By Ana Bethencourt Yrausquin
Myth #1: You have to be Wonder Woman.
Let’s face it: we have a tough job as women. We feel that we have to be everything to everyone. We have to be the perfect wives, the perfect moms, the perfect professionals, the perfect friends. We feel called to advance in our professions, lead fulfilling personal lives, and prioritize our marriages, children, and other relationships. From a young age, we are told: “You can do it all. Lean in.” Those who don’t have children yet are told that the “reproductive clock” is ticking. At the same time, those who have children are told: “Cherish every moment! They’ll be off to college before you know it!” (Meanwhile, as you struggle to find your keys in your purse while holding a crying baby and grocery bags, you feel like crying, “but, how?!”) Millennial moms feel pressured to breastfeed exclusively and to limit screen time, all while trying to take care of themselves and not “let themselves go.” On top of that, women tend to have insecurities from comparing themselves to other women who seem to have it all together. Social media certainly doesn’t help. So how, just how, are women supposed to do all of the things and do them well?
As a millennial mom, graduate student, and stay-at-home mom who works from home part time, some people think I do it all. I, in turn, know that’s not true. I don’t have a secret sauce. Every family is different and what works for me might not work for you. However, there are two things that should be in everyone’s secret sauce: 1) Get rid of clutter (mental and material), and 2) simplify your life! That’s another story for another day, but if I had to summarize it, I would say that simplifying consists of prioritizing, delegating, and creating easy routines. Sometimes we spend too much time and energy on things that are not important and as a result, we’re too depleted and overwhelmed to work on our priorities. Let’s delegate what can be delegated (like house cleaning, if possible) and focus our energy on what’s non-negotiable (such as time with our husbands and kids). It’s okay not to do everything perfectly, to make mistakes, and disappoint people. Tune out the voices that don’t encourage you in your current season and do whatever it takes to care for yourself so that you can remain a stable resource for others.
Most importantly, don’t feel self-centered. Self-care is not all about you. It’s about your family and those around you. They need you to take care of yourself! If you’re a mom, others depend on you, so when you take care of yourself, you are actually taking care of your kids. In other words, our goal of taking care of ourselves is motivated by love for others. Our little ones don’t need a perfect mom: they need a happy mom that is emotionally (not just physically) present. Instead of being determined to be perfectionists, we should be determined to love well.
Myth #2: Someone’s social media feed is an accurate reflection of her real life.
Oh, the lies we believe! When we scroll through Instagram, Facebook or Snapchat, we will always find reasons to put ourselves down and reasons why we don’t fit in. But the reality is that we should stop judging our own worth and our own fulfillment in life based on someone else’s Instagram feed. Let’s not forget that people post on social media what they want other people to see. They are posting about their “highs” in life, not their “lows”. Don’t compare your life to someone else’s “high” moment that may not be an accurate reflection of her real life. Let’s dismiss false claims that impede us from being the women we want to be.
As my mom says, we should wear those blinders that horses wear when pulling wagons or carriages. The blinders help horses stay focused and not get distracted by images flashing in their peripheral vision. With the blinders, the horses can stay on track, focusing on the path ahead rather than irrelevant surroundings. Let’s put our own blinders on so we can stay focused on the course ahead. Unfollow (online and in real life) whatever is distracting you from becoming the mother – and woman – you want to be.
Myth #3: Modern motherhood is one-size-fits-all.
When people ask me if I’m a working mom or a stay-at-home mom, I don’t know what to say because I don’t fit either one of those stereotypes perfectly. If I say I’m a working mom, you could say: “Wait, you are wearing yoga pants at 11 am and have a peanut butter stain on your shirt and you call yourself a working mom?” Valid argument. But if I say I’m a stay-at-home-mom you could say: “But you have therapy clients! And conference calls!” Valid point as well. I may be writing a graduate school paper but I have a napping baby in the other room and two toddlers in preschool. One morning I may be on a conference call but I’m nursing a baby while I’m at it. I’ve realized it’s best to not attempt to fit a mold. Motherhood is not black-and-white, but customizable, made to order. Customize your own motherhood so that you can be a strong and stable presence (both physically and emotionally) for your kids.
Growing up, I always thought I would be a full-time stay at home mom. Then I became one and realized I wasn’t thriving. I felt inadequate, because I saw other people thriving in that situation and I envied them. Luckily, I had people in my life that supported me and helped me find what works for me and my family. I had to forget what I thought I was “supposed to do” and start doing what I knew I had to do for my family’s sake. I started a part-time job from home and it’s been a great gift to me, my husband, and my children. I later started a mental health counseling master’s program that has been another huge blessing.
It’s important to know your personality type when making a decision like this. I have the kind of personality that thrives under pressure. People energize me. Work deadlines keep me focused and motivated. Working refreshes me. If I’ve had a really tough week and I’m running low on patience with my kids, I sit down one morning and do work that I’m passionate about. By the time I have to pick up my kids from preschool, I’m re-energized. My work is a source of joy, not stress. And that joy feeds into my family life.
