Parenting lesson I learned from the Project Management Triangle
When I became a new mom three years ago, I came across an online video in which the PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi (now ranked #11 on Forbes’ Power Women’s list) claimed “Women can’t have it all”. It was shocking to me at that time as I had always heard inspiring stories about how women nowadays can have successful career and a loving family at the same time. But as time goes by, the more experience I have as a stay-at-home mother, which is as demanding as a full time job, the more I can understand why Indra Nooyi, one of the most successful working mothers, claimed she could NOT have it all. Her message wasn’t a negative one.
In fact, the pressure of “having it all” is what caused the struggle that most of the working mothers are facing every day.
The Project Management Triangle
In project management, there is a triangle theory – All projects are carried out under constraints. Cost, Time and Quality are the three constraints that the project owner cares the most about. In a perfect world, you would like to finish a project with minimal cost, minimal time and the highest quality. However, in real world this scenario doesn’t exist. You can only pick two out of the three, which means you can’t have it all.
As parents, we all know that the process of good parenting is very similar to project management, or even a harder task to be done properly. So if we apply the project management triangle to parenting, here is what we have:
The Parenting Triangle
Basically in the Parenting Triangle, you will see four possible parenting options:
1) Little Time & Low Cost = Unhappy Children
In this scenario, the parents just don’t have time for their kids and also can’t afford (or not willing) to invest in childcare and education. According to the parenting triangle, this directly results in low quality, which is something we definitely don’t want to see in parenting. Sometimes, miracle happens and the children turn out to be great people. But in most cases, kids might end up having problems academically or socially. As parents, we try everything we can to avoid this scenario, which is one of the key reasons for stress. If both parents have to work long hours to make ends meet, they would have to ask family and friends to contribute their time to take care of the children, but at the same time try everything they can to make sure that the little time they get to spend with their children is positive and engaging.
2) Great Children & Low Cost = Less Time for Career
Every parent knows that spending quality time with your children is the most beneficial thing you can do for them. If you can’t afford expensive childcare or education, or you want to contribute your extra allowance to savings or financial investments, the best you can invest in parenting is your time. In order to form a healthy bond with your children, spending QUALITY TIME is the key. Quality time requires dedication, not just hours of sitting around watching TV or swiping the phones. It takes a lot of energy and thinking, which is as demanding as working a full time job. As everyone only has 24 hours a day, the more time you invest in parenting, the less you can spare in your career, hence the work-life balance dilemma. Many parents opt to take less demanding jobs or become a stay-at-home parent for this reason, which means they have to put their precious career on hold. The others choose to focus on their career, which leads to the third scenario:
3) Great Children & Little Time = Costly Parenthood
This scenario applies to parents who are very career oriented and spend most of their time on their career. They tend to have higher income and are willing to invest financially in top-notch childcare and education. As we all know, quality time spent with children is crucial in parenting. However, if done right, outstanding childcare or education facilities can help to achieve something similar. What’s lacked here, though, is the emotional bond that children need to build with their parents by spending quality time together. So again, this option isn’t ideal either.
4) “Have it all” = Overwhelmed by Guilt and Stress
This option doesn’t exist in project management triangle, but parents, especially women, expect themselves to make it happen and do the impossible. If this is ever your expectation, you are guaranteed to be disappointed. This is where the problem lies and this is exactly why the working parents, especially working moms, are always so stressed every day!
Why Do Moms Struggle More Than Dads?
Some may ask, if “having it all” is a myth for both parents, why do we often hear about stories of struggling working moms, not dads?
1) Maternal instincts and children’s special bond with mothers.
The PepsiCo CEO, Indra Nooyi, said in her interview that her mother told her “You might be the President of PepsiCo, but in this house, you are a mother”. This mindset might sound outdated (or even sexist), but is it really an entirely biased statement? As mothers, our maternal instincts tell us that we need to love and care for our children, and the children also need their mother’s love the most. That’s why my son loves to play with his daddy all the time, but only wants me when he got sick or got hurt. The natural bond between a mother and a child is undeniable. It doesn’t matter how successful you are at work, when you come home, you are the loving mother that your children need. This is the exact reason almost all working mother feel guilty about spending too much time and energy at work, hence the struggle!
