#1 Rule for giving advice to women

Black people should not wear hoodies.

That’s one way to deal with the problem of people shooting black people. Maybe not the best. Who even knows. I have a friend who is white, married to a black guy and they have two sons, who, as you can guess, count as black in this country. Even she has no idea how to teach black boys to avoid getting shot.

This makes sense. But I am mystified when I see that the Global Summit for Women this year was all men. That’s the picture, up there.

TechCrunch, gospel of the tech sector, knows they have to put women in charge of telling women to have big careers, so Alexia Tsotsi takes up the torch, but she has no kids. Kleiner Perkins, top-tier venture capital firm, understands the rule that men can’t tell women how to balance work and kids, so they put Juliet de Baubigny up to the task, but she is telling women launch startups and have kids even though she’s never launched her own startup. (And, if she did such a good job of doing her job and her family, how do we explain that she just got a divorce?)

Another thing: I don’t want to hear from any women with newborns telling me they’re doing a fine job having kids and a big career. Because newsflash: You need millions of dollars to make a newborn and a startup work together if you’re a woman.

For some women the conflict between work and kids hits while the baby is growing inside them. They quit work. (At such high rates that Sheryl Sandberg has taken time to reprimand them: Don’t leave before you leave.)

For some men it’s when they take paternity leave. Like my cousin Michael Roston, who has never told me he can be on my blog, but since he’s maybe a public figure, I think I can write about him without permission.

Michael works at the New York Times which means he’s a media rock star, but not in my family where so many people work in big media that my next start-up should be me quitting my blog to start selling tickets to PR firms to come to our family Thanksgiving.

Anyway, the New York Times is recognizing that they are not as cool as Reddit or Buzzfeed, so they are going to have to compete on old-school, baby boomer terms: Benefits. And luckily, even though Gen X thinks benefits are paternalistic, Gen X wants to leave work on time to be with their kids before bed, and Michael is a Gen-Xer.

I knew Michael’s paternity leave started when I got calls from him at irregular times of day. Every day. Because taking care of a baby is a lethal mix of insanely boring and insanely important. If only it were just one. Well, but then if it were just one then it would be like going to work.

So I’d be more willing to take advice from Michael about how to have a career and a kid than I would any of those women listed above.

But then again, let me tell you about my friend, Alison, who is in marketing and definitely does not want to appear on this blog because all PR is good PR except for if it’s about not being able to deal with your kids. (So I changed her name.)

Alison works at company that is positively great for moms with kids. It’s filled with women who are doing it—it’s not like anyone is doing it like Sheryl Sandberg who has found some fairy dust equation to give up nothing — but each woman at Alison’s firm is making the compromises she chooses. Which is really what women want to be able to do. And Alison and I talk about how to figure out who is giving up what, because every woman who keeps a big career gives up something else.

We need advice about which compromises might work. Which things can we give up? We don’t have a clear answer, but we are trying, right? But the only women who will talk about how to have a big career and have kids are women who are not really doing it: either they are giving up their kids, or giving up their marriage, or they are in fantasy land telling us that when they have kids they will be able to do it just fine.

I am going to cite research that I don’t have but I wish I had, that says that 80% of women who do not have kids think they have a satisfactory solution for kids and work. And 100% of women with kids over the age of 10 say they do not have a satisfactory solution.

Why? Because when your kids can poke you on your soft spot, you can’t hide. Kids know when you pick work over them. They say it. Kids know how to pull at your strings: “All the other moms were there except you.” Kids start learning early on that moms experience guilt at a much more visceral level than dads, so the kids don’t bother with the dad.

It’s a DNA thing here, and if you don’t know that I’m right, you live under a rock. (Even moms who have stay-at-home husbands care more about the little things than the dads do. It’s just that the moms would never say that because it only serves to undermine the agreement they worked out with their husbands.)

So as I was saying, Alison is torn about work. It’s hard for her to go to work. It bugs me that Alison made me change her  name, but the truth is that any woman would: talking about the pull of parenting is career suicide, which means there is little real discourse on the topic.

