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You Don't Have to Carry It All
Ditch the Mom Guilt and Find a Better Way Forward
By Paula Faris
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- ebook $13.99 $17.99 CAD
- Audiobook Download (Unabridged)
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Award-winning journalist and mom-of-three Paula Faris gives insightful and practical steps for better working, momming, and living to millions of overwhelmed working moms.
In Paula Faris's most important reporting yet, You Don't Have to Carry It All reveals a game plan that will not only make being a working mom "work" but will also reveal how and why society needs to value mothers first. Weaving together groundbreaking research with inspirational wisdom, she:
- recognizes the history of working moms in America and its lasting impact today,
- shows how motherhood has scientifically improved the minds and capabilities of women,
- encourages moms to link arms, not only with each other but also with men, and
- proves why corporate America is better with moms at the helm.
How parents are treated and held and protected and supported is the greatest reflection of a nation. Because how we parent is the foundation of everything: what we value, what we stand for, who we are, and who we’re becoming.
—Amy Henderson, author and founder of TendLab
“Mom, how old are you in dog years?”
The question from my youngest child came while I was driving him to baseball practice. Landon reminds me a lot of myself… asking so many questions. But big, deep questions. Ones like, “Would you rather live without the sun or the moon?” and “Would you rather live in Earth’s gravity or zero gravity?” Questions that legit make my head hurt.
As I watched the road in front of us, I took a moment to do the math in my head, which these days is a bit fried from mothering.
“I’m approximately 330 years in dog years,” I told Landon.
And y’all… I feel every bit of it, too.
My guess is that if you’re a mom in America, you’re feeling every bit of it as well. A tad crispy, fried, or burned out.
Research done by CARRY Media shows close to 90 percent of working mamas in America are feeling some level of burnout. Then there’s the whole mommy gap, mom punishment, and the reality that moms are treated like risks and liabilities in the workforce.
In fact, as I’m writing this book, I’ve called a therapist for the first time in years, because I feel like I’m at the end of the end of the end of myself.
My dear friend Jo Saxton says that’s exactly how you describe being burned out.
You may not be burned out on a job. I actually love being an entrepreneur, hustling on my side gigs, recording podcasts in my basement…
But I’m burned out on motherhood.
I’m burned out on mom guilt.
I’m burned out on the expectations—my own and others’.
There. I said it. I am completely burned out on being a mom.
When I pumped the brakes back in 2018 at the height of my career, anchoring Good Morning America and co-hosting The View, I was burned out. I wrote about it in my memoir, Called Out. Feeling like I was never nailing it, feeling like I should have been momming when I was working and working when I was momming, and feeling every bit of the strain of society not valuing mothers in the workforce. So, I stepped into a much less prestigious position at ABC, demoting myself.
Then my circumstances at the network changed in 2020 when they chose not to re-sign me. As happened to so many mothers, the pandemic pushed me out of a job I had worked hard to achieve.
What did I do next? Like so many of you, I moved.
My family and I relocated to South Carolina, where I had a midlife crisis that involved joining a CrossFit gym, getting my concealed weapons permit, going on Prozac, and buying a Jeep Wrangler.
And guess what? I’m still burned out.
Why is it so hard to be a working mom in America?
Well, that’s one reason I decided to write this book.
To encourage you and remind me that you don’t have to carry it all.
Sure, you can. And you probably do. That bag on the cover of this book? I’ve been carrying it. You have, too. Ladies, it’s heavy. And overflowing. Let’s put it down for a moment.
What if we could ditch the mom guilt, beat burnout, and find a new way forward?
I’m down for that.
Are you? I invite you to join me on this journey.
If you’re a working mother in America, I’d bet that at some point you’ve encountered righteous frustration. We pick up responsibilities wherever we go—because we’re supposed to, right? At work, at home, in our communities. And we endeavor to carry it all—figuratively and literally.
If you’re like me, you and your family could live off the contents of your purse for a handful of days. It’s not a carry-all bag in name only. We fill our purses the same way we fill our lives—to overflow. We try to carry it all.
But eventually our shoulders grow tired. We don’t want to be seen as uncommitted, so we take on that extra project, even though it means cutting into family time.