2) Conflict between the nature of motherhood and workplace expectations.
At workplace, people are expected to stay focused, dedicated and on top of what they do. While parenthood should be shared responsibility between fathers and mothers, naturally females are designed to dedicate more in caring for their children. Mothers are the ones to carry the baby for 9 months, give birth to the child and sometimes breastfeed for as long as a year (or longer). All of these demanding responsibilities are physically and psychologically draining. In order to perform professionally at work, the mothers face greater challenges than fathers, while carrying the guilt of not being able to be there all the time for their children.
3) Social expectation for mothers.
No matter how progressive a society becomes, people always expect mothers to be the contact person for the children related activities (probably due to our superior interpersonal skills and communication skills, just saying…). When a child has an accident or gets sick at school, the mother is most likely the first person the school would call. Whenever there is a play date or an event at school, in most cases mothers ended up attending, not the fathers. Nowadays, women fight for equal rights and are very independent and driven. But in the mean time they are also expected to be on top of everything that’s related to their kids. They often strive to establish a superwomen image, meaning they are strong enough to do it all and have it all. The mindset of doing the impossible is the main reason why so many strong working moms struggle every day.
So what can we do to reduce our stress level, and gain confidence both at home and at work?
1) Embrace the fact that “We CAN NOT have it all”.
It is hard for a lot of working moms to do, but accepting the fact is the first step everyone needs to take. We are all human and we don’t have super powers. Let’s keep it real! Don’t force ourselves to do the impossible. Let go the unrealistic expectation and stop holding onto the guilt that comes with it.
Some people may say that many moms get to have a pretty decent career and still manage to spend quality time with their kids, so this is not something impossible. However, just like what’s been shown in the Parenting Triangle, this is not “having it all”. This is called “making sacrifices”.
2) Understand the inevitability of making sacrifices.
There is no way that anyone can be a perfect parent and also have a perfect career at the same time. We have to make sacrifices as we go.
If you need to prioritize your career, it means you would have to spend less time with your children. Is it ideal? No! But by working hard, you can invest more in your kids’ education. You become a role model in achieving goals, and you are happier as a person, which is also very beneficial for your children.
If you want to spend more time with your children, it means you might not achieve as much as you potentially can at work. Is it ideal? No! But your children will have healthy bond with you and gain confidence from it.
As mothers, we just need to clearly understand the priority of our lives and learn the importance of making choices, which come with sacrifices. Once the decisions are made, we should focus on the positive impacts that come with our decisions, instead of the things that we will be missing out.
3) Ask for help!
For working moms, the biggest struggle comes with major conflicts between work and life. When you need to be on an emergency business trip while your spouse is also away, or when you need to be in an important meeting soon but the school called to let you know your kid was sick, you definitely need some help to sort things out. If possible, you can ask your extended family to help and have a support system to contribute time or even funds for childcare. If no families live near, you might need to have a list of reliable babysitters on hand for emergencies. This of course shouldn’t replace parents’ responsibility, but the extra support can give you peace of mind knowing your children will be in good hands no matter what.
4) Use the “X Factor” in parenting: Attention and Love
As much as we see the similarity between parenting and project management, there is something very different between them, which is our love for the children. This can be regarded as an “X Factor” in the Parenting Triangle, to make things a little more flexible. A recent study showed that quality of time is more important than quantity of time you get to spend with your kids. It is not to say that quantity is not important. My take away from the research is that whenever you have time to spend with your children, make sure to pay attention and make them feel loved. On the other hand, also make sure to love yourself and try not to stress out about not being able to spend enough time with your children. The research showed that “mothers’ distress is related to poor outcomes for their children”, which is counterproductive to what you wanted. So it is also very important to find time for yourself and love yourself.
The working mommies are the most courageous and loving people on earth. You deserve better than the unnecessary guilt and unrealistic expectations to do it all and have it all. Love your children and love yourself. You are the best!!!