And what we’re left with is women writing about how women should have big careers when they have kids. Sheryl Sandberg can hold herself up as a grand role model when she tells women to keep working in high-powered careers after kids. Juliet can be a spokesperson for the (extremely male dominated) venture capital community by saying that she is successful because she didn’t scale back her career. And Kleiner Perkins supports this! Hooray women! And don’t worry about that divorce!

All these women who are currently working really hard are telling other women with kids to work really hard. And the majority of women with kids will say privately that they want part-time jobs but no one can speak publicly until they capitulate. Which means we have skewed media. A one-sided conversation, at best. But the big thing is that the majority of women are not represented in the conversation.

If you give advice to women, talk about something you know.

Let’s stop stop publishing women who don’t have kids telling women who do have kids that they shouldn’t give up. Don’t give in! Be strong! Take your place at the table!

We should stop having billionaire women telling normal women that they can do a startup. Just like me! Take the kids to work! Build an indoor playground!

And I don’t want to hear any more women with a one-year-old telling me she can do a startup with a five-year-old. It’s night and day. Find me one woman who has two kids over five and runs her own venture-backed startup who does not say it’s nearly impossible.

Actually, wait. I’ll tell you what it looks like. A startup is a race. You get money and you run as fast as you can. Everything is lickety split. But here’s what it looks like when you have kids: slow motion.

Juliet’s article came out a month ago. The responses came out days later. Sometimes hours later. My response is two months later. You know why? Because I have kids and a startup and I’m moving in slow motion.

Kleiner Perkins would never really want to fund me. I’d return their phone calls late. After the call to the cello teacher and the dance teacher, and the nanny, and the Hebrew tutor. Because you have to give up something to get something, and Kleiner doesn’t want to hear they’re behind a long line of household chores.

So Kleiner’s branching out to get more female founders. By telling them how to live their lives.

Next up: Kleiner’s all-white boys club telling black men how to not get shot. And you know something? Don’t wear a hoodie is about as useful as Juliet’s admonition to put off having kids. It’s short-term thinking that does nothing to make the world a better place.

71 replies
  1. Karo
    Karo says:

    Thanks for calling them out on their BS. Wonderful summary of my personal sentiment on this topic!

  2. Lucy Chen
    Lucy Chen says:

    It’s great of you to write this, Penelope.

    The Global Summit for Women? Judging from the photos, it seems it’s a bunch of hypocrites, really.

  3. channa
    channa says:

    I have a 7 year old and a 4 year old and I’m pregnant and I run the business side of a venture-backed startup. Here is what I do differently than your examples I guess: I married a man who happily stays at home raising kids full-time.

    My husband loves sports, the outdoors and children. He was a teacher and a coach when he was working. Marrying a career-minded person who compromises to stay home would never work – I know that because if I did it I’d be miserable.

    To be happy and have a full life with career and children, you have to think both things through in advance. Marry someone who complements your strengths and remediates your weaknesses, not a mirror to flatter your image of yourself.

    • Trisha
      Trisha says:

      I have a similar story to the above. Had my first son at 23 years old, have worked full time at a demanding career the whole time.My husband stays home with the kids, never really wanted a career and is super proud of what I do.
      Did I give something up? Yes. When I introduce my husband at parties I define him by his talents, not his title. And my house will never be as clean as my mother’s house (who also worked full time while raising me and my sister). No I’m not starting my own business yet. Its in the five year plan though.

  4. Karen
    Karen says:

    Another fabulous post on the topic of working and being a mom. It is so refreshing to hear someone who has the chutzpah to tell it like it really is. I especially appreciated the comment about work being in slow motion when you are taking care of your kids – it’s spot on!

  5. Nicole
    Nicole says:

    I don’t have kids so I don’t know how much room I have to give any opinion on this, but I’m mostly commenting to see what others have to say. But definitely a different sort of perspective on the never ending battle of women “having it all.”

