When I was growing up, there was lots of chatter in the media about how models gave girls bad role models. Today that’s old news. What we should talk about now is how the media portrays moms.

Take a look at the spread in People magazine of Jennifer Lopez and her one-month-old twins. The photos are so elegant that at first I thought it was a parody. But in fact, it is mommy porn: the visual fantasy of what being a working mom could be. And it really could be that, if it weren’t that someone like Jennifer Lopez must have a household full of helpers in order to keep her career on track while she has kids: a cook, a trainer, two or three nannies, a cleaner, an assistant, a stylist. And others I’m sure I can’t even imagine.

Here’s another example of mommy porn: Angelina Jolie, and her fifty kids. She has a rule that the nannies (plural, yes, each kid has their own) cannot be photographed holding the kids, because it’s bad for Angelina’s image as a mom. But this is the problem: It looks like these very successful women have it all, even though they don’t.

Here’s what happens: Some reporter interviews someone about their big job. And then the person ends up talking about the mythic work-life-balance topic. And they say something like, “Throughout my career I did [insert something that is supposed to be wonderful for children] for my kids.” And now, of course, we must assume that the kids are doing fine. But why do we believe that? Why do we even ask? We have no hope of learning the truth. After all, there are very few people in the world who are in a position to say that their career is, as they speak, harming their kids.

So journalists writing about moms being moms are not reporting the truth. It is propaganda. It is parents saying that they lived their lives in a way that was good for their kids. But really, who knows? The reporter has little ability to check. So all we’re left with is the parents giving their subjective and hugely biased opinion that their kids are turning out fine.

I’m not saying that every kid is messed up from their parents’ careers. I’m saying that I’m sick of learning about how famous families want us to think they are doing by looking at what is really only mommy porn, what is really just parenting propaganda.

So look, in the interest of truth-telling, I’m telling you this: people are not being honest about what it’s like to be with kids. People are scared to admit that they would rather be at work than with their kids, because work is easier than parenting. (Notable exception: Sally Krawcheck.) If I have to read about how much someone loves their kids one more time, I’m gonna puke. Because we all know that parents love their kids. It’s not interesting. It’s not helpful. It’s not even very relevant. For anyone.

What’s interesting is the part where parents love their kids but don’t love being with them on a daily basis. It’s very scary to write. But I’m telling you, if the feeling weren’t ubiquitous then there would be no one to be in middle management working 9-5 because they’d all be home with their kids, doing freelance work after bedtime.

People are choosing to go to work rather than stay with their kids all day. But no one talks about making this choice because they are scared their kids will read it. I’m not sure what the right answer is. I just know that somehow there has to be a more honest discussion of parenting in this world.

So with all the mommy porn, the media does a lot to make us think that work life balance is possible, in the same way anorexic bodies without treatment for anorexia is possible.

So there’s real damage from mommy porn. Everyone begins thinking that every woman should be parenting gracefully while working full time. This gives people the temerity to ask me, nearly every day: Who takes care of your kids?

That’s right. The genesis of this rant is that I was meeting with an investor — a guy in his early 40s — and we were talking about my travel schedule and he asked, “Who takes care of your kids?”

I told this to one of my board members and he said, “What??? Why did you answer that question?”

I said I answer it because I get the question every single day. Literally. And I don’t think twice about it anymore. But in fact, it’s a totally offensive question. Here’s how I’m so sure: I tried it out on Mr. Sales Guy. And even though Mr. Sales Guy and I work the same number of hours, he said something to the effect of, “I’m not really sure what goes on with the kids all day, you have to ask my wife.” He answered the question as if we were doing girl talk. As if I had asked him, “What brand of tampon does your wife use?”

So I want to tell you something: Women earn more than men in most major cities today. And in corporate America, up and down the ladder, women and men are on equal footing in the workplace in terms of who gets paid what, as long as neither party has kids. But the level of expectations people have for parenting is absolutely insane. The mommy porn feeds this problem. Everyone is drawn to the ideal of Angelina Jolie as the perfect combination of careerist and mother like the Pied Piper’s tune, and these attitudes are more exhausting to me than any amount of actual parenting ever is.

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  1. Marla
    Marla says:

    Excellent post. I don’t love all of your posts, the one about how much it would cost to install WIFI at the farmer’s house kind of bugged me, but this one is right on.

    It bothers me too, how we all have to feel the same way or at least – let’s be honest – give the same shiny plastic cover stories (the ones our society accepts) about life choices.

    And the things that bug me that you write about in this post tie in my mind to another subject that bugs me – the glorification of the wealthy, comfortable Harvard Law mom who tells the NYT how wonderful it is to not work and be provided for as she “finds herself” or makes handbags or does whatever the licensed and educated do when real work** gets too hard. God forbid their kids ever become challenging and no longer as fun to be with or impressive looking…what does she do then, go back to the office? Breed cats? Whatever looks best in print, I suppose.

    [PS – haters, come at me – making handbags at home or keeping a mommy blog IS NOT A REAL JOB – those ladies have taken a potentially productive professional license out of the economy, and shame on them for not sucking it up as the lower and middle classes are forced to]

    “Haters come at me” I love that. The extra spunk in the comments makes me so happy.

