On working mothers and missed opportunitites

awny working mother of hte yearYesterday I had the privilege of sitting up on a stage of accomplished working mothers in a ballroom of 900 people, and being honored as one of AWNY’s Working Mothers of the Year.


When they mentioned my name and asked me to stand–the kind of moment that is generally a blur, as you stand there smiling like an idiot and hoping you won’t pass out in front of 900 people–for once I remember it clear as anything. Because not 25 yards in front of me were family, my amazing coworkers, and then Thalia and Sage, jumping up and down in the center aisle, arms raised and fists pumping like someone had just announced we were moving into Cinderella’s castle.

May every working mother have a moment like that in her life–not an award per se (although that part was nice), but an image that I can conjure up whenever I miss them. Whenever I skip a pediatrician appointment for a business trip. Whenever I race home to squeak in a quick 30 minutes before they toddle off to bed. Whenever I feel a twinge of that stupid mom guilt that I’m increasingly learning is useless and nonproductive.

It was an image that said that my daughters were proud of me.

It was a perfect.

And yet, motherhood is not filled with perfect moments like those all the time.

But you wouldn’t have known it from yesterday’s speeches.

Each of the 20 or so of us were asked one question, and had one minute or less (the audience will be shocked to learn that part, ha!) to answer. I was hoping to hear the honest stories of sacrifice, the funny anecdotes of working mom guilt. I wanted to hear about the coworkers who look at you askew when you tell them that you can’t make a client meeting because it’s your daughter’s hiphop recital. The baby puke stains on the business suit. The piles of dishes in the sink. The insurance that nearly lapsed during a layoff. Or heck, just the promise that we can do better when we create ads that portray mothers in the most God-awful stereotypical roles.

I mean… an entire podium filled with working mothers from advertising and marketing and not one of them brought up the cliche portrayal of mothers and fathers in advertising, and how it still generally stinks?

(I swear I was going to, but I really did try to stick to the one minute thing.)

I’m not saying I wanted a luncheon filled with complaints. Just honesty and insight. Just the acknowledgment that we have sacrificed. That we still sacrifice. That we make trade-offs for accomplishments. And that we live and work in a society that’s still not entirely supportive of working parents, even if many of us are fortunate to work for companies that are.

It was a chance for the industry to learn a little more about the realities of working mother and possible solutions so that maybe they can give us the support we need. And maybe our country which seems so big on “family values” these days could actually start supporting the working families of the world a liiiittle bit better.

Instead, I heard scant few good anecdotes–I loved McDonald’s Molly Starrman emotionally describing her retired father moving to Chicago to take over childcare full time for her so she could continue working. And Jessica Igoe of Google talking about how important it was for her to unplug when she was with the kids. But mostly there a lot of [acceptance speeches] stories in which everyone has a perfectly supportive husband, doting children who never miss us, stellar colleagues, and no need for “me time.” (Seriously, two different women dodged the “me time” question. Which means either they truly don’t have any, or they don’t think it’s important. Hello, pedicures? Movies? Downton Abbey? Something?)

So when it came to my question about ambition and whether it’s a good word–me being me–I talked about how it’s a positive thing; how my parents always told me to be anything I wanted, provided I worked hard and do it well–and that I want my daughters, particularly in this age of the female ambition gap to aspire to more than being princesses. I want them to fulfill their ambitions and dreams and work hard at whatever their passions happen to be.



Then I held up an article printout from Working Mother that sat at all of our place settings, featuring the a giant headline: HOW DO YOU DO IT ALL?

And you know how I feel about women who look like they do it all.

In a word: We don’t.

So I called it out. (Which may never get me invited back to one of these things again, on hindsight.) I said, because God, I felt like someone had to say it–no mother does it all. No one.

We trade doctors appointments for the day of the big meeting. We give up the excellent projects because it falls the same time as the family vacation. Successful working women do not get there without sacrifice. Some of us may do a lot. And some may make it look easy. But no one does it all. And that’s maybe not what we should be aiming for anyway.

I certainly want my children to know it: fulfilling dreams does not come without trade-offs.

And that goes for the stay-at-home moms too. Maybe even more so.

I guess I just feel passionately that we need to stop pretending that some women DO IT ALL. We might as well hold up mythological Greek gods up as role models and say hey–be more like Artemis, won’t you?

So I may be biting the generous, kind, gracious hand that handed me this beautiful, crystal star-topped award that I’m so proud of–but I hope that next time we can inspire the audience with truths; not long acceptance speeches and shiny falsehoods meant to convince our colleagues in the audience that we’re just peachy, thank you (and by the way please don’t fire us for someone with more free time to work on the weekends).

Our industries need to know our truths, and our society needs to know our truths.

And the sooner that happens, I think the better off we’ll all be.


108 thoughts on “On working mothers and missed opportunitites”

  1. Great post, Liz.

    It’s not easy for single working dads either. Between business trips, ballet rehearsals, late conference calls, school plays…I feel like I’m always making tradeoffs. And sacrifices.

    In this modern era of parenting, does anyone really do it all?

  2. Such a great writeup of true “working mom” feelings! I used to travel weekly for work- 3-4 nights on the road & when people asked me how I did it I’d wax poetic about my supportive husband, the importance of organization, bringing bills on the road so that I could spend quiet hotel nights getting stuff done. Then I went part-time disappearing from the state for W-F. When I got laid off I was concerned because my job defined who I was, or so I thought. Now with a part-time job in my own town and time to write & consult I can’t even begin to explain how much I didn’t understand the amount of stress that being away from home constantly and “cheering up” that fact to other people was putting on me. Women should just tell the truth! But sometimes it’s hard to see the truth when it’s your own status quo and you don’t realize what else is out there. Thanks!

