working mom life work balance have it all
Point of View, Tips, Uncategorized

Why Working Moms Struggle with Work-Life Balance?

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.   click to tweet


Project Management Triangle wedference


 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:

infographic parenting triangle working mom have it all work life balance


The Parenting Triangle


Basically in the Parenting Triangle, you will see four possible parenting options:

1) Little Time & Low Cost = Unhappy Children

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

working mom 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

working mom expensive education

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!!!

working mom have it all

BBC interview interrupted by kids open letter to perfect parents
Inspiration, Point of View

An Open Letter to the “Perfect Parents”

My thoughts after the interrupted BBC interview went viral

Last Friday, I was browsing through Facebook on my phone as usual. Suddenly this funny video popped up in my feed and cracked me up. A professor was doing a live interview on BBC about the impeachment of the Korean president. Everything seemed like business as usual, until this little girl opened the door, approaching the professor in high spirit and dancing. The professor tried to stay professional while using his left hand to push the girl back from the webcam. While I thought things couldn’t get any funnier, her little brother quickly followed her sister and “rolled into” the room, followed by their mother, grabbing the kids, got them out of the room, and finally, the famous “reach” for the door. As a mother who always tried to work from home while taking care of my two year old, I loved how this video was unscripted, hilarious and just so real!! This is our life and it feels good to know that a highly respected professor, who gets to talk about serious political issues on BBC, also share the same struggle as us while trying to work from home. However, the fun kind of stopped as I stroll down to read the comments.

perfect parents social media comments
Selected social media comments on the viral video

These are only a few of the comments I found on different social media websites. Sadly, this was actually not surprising to me. Every time there was a parenting incident reported on the news, those “perfect parents” would jump in and quickly judging the parents, often started with phrases like “I would never…” or “If I were him/her…”. These parents (or parents wanna be) are just so confident that they would’ve handled the same situation perfectly, or at least better than the parents they see on the news. I have to say that before I was a mother, I had been one of them, the “perfect parents”. I might not have actually said or written anything, but I definitely had the same judgmental thoughts. I thought I was so rational and cautious that I would treat and educate my kid in the most perfect way. But little did I know what it takes to be a good mother. Especially, parenting a spirited child isn’t as easy as step 1, 2, 3. This eye-opening experience changed how I see the world, so I decided to address this issue in an open letter for the “perfect parents” to understand why for most of us things aren’t perfect in the parenting world, and the least you can do is to judge.

Dear “Perfect Parents”,

I know that you are always observant, rational and critical. You are always so together that nothing has slipped through on your watch. You may have raised a couple kids and they always listen to you and behave like you wanted them to be. You think you know everything about parenting or at least enough for you to be a good parent. And most importantly, you care about other kids. You care so much that (A) You have to offer advice to other parents, so that they could do a better job; or (B) You are afraid that something horrible would happen to your kids, so you have to say the “right thing” out loud to remind yourself and feel better. I know, I’ve been there and I was one of you. But everything changed after I became a mother of a strong willed child. I would never judge another parent just because something happened to a kid, or just because I witnessed a kid’s seem-to-be-troubled behavior, without trying to understand the background stories first. Here are my reasons:

1) Maybe you saw the worst side of the story.    click to tweet

work from home on snow day

So you saw this professor handling the live TV emergency on BBC improperly and immediately jumped into conclusion that he was not a capable or loving daddy. “He should’ve locked the door” someone commented. Yes he should’ve. But little did you know that he had been doing live TV interviews for 6 years and this was the only time he forgot to lock the door.  “He should’ve just picked the girl up and acknowledge the cute family” someone else said. Yes he could’ve. However he was just a professor who never got trained properly to handle emergencies on live TV. At that moment all he thought about was to finish his job as professionally as he could. If you got a chance to watch the “sequel” of the interrupted BBC interview, you would see a loving pair of parents trying to stay sane during an interview while two young cranky kids crawling around them. This is life. This is us! Toddlers are unpredictable, especially the spirited ones. When you see an incident happening, try to remember that it could just be a bad day or one single isolated incident. Don’t you agree that it is too harsh to judge another fellow parent simply base on one thing they did?  

2) Because you never know if you can do better.   click to tweet

doing something important with baby

We all know that cookie-cutter parenting doesn’t work, because our kids are all different. Some are sweet and laid back, and others are stubborn and strong willed. Some are chatterboxes and others are quiet observers. Some parents may think that they have raised “good kids”, so they must have done a better job, hence they get to judge others who didn’t do the “right thing”. But this isn’t necessarily true. Maybe you are just lucky that you were blessed with kids who were naturally easy going and more understanding than others. Or, on the contrary, in the worst case scenario, maybe the kids only “behaved” because they were afraid to speak up against their parents, or they don’t even care to communicate, due to overly strict parenting. Of course, I am not speaking against parents who did great jobs parenting their children. I am working very hard myself to be one of them and I strongly believe that good parenting can directly affect a child’s personality, mental health, intelligent achievement and happiness in life. I am simply saying that every family has a unique story, so nobody is entitled to judge others simply because they think they did a better job or that they know better. Because you just never know!

3) Parenting is a 24/7 job and parents are only human.    click to tweet

this is my life_work from home

“Parents are children’s best teachers.” This is an old Chinese saying which I absolutely agree with. However, parents are not teachers. Teachers greet the students in the morning and see them off in the afternoon, then they are able to get off work and just go home. But parents can’t. The kids do not obey parents the same way as how they do at school. And parents can’t always stay focused the same way teachers do (I am talking about those responsible teachers here). So if occasionally we are not paying attention or not treating our children properly, it isn’t because we don’t love our children or we aren’t responsible parents. It is simply because we are human and we are tired, especially for those who work from home or the stay-at-home parents. We love our children so much that we are always on top of everything, wanting to make sure the kids are safe, healthy, well-educated and happy. When we are doing this on a 24/7 basis, it drained so much energy from us and sometimes we just need a break. A lot of times, the improper things, which you witnessed or heard about, happened exactly when we needed a break.  Does it make us bad parent? I say not! On the contrary, we learn from our mistakes, get re-energized and become better parents.

Your fellow parent,

Strong Headed Mom

We often teach our kids to be compassionate and empathetic. And we, the parents, need to do exactly the same, learn to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, think and act objectively and responsibly. We all have made tremendous efforts to be good parents and there are so many bumps on the road that we can’t avoid. I really hope my fellow parents who are struggling and self-doubting to chin up and believe in what you’ve been doing. And I also hope the “perfect parents” out there to stop and think twice before you make any judgment on other parents again. We, the parents, are all in this together! 🙂