    -Penelope

  2. Connie
    Connie says:

    “But the level of expectations people have for parenting is absolutely insane. The mommy porn feeds this problem.”

    Strangely enough I read this post and all I could think about was flexible work arrangements. I know that the two topics don’t seem to go together so let me explain.

    I’ve read a couple of articles recently about the gas price increases that have stated that a high percentage of workers say they could fulfill some or all of their work responsibilities by telecommuting yet only 4% of companies allow it. So it seems to me that there are some pretty insane expectations around workplace as well.

    What makes it common to the parenting challenge is that in both cases the insane expectations are driven by a focus on the wrong outcome. Why are some supervisors and companies obsessed with physically observing an employee doing their job? And why are parents judged by the amount of time that they spend with their children?

    In the case of work the focus should be on outcomes, e.g., claims processed, questions answered, sales closed. In parenting I doubt that reasonable people could agree on one standard that applies to all situations but ‘hours my child is physically in my presence’ is certainly the wrong one.

  3. Rcket
    Rcket says:

    Nothing much new to add to this facinating conversation. But, honestly Penelope, doesn’t this comment of yours sound just the slightest bit condesending?

    “But I'm telling you, if the feeling weren't ubiquitous then there would be no one to be in middle management working 9-5 because they'd all be home with their kids, doing freelance work after bedtime.”

    Wrong.

    Some people are working 9-5 not because they want to get away from their kids, but because they don’t have any other option to pay for $4.00/gallon gas.

    They aren’t highly educated, totally wired, socially networked, internet 2.0 workers. They lack either the education, opportunity, skill set or budget to buy a bitchin’ laptop and get that sweet freelance gig.

    You live in Madison, right? Wander on over to a middle-middle class neighborhood on the far east side and chat some of those people up about the plethora of freelance opportunities, OK?

    The mommy porn thing though is right on the money.

  4. Adam
    Adam says:

    While you’re absolutely right (My wife LOVES People and Us magazines and reads them religiously…so I kind of *ahem* peek at them), you of all people have to recognize that the MSM, magazines included, care about circulation and advertising revenue – not how their magazine may or may not affect the public perception. And I know you know this.

    Case and point: Us magazine reports on Hollywood glamor, fashion, etc… Yet, since it’s a weekly issue, when there’s no real news to report, guess what topic always makes the cover: Weight loss. Always. And they show a picture of some sweet, young thing scantily clad in a bikini or similar and invariably tell you how you can lose 200 lbs. in one week by eating only chocolate ice cream.

    The cover isn’t just mommy porn, it’s female porn (without the explicit, exposed body parts) selling the idea to women that you too, can become hot and skinny by following a totally unrealistic diet. Unrealistic because people can’t just eat one Fig Newton and they can’t afford the personal chefs making healthy meals thrice daily.

    So really, I guess I was just agreeing with you but pointing out the fact that I know you know why they do it. The difference is, they get paid to lie and you get paid to tell the truth – so I understand why it’s frustrating to you because you don’t have to lie. It’s just that lies are more interesting than the truth. Just look at how the media portrays political stories. Obama’s famous ‘bitter’ remark dominated the headlines and all the MSM outlets for an entire week when everyone whose IQ was over 70 knew what he really meant, yet they still spun it and milked it for all it was worth because it’s not really about truth.

  5. Pirate Jo
    Pirate Jo says:

    “My own mother would ask me the most insulting questions about my girls' day in daycare. Things like, "Do you wonder if the girls will start thinking that (the babysitter) is their mom?"”

    GenerationXpert, it seems like every time I read one of your posts I think, “Hey, I resemble that remark!” I’m right smack in the middle of Generation X, however you measure it – born in 1970 – and I think one of the biggest differences between Generation X and Generation Y is the fact that our parents are so different.

    I can’t fathom what it would be like to have a Baby Boomer career-oriented mom. Mine stayed home and sewed clothes, gardened, and did macrame. I think it was really boring a lot of the time for her, and living in such an isolated area she didn’t have many other people to socialize with. But I also think she dreaded the idea of a job, and she is really sort of agoraphobic when it comes to getting out and being around people where there’s more hustle and bustle. I thought growing up in the sticks was dull because there was never anyone else around, but she seems to like it. At any rate, although she does have some clerical skills, those jobs never paid enough for her to justify driving 50 miles to the nearest city every day. When I was in college she had a job in a nearby town that lasted around ten years, until their branch shut down, but she was never a career woman.

    Our parents have more in common with Generation Y’s grandparents.

  6. Sumayya
    Sumayya says:

    I definitely agree.

    And why isn’t there any Daddy porn? Gee I wonder. (Men aren’t under the delusion that they’ll have to “do it all.” at least nobody’s lying to us about that.)

  7. Cassandra
    Cassandra says:

    I heard Suzy Welch (Jack’s wife) speak in April, and someone in the audience brought up the question of work-life balance (she has 4 grown kids). She rather unabashedly called it bull – she didn’t want to be home with the kids, she preferred the career, and she wouldn’t be where she was if she tried for both. She said it was a big joke in her house when the kids were small when she’d spend a couple hours on Christmas morning playing with them. I think her point was that it’s not worth worrying about, that they end up fine in the end, but she later let it slip that she had a full-time nanny.