  3. Very well said.
    Since the Greek Gods where a motley combo of seducers, adulterers, wife beaters and murderers I don’t think they’d make good role models, just like those mythical Do-it-all mothers. It would drive my family bonkers if I where like that…

  4. Gosh, I didn’t expect this post to choke me up, but it did.

    I had someone look at me, aghast, when they found out I work (for you!) and homeschool three kids. They asked me that traditional, “How do you do it?” question. I said, somewhat tongue in cheek, “That’s why my kids can’t spell.”

    And I’m not kidding. I never get around to doing spelling with them. It’s one of the many ways I “do it all” without really doing it all.

    We ALL make sacrifices, cut corners, feel like we aren’t doing enough. I have a friend with the most gorgeous, cleanest, WHITEST house ever (seriously, everything is white). I didn’t understand how she kept everything so freaking neat while homeschooling a child. Turns out she has a small room, off the kitchen, that is jammed full of her “stuff”. I think we all have a room like that, even if it’s not “real”: One part of our life that is just a jumbled mess of intentions and “I’ll get to that later”‘s, that we try to tuck out of site, while maintaining a facade of having it all under control.

  5. Congratulations on the honor! What a wonderful image of the girls cheering you on, and what a great memory for them.

  6. What continually makes me so grateful for you Liz, is that you always have the cohones to be candid. You say you may have bit the hand that gave you the award, but I have no doubt you delivered your candid comments with diplomacy. I’m so proud to be your friend.

    Also? I have tears in my eyes imagining Thalia and Sage there to celebrate with you. In my mind, that is the best part of all.

  7. You keep telling the truth Liz. You keep fighting the fight. Be it here, be it to an audience of 900, be it to one person, be it on television to millions.

    Speak what you know to be true:
    – Female ambition does not equal Ambitchous.
    – No Mother Does It All.
    – Fulfilling dreams comes with sacrifices.

    It needs to be said. often.

  8. First, congratulations on the award. Second, congratulations for telling it like it really is. Third, congratulations on giving your girls a wonderful role model.

    It is hard to be a working-outside-the-home mother. When my son was little, I always had a hard time being in the place I was. If I was at home, I was worried about work; if I was at work, I was grieving the time spent away from my son. I figured out how to deal with it, and my son has turned out fine. But it has been a struggle, mostly with myself.

  9. Hey Liz, kudos to you for calling bullshit on the Do It All notion at the potential risk of being blackballed from that function. I wonder if the portrayal of working moms in that Do It All light (and the desire of some working moms to take that image on) is in some way a gross overcompensation for the too-long-held negative portrayal of moms who sacrifice family time for career time. I mean, guys and the media (read: more guys) have been shitting on the idea of women being inspired to be more than just a housewife and mother for so long.

    1. Thanks Jeff, I just added a link to the article so you can see it.

      With respect to the author who I’m sure was doing a great job with the assignment she was given, I wish she could have talked about how well, we don’t do it all, but here’s what we do do and how we get it done.

      Isabelle Gauvry of Omnicon opened the panel by talking about ‘what it used to be like’ for moms and how you weren’t supposed to say that you were one on an interview and how we had to do twice the work to prove ourselves. We laughed about how far we’ve come since then…but have we? It seems like the panel was a lot of us still proving that we are perfect and valuable and worthy of the award we were given.

      1. Just to clarify, the article wasn’t assigned, but rather was written for the AWNY event by Cella Irvine, CEO of Vibrant Media, which co-sponsored the event.

  10. Hear, hear. You keep it real, Liz, for all of us working moms. And congrats!

  11. First, congratulations on your award. That’s amazing and I’m so happy your girls were not only there to see it, but old enough to understand it.

    You manage to say what I’m thinking so much better than it sounds in my head. The sacrifices are almost an everyday part of being a working mom. Sometimes I handle them with grace – brushing off the guilt of letting my mother-in-law taking my sick son to the doctor because I’m out of town or answering an email on a Saturday with “I’ll have this for you Monday”. Other times I get bent out of shape when the boss says “Oh, we’ll have John do this so you don’t have to travel and be away from the kids.”

    I wish it was easier to see keep perspective about which sacrifices were going to bite you in the ass and which ones aren’t actually a big deal. I could use some help with that.

  12. Congratulations on the award. If I could, I’d give you an award for inspiring a conversation that doesn’t lend itself to one minute sound-bytes; for writing honestly about careers and families and sacrifices and it being ok to love our jobs and how it doesn’t mean that we adore our families one iota less.

    I can see how that would be awkward to inscribe, though.

  13. I’m glad you called it out. When people say to me, “I don’t know how you do it all”, I tell them: “I don’t.” Things fall through the cracks at home; I just pray it’s more along the lines of spelling words and the right uniform socks, rather than the knowledge that I adore my children and would do anything for them. I pay bills at the office, and sometimes I spend an hour staring at my monitor trying to marshal the will to actually write the copy that helps pay those bills. So: good for you. I think if more of us are honest enough to say that we don’t do it all, we can move on to finding ways to doing things better (flextime, part time, telecommuting, daycare and health care access, paternity leave…) etc., etc.

  14. Speaking as a stay-at-home mom, no one ever asks how we do it all, but sometimes I get, “what do you do all day?” Won’t even go there. Sometimes I would like even a sitting ovation and a few fist pumps for frankly, giving up a lot to be here. Glad you had the chance to get some cheers though. It’s all so much more complicated than a “doing it all” headline.

