Every class has at least one or two of them. A ‘Boardroom Mom’ that runs her children’s life with the same determination and precision as running a Fortune 500 company, full of back-to-back appointments, targets and desired outcomes. Come to think of it, 90% of moms I know are one version or another of a ‘Boardroom Mom.’ Boardroom Moms can be described as overqualified, overeducated and overachieving moms who ascribe to what anthropologists call ‘intensive parenting.’ I just read an article over the weekend ‘Poor Little Rich Women, by Wednesday Martin, a social anthropologist who is coming out with a new book on the ‘Upper East Side’ tribe of ‘Glam SAHMs’ (Glamorous Stay-at-Home-Moms), in which she criticises these women, who put all of their ambitions on their children and ‘over-parent’ in more ways than one (And to answer your question, no, I have never heard of wives bonuses and, yes, I think they are crazy or at least just a joke).
I only realised that I fell into this category, despite promising myself I would never be one of them, when my nanny was away and I tried to look after my children all on my own and realised that it was actually physically impossible to be in two places at one time. While one was at swimming class, the other was meant to be at a music class. One was meant to be dropped off at one school and the other at the other school at precisely the same time. When there are two people running this schedule, this type of scheduling works. But without two people, this schedule falls flat on its face. You may think I am an extreme, but other friends have excel worksheets of their children’s schedule. I consider myself average on the scale of ‘Boardroom moms.’
A lot of people without nannies wonder what women do who are Stay-At-Home-Mums and have nannies looking after their children. Most think that they are mani-pedi-ing, Yoga-ing and blowdry-ing most days. And some do and are of minor interest. In my case, I am guilty of over-scheduling my children and running my household as if I have two single children. Each has its own separate and unique schedule that completely does not coincide with their sibling’s. (I read some random article that guilted me into thinking that having more than one child means that the second will always be neglected, therefore decided to treat them as separate beings and entities, just because I can, but clearly not always to my benefit. Don’t believe everything you read). This keeps me busy and overstretched and my children believe that there should always be two people looking after them, to their detriment. But in the end, all I was trying to do was to be a good mother.
The trouble really is that I and so many women of my generation were raised thinking that we were going to rule the world. We were told to work hard, be independent, have careers, be equals to our male counterparts and that we could do whatever we put our minds to. So, as part of this generation of post feminist women, we all scrambled to get great degrees from the top universities, climbed the requisite career ladder and reached our goals of succeeding in our careers. Prior to motherhood, we were praised when we achieved a top degree, when we were promoted or did a great job or got a bonus that allowed us to buy that Chanel 5.0 or those Louboutins on our own salary. It filled us with pride. We were important cogs in the wheel of society.
But then, after reaching these top jobs or positions in a company, motherhood hit and these ‘top jobs,’ seen so highly valued by society, did not often work well with the trials and tribulations of motherhood. For example, my job sometimes meant working until midnight, working on weekends. It was not a flexible job where I could drop everything to take my kids to the doctor if they were sick, be there to do a ‘book reading’ at school or to attend any of the multitudes of events put on by the school; Christmas plays, Christmas fairs, bake sales, parent coffees, Sports Days, Parent teacher conferences, and the list continues. There are some ‘top’ jobs that allow that flexibility, but for the most part, with these types of jobs in banking/consulting/law/any demanding high-flying career, you are either in or out. You either let nannies raise your children, which is fine and you can plough on with your career, or you are out, and become one of these Glam SAHMs.
After trying the whole work-motherhood balance and even part-timing, I realised that I couldn’t do both well. I was too groomed to be perfect at what I do and not to tolerate my own mediocrity. When at work, I tried focusing on work, but motherhood kept interfering; sick children, sleepless nights, school events and of course the biggest monster of all, guilt. Then at home, I was tired, stressed and would worry about not being there with my children for each and every milestone. Like a friend who missed her child’s first steps because she was out of the country on a work trip. Can you live with that or not? is the question many moms have to answer. My answer was that I soon quit and became a full time mother. I chose to be at home because that was my personal priority, but also because ingrained in my DNA was this primal, instinctual, uncontrollable need to be a parent, whether I wanted to or not. Others of course choose work, which I completely understand and often admire, but for me, the pull towards motherhood was stronger.
So here I am, a full time mother with so many degrees under my belt, so overeducated and so overachieving, so disciplined and organised, doing what apparently nannies can do just as well as me or perhaps even better (if you read the articles about full time working moms and their children being just as happily raised by their nannies, you wonder why you do it at all – you just can’t win as a woman). That’s when over-parenting, ‘intensive parenting’ comes in. We, as highly educated and highly intelligent women, are left with running a household and raising children, with the skills of CEOs, accountants, managers and leaders. That’s when we put all of our energy into raising these ‘perfect kids’ because we have achieved so much in our prior lives that we expect that we can do the same in a domestic setting. We don’t know how to handle mediocrity. We want to be the ‘best parent’ we can be, just as we tried to be the best lawyer/banker/worker. Perhaps it is out of frustration, or perhaps it is the only way can be.
Then, once you become a full time mother, there is no more praise or quantifiable, measurable achievement or metric of you as a mother. That’s when ‘getting into the right school’ becomes an obsession and we put in all our energies where we can get an actual reward as a mother and we can proudly stand tall and tell someone at a dinner party that so-and-so got into ‘St.Pauls/Westminster/Oxford/Harvard’ as a praise to us as parents. We are using our children’s achievements as personal praise, which is just so wrong, and which I strongly try to resist in the midst of parental madness, herd immunity and peer pressure. But I understand where it comes from. I miss receiving praise for the work I have done, to feel good about myself because of some sort of achievement, and the ability to proudly tell someone what I do for a living. Instead, just last weekend at a dinner party, someone asked what I did, and I replied ‘I take care of my 2 children,’ and the conversation pretty much ended (which ultimately, I understand, because I also want to talk about other things than talk about my children).
It is my own fault for not taking more pride in what I do day in and day out, but I miss being part of a team, of being useful in a different way than changing nappies, co-ercing my children not to eat with their fingers or ensuring that homework is finished on time. I miss having quantifiable, measurable results and rewards. Even though nothing can replace the hugs and kisses I get from my children, I still miss the achievements I once had, and can only remember them as if they were part of a distant past or another life. Instead, I am led by my maternal instincts and plan my children’s future. I plan their weekends and their playdates. I make sure they are learning ‘essential life skills’ like swimming, a second language and sports, to be polite and responsible citizens. But a part of me deeply misses the old me and hope that one day, she will be back.
So instead of criticising these Glam SAHMs, perhaps the real question we should be asking ourselves, now 50 years after Betty Friedan’s ‘The Feminine Mystique,’ is how to find a way for all these overeducated, overqualified women to use their skills usefully in society, without compromising their role as a mother.
Let me know your thoughts.