Our arms become weak. We don’t want to be the only mom who doesn’t show up for a parent-teacher conference at school, so we contort ourselves like acrobats to fit in all the pieces of our calendar’s puzzle together. Ah, thank you #MomGuilt.
It’s impossible to be all things to all people.
When I was still working at ABC News, I came across an article in The Atlantic called “It’s Almost Impossible to Be a Mom in Television News.”1 It shared statistics that shook me. Things like once a woman becomes a mother, she is likely to earn less. If a prospective employee reveals that she is a mother in the interview process, she is less likely to be offered a job. When mothers are late for work, they’re more likely to be judged harshly.
The article noted what I and so many of my colleagues and friends had lived: Being a working mom in America is a thankless, incredibly difficult job, marked by impossible contradictions and unreachable expectations. The piece also suggested that a woman can’t have a career in news television and a family she invests in well.
To be clear, that news article didn’t shake me in a this-can’t-be-true way. I was shaken in a someone-is-finally-saying-this way.
When I told my boss that a lot of the women in the office were talking about it, he unofficially tasked me with researching what the pain points were in being a mother and working at the network. So that’s what I did. Over a dozen interviews and fourteen pages of research later, I learned that every single one of us is asked to carry it all.
THE CARRY-ALL CYCLE
The entities we work for are not the only ones asking for us to carry it all. Our culture also asks us to carry it all. And when we drop something that we’ve been carrying, we’re either weak or a failure.
Today’s all-digital-all-the-time posture has sadly normalized comparison—women compare themselves and their lives to things and people they see online. Science says that women are much more likely than men to fall into the comparison trap.2 The same study found that women are more likely to fantasize about their lives mirroring the images they see on social media. Why?
Probably because we’re desperately trying to figure out how everyone else is doing it and carrying it all while we feel like our own lives are such a dumpster fire.
It’s an assault to our self-image every time we scroll. We swipe and see a precious sleeping baby curled up in a hospital bed in the sweetest outfit that matches Mommy’s—who, by the way, posted a #KeepingItReal photo of her post-baby body while still in the hospital. She’s only got eight more pounds to go! “Breastfeeding has been an incredible journey so far,” she writes, but making sure she adds “But FED is BEST!” to remain inclusive.
Meanwhile, we’re home with mastitis for the tenth time, a bra full of wilted cabbage (been there, done that), a toddler we can’t wean, an elementary schooler with math homework we don’t understand, massaging our sore boobs while trying to decide what’s for dinner: chicken or chicken? Oh, and, by the way, our boss just scheduled a mandatory Zoom meeting for the exact time we’re supposed to do carpool tomorrow.
No wonder we feel like we’re failing. No wonder we feel like we can’t measure up. The working mom in America has no realistic measuring stick to compare ourselves to. There is no “balance,” there is no checklist, there is no way to know if we’re passing or failing. We’re just told to carry it all. So we wake up, pick up our responsibilities—the real ones and perceived ones—and trudge slowly to the finish line of bedtime, where we lie awake in order to have just a few precious moments to ourselves.
And then we wake up and do it all again.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, my real estate investor husband and I had recently bought an investment property in a small town in South Carolina where my sister was living. The idea was to use it as a vacation rental while we were in New York and to maybe stay a month or so every summer.
As I was exiting my big media job altogether, we sought refuge at the South Carolina home. We needed a breather as a family. A restart, of sorts. Factor in COVID-19 and the subsequent quarantine, an extended vacation to our lake property was a no-brainer.
We thought we’d only be in South Carolina for a few weeks, so we’d packed only a few outfit changes. I still laugh about the time I asked John to bring back some clothes for me on one of his trips back to New York, where our New York life was packed up in a few PODS. Um, he did, all right. He brought back two wool skirts, two bikinis, and a pair of leather pants. It was June and approximately 5,987 degrees in the South. When I asked him about what he chose, he replied, “You weren’t specific.”
Apparently, our ideas of essentials diverge. And packing up a family of five by himself was not on John’s bucket list. Thank God for Walmart and Target, the sources of my entire wardrobe for 2020.
To be honest, moving to South Carolina was a pretty difficult decision. I was truly struggling with leaving my full-time career in journalism. I’m not the type to run away from my problems, but uprooting our entire family was really the only choice. Without my income, a New York City lifestyle was out of the question.