    (When did I become bitter Betty?)

    1. A sitting ovation. That’s good stuff.
      I’m giving you one right now, for what it’s worth! I’ve heard the “what do you do all day” more often than I’d like to admit.

  15. Great post Liz. I loved seeing you and the other honorees at the event yesterday. My feeling as a working mom and editor at Working Mother is that we DO do it all, just not all at the same time and not perfectly. I have two sisters that don’t have kids and sometimes I envy them and their more pristine lifestyles. But then I think about the things I’m doing that matter to other people and the world and society, like raising a child to the best of my ability and working for a publication that tries hard to support our cohort and sitting on the board of a nonprofit music school. I do a lot, as we all do, and when I think I am failing at something I remind myself that I don’t need to do it all perfectly. I just need to try my best in the moment. I’m proud of us all! And I say this with tears in my eyes.

    1. Thanks so much for commenting Barbara. I love this point. I disagree that we do it all–and I fear that that kind of a statement sets a lot of people up for disappointment. But I love that we can acknowledge that the things we have chosen to do are the ones that matter to us and other people. You have every right to be proud of us. We work hard! And it was a really lovely event. My kid will remember it forever, and that to me means the world.

  16. Congratulations on the award. It is well-deserved, and it is awesome that you got to see how proud your girls are of you. Most of us just have to take that on trust!

    I think it is really hard to speak and write truthfully about motherhood now, because everyone’s feelings are a bit raw on the subject. We all feel judged by society- if we’re working outside the home, then we’re neglecting our kids, if we’re staying home with our kids, then we’re dismissed as intellectual lightweights, and so on and so on. We can’t really recognize that there are lots of ways to be a good parent, there are trade offs with each, the “right” choice will be different for every family… and that’s all OK.

    I wrote a post recently that started from a bad day I’d had at work, went through a discussion with my husband that made me realize that even he didn’t know how “big” my job is right now, wondered if that is why I find that people blow me off when I talk about achieving “work-life balance”, and ended with asking why society seems to want to find a subset of careers that are just “incompatible” with motherhood.

    I had a lot of nice comments, but one commenter took exception. She thought I was insulting women who chose to stay home with their kids for awhile, and wondered why *I* was so invested in proving that “big” careers aren’t incompatible with motherhood.

    It just illustrated to me how hard it is to write honestly about these subjects. I hadn’t thought I had written anything about anyone else’s choice at all. In the finest tradition of blog posting, I was talking about me, me, me. But something in my post hit a sore spot for her. And something in her comment hit a sore spot for me. Of course I’m invested in proving that careers like mine aren’t incompatible with motherhood- because the alternative is to believe that I am a crappy mother. Every time someone says that “you just can’t combine a career in science with motherhood” or ridicules the parenting of high profile successful women, I have to take a deep breath, remind myself that my kids are FINE. That it IS possible to be a good mom with a career like mine. And it is possible- not the one “right” way to do it, or the right choice for everyone, but possible.

    So, I don’t know if I could be brave in a forum like the one you had. I try to be honest when I get questions about my life from aspiring young scientists, but I don’t think I really show all the warts. I guess I think we put a nice veneer on our lives when we discuss them because there are sore spots all around the topic, and sometimes it is just too hard to be honest without stepping in them.

    1. I think we’re also taught to put our best face forward (the nice veneer) especially at professional events to seem more employable/together/whatever. I don’t begrudge anyone for that at all. I just think there could have been some more authentic conversations–we can shine and still be imperfect!

      Don’t stop writing Cloud. You articulating why you made your choice is not about condemning other choices. That misunderstanding is where the whole mommywar thing happens, and it’s someone else’s issue, not yours.

      1. Oh, I agree completely. I don’t have to be a perfect mom or a perfect career women to be good at both those things (and happy). I find I can write more honestly on my little anonymous blog than I can speak in person, though. You’re probably right- I don’t want to give people an excuse to think that I am doing less at work because I have kids. Which is silly, really. Before I had kids, I had all sorts of wonderful hobbies, and I traveled a lot. I’ve never been a “100% career” sort of person.

        1. Ive always believe that “100% career” people are actually not great at their careers. I know–I used to be one. You need life experiences to bring to the table!

  17. Congratulations Liz – you deserve any awards, trophies, pats on the back and hugs the world is ready to hand out to you.

    That being said, I also totally understand your “complaint” and your wish. I have often said that the portrayal of working motherhood, particularly in “that” magazine” is one that makes many of us (at least me) feel inadequate and that we are failing while everyone else is going it all without missing a beat.

    I think the best we can do for our industry, and our children, is to continue to be honest about the puke, the missed meetings, the missed opportunities, the times we said yes and the times we said no, so that we don’t continue to encourage this misconception that we can do it all.

    In the meantime – cheers lady! You are a working mom rock star and I’m proud to know you!

  18. amen, sister! thank you for having the courage to speak up and admit that working moms can’t do it all. i am more inspired by your honesty and knowing that i’m not alone in my failures and shortcomings than by someone makes me feel like a failure for not being able to do it all like they profess to. thank you, thank you!

  19. Now we up in the BIG LEAGUES…

    After getting over the tears from the vision of Thalia and Sage, this is what popped into my head. Well done, Liz!

    And then…Eye of the Tiger played in my mind, imagining you having the guts to speak truthfully.

    Thanks, as always, for your truths.

