Over the past week or so, Gwyneth Paltrow has plastered headlines (okay, tabloid headlines… who’s counting?!) with her “conscious uncoupling” from her husband (gold star for the brilliant publicist behind that phrase) and has suffered the wrath of women, particularly working moms, across the country who are angered by her comments about “regular office jobs.” Like most US Weekly loving women, I have read her comments and the many responses that have been written in the new (perhaps over used) open letter format (here‘s my favorite). For those living under a pop culture rock, Gwynie (can I call her that?) made the following comment:
“I think it’s different when you have an office job, because it’s routine and, you know, you can do all the stuff in the morning and then you come home in the evening. When you’re shooting a movie, they’re like, ‘We need you to go to Wisconsin for two weeks,’ and then you work 14 hours a day, and that part of it is very difficult. I think to have a regular job and be a mom is not as, of course there are challenges, but it’s not like being on set.”
The truth is, yes, that comment was pretty bad. Yes, as a working mom, I’m a bit offended by Gwyneth’s assumption that I have it easier than her. But really, don’t we make assumptions of one another all the time? At least weekly, HuffingtonPost Parents features some open letter (see, there it is again!) to working moms, or stay at home moms, or moms wanting it all, or moms striving to make ends meet, or some other “class” of moms about how their situation is harder than someone else’s, or how they feel misunderstood. Why do we need to create classes among ourselves, rather than appreciating the unique triumphs and tribulations each mom experiences regardless of how our situation compares to that of someone else? How is Gwyneth Paltrow different than the rest of us (aside from all the obvious differences from the rest of us!)? At the heart of it all, isn’t she just another mom struggling to balance her particular situation, thinking that maybe the grass is greener on the other side? Isn’t she a mom going through a hard time, making (very) public comments about why she struggles as a working mom, even if through misdirected and backhanded comments about other moms?
A few weeks ago I had dinner with a friend who decided to leave her job three years ago, just after her first daughter was born. As we compared notes and swapped stories about our daughters’ growth, sassiness, and ability to push our buttons (isn’t that what being a toddler is all about?!), she said to me “I don’t know how you do it! How do you work a full day, and still manage to come home, make dinner, and take care of your kids, and then get up again the next morning and do it all over again?” I could have (and did) say the same to her about being home with her kids all day. I didn’t tell her that it takes me multiple cups of coffee to get through a focused day of work, or that sometimes “dinner” becomes the random odds and ends that my husband and I come up with while commuting home, or that I sometimes use Doc McStuffins to entertain my kids while I’m rerunning the same load of laundry I washed two days before but forgot to transfer to the drier. Similarly, I’m sure there’s plenty she didn’t tell me. That’s because we all adjust to the situation we’re in, while simultaneously trying to keep our heads above water and wondering how our counterparts “on the other side” keep their grass green.
Balance is a funny thing. Whereas before having kids, I imagined balance as perfectly aligned scales just like the image of my star sign Libra, I now see balance as an ever tipping scale that teeters back and forth by the week… day… even minute. There’s no perfect answer to balance. There’s no “perfect situation” out there. The new definition of balance is fluid and if we can find the right definition in any particular moment, isn’t that a victory in it of itself?
What does balance mean to you?
4 thoughts on “Finding balance”
So true- you have a book in these columns. You are so wise, so smart, so amazing!
You are a fantastic writer. Have you considered writing a novel? I’d buy it.
Lately, I’ve been having a lot of “grass is greener on the other side” thoughts. I think I’ll try to use your scale imagery to help me get some perspective.
I am a musician and a music teacher in a small town where I am the only music teacher and all the day jobs are taken. For the town, I provide a valuabe service and I feel that professionally, I make a big difference in the lives of the local kids. However, doing this job means that I currently work afternoons, nights and weekends in order to make ends meet and put food on the table. People say that I have an “artistic temper”, which is a nice way of saying that I have huge mood swings and periods of hyperactivity and depression – or, unbalanced 🙂
When I read your citation of Gwyneth, my first thought was, “She is so right! I would give anything for an office job!” It honestly never occurred to me that working moms would be offended by her comments (although I can understand how they could be). I have recently submitted applications for jobs around the country where I will be able to work during the day and come home at night. I don’t fool myself into thinking that a day job will make my life easier, but I do know that it will allow me to earn enough money and still have the option of being home on the weekends – even if that means being exhausted and never getting out of my pajamas. The thing about working as a musician is that it is rare that I am able pick the kids up from daycare or eat meals with them or tuck them in. If I am on tour, I can miss weeks or months of their lives, and they grow up so fast. There is a nagging feeling of guilt that I am prioritizing my job over my family, even though my work is what feeds the family. When I pack my bags for the next trip, the family gets sad/irritated/worried because I am leaving – again. They don’t say, “Good luck, we know that you are going to make someone’s wedding/party truly memorable.” They say, “Why are you leaving and when are you coming back?” The job is unpredictable and unstable. In the future, the kids will probably be proud that mommy was in the newspaper and on the radio and that she built up the music program in the town. However, when they are toddlers, they focus on the present and they wonder where mommy is. I do know that my kids are not being harmed by my being a musician – and they have the added benefits of singing in the car and living with live music. I just think that we should all count our blessings or be like Polyanna – play the glad game!