There's No Such Thing as the Perfect Mother, Says Dr. Bonnie

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A recent article by the President of Barnard College, Debora Spar, seeks to cut women some slack by insisting it's ok not to be perfect ( Family therapist Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil says this is an important message for women to hear, especially on the heels of the idea that women may not be able to have it all (The Atlantic, July issue:

In an attempt to "have it all," women have somehow fallen prey to the notion that they also need to be perfect. An article by President of Barnard College, Debora Spar, seeks to dispel this myth ( Family therapist Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil says this type of discourse is moving society in a healthy direction, but there is still much work to be done to enable women and mothers to live the lives they want, while not feeling the pressure to be perfect.

In her practice, Dr. Bonnie explores whether this gender gap is caused by women who give up too easily, unsympathetic employers, or by nature itself and concludes that women should not be made to feel guilty about their professional aspirations and should instead seek help and support when and where they need it most.

She concurs with the Anne-Marie Slaughter, author of an earlier article in The Atlantic ( who contends that three things have to be in place in order for women to be successful in both home and work life:

  • The partner must help out at home - doing half the work, or sometimes more, in support of the working woman
  • Women should not underestimate their own abilities
  • Women should not cut back on their own ambition based on the fear that they won't be able to balance demands of both career and home

Dr. Bonnie emphasizes the work that a typical woman does both inside and outside the home: "most working women spend an additional 30 hours working 'inside' the home as well," she points out in her book Financial Infidelity. "Women who we perceive as 'having it all' usually have partners who are helping out and giving balance to this aspect of their lives." Behind every successful woman is their husband - who goes beyond the call of duty and does as much or more than she does, points out Dr. Bonnie. And she often has a supportive employer behind her as well who understands the dilemma of balancing work and life. Why wouldn't they want to support women this way? If they do, it's a win/win because everyone is able to have it all without feeling guilty.

To continue to add balance to family life, Dr. Bonnie calls on employers to be more sympathetic towards working parents, both men and women. "Flexibility in the workplace is another key when juggling career and family. Without employers that offer things like flex time, sabbaticals, part-time options, and time off for family functions, working mothers and fathers won't be able to get ahead in their career or provide stability in their home." This is where so many people end up having to choose the lesser of two evils - giving up work or family - though they'd like to have both.

Dr. Bonnie encourages working moms to make mini-connections with their family, which she talks about more in Make Up Don't Break Up. "Do things like have dinner with the kids, tuck them in at night, help with homework." She suggests that moms take time to be around for these things even if it means they have to go back to the office, or work once their kids are in bed. Creating these places for connection and communication is key to sustaining a happy home, she says. Plus, those familial bonds give a much-needed break from work which can give moms extra energy and boost creativity when they do go back to the office.

To see Dr. Bonnie talking more about making time for loved ones in your life, click here:

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