  20. So here’s my theory – the nominees have been prequalified as good soliders in the working mom army

    I have been nominated a few times for this award – and when the time came for the meat of my submission.. I did tell the truth. Of the times you have to swallow your values, compromise your health, disappoint your boss or your family – the hard stuff that I truly believe needs to be out there.

    I get asked the ‘how do you do it all’ question daily. My answer is I don’t. I don’t shower every day, I don’t get to kiss my kids goodnight on a regular basis. I don’t get enough space for my husband … but what I do get is that every year is different, and with each new person I find that can tell their truth – I get a little stronger.

    I doubt I’ll ever get this award as I am hugely fond of pointing out the elephant in the room – as you clearly are too Liz, but as we both know – the more painful aspects don’t sell magazines or seats at events.

    Just keep pointing at that elephant. Especially to the 20 somethings and young mothers who look up at us & tell them that the fight is well worth it. And it is.

    Congratulations on your award xoxo

  21. You’re so right. We don’t do it all. We rely on our villages and our families and our daycare centers and our co-workers and co-parents, and even our children.

    1. I should say in fairness, a LOT of the women acknowledged their villages. It just all seemed so…sanitized for your protection. “Thanks to my family for our perfect lives!”

  22. Congratulations on your award and thank you for keeping it real. My mother always said, “You can have it all but not at the same time.” I never really understood this until I became a mother. We give up a lot to get and stay where we are, balance being a good mom and good wife. I don’t know why we don’t want to admit that sometimes it’s just HARD but we do the best we can. Thanks for representing real working moms and how awesome is it for Sage and Thalia to see you get your award.

  23. My eyes are wet reading this. You are so lucky to have that moment with your girls cheering for you…
    I am going to call my mom right now and ask her if she remembers our moment…and what it meant to her.
    My mom worked and raised me as a single parent from birth until 5 years old, and only now can I understand the sacrifices that she made and the shit she gave up. But, we had a moment when she took me to her classroom to visit and to me – she was like the President of the U.S.

  24. Thanks for this. I go back to work on the 27th after having my first baby in December. Seemingly on a daily basis I oscillate between being really sad about not staying home with her and being happy I’m going back to work.

    You put words to a lot of the feelings that are stressing me out about my return to my job and I’m grateful for that. Here’s to being content with and fulfilled by the choices we make! At least most days 🙂

  25. This post made me cry. I’m not even sure why. Maybe because tomorrow is my first working Saturday of the year. The first of oh nine more to come. God I hate tax season. Anyway…I’m missing pretty much everything fun for the next two months.

    Thank you for standing up there and being honest. Because this doing everything thing is a misnomer. None of us can live up to it, yet we kill ourselves trying to do so. Society tells us, that as women we should be able to do it all. It’s tiring.

  26. Thank you for also acknowledging the sacrifices of stay-at-home moms. When I quit work almost 13 years ago, we lost 2/3 of our income. We have 5 children, the youngest of whom is 4 and headed to preschool next year. Then Kindergarten. And I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I can see graduate school and employment in my future.

    In the meantime, I’m fiercely good at PTA and terrible at keeping house. And I appreciate that you know that waiting 14-15 years to go to graduate school and re-enter the work force is hard.

    And you know what, as a SAHM of 5, I trade one child’s doctor’s appointments for another–whichever has the more pressing issue. And for getting everyone to basketball, piano, Knowledge Bowl, art and dance.

    And SAHMs don’t do it all either. I think all parents just have to constantly choose between “good” and “better” and we don’t always get it right. And I think that’s OK.

    Thanks for being real and for making it OK for all of us who are not “doing it all” either.

  27. Amen, Liz! The difficulty for women to stay in advertising when they become moms is one of the reasons why only 3% of CDs are female. The top ranked panel at our upcoming conference is called “Is Birth the Death of Female CDs?”

    1. Thanks Kat. I hope everyone checks out 3percentconf.com. The truth is, few of the honorees were from ad agencies proper. Marketers in general are much more family friendly. (Except for Deutsch – where our CEO’s 7 year-old has his own office!)

  28. Yeah, when are they going to have a Working Fathers of the Year award?

    Right, never. Because when a man passes up an important project because it falls in the middle of a family vacation, he’s seen as a sucker, not as someone struggling to balance two very important things.

    When is this going to change?

  29. My husband I are going through a bit of a struggle right now. We are trying to decide if we want to make some career changes, changes that for both of us mean sacrificing “advancement” in favor of jobs that do enough, but also give us more time to help make sure our kids are successful in school/life. I am lucky to have a husband who works with me to find the best solution for all of us.
    I am honest with my kids, my friends, my boss, my family, about the sacrifices I make. The only way I would consider what I have ‘have it all’ would be in that I am happen, content, blissful even among the dirty dishes, mismatched socks, fast food toys and smelly diaper pails.

  30. Goodness, I disagree.

    The internet is full FULL of the “you can’t have it all” meme. That there’s sacrifices and guilt etc etc etc.

    And that does not describe my life. It may describe your life. But it may not describe the lives of the women who shared their lives and stories at that ceremony. Just because you have specific challenges doesn’t mean that all working mothers face those same challenges. Especially when some of those challenges, like the “guilt,” are created internally. Some of us never learned that we were supposed to have those problems so we don’t have them. And it is much nicer that way, even when more enlightened folks tell us we’re deluding ourselves and of course we’re not balancing or whatever. Some of us neither need nor want manicures, or even alone time.