    Afterwards, the group I was with (all women, some married with kids) talked about that point in particular quite a bit – we all decided that while it seemed her kids didn’t have a mother, they really did. But it wasn’t Suzy Welch. So yes, you can have it all, if you can afford to have a nanny and a host of other personal services. Honestly, seeing my friends with kids (none of my own), I know instinctively that there’s no way to “have it all” – you make enough money to buy help or you prioritize.

    And frankly, I think that’s the way life should be. Reality, however, is not what sells magazines.

  8. Editormum
    Editormum says:

    “Mommy Porn” — brilliant! You sparked a blog for me today, because this is a problem that affects a LOT of moms, both those who stay home full-time and those who have to go to the office, whether part- or full-time. And I think it’s especially hard on single moms, who might *want* to be home with their kids but who must hold down a job out of necessity.

    I want to share an insight from one of my readers, who said, “In its essence, porn is gratification without the commitment, investment, and work.” In light of that definition, you have *definitely* hit the nail on the head as far as what those fancy photo spreads of the rich and famous mommies really amount to.

    And I think you have identified a real problem: good, hardworking, capable women are being undermined by images that simply are not realistic. Anyone could be “supermom” if they had a whole staff to help them. But most of us can’t afford to hire a staff. So, we just keep plugging on, doing our best to keep up with as much as we possibly can, while wishing we could be more.

  9. karynp
    karynp says:

    Mommy porn – what a great post. But I totally agree with the idea that the real danger lies in that moment when we start to parent to others’ expectations rather than doing the best we can for ourselves AND our children given where we are at and what we have got. The key is intent – but that is not something that we need to justify to others, just ourselves. I loved it when I was home with my kids; I love it equally now that I am working fulltime. And my kids love me and know they are loved. Isn’t that all that is important?

  10. K
    K says:

    I work part-time (3 days/week). As I leave the office, invariably, someone will say, “Enjoy your day off.” I always turn back and answer, “Well, actually, *this* was my day off. I got to drink a whole cup of coffee, answer e-mails, finish something I started, and have 4 adult conversations.”

    I do love being home with my kids. But I also love working. For me, that has meant a part-time solution with a 50% pay cut, to make both of those things happen. It’s worth it, but never do I think I “have it all.” I have half: half a job; half the time with my kids. For me, that works out just fine.

    Frankly, I think the world would be a better place if everyone worked part-time (regardless of their parent status), but that’s a different discussion.

  11. Debrina
    Debrina says:

    Great post, Penelope! Here’s my take. We have two kids, 4 and 5. I am an oral surgeon. After I had my first child, I made the choice not to go back to work full time. I work two days a week.

    I honestly do not know how people with kids can juggle working full time. I do not know how they do it. Unless they have a nanny, which I do not, by choice.

    Maybe it is just me, but I could not work my particular job full time and juggle all the things like sick kids, grocery shopping, laundry, car repairs etc.

    What’s my point? I completely think the “you can have it both — career and be a mom” is a myth. Something has to give. Either you give up the bulk responsibility of raising your kid, and put your kid in daycare or w/ a nanny… or you give up something in your career so you can spend more time raising your kids.

    Personally, I chose to give up the career part. I don’t regret it at all. And I am not lying about this. I even sold my practice so I wouldn’t have to deal w/ all the nonsense that goes along w/ ownership. HUGE relief. Spending time w/ my kids is much more rewarding to me. Do I sometimes want to throttle them? Yes! Do I have some relief when I go to work? Sometimes… but dental patients are often equally as high maintenance!

    Thanks for your blog, Penelope. I have been enjoying every post since I discovered you!

  12. Robyn
    Robyn says:

    Great post.

    Folks don’t forget that “mommy porn” doesn’t just sell magazines, it sells the OTHER stuff IN the magazine. The Bellini cribs and Orbit carrier that advertisers put in when the magazine calls them to tell them about the great story they’re doing on the celebrity mom and dad. And the photos — you just know that often the celeb parent doesn’t have to BUY any of those items – though they can well afford to – because the manufacturers give them freebies just for the photo ops.

  13. melanie gao
    melanie gao says:

    Okay now seriously, is anyone looking to Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Lopez as role models? And does anyone seriously think Angelina is carrying those kids more than a few meters on those skinny little arms of hers? Of course there are nannies lurking in the background! They’re right next to the make-up artists and the personal trainers.

  14. Bill
    Bill says:

    “Everyone is drawn to the ideal of Angelina Jolie as the perfect combination of careerist and mother.” Really? Everyone? Strange, I’ve never heard her described like that. She’s merely another self-absorbed Hollywood wacko, of which there has never been a shortage.

    If I were Angelina’s publicist (a horrifying prospect, other than the money) responding to this post, I’d point out your $50,000 house manager, full-time nanny and cleaning service.

  15. Dave
    Dave says:

    Great Post. Love “Mommy Porn”. Can you trademark? :)

    How’s this for an answer to your Sales Guy:

    Q: “So, who takes care of your kids?”
    A: “I do.”

    Period.