My part-time work actually makes me a better mom and a better wife. In turn, being a mom has helped me be a better professional. It made me more understanding of others, more humble, more empathetic, more organized, more flexible. For example, motherhood has taught me killer negotiation skills (if you don’t know why, swing by my house at bedtime and you’ll see!). Similarly, motherhood has forced me to prioritize and let go of the things that are not important. I’m very lucky to have a professional path that allows me to live my motherhood with joy.
Even though it seems like my responsibilities are too much to handle, it’s actually exactly what I need. Not what every mom in the world needs, but what I need.
Myth #4: Women can only find fulfillment if they work outside the home.
While I know that the best way for me to serve my family and to use my skills is by working part-time, one of my closest friends, Rachel, knows that the best way for her to love her family and use her skills is by staying at home, taking care of her children, and running her house. She is a great example of someone who finds fulfillment and joy in being a stay-at-home mom.
Rach and I met when we were both expecting our first babies. By the time we were 24, we had our newborn babies in our arms. We lived 10 min from each other, got together all the time, and even went to a pediatrician appointment together when her daughter was getting her ears pierced and we all cried together in that office that day (they had to poke her baby twice to get it right! Ouch!). After we had our first babies, we both got pregnant again at almost the same time two times in a row. Back then, I could see that Rach was thriving as a stay at home mom. She now has four kids and told me on the phone recently, “I love to be a stay-at-home mom. I would not have it any other way!”. While I had this pull to do something professionally, she has never felt this calling. Other people may have a professional calling but the desire (or need) to stay home is stronger.
I feel like the message we hear in our world today is that the only way to find fulfillment as a woman is to work outside the home. As a result, some working moms may try to drown their strong yearning to stay at home once they have a baby because of some external pressure to work. As a working mom myself, I challenge that notion. Women should feel free to decide to seasonally shift their focus to their kids if they wanted to. If I ever have a daughter, I want to prepare her to be able to decide to stay at home if she wants. We can’t fail the next generation of women that may want to choose to stay at home: I truly believe that we have the power to equip our daughters not only to run companies but also to run families. Teaching our kids to be good at life in general is just as important as teaching them to be good professionals.
Myth #5: I can’t be friends with women I disagree with.
I recently read that there’s nobody you wouldn’t love if you knew their story. It’s time to stop thinking of ourselves and start thinking more of others and the unique stories they carry . If you find yourself judging another woman, consider asking her about her story. Maybe we would all be more understanding and have more friends if we made a practice of doing this. As a funny viral Facebook meme recently noted: “Be nice to everyone you meet – you never know who lost an argument with a 3-year-old today.” We should value each other and applaud those that make decisions based on the wellbeing of their families. Let’s not base our value on where we decide to use our skills (at home, as a mom, or in an office).
Motherhood is already fraught with expectations and invites strong opinions from others. In the midst of all of this, let’s start complimenting more. And when we compliment another person, let’s make sure it’s real and not a superficial, generic compliment. Let’s be interested enough in others that we are able to find something that’s real, raw, authentically admirable about the other person. Anna Jordan from the popular motherhood blog Coffee and Crumbs wrote, “one of the most wonderful joys of motherhood is the other mothers.” If we put in the work it takes to build meaningful friendships, we will find that this is absolutely true! And at the end of the day, we all have one thing in common: we want the best for our kids. This video imparts that message beautifully.
Myth #6: You can do it alone.
They say it takes a village to raise a child for a reason. If you’re a mom, don’t be afraid of being vulnerable and telling an older, experienced mom that you’re struggling and you need advice. If you’re a professional, have a mentor that can talk to you in a positive way about balancing work and personal life. If you’re a working mom, ask for advice on how to manage everything and have time for you, your family, and your career. Don’t do this alone. We are not meant to.
It’s extraordinarily important that if you’re married, you and your spouse support what the other is doing. Both need to be on the same page. I could not do everything I do if my husband wasn’t 100% supportive. The decision to work and earn a graduate degree was not my decision. It was our family’s joint decision and we continue the conversation to make sure it’s still the right decision as time goes by. It’s been important for us as a couple to never stop talking about how things are going and what our roles are in a given season.
There are pros and cons in every scenario. And that’s ok. Not one choice has all the pros and everyone struggles. Life is not an app where we can simply “swipe left” when we see something we dislike. We have to embrace it and grow stronger as a result of our difficulties. We may never find the “perfect” path, and while I admit mine isn’t perfect, I know I can strive to have a pretty good one. And if you’re ideal path is not viable, give your real path all you’ve got!
What are your thoughts on these myths? What advice do you have for moms who face these myths in their own lives? Share with us in the comments below!
Ana is a wife, a mom to three energetic boys, and a therapist in training. She’s passionate about marriage, family, and mental health counseling and enjoys good wine, group date nights, and exploring downtown Raleigh with her dashing husband and friends.
Featured Image by pexels.com.