    Your story is not my story. Your story is not every working mother’s story. And you’ve got PLENTY of other guilt-mongering “can’t have it all life is so hard” mothers who share your meme, so you don’t need to push it on those of us who don’t. Honestly I’m not feeling it, which is a good thing, but I am a little bit sick of being told I don’t exist. And what really gets me is that other people are being told that I can’t exist, that there’s something wrong with people who feel balanced and both professionally and personally fulfilled. That somehow there’s something wrong with them or that they need to come up with problems they don’t have to make other women feel better about themselves.

    1. My guilt-mongering meme?


      I don’t think my point here is that no working mother is happy–I am wildly happy. If you read my blog you know that. And I don’t think it’s that no one is balanced or that everyone feels guilty about all their decisions. Only that we all sacrifice something and that no one does it all. Now you may feel you do it all, in which case congrats! I envy your clean floors and promptly written thank you notes and 9 uninterrupted hours of sleep 7 days of week.

      My point is that working motherhood is a rich, amazing topic for discussion with so much complex territory beyond “what is your favorite thing to do on your day off.” In an entire room all about working motherhood, the conversation was thin. My coworkers there agreed, my friends there agreed, as did other women on the panel who have contacted me about it. It was a missed opportunity for more honest, authentic, interesting sharing–even if that sharing was about how we get it all done (the way I mentioned that Molly talked about her father). I hope that next year the questions invite more introspection, and that the answers offer it.

      My point is also that there were women there–guaranteed–with great stories to tell, but who did not want to tell them, perhaps for fear of looking less than perfect.

      When we all share honestly and authentically, whatever our stories, we grow. It’s what happens on blogs every day.

      1. Well responded, Liz! I most enjoy your blog because I get to hear a voice that sounds more like the one inside me — as opposed to the voices of most of the working women around me. As a teacher in an affluent, suburban school district, the accepted perception is that we’re supposed to always love our jobs, always be creative, always find time for everything, AND have squeaky, shiny, happy, happy family lives. Unfortunately, “always” is a pretty unforgiving word. When I am honest about the things that fall through the cracks, which is pretty often, I feel a bit “freaky”, like I don’t fit in. It’s a surreal experience, to be sure. Am I happy? Absolutely! I love my life! Do I feel guilty? Well, sometimes, but more about the parenting decisions I make than about the fact that I work. Frankly, I think I’m a better mom as a working mom and I’m proud that I’m showing my son that girls and boys can do whatever they want to do, but not everything. Making choices is part of life. Do you want to stop whining or go to your room? Work or be a Kindergarten room mom? It’s all the same.

  31. Congrats on your award Liz! You are right…no mom does it all. Whether staying at home, working at home or working outside of the home, motherhood is a series of trade-offs.
    In any event, I’m SO happy that your precious little ones were there to cheer their fabulous mama on!

  32. Amen 1,000 times.

    But..there’s one part I want to comment on:

    “We trade doctors appointments for the day of the big meeting. We give up the excellent projects because it falls the same time as the family vacation.”

    What’s really infuriating is that a lot of times, the “successful” moms are the ones who do the opposite – miss the doc appt for the big meeting; rearrange a family vacation to take on an excellent project….those are the women that succeed in this society. Sometimes we’re not competing with the childless colleague; sometimes we’re competing with each other, and the mother that sacrifices more than the other moms for her job gets the proverbial blue ribbon.

    And then? They’ve now set the bar for what’s expected. That’s the level of dedication the rest of us are held to. And if we say we can’t go to that client dinner because of a hip hop recital, the weird look doesn’t come from a man or a childless co-worker. It comes from the other mom who is giving up time with her family without complaint.

    I guess what I’m saying is, I agree with you and I love that you put your children first, but a lot of moms don’t. And they’re the ones winning the majority of the awards and accolades. At least, that’s what I see when I look around from my limited view of corporate America.

    1. I think I was unclear because you’re right Liz. I have given up the doctors appointments because I had to go to the meeting.
      But I have also given up the great project because I wanted a family vacation.

      It works both ways. My children always come first–but that doesn’t meant that I am there for them every minute of the day. A large part of them coming first is me earning a living to support my family.

  33. I want an award !! That would be so cool. Good for you. Except I think my award would be for “Top 10 mom’s who never completely finish anything they start, but still manage to feed their children on a mostly regular basis” Boy that would have to be a big award, and the cost of the engraving, might be prohibitive.

    Guess I’ll have to live vicariously through other mom’s. Excellent job !!

  34. i’m a work-outside-the-home mom. my mom was a single work-outside-the-home mom. while i have the utmost respect and admiration for moms who work in the home (also known as SAHMs…who work their butts off), i never assumed or thought that i wouldn’t be working outside the home when i had kids. maybe it was the way i was raised and the role models i had. but the wonderful thing about being raised by my mom, was seeing so many of those sacrifices, and understanding that my mom loved me, and my mom couldn’t do everything at once. i remember spending some holidays overnight at my dad’s house, while my mom worked 24 hr shifts at the hospital to get the overtime (yay, funding our summer vacation!). or waking up to a babysitter who got me ready and off to school because my mom was going back to school to improve her career and had to get up at 5am and drive an hour away. but we had family dinners every night, and she made (almost) every recital and concert. it’s a struggle, but it can be a wonderful struggle.

    1. I love this comment, particularly the last line, because yes- something can be hard but still 100% worth it.

      I also like your recollections from your own childhood. I think that kids understand the trade offs and why they have to happen better than the adults sometimes.

  35. Thank you for the encouragement.

    After having my son (Jan 2011), I took a temporary lateral move that limited my immediate growth potential. The number one reason for this move for me was the schedule – no more long nights and weekend work.