    Because the fact is, you do take care of them. By working and providing for them, by making sure they have care, food, medical attention, and yes, going to a reasonable number of soccer games and kid-birthday parties.

    But most importantly, you are taking care of them by taking care of YOURSELF. By doing meaningful work that contributes to society and your own well-being, you are filled up as an adult, so that you don’t need your kids to “complete” you, like so many sad parents do. Our society has this myth, as you indicate that we’re supposed to focus on our kids or they’ll be messed up, when that undue, inappropriate “focus” is what actually damages them. Keep up the good work. By working and contributing, and showing your kids that this is OK, you’re being the best parent possible. Congratulations.

  16. Don B.
    Don B. says:

    The troubles of raising kids is the payback for all the trouble you gave your parents. Your kids will hopefully get their payback because the fun is being the grandparent. Then if you get rattled and have had to much you march the kids back to your kid.

  17. Shannon
    Shannon says:

    Oh my flipping God–THANK YOU! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU! I am so glad someone finally stepped up and told the whole world that we cannot and will not live up to the super mom image. Good grief!

    I have 4 kids and it is HARD. When I tell people I work from home they act disgusted that I send my kids to daycare. How can I work effectively when they are constantly on top of me 24/7? No one asks my husband where the kids are all day, no one cares. When I want to go on a business trip the first question everyone asks me is the same question you got, “Who will take care of the kids?” or people will assume I can’t go somewhere or do something because of the kids.

    And yes being a parent is difficult and it’s no fairytale. And no babies don’t sleep through the night by 6 weeks and there is nothing wrong with you when they are still waking up at night. lol. Someone needs to write a book on the real deal of parenting.

  18. Jennifer SD
    Jennifer SD says:

    I love your article here. I am a full time working mom. My house is a mess, behind on bills, I am exhausted and work is stressful and I am behind. However, when I get home from work I spend time with my kids, reading, playing games, on the Wii and just goofing off. I have a husband who shares the responsibilities of the home. They eat healthy most of the time. They are at a sitters and summer camp right now. I have been strong enough to say, I would not make a good stay at home mom and I love my job. I don’t want to give it up. They don’t have autism. I am offended that anyone would actually buy into that line of BS that this is why there is an increase. I know many children that have stay at home moms and they still have autism or bi-polar or aspergers or speech impairments etc. Kevin being the ignoramous that he is needs to find some other books to read and educate himself. I am assuming he is not married and has no children.

  19. Joselle Palacios
    Joselle Palacios says:

    You are so right on with this one. The other gross angle to the Angelina Jolie media saga is that the media paints a picture of Jennifer Aniston being left by Brad Pitt because she didn’t pop out a kid soon enough. Because she wanted to make movies. And poor Brad just wanted a nice baby momma. The nerve of her ambition! Only Jennifer Aniston and Angelina have tabloid covers that say, “Where are Jen’s babies!!!” and “Does Angelina pay enough attention to Shiloh?” Brad Pitt, meanwhile, is just cruising along. That’s the other part of the circus that makes me want to puke.

    Your anger is righteous and your truth is very needed.

    Now I’m going to read the 70 other comments.

  20. Maggie
    Maggie says:

    J-Lo’s a working mom? Working her ass off in the gym, maybe, or working her credit card to a nub shopping–but other than that, does she really count as a “working” mom when she’s not either making a movie or recording an album? Same for Angelina. And LMAO at the comment about her lugging babies around with those little stick arms–amen!

    My feelings about this topic are all over the place. I was a stay-home mom for 8 years, and during that time thought moms who put their kids in daycare were selfish and were kidding themselves thinking the kids would be fine–obviously only a kid with a mom at home full time would be fine. If you stay home with kids and hang around with other stay home moms there is MUCH tongue clucking–and lashing–about selfish working moms and their poor neglected kids. It didn’t help matters that I was raised being told by my stay-home mom that working moms were selfish and how it was so sad for the kids. The fact that this advice was being given by a woman who stayed married to a man who physically abused both her and the kids should have tipped me off, but somehow it took me about 35 years to make that connection and figure out maybe I was drinking the wrong KoolAid.

    I was committed to being home with my kids because I honestly thought it was best for them– but I was miserable. I tried to be one of those women who LOVE being a mom and doing activities with the kids and have infinite patience; the truth was that I loved my kids but hated being a full-time mom, was bored, and was trapped in a horrible marriage because I had no income.

    Once my kids were in school I went back to work–first part time then gradually to full time. Now I can’t imagine not working–the idea of being a stay-home mom makes me hyperventilate with dread. School’s out tomorrow and I cannot imagine what I’d do if it was just me and the kids all summer–damn right I’ll be happy to be at work.

    The problem is that the whole thing has so many facets–yes, I prefer to be at work, but when the kids are sick or school’s out for whatever reason, part of me wishes I just was home and didn’t have to worry about childcare. Do I think I’m a better role model to my kids as a working mom? Definitely. Do I feel guilty that I can’t go on field trips? Yes–but at the same time I’m thankful I can use work as an excuse because I wouldn’t want to go if I were home anyway. Try being a stay-home mom who opts out of any kid-related activity – it doesn't go over too well.

    I guess I’m just divided on the subject: I would like my kids to have a stay home mom, but I don’t want to be a stay home mom.