You know the saying, “You can take the girl out of the newsroom, but you can’t take the newsroom out of the girl?” No? Well, I am the embodiment of that truism. After we accepted the fact that we moved from a city of eight million to a town of just under three thousand, everyone around me resumed life-as-normal. Everyone but me.
John continued working remotely at his New York City–based commercial real estate firm. My oldest son, JJ; daughter, Caroline; and youngest son, Landon (Land-o) didn’t skip a beat when the school year started back in person that fall of 2020. They quickly connected to friends through sports and class—for which I am incredibly grateful.
But I had an itch. I’m a challenger and a disrupter by nature. When I learned of the experiences of the millions of women who lost their jobs at the beginning of the pandemic, I knew I had to hear their stories.
And do you want to know what I uncovered? A similar narrative was echoed in the lives of every working mother I talked to—maybe not down to the minutiae, but in the way being a working mom makes us feel. We’re all experiencing the same feelings of desperate burnout, the barbaric conflict of mom guilt, and bone-weary exhaustion of carrying it all. We’re all feeling like we’re failing everywhere—at work and at home. And to add insult to injury, most of us are underpaid while we’re doing it.
God forbid we ever leave the workforce to focus on our family. Good luck explaining that eight-year resume gap to your next potential boss. According to a recent study, women who take time to stay home with children are often perceived as less capable and are less likely to be hired or promoted, while fathers are perceived as more capable.3 (Don’t get me started.)
Then there are the moms who are trying to work and parent. They pay exorbitant childcare fees to drop off and pick up their kids while it’s still dark outside—burning the candle on both ends while spending up to 50 percent of their paycheck in the process.4 Because—this just in—the cost of childcare has risen 70 percent since 1960, while wages have barely grown to assuage the sting.5
It is now more expensive to put your kid in daycare for a year than it is to pay in-state college tuition. Let that sink in.
Between 1962 and 2000, women’s labor force participation increased from 37 percent to 61 percent, leading to an estimated $2 trillion in economic gains.6 But women’s workforce participation began to decline between 2000 and 2016, dipping from 60.7 percent to 57.2 percent. At least one study suggests that the rising cost of childcare has driven many women back to being stay-at-home moms—even when they’d rather be working outside the home.7
Cue the pandemic.
Millions of workers were forced from jobs in 2020 as businesses around the world closed their doors during the public health crisis. Women account for approximately 2 million of those lost jobs. But as the world reopened from February 2021 to January 2022, men regained the jobs they had lost due to COVID-19.8 That was not the case for women, though. Here’s the kicker: Women were still down by 1.6 million jobs during that same time period. Quick math: Barely 25 percent of women who lost their jobs went back to work.9
Because we’re out-earned by our male counterparts by around 18 percent10 (that number is even more egregious if you compare what mothers make compared to fathers; it’s closer to 30 percent less), it just “makes sense” that we are the ones to stay home and care for the children. Right?
THE HAPPY GAP
The more mothers I spoke with, the more research I did, the more experts I spoke with, and the more books I read, the more I realized that we have an alarming problem in our country. And, yes, it is an American problem. Mom guilt doesn’t really exist elsewhere to the extent it does here in the US. In fact, the US has the most disparate “happy gap” between parents and non-parents.11
When I read this statistic, I knew I had to know more. I reached out to researcher Jennifer Glass, a sociology professor at the University of Texas and the executive director of the Council on Contemporary Families. I asked her what a “happy gap” even meant. Here’s what she said: “I was doing a bit of innovative research for the American Journal of Sociology back in 2016. I learned that the happy gap between non-parents and parents is the largest in the United States. We stand out because of this gap—it’s tiny in other countries. In America, parents report being 12 percent less happy than non-parents.”12
Wow. Isn’t that sad?
According to Glass, our happy gap is closely associated with the stress and strain of raising kids in our country. Our social policies are simply not geared toward supporting parents and working families. For example, collective group care is well supported in Europe. They raise children as a collective responsibility, a community. Early childhood systems are integrated into education so that the cognitive development of children isn’t solely left up to their parents. This early childhood development starts as early as two years old in France and three years old in the United Kingdom, and it’s seen as schooling. Over half of the stay-at-home moms in those countries send their kids to preschool.
When Glass first saw this gap, it proved everything she’d been researching. It was a smoking gun. Prior to Glass’s research, the idea that parenting really doesn’t make us happier people hadn’t really been discussed—at least not publicly.
