Wednesday, February 28, 2007
What are the tapes you play in your head? We've all got them. I'm sure there are a few blissfully contented people out there wandering around with the soundtrack from "The Sound of Music" playing cheerily in their heads.
But for most of us woulda-coulda-shoulda 'ers, it's more like "Momma, You Done Me Wrong" playing like an old eight-track tape looping itself forever in our minds.
And if you're a mother, the song called Guilt is probably on your permanent play list.
A recent Oprah show revealed that 50 percent of all mothers secretly think they're not doing it right.
The other 50 percent of us openly admit we're not doing it right.
The audio commentary we play in our brains about how perfect mothers are supposed to do it serves as a constant reminder of how we're doing it wrong. And one of the biggest areas of self-doubt is whether or not we should be working.
The stay-at-home moms worry that they should be making a contribution outside the home. The working moms feel guilty because they're not at home. And those of us in work-at-home limbo land often feel like our multi-tasking minds are being split in two during every waking moment of the day.
Perfect Woman Worker magazine may depict the part-time panacea as mom with a highly-paid, 30-hour-a-week, work-from-home job balancing a babe on each knee while she makes conference calls from the nursery. But the reality for most of us work-at-home mommies boils down to bribing your kids with candy and TV so you can actually get something done.
I've been a member of the work-full-time camp, the stay-at-home camp and now the hybrid do-a-little-bit-of-everything camp, and all I can say is: for a generation who was going to have it all, we sure waste a lot of time fretting over which portion of the "all" we're not doing right.
Every time you turn around, someone is either beating themselves up or criticizing another woman's choices.
ModernMom.com founder Lolita Carrico says, "We have hot topics on our message boards covering everything from breast-feeding in public to wine at playdates. Yet no matter what, every conversation turns into a working mom versus stay-at-home mom debate."
On the recent Oprah show, the working moms and the stay-at-home moms both let the other side know that, "I can certainly respect your choices and value your inherent worth as a human being, but if you think the way you're raising your kids is the right way to do it, you're a nut."
They were polite, they were nice, and they obviously thought the other side was dead flat wrong.
Carrico says, "I don't think the debate will ever go away. There will always be women who stay home and need to defend that decision, and vice-versa."
She suggests that the intensity and venom fueling the debate stems from the fact that, at some level, the women feel guilty about their decision.
And I suspect that behind that guilt are those negative little tapes.
Whether they're titled, "You can't be a real mother if you have a job outside the home" or "Smart women aren't supposed to just stay home with their kids," chances are you weren't the original composer. That song was written before you even had kids or a job, but we let it stay on our iPod so long it became a permanent part of our brain.
But like any system, the brain functions best when you clean it out every now and again, and sometimes you have to erase old material to make room for new information.
So the next time one of those negative tapes starts to play, just hit eject and download yourself a new tune.
Lisa Earle McLeod is a nationally recognized speaker and the author of "Forget Perfect: Finding Joy, Meaning, and Satisfaction in the Life You've Already Got and the YOU You Already Are."