    I do have to say that if you haven’t read Leslie Bennett’s The Feminine Mistake, you should. If I had read that back when I was a stay home mom I wonder if it would have shocked some sense into me. Even if my husband became a millionaire I couldn’t go back to being a stay-home mom after reading that book.

    And Penelope–my hat’s off to you for dealing with this stuff on top of parenting an autistic child. If I were you I’d want to scream at people who questioned me about my parenting–let them walk a mile in your shoes and I’m sure all you’d get would be a handshake and a bewildered “how do you manage?”

  21. Milena
    Milena says:

    Penelope – you need to read this article.

    It’s a tie-in w/ what you are saying, but is about how we treat children like royalty – I think you are making a great point about “mommy porn.” But there is also a new breed of “kindergarchy” where parents are expected to do everything for their kids, love them every minute of every day, play them mozart and bend over backwards to cater to their whims, just so they don’t screw them up. Maybe they are still screwing them up. Maybe no one knows how to be a good parent.

    Maybe you can love your job and spend 70% of your time at it, or be a mom spending your afternoons playing cards, leave your kids to fend for themselves, and they’ll still turn out okay, love you, and you love them. Read the article.

  22. Erika
    Erika says:

    This had me thinking for two days. You’re right, there’s no great role models for moms, and people are always going to critize/comment/judge your choices one way or another. No one critizes the men. I got “advice” from strangers since the moment I was pregnant (Why are you eating that?) until today (why are your kids in daycare full-time and you only work part-time?) and constantly feel on the defense (beacause I commute…so I can get stuff DONE…because, because…). Sometimes I actually lie to people about how much I work so they don’t think I’m lazy, when the reality is I am afraid to admit that, as you said, I like my time at work away from the kids, I even like my commute so I can read and walk and think, and on my time off I actually take time to sit on my butt and watch TV sometimes. There. I SAID IT!

    PS My husband has ZERO guilt. He is a teacher, home for the summer, and we are keeping our kids in daycare. Sure, they won’t be there as long during the day, but if I were home for the summer without kids, can you imagine the questions I’d get? And when people question our situation, they question ME still, not HIM! They want to judge, but somehow know they’ll get a reaction from me, while he’s just like, “Hey, I tried it last summer, it sucked, so they’re staying in daycare.”

  23. Todd K
    Todd K says:

    As usual, Penelope, a fantastic piece of writing and a wonderfully colorful and descriptive term: “mommy porn”. You really have a talent!

    My wife and I are raising 7 kids … 2 bio, 4 adoptive and 1 foster, while maintaining two near-full-time jobs. Everyone assumes that my wife stays at home to care for the kids and seems appalled when they find out she works 4 days/wk.

    We came to the realization early on that our work lives gave us opportunities to interact with other adults and get a breather from the stresses of family life. Our time together as a couple keeps us grounded and (semi-)sane. There is a certain sense of fulfillment in the work, as well as in the raising of our kids, but making a life out of just one or the other wasn’t enough for either of us.

    I appreciate the honesty and candor that you provide in your piece, as well as the comments others have left.

    I admit that there are days when I go home and scream in my pillow. Days when I dread what is waiting for me at home. Days when all I really want to do is have some quiet time to myself away from the kids. That doesn’t make me a bad parent. I have those same feelings about work too, and no one calls me a bad worker.

    Admitting that parenting is hard and that we all get worn out sometimes is being realistic and knowing our limits. Denying it is only inviting disaster. The representations of parenting in the media consistently paint the picture of an impossible lifestyle … anyone whose life is that effortless and composed is living a lie.

    Thanks again for the insightful and honest article.

  24. Valerie
    Valerie says:

    When people ask me who takes care of my kids, I say, “My kids are old enough be home by themselves. As long as the leashes aren’t too tight and there’s plenty of fresh water in their bowls, they do just fine.” That usually is the end of that ridiculous question.

    I for one have never denied I prefer to work than be at home all day everyday with the kids. Even they know it. Hell, some kids probably prefer their mom to work outside of the home too!

  25. Tara P
    Tara P says:

    P – you’re the best. My Austic son is 5 now and I have never apologized for taking 4 weeks maternity leave and, agast, leavomg him with his father until he was 6 months old. It was the best decision for our family. I couldn’t stay home. It’s just not in me. I had him with me in the office checking email when he was just 2 weeks old.

    He’s been in dayhomes and daycares. He needs that interaction with other kids. My husband and I need to work – for financial and happiness reasons.

    Society is nuts. Just the other day, while chatting with an executive at the multi-national company I work at, I mentioned looking at job postings outside my home country. He instantly asked what my husband does and whether or not he would be willing to move. I couldn’t help but wonder if he would have asked that questions if I was a man!?!?

  26. Margaret
    Margaret says:

    What about the idea that maybe parents would rather be with their kids, but choose not to so they’re secure in knowing they are making money to provide for them?

    I bet more people would go with the freelance work/stay-home-with-kids route if there weren’t so much uncertainty in having a non-traditional job.