    And for the past year, I have received two responses from colleagues:
    1. If you don’t want to work so hard, why don’t you quit your job and just spend less. (because it is so easy to pay the bills on a single income)
    2. Do you lack ambition? Is that why you took a dead end job?

    I want to scream in response. NO!!! I did what kept me in the working world and also gave me consistency while I got used to this thing called parenting. I work to pay off my student loans, save for a house, and make sure that my son isn’t paying off his student loans well into his 30s. And when the right job/promotion comes along, I will apply for it.

    The worst is the response from friends and family:

    1. Well, your husband is sucessful, surely he can support you. (No one realized that I am the bread winner in our family)
    2. Why are you are choosing your career over your family.

    And now I am ranting. Sorry. The point of this comment is to thank you. THANK YOU!

    1. Women are sometimes expected, and programmed, to be perfect, do it all, even after having kids. Especially if we were career women beforehand, we should continue to do so and climb the corporate ladder or risk “lacking ambition”. Perhaps with the economy so poor, people focus more on economic necessities such as working, but having the time to raise a child and take care of yourself is equally important. There is something admirable in working a job that might not be what you want or enjoy, but that level of sacrifice for your family calls into play a considerable amount of courage and strength.

      I admire your choices and decisions, because in the end, you were true to yourself and what YOU felt was right. Not everyone, including myself, is always able to do that!


  36. Fully agree and congratulations to you. I don’t want to insult anyone, but you are too polite to call a spade a spade. I was at that luncheon and even posted it and a picture of you on my Facebook account. Most of the twenty people who were honored gave acceptance speeches and spoke way too long (one even spoke for about eight minutes) and way too seriously. Your response was funny and true.

    There was an opportunity missed. What each of the honorees achieved is amazing. You are all amazing women. But the way the conversation was steered by the moderator, it was like there was no sacrifice and your whole working careers were rosy. Consequently, for those of us in attendance, it was a very long luncheon.

    You spoke the truth, Liz. As always. I wish more of the honorees had done so.

  37. Liz, as someone who used to be a doesn’t-have-it-all working mom and now is a has-even-less-of-it part-time writing-from-home mom, I love this post. Even in my time as a “superstar” (while it lasted) at a high-powered business job, I could have been saying all those things, “thank you my to perfect family for being so perfect!” but it wouldn’t have been true. I quit when I started seeing how many sacrifices I was making and how (for my particular kids in my particular situation) it couldn’t, ever, work with me being a superstar in another arena. These particular kids demanded I only be a superstar in their presence, for a while.

    I have to admit, having sat back for the past few years simply observing as other women (like you, who I admire *10) created big bad beautiful careers around me, I always see the things they’re leaving out. And that’s why I have to call skepticism for you, nicoleandmaggie. I know nothing of your life, at all, but for your comment so this is not personal. But I do not believe there is such a thing as a person with the ideal life and the rewarding career, who is also a mother, who is giving up nothing. I too go through long periods where I have no personal time, and don’t really miss it (in fact, when I’m away from my children for more than a few hours, as happens about three times a year — and I dearly dearly love these times! — I am torn between embracing the experience and missing my boys desperately), and have not had a manicure nor a professional haircut in so long I don’t know how it works any more. but: I do see every day the things I do not have, and sometimes those are terribly missed (oh how I miss business lunches out! with pinstriped suits and big napkins that take up all your lap! they’re so lovely) and sometimes they are just observed. we all make sacrifices; none of us have it all.

    here’s to trophies for everyone, but most of all, trophies for honesty. xo.

  38. MY daughter, my dearest: May your daughters walk in your shoes, stand with passion for what they value, and know that you will be present to celebrate every victory with them.

  39. Liz,

    Congratulations on this amazing award! I love your post. It really hit home. We try to do it all as moms, wives, and business women but you are right, all done well is just a pipe dream. The reality is something always has to give. It helps to know that we are not alone though and that it is OK to let some things go and fall through the cracks. At the end of that day, if my children are happy and healthy and know that they are loved than maybe I have done it all. A clean house doesn’t prove anything.

  40. So glad you call ’em like you see ’em. I’ve gone from the full-time 90-hour-a-week working guy (before kids) to an almost-40-hour-a-week dad, and I have to defend my choice constantly. But I could make More! Money! for my Family! and better Provide! for Them!

    I love that you point out that working women CAN’T have it all. None of us can. But hopefully we’ve made choices we can live with, and then we live with them.

    Congrats on the award, BTW! Enjoy the spotlight!

  41. congratulations!

    you know, i just had a conversation the other night with someone about this. i was out for drinks with a dear friend who is the admin for my previous company. we were talking about a couple who are both friends of ours and both work for the same company.

    they work slightly offset hours – he’s on 7 – 4 and she’s on 8 – 5 – to minimize the time their 2 yo daughter spends in daycare. he is a manager. there is a weekly meeting that goes until 4:30, and my friend does not stay until the end. he has it arranged so he goes first, and then he leaves at 4. it surprised me that my friend, with children (i am child-free), felt that since it is an important meeting, he should be okay with his daughter spending that extra half hour in daycare. she felt that he was hurting his reputation by leaving before the meeting is over. it was interesting to me that someone with kids was less sympathetic than i was to their “work life balance.”

  42. Thank you, thank you. After my conversation this past week with a co-worker about how I need to come back to full-time work if I want to get promoted, you are right that as moms, we make sacrifices, one way or another. I am happy to do it because I want to stay home with my kids part-time, but it is a sacrifice, and it’s just not possible to do it all.