  6. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    To not get killed is pretty simple. Avoid stupid people, avoid going stupid places and don’t do stupid things. This includes things like: Stay out of the ghetto. Don’t threaten or assault people. Don’t run from cops. Don’t flash weapons, drugs or cash in public or on Facebook. Don’t get involved with violent criminals, whether street gang members, drug dealers or stickup men. Walk away from confrontations, don’t escalate. Let them have the last word if they want, but leave. Run if you have to, but again, don’t run from cops, it causes the whole predator/prey reaction.

    And if those fail, be willing and able to fight.

    • Ayanna
      Ayanna says:

      Sure, all of this works fine and dandy if you’re not Black, don’t already live in the ghetto and/or don’t live in a society that perpetuates the ridiculous notion that a person of color with a hoodie on is trouble in the making in and of itself.

      • Tabitha
        Tabitha says:

        Ayanna– Exactly! And only as long as you’ve been raised in a culture that teaches you all of those things, which if you live in the ghetto, etc. you probably haven’t. So this stuff is *not* “common sense” in that world.

        P.S. Penelope–Right On! Thanks for continuing to tell it like it is!!

  7. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    It’s hilarious that just last night I was listening to a recorded live performance of ‘Dirty Laundry’ by Don Henley & the Eagles at their Farewell Tour 1 Live in Melbourne on YouTube. The intro of the song starts with “I want to dedicate this song, To Mr. Rupert Murdoch.” :)

  8. David
    David says:

    I’ve been reading your blog for a few years. As always, your writing is engaging and enlightened. Despite being a man, I see your thoughts as logical, well-thought out and IMHO accurate. My wife’s lead role with supporting our kids has allowed me to put in the focus and hours essential to growing our start-up. Here’s to the couples that work together as a team for creating excellent companies and even better kids.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Hi, David. Thanks for your comment. You bring up a perspective that I don’t often write about – because it’s not anything I do myself. But it seems to me to be a really viable plan to have one business that both parents run so that each parent gets more flexibility to care for kids.

      Job sharing works, but companies hate letting people do it. If you create your own family business then you can share jobs. One person will do more childcare than the other, for sure. But marriage is not about keeping things even. It’s about keeping things sane.


  9. Ayanna
    Ayanna says:

    I don’t have kids myself, but as a child of a working mother as I was growing up and a friend and sister-in-law of working mothers of kids, I have observed that it is incredibly difficult to have it all at once; contrary to what the media likes to boast. I’ve never seen this and at this point would just like to see more women own their choices and not feel guilty about them…because as Penelope stated, 100% of women in your situation feel the same way you do, so ignore the media and all if it’s propaganda because that’s exactly what it is. Boy, are they selling a bill of goods!

  10. Kathy Donchak
    Kathy Donchak says:

    You crack me up, and are right on! The only thing I would add is that yes things are in slow motion, but I can get more done in 2 hrs on work projects that most people get done in a day at an office. Changing the focus on how much time we put in at work, and instead on the outcome we get is a much better measure while your children are young, but you might have to be a freelancer to make it work.

    • Joy
      Joy says:

      My story is similar to Kathy’s story (though my kids are older); it’s like applying the homeschool model to the working world. “Slow motion” works when you redefine the environment and take a long view. The venture-backed start up model isn’t the only approach that works. If you sow the seeds, you reap the harvest.

  11. Laura
    Laura says:

    This is so right on. It is exactly why I quit my job to start my small consulting business. Not a venture -backed start-up — a small (single person) consultancy where I can work 10 hours a week, or 20 or 30 if I want to. I don’t want to work 40 or 50 or 60 hours a week because I have 2 babies and it just.doesn’t.work.
    When I first read Lean In, I was inspired and motivated. I quickly became deflated. Why? Because in my world, it just isn’t reality.
    Thank you for being real on this subject.

  12. sandy
    sandy says:

    Your argument fits with what I feel about female billionaires, who after toiling for decades, all of a sudden decide to hit the speaking trail and for a paltry sum of hundreds or more, want to tell other women how they can be just as successful if they become more spiritual and get in touch with oneness. They don’t offer concrete solutions but instead offer woo woo ones.

