My first recollection of what an ideal professional woman should be stems from the campy television commercial for Enjoli cologne. If you had exposure to television in the 80’s, you’ll remember a pretty blonde lady singing and vamping lyrics, “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let you forget you’re a man.” At the beginning of the song, the actress was dressed in a business suit, carrying a briefcase. She quickly changed into what was intended to pass for at home casual wear as she affectionately held a sparkling new frying pan. Finally, she slinked into an evening gown as it was time to take care of her man. The commercial’s song is based on a Peggy Lee hit called I’m a Woman. (“I can rub and scrub this old house til it’s shinin like a dime, feed the baby, grease the car, and powder my face at the same time, cause I’m a woman!”)
As a young woman who grew up with this idealized image of females repeatedly flashed in my face, I thought having it all wasn’t just possible – it was easy! Later, after entering professional life, and now having a family, I realize just how damaging this image is to young women, and even men, entering the workforce. Perhaps this was the first version of reality (albeit unreal) television that entered our sacred living rooms.
If you travel for business, you will undoubtedly have felt guilt from missing your child’s field trips or classroom parties. Not to mention the more common guilt trip associated with seeing your family order takeout for the second time in four days. The first business trip I took after my children were born was a long one – ten days to Australia. My daughter didn’t speak to me for days after my return (and she was only a toddler at the time). As the children got older, I fell into the guilt trap of bringing home a gift for them from each trip. This appeased them for a while. Finally, my kids started treating my trips and absences as the norm – no big deal. Well, this didn’t sit well with me either.
Other guilt triggers include shame from having a messy house, lack of ability to transport kids to extra curricula activities, piles of dirty laundry, and let’s not forget the ability to “never let him forget he’s your man.”
Since no one, not even the blonde model in the television commercial, can do it all, let’s just own that reality right now and slam the door on any guilt that might creep into our consciousness. If there’s help to be had, take advantage of it. It’s not an admission of failure; instead, it should be an admission of success.
If you can afford help cleaning the house, by all means accept the assistance. Teach your significant other how to cook your family’s favorite meal, and how to use the freezer to stock and store meals. Enlist your children in packing their own school lunches. After all, you are teaching them self-sufficiency and allowing them to be a part of the solution.
Tell your family the truth, especially your children and daughters. It’s not easy to multi-task when each job is important. Women are working as much as their partners, but are still expected to be waiting on them after a long day – no more, not unless it’s your choice to do so.
In retrospect, perhaps it is possible to have it all – but not quite in the way you think. You can have a great career, friends, hobbies, and a great family life! Just add these two words to your vocabulary – “good enough.” Perfection will never be attained, but the result will always be good enough.
Realize that your children will remember you playing in the sprinkler with them, or curling up together to watch a movie. Utilize the time that you have and make memories. My daughter says she wants to be just like me when she grows up, so I must be doing something right. My guess is that you are too. Let’s just give up on the idea of perfection in the work/life balance. Accept the fact that we create our own combination of balance that works best for us, and who’s not to say that’s perfection in itself?
About the Author Donna Payne, CEO and founder of PayneGroup. She has sung the commercial jingle referred to in this article more than she cares to admit but has never worn the cologne that it promoted. While this article is written from the perspective of a woman (as the author is a woman), it’s applicable to anyone who has a perfectionist complex and struggles with finding balance. www.thepaynegroup.com