The World Has Unrealistic (And Contradictory) Expectations For Working Moms

by Whitney Casares, MD
Originally Published: 
An illustration where the mother is carrying the father, one kid holding her leg and the other is tr...
Scary Mommy and Malte Mueller/Getty

The world keeps telling me: You can have it all. You just have to do a few things.

Lean in at work. Lean in so hard you think you can’t lean in any further. Then lean in some more. Make sure your colleagues can count on you. It’s not enough to be a part of the team— make sure you have a front seat at the proverbial work table. Fight for equal pay by showing them you deserve it. Don’t let them see your weaknesses or your insecurities. You’ve got to “man up.” Take the lead. Speak up in meetings and take charge in your decision-making. Take every opportunity they give you. If you feel like you’re about to break, you’re doing it right.

This is especially important when you have a newborn. If you choose to breastfeed, you’re going to need to pump at work. Every day. Every three hours. If that seems like a lot, don’t worry, there are laws to protect this special time—I’m sure your employer will follow them to a “t” without any pushback. The time may not feel special because, instead of having a tiny infant suckling at your nipples, two giant cones attached to a suction machine will be milking you like a cow at a corporate dairy farm. Enjoy your free time while you’re pumping, though. Or, better yet, get some work done— you don’t want to fall behind your male partners.

When it comes to comes to free time, it’s so important to take full advantage of it. Every spare moment you have is a chance to get something else done, to make a check mark on your to-do list. If you’re organized and focused enough, this shouldn’t be an issue. Make sure you keep up to date on all the new apps designed specifically to make balancing your work and home life the most efficient possible. You might need to get up an hour earlier than everyone else in your family every day, including weekends, to make your hard work pay off.

Speaking of sleep, you really need it. Don’t skimp. Take care of yourself by getting to bed at a reasonable hour each night. Never mind the laundry piling up, the dishes in the sink, or the 30-minute Netflix comedy special you’ve been waiting all day to enjoy. They can wait. Sleep matters most. Unless your kid wakes up and needs you. You don’t want them to develop a separation anxiety issue. After all, you are a working mom—you need to spend as much time with your child as possible—even if it means you show up to work a little haggard.

Appearance. Super important. Sorry, you may be modern but the world will still judge you on one thing first as a woman: your looks. So, make sure you look polished at all times and you wear Spanx if you haven’t gotten back to your pre-baby body by three months postpartum. Though you really should be able to fit in all your pre-pregnancy outfits by then. If not people WILL talk. Even your friends.

Oh yeah, friends. You’re going to need them. Never mind that you’ve forgotten how to hold a conversation about anything other than baby spit up. This is the time to connect with other moms and, if you don’t do it in the next few years, everyone will already be all buddy buddy with each other and you’ll miss out. In fact, it could seriously affect your child’s networking opportunities as they look into employment options down the road.


By the way, you’d better start looking into ways to prep your toddler for college admission now. These days, it’s very competitive. You’re going to want to sign your child up for piano (or violin) lessons as soon as they become available — the younger the better! Sports are an absolute must, too. Maybe your kid will get a scholarship if he’s better than everyone else on the team. How else are you going to pay for his education? Don’t push too hard on the athletics, though. Your child could grow up to resent you and hate you if you over-stress him or if you don’t challenge him enough. There’s only a small margin for error either way.

If you can, volunteer whenever possible. Who cares that you’re working?! You have a whole hour at lunch available—that’s the perfect time to drive across town to participate in this month’s Halloween, Valentine’s, May Day or Just Because It’s Tuesday Celebration at the elementary school. This is your child we’re talking about, after all. You can never get this once-in-a-lifetime memory back again.

Memories! Pay special attention to making every Christmas morning and the Easter basket as memorable as possible. After all, Susie’s mom down the street is at home every day making milk and cookies. You (please remember or I will need to remind you again) are not. This is the least you can do for your poor kid—she’s missing out on so many other bonding moments with you. Search Pinterest for hours until you find the best handmade rainbow unicorn birthday cake recipe to serve at your sweet angel’s celebration — the one that requires buying a special pan for $59 even though you have eighty pans in your pantry. This should be easy for you. You are a woman, right? Baking should come naturally to you, as should folding underwear and interior decorating.

Which reminds me, you need to keep a spotless house. Make sure it’s perfectly organized and clean. What if someone comes over? Of course, it may take five hours to scrub from top to bottom, but what else could you possibly be spending your time on that you can’t make more of an effort in this area?

Don’t forget to spend time on yourself, though. You don’t want a major illness, do you? Better make it every year to the doctor for a Pap smear and a skin check. Also, work in exercise seven days a week, make your own farm-fresh, five-course meals, drink eight glasses of water a day, and go to therapy. Go even if it’s not covered by insurance. Some things must be put to the top of your list! Don’t go into debt over it, though. That will really mess you up.

Oh, couples care! This is critical. Get a babysitter! But go out after your kids go to sleep so you don’t steal time away from them to make it happen. They need you! You’ve been gone all day and they miss you, remember? So what if you’re too tired at 9 pm to hit the town? Your marriage depends on this! Sometimes you have to push yourself to your limits to make time for what matters. Stay sexy. Resentment is unattractive. Who cares if you’re doing way more than half of the work to make your family’s life run? That’s just the way it is. There are even studies to prove it. You can do anything for 18 short years. Suck it up.

Above all else, stay balanced and happy and content. After all, this is the life you always dreamed of. You’re just going to need to work a little harder to make it a reality.

What I Say Back

If having it all means missing out on what matters, I’m out. If leaning in means sacrificing joy and contentment, I quit. If working so hard to achieve perfect balance means I never make it to my top priorities, I just can’t abide. I’m tired of performing.

Mama, I’m not willing to lose myself, my authentic relationships with my children, my love for my partner or my sanity for some version of happiness someone else defines…and neither should you.

This article was originally published on