The “happy gap” is an American phenomenon. “I had no idea that the happiness gap didn’t really exist elsewhere,” Glass explained to me. “The truth is, we do a lousy job of supporting families and parents in our country. In other countries, there is a community-based responsibility to raise children. They are their ‘brother’s keeper.’ That is not at all how American society views child-rearing.”
You don’t say? I’m sure we all could have come to the same conclusion. But isn’t it refreshing to have a PhD back us up? It’s not just a feeling. It’s a fact.
BEING A WORKING MOM IN AMERICA IS HARDER THAN IT’S EVER BEEN
The tension you’re feeling as you’re reading these statistics is the same fuel that led me to create CARRY Media, which exists to celebrate, champion, and advocate for the working mom through disruptive storytelling, content, and resources. We think that being a working mom should work, and we aim to beat the drum, blaze the trails, and tell the story of what it’s like to be a working mom in America so we can enact change.
Now, we’re not out to burn bras or bridges. This book isn’t an anti-male manifesto. Not at all. In fact, we need men on our journey to equitable, fair dynamics at home and in the workplace. We need men on our team. Why? Because we need men in this fight. I’m a proud #boymom of two sons that I love with my whole heart.
This is not a case against men. This is a case for moms on their workplace journey.
This also isn’t a commentary on traditional gender roles. While we will trace how gender roles have changed and shifted over the history of our country, we will only do so to help further our understanding of how women went from being medieval beer brewers who worked shoulder to shoulder with their husbands to the burned-out, exhausted, carry-it-all martyrs of working motherhood we are today.
I’ll never forget when I returned to work after having Caroline, my first baby. I had been shopping just days before to find camera-appropriate outfits to put on my strange new body. If you’ve carried a child before, you know what body I’m talking about. The one that feels tiny after months of growing a human being, but then you put on your pre-pregnancy jeans and realize that you still have a long, long way to go before that button is reaching its hole.
In searching for my postpartum wardrobe (and I mean searching, because the good stores are few and far between), I was quickly annoyed by the “bounce-back shapewear” messages I kept encountering. They felt demeaning. They felt demanding. The only things I had bouncing back were the huge, milk-filled boobs that had taken over the top half of my body. Or maybe the extra ten pounds I was carrying in my face and neck. Or could it have been the saddlebags that cropped up on my thighs out of nowhere? I was bouncing, all right. I just don’t think it was in the way the ads were screaming I should be.
I felt like an alien inside my own skin.
So, there I was, weepy over leaving my baby, boobs swollen and aching to be pumped, shoved into a pair of pants that were squeezing me like a sausage casing. I walked into the newsroom and my male coworker looked up.
“Hey, Paula,” he said cheerily. “How was your vacation?”
Before you ask, no, he wasn’t being sarcastic.
I’ve covered my fair share of news stories where women snap and have unthinkable, violent reactions that don’t make sense after the fact. In that moment, with his well-rested eyes, clothes with zero signs of crusty spit-up, and cup of hot coffee, I almost became one of those women.
“My… vacation?” I repeated. Surely he was joking.
He didn’t pick up on my incredulity. “Six weeks without a newsroom wake-up call? That sounds like a vacation to me!”
I wanted to tell him about the “I’m hungry” wake-up calls. The “I want to use you as a human pacifier” wake-up calls. The “I’m wet or dirty or both” wake-up calls. The “I enjoy the sound of my own screams” wake-up calls my luxurious “vacation” had afforded me. Or how about my own wake-up calls? The “is that more discharge or am I that sweaty” wake-up calls. The “my boobs are about to explode” wake-up calls. Or every new mother’s favorite, the “let’s imagine every horrible possibility about my child” wake-up calls.
So I said, “My nipples are on fire from nursing, I haven’t slept for more than four consecutive hours in two months, and my vagina is still healing from the severe tearing I had during giving birth. My vacation was awesome. Thanks for asking.”
He felt horrible. Truly, he was at a loss for words. It was like he had no idea what actually happens when a human exits a woman’s body. Maybe he didn’t. I feel that a bit of that responsibility lies on us—women.