  13. Gwenn
    Gwenn says:

    Penelope, I really don’t like when you force me out of denial. I suppose trying to change my kid’s memory from the babysitter teaching her how to ride a bike to my husband should have been my denial buster, but no it was this article.

    • Erin
      Erin says:

      Further to that, I rally appreciate the slow-motion bit and I don’t have kids so that’s not my excuse. I’m simply a functional introvert (ie my introversion recharges me, it isn’t simply an excuse to not connect). This means I don’t work so well with the madly panicked pace that most companies seem to think is normal these days. I find they are firing people yet trying to increase growth and thereby expecting more decisions and workloads from a decreasing amount of staff. Hence panic. My best decisions are made at a more measured pace, hence me currently quitting office life and trying to set up a business for myself. Plus living smaller – wanting and consuming less. It might mean I don’t have the yachts and holidays some people will get but I know my work is of a higher standard now that I have a slower, more measured pace in my life. I suspect I will also one day be a better mother for it.

  14. victoria
    victoria says:

    Almost 20% of women between the ages of 40 and 44 in the U.S. have no kids; of those, a large percentage never will have children.

    Do they not count as women?

    • Jake
      Jake says:

      How many of those 20% are in caretaker roles for family members? This same situation is going to apply them.

      The simple point is: We have people giving advice that is only really usable for the top 1% of income earners or by people not in the situation.

      “You can have it all” is just a modern day widespread version of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

      • Jennifa
        Jennifa says:

        I agree. You state it more succinctly than I. Men have to compromise too, they are not as verbal about it. But i have seen men scale back travel and promitions to be home more. And I know a few men single-handedly taking care of aging parents.

      • redrock
        redrock says:

        women without children also have to make choices in their lives – strangely enough they also don’t have the time and resources to do everything at any given time. The simply have different choices to make. And no, it is not necessary to legitimize their life and woman-ness by providing another caretaker role example.

    • Jennifa
      Jennifa says:

      I appreciate the comment Victoria. As a 44-year old woman with no children by choice, it sometimes seems that way reading this blog. Like if you do not have kids you don’t count.

      But whatever, seeing how hard work-life is, and how panicy and weird women get after they have children, is one reason I just never wanted any; I knew I would not be able to do it well enough for the child.

      So I made a choice and now I don’t and won’t ever have kids. And I feel like I have sacrificed something for that choice, but I am happy with my decision. Saying that, sometimes I am amused by other working moms who complain about balancing. I mean, they are going to have to sacrifice something, right? And hopefully it is their work and not their kids. But when I feel the hate emanating from working moms towards women without kids, it really makes me feel sad. Cause no woman can have it all, why do mothers get so upset about sacrificing a career? I honestly do not always understand it.

      For the record I do not even have that great a career, and have had to listen to working moms complain to me that if they did not have kids how they would be so much further in their career, and this from women who are further up the food-chain than I. And I wonder, my-god woman, how much do you frickin’ want!!!

      • Amy Axelson
        Amy Axelson says:


        It seems like the issue is has to do with mainstream America thinking that career determines one’s worth, and the amount of money one makes equates to the value they are to society.

        So staying at home with kids isn’t valued nor is it considered a contribution to society. If a woman doesn’t believe in herself and doesn’t have some major backbone and strength, she (her well being) can get swallowed alive staying home.

        The same can apply to anyone who sees the absurdity of the rat race and isn’t succumbing to it.

        It’s just easier to not care what people think when you aren’t responsible for dependents for whom you need a village to help raise, yet many of us have to be an entire village as a solo person. And if the village is outside of yourself, it just makes it harder when that village holds the belief in my first paragraph. My ex is one of those people.

        After getting through a lot of heartache, being a stay at home mom has made me tough and a noncomformist.

        I wouldn’t talk to people who ridicule you for your conscious choices. Screw em.