  27. Anne
    Anne says:

    What gets me about the whole thing is that underlying all the mommy porn is the myth that not only are moms supposed to lead the ever-elusive balanced life but that we are supposed to do it alone. Where are the dads? Hate to say it all you dads but you’re kind of lucky in that whatever you do is above and beyond the expectation of fatherhood because, well, as of yet there is no expectation!

    We are a society of supermoms and invisible dads in a world of nuclear families and all of it is a lie. Apparently it doesn’t take a village – it takes one superhuman woman.

    And don’t even get me started on the post-pregnancy anorexic starlets who parade into the media proudly showing off their emaciated bodies two weeks after giving birth.

    How much more insane is this going to get? And these starlet babies are all a way of keeping up with the Joneses – little bitty trophies that say, yes, she did it all and maintained her ideal body weight, didn’t get a single stretch mark and manages to get plenty of rest, keep the house clean while continuing to make movies, all with a Stepford smile on her face.

    The media sets women up in a “don’t hate me because I’m beautiful” competition that divides, conquers, keeps us silent and perpetuates the myths (lies).

    Whew. I think I’m done.

  28. Kate Hutchinson
    Kate Hutchinson says:

    For once I really agree with you. It’s nobody’s business but a parent’s where children spend their day, as long as they’re not being abused. I think the focus on Hollywood mommying is disgusting.

    When I discuss the issue of possibly having a baby with my husband, I have always made it clear that I don’t want to be the default caregiver–I want equal footing (with the notable exception of breastfeeding). I wouldn’t tally who changes how many diapers, but I would expect that people would respect that I don’t want to be the primary parent, I want to be one half of a team.

    I love the term mommy porn, and I think it’s a subtle tactic that’s being employed by an ever-increasingly conservative MSM to convince all women to go have babies instead of working.

  29. jess
    jess says:

    These magazines let you escape out of your daily life once a while and its the single reason why it sells so cheap. You can choose not to read the cheap stuff. Next time some one asks you about kids just look interested and ask them back if they have kids.

    BTW celebrity supermom phenomena is like they credit of work done by every one else around. Use your resources while they use theirs. Calling it Mommy Porn is not going to help you.

  30. EveDragon
    EveDragon says:

    I am a 23 year old woman working and pursuing my bachelors degree in Miami, FL. Although I am not a mother and have no plans on becoming one in future, I have come into contact with many women in my age range who are deeply infatuated with the – €˜mommy porn' out there. I can’t tell you how many times I have been involved in conversations with women eager to become mothers and believe that the transition will be seamless in the sense that they will: take their 3 month maternity leave and then jump right back into work with no problems. I am dumbfounded by how easy they perceive motherhood to be.

    In my workplace I have also witnessed people asking the women who have children and work full time "Who takes care of your children?" while not even thinking to ask the men in the office the same question. I think the equivalent stress-inducing question that women without children get asked is "When do you want to have children?" People are always astounded when I respond with "I don't think I plan on having any children."

    I am the oldest of four siblings and two parents who are both 41 (they were 18 when they had me), so I was the third parent of the household taking on many extra responsibilities (babysitting by age 12, contributing financially, driving kids around, etc etc etc).

    People often pressure me because I don't want to have children with responses like "Oh, you’re young, you will change your mind" or "Why don't you want to experience one of gods greatest miracles: giving life to another human being?" etc etc – . I respond with a remark that usually drops their jaw and shuts them up right away: "I feel the same way about children as I do about animals: They are fun to play with, but I don't want one of my own."

    Now, I realize that I may change my mind in the future about wanting to have children, but your post further reinforced my belief that people are entranced with an idealized fantasy of what it's like to be a parent and those who either say they don't like it 100% of the time, or may not even want to be a parent will be ridiculed in the public eye.

  31. Dorothy
    Dorothy says:

    Thanks Penelope,

    Now that I am newly single and grieving my own shredded fantasies of marriage and family with my ex, I feel totaly surrounded by Mommy Porn. All of my friends have kid blogs where they post only the best most flattering pics of themselves and their beautiful well behaved kids and it truly can get overwelming. I dont mean to sound bitter at ALL, as I am sincerely happy for them, but I do think that my generation is hell bent on not revealing much when it comes to honesty or transparency with regards to child rearing. We are all so demoralized and sick of hearing about our parents problems (boomers) that we are reluctant to admit that we are facing age old problems that everyone faces. I say we, because while I’m not married and not a mom, I think this applies to other areas of our lives as well.

    While I dont think we should all wallow in only the challenges, of course, I miss celebrity moms like Roseanne, who would teach us how to make corn flake casserole and stand by their kids when they are barking like a dog in class. Maybe you are my new Roseanne :)

    Anyways, I know people will read this and think I’m some angry jilted 30-something with a chip on her shoulder, but I have to say that the number and intensity of Mommy Porn sites, magazines, companies, blogs, and articles is even more overwelming when you are no where near, it puts the whole “fantasy” completely out of reach and can be pretty demoralizing.

    BUT with that said, I suppose there’s got to be something to be said about celebrating working moms and in general, celebrating women? Its hard to tell what is considered a step forward these days….

  32. Michelle Dusauzay
    Michelle Dusauzay says:

    My first dose of Mommy porn was the maternity fasion magazines…pencil thin women with bellies in 4″ heels and fitted clothing. I was no slob ( I swam, ran and did yoga)during my pregnancy but I did not look like them and neither did anyone else I knew.