  43. Liz,
    A major Mazel (yeah I am feeling that way) on the honor, the acknowledgment and the lasting memory of your family cheering you on – all are well-deserved. As for telling the truth – keep telling yours. I consider it our duty to “be there” sharing the good as well as the bad – and certainly being frank and candid about the reality of what we experience for those who are joining us on this complicated personal journey. And again, kudos to you friend you juggle as good as I’ve seen and so glad others see it as well!

  44. Congrats! You’re totally right – the truth is there’s no way one person can “do it all”… letting go of that dream can be tough though.

  45. I’m not a mom, I wanted to be but it wasn’t in the cards for me. A day doesn’t go by when I don’t acknowledge how taxing the life of a woman with kids is; especially that of a single mom. Society should be more supportive, how ironic that the movie 9-5 came out how may decades ago? And yet here you are again dealing with people who rank prioritize a meeting that will mean nothing decades from now, yet your children are our future.


  46. The problem is that the workplace has not changed as much as the workforce has. Our current workplace is still operating under the paradigm that each worker has a FT home/domestic-life manager and so is unburdened with those responsibilities, whether they are recitals, handling finances, doctor appts or waiting for a plumber.

    Things are changing but there is a lot of catching up to do.

    We all benefit from a richer home life. Corporations also benefit from having a next generation of well-educated, well-adjusted workforce, so it is in their best interest to support the people raising the next generation. Corporations need to realize they are part of the village, too.

    As are the childless. Yeah, it sucks to have to cover for someone else, but if we stopped having children, who is going to pay for our Social Security? Who are going to be our doctors, bus drivers, plumbers?

    Parents take on the lions share of sacrifice – especially financial – in order to raise the next generation, from which everyone else benefits. That reality needs to be incorporated in the new workplace. Look at all the problems Europe is having due to their low birth rate.

  47. Thank you for seizing the opportunity to tell it like it is! My personal-pet peeve-platitude for working moms is, “Sure you can have it all, you just can’t have it ALL AT ONCE.” Which sounds reasonable on the surface, unless you are in a profession (like I am) where having a child is in almost all cases a career-killer from which you are never allowed to “come back.”

  48. It is such an honor to read this and more of an honor to think to myself, I know her! You are so honest and it is so refreshing. Everyone one of those women honored must have felt the same way as you but failed to tell the truth. Good for you, and good for you for being so real and genuine.

  49. I’m a stay at home mother, regular exerciser and part-time blogger and with only that much on my plate I find myself making trade-offs and feeling a little guilt.

    Congrats on the award. Congrats on loving your family more. Congrats for having the guts to be real.

  50. I struggled with the tradeoffs almost constantly the second and third year I was a mom. That first year I tried to do everything so I was too busy failing to recognize anything else. I’m glad you told the truth because both WOHM and SAHM and every variation in between sacrifices and could never do it all. If not for the moms who looked me in the eye and said what motherhood and life was really like, I would’ve gone crazy.

  51. What wise words. This really got me:
    “We trade doctors appointments for the day of the big meeting. We give up the excellent projects because it falls the same time as the family vacation. Successful working women do not get there without sacrifice. Some of us may do a lot. And some may make it look easy. But no one does it all. And that’s maybe not what we should be aiming for anyway.”
    Nice to be reminded that all of us make those trade-offs…and something to think about when I’m kicking myself for sleeping in on the weekend instead of keeping a pristine house (e.g. “*other* moms would thrive on less than 6 hours of sleep, Katrina.”)

  52. Liz,
    I’ve read your blog for a while but this is the first time I’ve commented. I love what you write and the subjects you tackle. This post in particular resonated with me. I went to an all-girls high school and regularly read our alumnae magazine which is published twice a year. In it they chronicle grads who have gone on to have successful careers and families and who seemingly “have it all”. Never once in those articles is it mentioned trade-offs and sacrifices that are made along the way. I found myself not able to identify with these women and at times I felt like a failure because I didn’t have it all – I missed school plays, got letters about missed immunizations and my kids were always one of the last to be picked up at daycare. I wrote to the school and was told that the type of women they portray in the magazine is the type of grad they want the current and prospective students to aspire to. A load of bunk if you ask me.
    So, thank you for this post. It’s refreshing to hear a successful woman stand up and tell the truth about trade offs and sacrifices. Makes me feel like it’s okay to be human after all.
    PS – that is a very cool visual of your girls cheering you on. Congrats on your award!

    1. Thanks so much for the comment Sarah. (Welcome!)

      I understand your school’s perspective: of course we want to portray the rock star grads. Or the role models. But I also understand how it makes others feel like they’re not measuring up. That’s why I write about this stuff. I’m so honored to accept awards or be profiled in magazines. But if I don’t come out and admit yeah I got here…but it’s been HARD!, then who will?

      Maybe the women in the alumni magazine can come here and share their full stories? 😉

  53. Most adult decisions require trade-offs, and most are made with a clear head. I mean, a person becomes a teacher knowing she won’t get paid much but she’ll have her summers off; a person becomes a stockbroker knowing the financial up-side is great but the job also involves great stress. I moved to a small town knowing I’d have limited “cultural opportunities” but I’d get to ski every weekend.

    We only really analyze the trade-offs we make when we’re about to make them … or when they no longer seem worthwhile.

    So my question is: why do you think working mothers need to discuss — in a public forum — when they’re not contemplating change — the trade-offs they’ve made? What would it achieve?

    (I can think of a couple answers to this but I’d like to hear what you think.)