        • redrock
          redrock says:

          I am always surprised how viciously women go after women who made different choices in life. If the billionaire or CEO with a kid thinks they are happy – why can’t they talk about it? Everybody knows they have 5 nannies and a nursemaid, or they are one these high powered people who naturally need 2 hours of sleep per night and can live a minute by minute regimented life. It is an equally valid life model as a SAHM who homeschools, or a woman without children who does not plan to marry. We all talk and report from our own little corner of the world and make the choices which work for us. SOcietal expectations are hopefully changing and will allow for these choices to be valid without the assumptions how a woman should be and live.

          • Jake
            Jake says:

            There is a difference between talking about one’s life and telling everyone else to follow the same approach.

            They are telling everyone to do it their way and they usually fail to mention the extra resources (e.g. 5 nannies) that they have to pull this off. That’s what makes everyone mad.

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            actually I think a lot of the negative reactions are just envy. There are tons of mostly bogus life coaches, men, women, racoons (just kidding), so I don’t really mind if some of these CEO women talk about their experiences. Does anybody really thinks that one should take all of that hook and sinker? Not really, one listens and then checks which stuff is useful and which is not. I don;t think you can expect them to come up to the stage and say: ” I totally suck because I have a nanny who gets the baby aspiring and cleans the diapers – so I cannot possible be a role model. ” Those are women who made a living from working very hard in a difficult environment – the description of their lives in the tabloids is not real. And they don’t live in a situation which is applicable to the majority of women moneywise. I have to say that I have never heard comments about comparisons with Marissa Meyer or whoever in a real life work situation. Life is always a series of compromises, and I have to admit that the book “Lean in” did not leave me with the impression that every women has to do it all all the time. Just with an encouragement that women can reach farther than they think and also can promote for themselves.

          • Amy Axelson
            Amy Axelson says:

            Ultimately, I’m so glad that there are so many options for us to choose from. To me, the women who have upper management, big-buck jobs, have been pioneers in making more options available for women.

            I don’t want to play a part in fueling ‘mommy wars’ and whomever is benefiting from it .

            If people want to see evidence of what is possible, I like to provide the evidence of to those who find it encouraging and helpful. People did that for me at the start of my parenting journey and I am beyond appreciative.

            And the big-wig women can be the evidence that yes indeedy, women can make babies AND make lots of money, plus provide employment and purpose for their supporting staff.

            We all live what we each believe, thankfully, because I have no desire a for one-world mindset.

            How the compilation of all of our choices affects the future in our society and world is yet to be determined. We probably all fear this unknown to some degree.

          • Amy Axelson
            Amy Axelson says:

            typo correction:
            * If people want to see evidence of what is possible, I like to provide the evidence that **what I believe and how I live can and does work** to those who find it encouraging and helpful.

      • Theresa Deitche
        Theresa Deitche says:

        So I may be wrong in assuming this, but my best guess is that you are younger than, the women you comment about. My other guess is that even if it’s a 5 year difference, they happen to have a child who is 5 or older. So what they see is 5 years of not moving forward because they took a break from having a child, plus everthing still moving in slow motion because as Penelope said it moves in slow motion.” So if they are much older, wait until you are their age, and if they are not much older, wait until their child is 18 either way look back at where you’ve moved vs. where they have moved and see if it still feels like they want so much from their career.

      • 10 Legs in the Kitchen
        10 Legs in the Kitchen says:

        I too have made the choice not to have kids (except fur babies). I definitely feel as if some people look down on me for that but I also feel as if I am expected to work harder because I don’t have an excuse to go home. I think it is all about choices we make and understanding the trade offs for those choices.

  15. Sara
    Sara says:


    From the article:
    “On a panel called “Redefining the Marketplace: The Business Case for Gender Equality,” male CEOs in the fields of banking, energy, and law took to the stage to discuss how recruiting and fostering female talent can drive a company’s financial success. One panelist, Gianmarco Monsellato, the CEO of French corporate law firm TAJ, has made it his mission to recruit powerful men into the fight for gender equality. Over the past decade, he’s helped achieve gender parity at TAJ at all levels of leadership and vaulted the company into the top tier of French firms. Monsellato believes that endorsing Lean In–style correctives, which focus on female employees’ own behavior at the expense of male leaders’ actions, and diversity initiatives, which ask women talk among themselves and present their findings to male leadership, will never succeed until powerful men are pressured to take up the cause themselves. In other words, this all-male panel is great.”

