions too. Find another mom who could care less whether you vacuumed today. A dad who takes every Tuesday short day off to take the kids to the park. Another couple who want to rethink how they share care of their child.
And here’s the beauty of reframing the assumption: if we share responsibility, if we shift that internal assumption, then these external judgments are really irrelevant. We can let them go past us like the wind because they are meaningless. Instead we judge our parenting abilities not on how much responsibility we take on for ourselves or how perfect everything is, but on how well we all – everyone in the family equally, including ourselves — are living life to the fullest. And that is a powerful place to live from.