A couple of months ago, two people sent me the same thing: A womens’ magazine was looking to interview a woman who was doing a good job balancing kids and a freelance career.
“You should respond to this!” said one of the emailers. “This will be great publicity for your book!” said the other emailer.
Articles that talk about women doing a good job balancing work and kids make me sick.
Annoying articles like this are everywhere. Here’s one. It’s about a woman in the military who is also a mom. Right away my radar goes up — lives of miliatary families are not exactly stable for the kids. The title of the article is “Admirable Mom”. I find this title despicable because who is the arbiter of “admirable” when it comes to this?
And why do we need to admire the moms we write about? Why do the women who are successful in work also have to be successful in the kid department? You know what? Most women who have a full-time job and a partner with a full-time job are having a really hard time holding things together. And the longer the hours, the worse it is.
But the bigger issue is why do we have to rate the job people are doing in their parenting? It’s an impossible job. Most people are making errors every day, and no one has any idea which of the infitinite amount of errors we can make are the really bad ones.
There is no rating system for parenting. The parents of kids at Harvard might like to believe that this means success, but it doesn’t. There is no measure. The parents of the kids saving starving kids in Africa also do not get to go to the top of the parenting chart. Becuase there is no chart.
So everyone should please shut up about the articles about women who “do a good job balancing work and family”. What does that mean? Good job? And what about that it’s all self-reported? What sane woman is going to speak on record about her career and say that she is not doing a good job with her kids?
Do your kids love you? Do you love your kids? That’s all there is. It’s very frustrating, in light of intricate and predictable quantified system of rating ourselves and others in the workplace. A study by Stanford DeVoe and Jeffrey Pfeffer at Stanford Business School shows that people think about work while they watch their kids soccer game. No surprises there. The study says that people are computing their billable hours and time lost for the day. This makes sense to me becuase math problems about work are easier than interpersonal problems about family.
Work is measurable and parenting is not. Bob Sutton, also a Stanford professor, quotes a study that shows people like things that are measurable. We like to know how we’re doing. We like to have a goal and meet it and know we’ve done a good job. We like acknowlegement. There is none of this during an afternoon hanging out with your kids.
The parents whose minds are not wandering to work are parents who don’t have engaging work. Because any type of engaging work is easier than being with kids. I’m not saying don’t spend time with your kids. I spend every day from 1 – 8pm with my kids. And even later than that if I don’t do a good job during bedtime negotiations. I choose that. But it’s hard.
And I would never hold myself up as a role model for parenting becuase the idea of ranking parents is absurd. Besides, I’m like that dad who can’t keep his mind from work. When my kids are really difficult, sometimes I’ll escape to my web metrics report. There are not official kudos for getting through another round of superhero wars. But there’s no arguing with the graph that shows a good day for blog traffic.
You know what? It’s stressful to have a career and kids, but also it’s stressful to have just kids. So the best you can do is try to not bring the workplace stress home with you. becuase that’s really realy bad for kids. They notice. But sometimes, let’s just all be honest, work is a way to alleviate some of the stress at home.
So here’s my advice: Don’t have too much stress at work, don’t have too much stress at home. And don’t have the hubris that makes you want to respond to one of those journalists looking for an admirable mom. If you want to be ranked, go to work. There are not rankings for parents. That’s what makes parenting so hard.