  16. janet
    janet says:

    Amen! There is no public discourse because, as you said, to even mention how difficult it is to work and raise children is career suicide at a time when many families require a dual income just to survive – especially living in Silicon Valley. Personally, I feel trapped. I tell my husband, lets move to a small mid-western town, lie on our resumes and get jobs at Target, just to get out of the rat race that in no way honors me.

    • Rayne of Terror
      Rayne of Terror says:

      I live in a small Midwestern town of 3500. We don’t have a Target. You could work in a gas station, bar, or IGA.

      I work part time as an attorney, 20 to 30 hours a week depending on what’s going on. I work around the school day, school schedule. Sounds great, right? But no one accepts the boundaries of an attorney who works part time. I quit taking phone calls at home at 5 PM on July 3rd and got royally screwed by the after 5 bunch. It’s extremely stressful to not work full time, and yet thinking of all the additional family chaos that would happen if I did work full time. Ugh.

  17. Karen
    Karen says:

    “You can have it all” is a myth. Got it.

    What I don’t understand is why does this myth exist? Who benefits?

  18. Karelys
    Karelys says:

    I laughed to myself as I read this.
    Even if you want to work a non glamorous job you will have to juggle a lot and give up too much of something.

  19. Karine
    Karine says:

    Right to the point. Most employers like to advertise themselves as family-friendly, but how many of them actually have women sitting in the directors meeting? Women without a 24/7 nanny, to be more precise, and whose parents have not given up on their lives to take care of the grandkids. Long story short, women are still balancing guilt and career and have no idea how to move forward without hurting people they love or themselves.

  20. JML
    JML says:

    This is my favourite conversation on this blog. Thanks for acknowledging the reality of the struggle. I wish there was more of this honesty in the broader media.

  21. Batya Bender
    Batya Bender says:

    Thanks, Penelope, for telling it like it is, and promoting realistic goals for women. I’ve had enough time to experience those goals–64 years. An Old lady story, hope it doesn’t hurt, and it may prove a point or two of yours.
    The direction I went in, 40 years ago, as a recent university graduate and newlywed, was Full-time Homemaking, and Homeschooling (capitals mine.) Not for everyone. My goal was to raise moral, productive, well educated, and kind human beings. That’s all.
    If I succeeded, I owe a lot of credit to my fellow team members, my husband, and…Religious Plug [Skip].
    I paid a high price for swimming against the stream: I disappointed my parents, alienated my working friends, learned to be mighty frugal, and almost got arrested for homeschooling before it was legal. Fortunately, the case worker was a family friend, who shortly afterward, quit chasing homeschoolers and became a mechanic.
    Today, I have very little buying power and no marketplace identity. But I’d do it over again, in a minute. I wouldn’t trade one minute with my children (& grandchildren) for all the buying power, or any power, on earth.
    Keep putting things into perspective for us, Penelope.


  22. redrock
    redrock says:

    actually I think looking at women CEO’s is in many ways a luxury problem. The women who really have a hard life are those who are in low paying jobs which they need to bring food on the table or keep a roof over their kids heards. Those women, where the employer schedules their worktime only a day in advance and who never know how many hours they will work in any given week, who can be called in at night, or day with absolutely no regard for anything but the employers bottom line. It is called “intelligent scheduling” and optimization for the employer. I think those women will roll over laughing hearing a discussion about the problem of “having it all”.

  23. Jan Hogle
    Jan Hogle says:

    Seconds after I read your blog post, an email came to my inbox with a “Timely Warning” from the university police. It read in part: “…19-year-old female reported attempted strong arm robbery… suspect ran up behind the victim and tried to take her bag…The suspect is described as a college-aged black male, medium build, last seen wearing a black hoodie sweatshirt with the hood up.” Huh.