We go through the arduous and less than lovely process of labor and delivery, and the next photo you see is of us in a hospital bed, tucked beneath crisp white sheets with coiffed hair, mascara, and a baby burrito swaddled in our arms.
Look, I get that we don’t want to post photos of our two-in-the-morning feedings, bleary-eyed and barely human as the nurses and techs barge in and out of the dark room repeatedly the very moment our eyes get heavy enough to close and bless us with the respite of a few seconds of sleep. We don’t want to show the world what’s tucked beneath the seventeen scratchy blankets in our photos—and that’s okay. The mesh underwear, soggy pads, and healing incisions don’t make for palatable social media content.
But what if we talked about it more? And not just whispered behind curved hands at the nail salon. What if we talked about what it’s like to bring a child into this world openly and publicly? I don’t know about you, but I was unpleasantly surprised when I returned home from the hospital with Caroline. No baby book or girlfriend warned me of the weeks of bleeding I’d experience. Or the way my uterus contracting would bring actual tears of acute pain to my eyes. Or about that first post-delivery poop.
I left my coworker slack-jawed and speechless, and I went to my cubicle. I sat in the chair and cried my tired eyes out. Maybe it wasn’t the first time I’d been unguarded when a man made a ridiculous statement about being a working woman, but it was the first time I could remember feeling defeated by it.
Every time I’ve avoided gently (or not so gently) educating a male coworker just to keep the peace or fit in, or simply because I was too tired in the moment, I’ve failed myself. And I’ve failed you too.
A Rock Star Employee
Women, we must own our stories. We must own our worth and value. We’re not martyrs. We’re not weak. We’re not less than. We’re sort of superhumans. Seriously—we grow people. We perpetuate the human race. Instead of isolating ourselves in this fight, let’s invite men into the conversation by having rational, honest, and two-sided conversations about ourselves, our thoughts, and our journeys. They don’t know what they don’t know. And part of that is on us.
That’s why I’ve made it my ultimate goal to remind the American workforce that moms not only deserve a seat at the table, but that businesses need moms to have a seat at the table. We bring an intrinsic, immeasurable value.
The mission for CARRY Media is simple:
• To make sure a mom’s voice is valued in the workforce and motherhood is celebrated, instead of scrutinized.
• To make sure that being a mom isn’t viewed by the workforce as a risk, liability, or weakness.
• To make sure moms have a choice whether or not we want to work.
I saw a quote the other day: “If you want to get shit done, hire a woman. If you want to get everything done, hire a mother.” Isn’t that the truth? Is there a more skilled multitasker than a working mom?
We are the most resourceful, most reliable, most caring candidates a company could hire. Which raises the obvious question:
Why aren’t they?
Why doesn’t corporate America value working mothers? In fact, why aren’t they actively recruiting working moms to fortify their companies? Amy Henderson is the CEO of TendLab, a business she built to transform our culture’s relationship to parenthood. In her research to understand the complexities of modern parenthood, Amy found that “80% of all parents… reported developing an enhanced capacity in many core areas: emotional intelligence, courage, purpose, efficiency, productivity, and the ability to collaborate.”13
Sounds like a rock star employee to me. That’s a person I want on my team. That’s a person I need on my team.
So why aren’t companies chasing us down and offering top dollar, flexibility, and anything else we need to work for them? It’s a statistical fact that companies with more women executives are more likely to outperform those with fewer senior women.14 So what’s the deal?
And if American companies do value working mothers, why is it next to impossible to be a working mom and not feel like you’re failing on all fronts? Why is it so difficult to strike the right balance? To live out our passions as both mothers and workers? Why is being a working mom in America so dang hard?
I have had the pleasure of interviewing many mothers in a myriad of professional fields. From the president and owner of In-N-Out Burger, Lynsi Snyder, to the mom sitting next to me at the travel volleyball tournament with a side hustle. One delightful conversation I had was interviewing my friend Jenna Bush Hager on my Faith & Calling podcast, which I launched out of a closet in my South Carolina home during the pandemic. She shared a story with me that I think is a microcosm of the working mom experience in America. She said that when she was pregnant with her third baby, she was in the middle of a promotion at NBC News. Kathie Lee Gifford was stepping away from Kathie Lee and Hoda, and Jenna was being considered as her replacement.
- On Sale
- Mar 7, 2023
- Page Count
- 256 pages
- Worthy Books