    1. In this particular forum, we had the eyes and ears of the very industries we work for, so I guess I feel like we missed an opportunity (as I said in the headline). It’s not that I wanted it to turn into a complaint session. Not in the least! I just wanted…more inspiration? More thought starters? Here are some questions I’d loved the honorees to have been asked besides “what do you hope your kids learn from you” …

      -What can the industry do better to help working parents?
      -How has advertising and marketing improved over the past decade for working parents?
      -Do you think that advertising is doing a good job at talking to today’s working mother?
      -How has becoming a mother yourself changed your impression of the industry?
      -There are few working mothers at the top echelons of advertising (marketing is different) – why do you think that is?

      I think these kinds of questions would have lead to better conversations than “how do you spend me time?”

      I also should say I was honored by AWNY last year so I might be comparing this experience to that one, which was just unbelievable. Despite the very impressive accomplishments and titles of the women at that particular ceremony, the conversations were funny and honest and authentic and inspiring…perhaps in part because Lee Woodruff was moderating and she asked thought-provoking questions.

      Our challenges can inspire the young women who come after us. Our honesty can help make things better industry-wide. Again…did we miss an opportunity?

  54. Congratulations Liz! I’ve been both a work in an office Mom and a work at home Mom, and neither one is easy. I’m glad you called out that Working Mother headline, because who ever said that anyone HAS to “do it all”? All we can do is our best, right? My Mom kept our house spotless but rarely gave us hugs and only told me she loved me once. I hug my kids and tell them I love them every day, but my house is a mess. And that’s just one example. I’m not perfect nor do I want to be!

    I’m so glad the girls were there to see you get the award, because I know how hard you work in your job. And I know that they love their Mama!

  55. Standing ovation for you!

    I’m cool over here with my sitting ovation (love that.) Seriously. We make choices, we go with them, we do our best, and we ALL lose when we play the comparison game.

    I admire and respect you for the work you do.

  56. I gave up my job to find something less stressful and with better hrs so i could be around more for my wife and daughter.

    my wife does not make a lot of money but she really loves her job and if i was not able to pick my little girl up after daycare she would have had to leave her job, because they are not very parent friendly.

    they work shifts from 8am to 4pm or 12pm to 8pm and parents are not given the day shifts they change on a daily basis

  57. Amen. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been told that I use my kids as an excuse around work. Really? Because when the kid is sent home from school with a fever, it doesn’t seem like an excuse.

  58. Congratulations, again, on the award.

    And also, thank you for writing this. I’m so glad I didn’t read this yesterday because it would have induced some serious bawling at work. Thanks for being so honest about how hard it is to be a mother without being whiny. Thank you.

  59. Thank you for being so brutally honest. I agree we don’t do it all, it would be impossible. Sometimes I miss those days of travel and deadlines, but I miss more the times I missed with when my children were growing up. It goes so fast and before you know it they are having children of their own.

  60. Nice post. I’ve always thought it would get easier being a working mom and raising kids the longer I did it and as I got the hang of it. Turns out you never really get the hang of it–everything is always changing. Telling the truth and supporting each other makes us all realize that even though we can’t have it all, we can have a lot of good stuff. Those little smiles are the best rewards.

  61. Good for you! Both on the honor and the honesty.

    I attended this luncheon last year, and four weeks later, I quit my Big Advertising Job. I was already on that path, but honestly, the awards ceremony didn’t help. All that flashed back when I read about your nomination. Am both comforted and sorry that you had the same impression of that day.

  62. Thanks for speaking up. We absolutely don’t do it all. We SHOULDN’T have to feel like we have to accomplish every possible role a mom could have and nail each one on the head. I just wanted to say I loved reading your post, and thank you.

  63. Well done – both for the honor and the honesty.

    I attended this luncheon last year, and four weeks later I quit my Big Advertising Job. I had already been on that path, but frankly, the awards ceremony didn’t help, for all the reasons you cite. No one seemed to be struggling. No one was succeeding on a flex schedule. The focus seemed to be more on career accomplishments than family. I wasn’t inspired – it bummed me out.

    Was both disappointed and comforted to see you had a similar impression of the event this year. But how wonderful for you and your daughters! Congratulations.

    1. something is wrong with my computer – and now I have commented twice! But at least the second time around I think I answered the question I didn’t see you had asked!

  64. Great post Liz, yesterday a young friend congratulated me on “doing it all so well” my response was that we all do it well and I have been truly lucky with regard to my circumstance. I have a really close girlfriend with a 20 year old who was born with a physical handicap, I admire her each and every day. We do the best we can! I am constantly inspired by women so many pulls, parents, children, husbands and friends hard to do well by everyone but we try!

    1. Such an important point, Caryn. Whenever I feel overburdened, I always channel my oldest friend Hally, a single mother raising twins on her own…in Africa! There’s always someone who has it easier, and always someone who has it harder and the most we can hope for is that we all fall in the middle more often than not.

      Thanks so much for your comment.

  65. Congrats on the honor. All the hard work a mother does can sometimes be forgotten, but to be acknowledged is a huge reward.

    Parenting, in my opinion, is the hardest challenge of all, because of the balancing act that it entails…till the end of time. Being spread out between your child’s dance classes, gymnastic classes, making dinner, and working on top of that, where is there time to enjoy things for yourself? Enjoy tie with your husband? Or even sit and watch TV for a half hour to unwind before bed?

    The worst part of it all? Trying to balance motherhood with life, and actually being ENGAGED with what we’re doing, rather than going through the motions. Does anyone else find themselves sometimes on auto-pilot just to get everything done on time?


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