  24. VJ in UK
    VJ in UK says:

    I love that you tell it like it is Penelope, whether is the Asperger’s or just your personality, I think I’d does a great service to us all and I wish we all (myself included) did more of it.
    I have kids and I struggle and I have recently made some career changes to make things more manageable all around. But I also appreciate the arguments from men and women and men without children who also struggle and perhaps feel they have no voice (or a repressed voice) in this great work-life-balance conversation.
    I think the good news is that
    a) we all have more of a voice than our parents did – like in the 80s when my mom actually lied about how many kids she had (she has 5 but said she has 2 to not look so “mommy”) and spent a good chunk of her life in huge shoulder padded suits and sneakers keeping up that lie.
    b) Careers don’t look like they used to. It’s a long game and the “ladder” isn’t the only game in town. Taking breaks to have a family, try a new venture, go on a personal quest of some sort are more accepted than ever.
    Of course there are still challenges and we should continue to debate and discuss but also take heed that things are moving in the right direction…but like life with kids…slowly…

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Interesting to me that your mom lied about the number of kids she has. I think probably it would be good to lie about that today as well, if you could get away with it. I mean, in the workplace I think there’s still discrimination against women who have a lot of kids but respect for men who have a lot of kids. (I think I’m probably guilty of that discrimination as well, to be honest.)


  25. Christine
    Christine says:

    Something I see missing from this conversations, though, is what these kids are like when they grow up. I do not have kids so I am absolutely NOT going to pretend to understand what it feels like to hear your child say “you weren’t there.” (I’m sure it’s awful.
    But, as a 20-something, I actually do see a marked difference in the people I know whose parents were career minded – especially their mothers – and the people whose parents weren’t. The men with working mothers treat women differently; the women think differently about their options. I’m sure it’s entirely subjective but I have to say I much prefer the people whose parents worked.
    So, maybe what’s best for your 7 year old is not what’s best for your 27 year old? Just curious to hear others’ thoughts on that.

    • Christine
      Christine says:

      I should add that my perspective is that I was raised by a mother who never worked a day in her life and the older I get the less I respect her.

      • Vic in TN
        Vic in TN says:

        Please avoid saying your mother “never worked a day in her life.” It’s so disrespectful. I’m sure you don’t mean it this way — but it sure comes out that way.

        Perhaps she was never employed, but I guarantee you she worked if you were fed, and bathed, and clothed, and even had a little fun now and then. When my now adult son was 3 or 4 I taught him this reply to those who asked him if his mommy “worked”: “My Mommy works, but she’s not employed.”

        • Karen
          Karen says:

          Well said! When my sister-in-law was homeschooling her kids, I overheard someone ask her if she worked. She replied, “Yes, very hard.”

  26. Bianca
    Bianca says:

    I admit that I am confused by your black person wearing a hoodie comment. It seems that you ignore the larger social and political forces that condone prejudice against minorities. I enjoy reading your posts however, when your writing includes racial micro aggressions such as these, I second guess being a part of your readership.

  27. AP
    AP says:

    I’m tired of hearing the phrase “black guy”. Why can’t we say “black man” ? I know it may be nit picking, but I feel that there is a difference.Its a small thing, but I think if we started calling them black “men,” we could help put an end to the negative way they are viewed in this country.

  28. Virg
    Virg says:

    I love this article. It’s great. I can’t tell you how irritated I am almost daily by a female colleague who lives on the west coast and sends her kids to an exclusive prep school. She has two boys just like me who are nearly the same spread as mine – except mine are 11 and 8 and hers are nearly 6 and 3. All week long she talks about boarding planes to go to meetings and missing her kids home with the Nanny or dropping them at Adventure Camp or asking “What type of snack does your nanny serve to your son’s t-ball team?” Meanwhile I do the same job, send my kids to public school and work from home where in between con calls I fold laundry and vacuum. The difference? My kids are older and they do not get easier, they get HARDER. No one told me this. 11 is hard, 8 is hard. 6 and 3 are cake walks. Last weekend I had a combination of 10 baseball games, a basketball practice, a 35th anniversary party to help host and a ton of household chores. What the hell do 3-year-olds even do?