    Thanks for helping us laugh about the propaganda!

  33. Matt M
    Matt M says:

    Great post about honesty in the media and the portrayal of the moms.

    Even if jlo doesn’t have a nanny I am sure that they have house staff or assistants who do the regular chores like laundry, and making food, etc which can really eat up your time. For me and my wife, those chores are the real distraction from watching our son because it takes time to do them and trying to do the chores while watching him is usually completely ineffective. God bless the kids who can just sit with a puzzle or a book and be occupied for 20 minutes while the parents do the dishes but my son isn’t one of those kids.

  34. Jonathan E.
    Jonathan E. says:

    So Penelope, do you realize you have a habit of beginning every other sentence with “So?”

  35. Another Gal
    Another Gal says:

    Thanks to those who sent the articles from the weekly standard and Alice Walker. I enjoyed them both thoroughly!

    Kindergarchy indeed. I watch the one young child in my partner’s family basically control all their decisions. On Mother’s Day recently, grandma gave the little girl a present, because she said “please” so nicely when they were in the store shopping for a mother’s day gift for the girl’s mother.

    I said to gramma, shouldn’t there be at least one holiday a year that the girl doesn’t think is about presents for her? Silence.

    I’d like to add, that I think rampant materialism that really resurfaced in the “Greed is Good” era in the 80s is also part of the problem.

    Good article Penelope, I learned a lot from you and from the posters.

  36. Dan Owen
    Dan Owen says:

    I’d suggest to you, P, that the problem isn’t that working people aren’t being honest about the reality of the work/life “balance,” it’s that people like you and Emily Gould have created a world in which it’s okay to look in other people’s windows and report back to the rest of us about what’s going on there. Day by day, post by post, you are personally dismantling the social norm to one that encourages and rewards voyeurism — by using yourself as a guinea pig and a profit center. Your business model — your brand — is based on it. The consequence of this is that people create an image of a false reality to protect themselves from criticism. Movie stars are at the forefront of this because they are the biggest trophies of the papparazi. People aren’t lying: they’re protecting themselves from unstoppable intrusions into private parts of their lives that were once sacrosanct.
    Bloggers like you are doing what a good business does: creating demand for its product. The product is a look into your private life. And as demand for this product spills out into the market, the product gets differentiated to meet each niche — including people who don’t want their private lives talked about. The investor who braced you probably has no idea that his question violated a taboo because the taboo is being undermined by … you! If you can’t or won’t close your drapes — and, believe me, Angelina cannot close her drapes at this point, through no fault of her own — then you have to defend yourself from criticism by presenting an unassailable image. I hesitate to say this is “lying”. Angelina, like the typical businesswoman/mom, is simply pimping her brand, as you’ve advised her to do.

    By the way, P: getting punked as you were by the investor may be uncomfortable, but it’s likely to still be profitable, possibly MORE profitable. Brittney Spears’ fake image of having-it-together has collapsed, to be replaced with the brutal reality of her disfunction, but it’s keeping her in the spotlight and her record sales are strong as a consequence. Her brand is adapting to the market, as every good brand must. One strategy you have is to lie about your reality as a parent — like Angelina. But another strategy is to not lie — like Britney. Both are profitable. Try to move past your pain and see the profit possibilities in all this.

  37. Dina Medeiros
    Dina Medeiros says:

    Love this post. My bookshelves are lined with books: "Spin Selling", "Good to Great” and then in-between is "Going Back to Work", A survival Guide for Comeback moms, winning strategies and essential information for recharging career or staring anew.

    PLEASE. This screams sick. I tried to read about how to accept that i’m a worker,somebody tell me it’s ok to like to work.

    I love being a mom, but I love working too.

    I worked, had my son, went back to work 3 months later, kicked ass.
    At 19 months quit, stayed home for 2 years, almost went crazy as I planned play dates with moms who are hung up cindy's skills and how amazing their children are.

    Went back to work, all the mommies in the neighborhood didn’t say congratulations on your new job, They said "why would you go back to work if you don't have to", they just don't get it.

    I can't do it all but I'm happy and it appears my son is too (or so his progress report says).

  38. kristi
    kristi says:

    I have to say this post didn’t resonate with me.

    I have 5 kids, from 18months to 19 years, three teens total. One in college, another about to be. Two in diapers.

    I have been working full-time since my oldest was 9, the year of my divorce. Put myself through college, remarried, put him through college.

    He became a Realtor (aka “unemployed”) and now plays a lot of video games.

    He’s supposed to do laundry – I haven’t seen a clean pair of undies hit my dresser drawer in weeks! I was thanking God this morning when I found a thong stuffed in a corner… 2 sizes too small, but clean.

    Believe me, I would give almost anything to stay home with my babies and run my household…well, except become homeless since that’s what would happen if I quit my job.

    I really do like being with my kids all the time – I find the effects of my parenting become cumulative. Plus, my kids are fun, cool people in the making.

  39. Erik Deckers
    Erik Deckers says:

    I think the secret to being a working mom when it comes to TV is commercial breaks and older kids.

