Originally posted 12/7/17
Apparently every woman can be Superwoman. If this is news to you, I don’t know where you have been. Did you miss Gal kicking butt and saving worlds? Have you not recognized the unsung sheroes keeping it all together on the daily? No? Then, let me school you. Okay, here’s the situation…
First of all, every woman can be Superwoman. That does not mean that every woman is Superwoman. We all know at least one who is less than stellar. This conversation isn’t about that one Ms. Ratchet. This is about the doctors who schedule surgeries around coding camps, dance recitals, orchestra concerts, coaching volleyball and soccer tryouts. This is about the working mothers who leave back-to-back meetings to get home in time to prepare dinner with a toddler strapped to one hip while quizzing his older sister for tomorrow’s spelling test. This conversation concerns the woman who volunteers at her children’s schools while reviewing spreadsheets and firing off important emails during down time. These are the real world Gal Gadots who keep the planet spinning.
Second of all, why is the phrase “working mother” in our lexicon? I’ve never heard anyone say “working father”. Is a woman defined firstly by her role as a mother while everything else, which comprises the complex tapestry of her identity, secondary? Phh-sha-sha! The message that we continue to send is that women are caretakers and homemakers first. Any sector outside of these two primary functions, in which she succeeds, begs the question “how do you do it all?” It’s the reason interviewers don’t ask this question of men. Men are supposed to be the breadwinners. They are supposed to have families (in the background) and succeed in the public sphere. They are not expected to leave the office to get home in time to cook dinners, clean house and nurture children. Thankfully, that trend is shifting as more women (and men) redefine our cultural norms.
However, there are still places where traditional ideas about gender roles have not shifted enough to promote shared responsibilities between both parents. This is seen most clearly in school volunteerism. In the nearly two decades that I have been volunteering in the classroom, I have never shared the room parent role with a working dad. As a PTA president, I knew of a divorced soldier who was a room co-parent in his daughter’s classroom. You can imagine how popular that made him among the soccer moms, which is why I think he took the position. What? People talk.
Usually, room parents are mothers. In my distant past experience, most of the women who volunteered did not have full-time employment outside the home. They were the primary caregivers and homemakers. More recently, I am finding this to be the exception rather than the rule. The room parents I have come to know in recent years have been nurses, attorneys, small business owners, real estate moguls, presidents, CEOs, CFOs and even a chef. At least two of the current room co-parents for both 6th grade classes has a job. They are able to succeed at their jobs, raise families, run households and still find space to volunteer in the classrooms. They are freaking amazing.
If they can be Superwomen, where are the Supermen? Why do we only see fathers during sports practices, concerts, career days and an occasional field trip? Where are the working fathers (if I say it three times it will be magically inducted into the lexicon) who volunteer as room parents to disseminate emails, plan parties and coordinate assistance in the classroom upon teacher requests? If women can “do it all”, so can men, right? Wrong! No one can do it all. That is the point. Women should not be expected to do it all, because 1- we can’t and 2- the same is not expected of men. Those acquaintances I mentioned have nannies to help usher the kids around town. They have housekeepers to clean their homes once or twice a week. They have family and communities that help raise their children. They have friends, like me, that they can count on to pick up the slack during those weeks when the ish hits the fan.
I’m not a founding member of the She-ra men-hating girls’ club. I am simply a woman, a SAHM and an admirer of other mothers who have to or choose to pursue careers. I am an ardent supporter and advocate for my sisters out there grinding to put their stamp on the world. I will always build them up, encourage their efforts and be an auntie to their kids when they need me. I am their biggest cheerleader as they continue to blaze the trails that my daughters may follow one day.
At the same time, I am doing a bit of trailblazing in my own right. When I grew up, Black women did not chair the PTA, volunteer in classrooms or send baked goods and crafty gifts to school. Most of them worked. Fortunately, I have the privilege of not working (for now). I am grateful that I get to be omnipresent in my children’s lives. I am equally grateful that my sisters are opening doors and shattering glass ceilings in the workforce. We need great women from all walks of life to model our limitless abilities for our sons and daughters.
You will never find me belittling or shaming a mother (or father for that matter) because work conflicts cause her to miss school events. Instead, I will offer to pick up/ drop off the rug-rats. I will record the event and email it to you or take pics for your photo album. I will also bring a bottle of Sauvignon blanc and a sympathetic ear at the end of a long, arduous week. You are my sisters, and I’ve got your backs.
In the meantime, we need to include working fathers (BOOM! it’s a thing) in the conversation. We need to let them know that women’s careers are as impressive and important as men’s. Therefore, mothers should not be the only ones asked to squeeze in things like volunteerism between office hours and home responsibilities. Ever heard of the saying “many hands make light work”? Exactly, buddy! Lend a hand, so the mother of your children doesn’t drive herself to an early grave trying to extend herself beyond her capacities. I’m talking to you, working fathers (one more time for good measure). This is your chance to don your capes alongside the Superwomen in your lives. I know you are up to task.