    And here’s the kicker: Women lose THEMSELVES. That’s the compromise and we don’t really fully know it until much later when we haven’t read a real book without pictures in it or even an article from People magazine in the bathroom by ourselves since the first child was born. We know more about who made student council in middle school than who we voted for in the last election. I myself know more about the Infield Fly Rule than I do about movies released in the past decade. My weight has gone up and down and I don’t even care because I found a new love in yoga pants – did you know you can can get s’mores out of them with Dawn dish washing soap? My hair is grey and my nails are ragged because I have no time to deal with them but I can tell you which MLB teams are over 500 right now and it’s still early in the season. And I can schedule four people into 38 activities over 3 days with the same precision that generals arrange covert ops in the Middle East. All this while working full time for a tech company.

    This isn’t new. Women have been losing themselves for years. What is new is that more women are telling us we don’t have to “lose ourselves” in our kids – we can lose ourselves in our work instead. At least with my choice I get dinner and clean clothes.

    • Anna
      Anna says:


      It’s ok to back off on all of the kid activities. We had three kids in four years and drew a line in the sand about how many activities, no travel sports, etc. to preserve our sanity and be able to have a family dinner most nights. The result? All three twenty-somethings are successfully functioning adults; two were two-sport athletes in high school and played club sports in college, which they loved. The third held leadership roles at her university and is heading back to grad school on her employer’s dime. They don’t need to do all of that stuff, even if they want to. Side effect: they learn how to handle boredom. A huge plus.

      • Anna
        Anna says:

        And, I might add, you don’t have to attend all of their games. My kids felt sorry for their teammates in middle and high school whose parents traveled to all of the away games, and the kids themselves would’ve liked a little freedom with out mom and dad hovering around all of the time.

  29. Cristina
    Cristina says:

    Penelope, I have been reading your blog for your years, and as a pregnant woman with a demanding job (not necessarily super important, but stressful and time-consuming), this is one of my favorite quotes from your blog: “Because taking care of a baby is a lethal mix of insanely boring and insanely important. If only it were just one. Well, but then if it were just one then it would be like going to work.” It totally captures one of my fears. Once the baby is here, what sacrifices will I be ready to make?

    • Ann Stanley
      Ann Stanley says:

      Don’t spend any time worrying, Cristina. It’s a waste of effort. When it comes to being a mother for the first time, be prepared to be surprised. My experience is captured in Penelope’s ‘insanely boring and insanely important’ phrase but to capture it perfectly I would add ‘insanely in love with the baby’ and that’s what makes it all meaningful.

  30. Eureka
    Eureka says:

    I visited your blog for the first time ever about 5 minutes ago and this is the first post I got to read. I was taken aback by “Black people should not wear hoodies” to avoid getting shot. I’m not a black American but this bothered me a lot. It’s like saying women should not wear mini skirts if they want to avoid getting raped. Really?

  31. Theresa Deitche
    Theresa Deitche says:

    I needed to read this. I had three kids in 2.5 years (no twins), and have been struggling ever since to find anyone who understands what it’s likel. The biggest culprit? People who had 3 or more kids trying to tell me they understand, however they all had 2 or more years between kids, so by they time they had their 3rd their oldest was 6! Um, my oldest was 2.5 by the time I had my 3rd, big difference!! What’s worse is, yes, those who have 1 child, no children, or a child under 2 years old who each tell me how it should be. Don’t get me started on people who have money, who tell me what it’s like to raise a baby, because of course 1 year after my 3rd child my husband and I filed bankruptcy(which included our home), and 1 year after that had to move to 2-bed/1-bath home? After all that I sit back and say I’m super lucky because I have a home that is easier to clean, easier to afford, in a good neighborhood w/ no one competing to be the “best”, 3 great kids, able to stay home and (hopefully the courage) to homeschool, and life experiences that make me stronger.
    It’s the” rat race” that needs to keep women in order to keep up respect for women, but women want to get respected even though they are out of the “rat race”. It’s a catch 22 that during WWII when a large number of women went to work, they finally found a way to be respected, but we still want to be respected for the work we do at home.

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