    All the dual income families I know send their kids to daycare, and when they’re old enough, public school. Or Grandma pitches in. Or they have a nanny. I have yet to meet a working mom who doesn’t have help. I have yet to meet a working mom who is able to balance everything. It just ain’t happening.

    But keep in mind that the Mommy Porn is no different from any of the other media and advertising messages we see. “Drink this beer, and you’ll have parties everywhere you go.” “Eat at this restaurant, and you’ll have fun parties with your friends.” “Buy these clothes, and you’ll look hot too.”

    Mommy Porn is no different from Fashion Porn, Food Porn, Car Porn, or Beer Porn. It’s all designed to make us wish we weren’t who we were, and to solve that by buying the new product.

  40. Janice
    Janice says:

    Love the phrase “mommy porn.” Never thought of it that way, but that’s what porn really is–fantasy. I’m 22 and not planning on having kids anytime soon, but I’m already scared. I’m having enough issues with the work-life balance as is, and all I have is a boyfriend and a cat! Thanks for the candor, as always.

  41. Emily
    Emily says:

    Just wanted to say fantastic post, and great insightful comments! The gender inequality around expectations of parenting are so outrageous it makes me happy that I don’t ever want children…

  42. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    Excellent post…thought-provoking and candid, as always. It’s nice to hear an authentic voice about the challenges of parenting – there are so many questions and such fine lines about what is best for kids, what is best for parents, and what is best for society at large…

  43. budgie
    budgie says:

    Has parenting always been this hard? To me it seems obvious that adults, much as they love their children, don’t want to be exclusively involved in their children’s world.

    I had a stay-at-home mother, but I don’t remember her ever playing with or doing activites with me or my younger siblings. We were too busy playing amongst ourselves and with our friends, her involvement would have been weird. Meanwhile she was busy doing her own ‘grown-up’ things: socialising, household tasks, community work, shopping. She could not have told you what subjects we were doing at school, let alone helped us with homework, but whenever there was any problem – if any of us were distressed – she was straight onto it and helped us. I never doubted that she deeply loved us, but I was glad that she also had her own life and I pitied other kids whose mothers could recite all their test results and could talk of little but what Johnny was up to.

    Penelope, I know this wasn’t the point of your post, but the increasing normalization of over-Momming sets up unreal expectations for all parents – working or not.

  44. blink
    blink says:

    Interesting article. I also read part of the nyt article about women 21-30 in nyc outpacing men in terms of median wages. I did only read the first half of that– but it seemed to indicate that it only applied to the median salaries of full-time workers.

    I think that is a bit skewed. I say this because a lot of times in a married family it makes more sense for the woman to stay at home with the kids when otherwise her wages wouldn’t be high enough to cover child care. Where the man will generally work regardless of his salary– bringing down the male median salary.

    Furthering the parenting theme, I think a lot of the women that choose to focus on their careers in nyc are those that have some degree of success to it. If a woman is at a point where she can choose career over family in her 20’s, she’s more likely to do that if she’s more successful and thus making more; increasing the female median.

    These are all just observations and don’t dismiss the study. However I can’t really see it as a tool for comparison against the 70s when wages were so more higher for men as a sex, and not yet something to triumph over in terms of equality. For that you’d want a study of something like comparing 100 men and women of roughly the same education in the same career roles– and see how things shape up.

  45. Aruni
    Aruni says:

    A great post Penelope. I think that even though we see these celebrities and the media making motherhood out to look so rosy and um clean, that moms talk to each other and are now putting it out there in the blogs (mommy bloggers) so people are really starting to get a sense of how challenging it is to be a mom and even a dad these days.

    We have so many more demands on our time and women have so many more options than they once did. Which as a sidenote is part of the reason our public education system is not as strong as it was when many of us were going through public schools…the really smart, educated women had very few career choices and ‘teacher’ was one of them. Now they have more options.

    If you haven’t read Dooce, you should. She gives a pretty raw view of motherhood and working motherhood at that.

    Nex time someone asks you who takes care of your kids tell them if they are so concerned about it that they are welcome to babysit. :-)

  46. Chris
    Chris says:

    There must be somthing in the air. I was chatting today with a female co-worker who is also a Mom on this topic as well. I did find that while on both maternity leaves over the past 6 years, I yearned to return to work. For me, I could get back to normal if I was back in the office. It was the routine of the day-to-day tasks that I needed back into my life. I feel “free” when I am at work. I call the shots. I make the daily decisions. It like I have this other personna and you know what it feels good. I hope I can be an example to my daughter that you don’t have to feel guilty anymore about wanting to have it all and pulling it off. It’s not easy but it is rewarding.

  47. Sachin
    Sachin says:

    Really interesting blog post. I have a kid and I know how difficult it is to raise even one kid (forget about 50), if he/she is naughty and mischief monger.

  48. Susan Kennedy
    Susan Kennedy says:

    I loved the post. Being a mother of 10 year old twins, I, too, notice the media hype about motherhood. I especially notice Angelina Jolie and wonder what she will do when her kids are in school and have to study their state captials, complete a book report and do their math homeowrk in the same night. Here’s a shock: they need help. Who will help her kids? Some things you just can’t pay someone to do. Good luck Angelina.

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