'Supermoms' Should Tell the Truth About Their Perfect Lives

They make it look easy. But the women who seem to "have it all" are navigating mazes of  complex logistics every day.

angelina.jpgAngelina Jolie poses with her son Maddox in a 2005 photo. (Reuters)

Kudos to Anne-Marie Slaughter for shedding light on the sacrifices and choices high-powered women in Washington make about work and family. The more transparency into how Americans manage caring for children while earning a living, and vice versa, the better.

And yes, as Slaughter writes: "If women are ever to achieve real equality as leaders, then we have to stop accepting male behaviors and male choices as the default and ideal. We must insist on changing social policies and bending career tracks to accommodate our choices, too." To that statement I would add only that often it's the requirements of our realities (be they biological, familial, medical, financial, logistical, etc.) rather than our deliberate choices that necessitate a non-linear path.

In my "past life" -- before an eight-year career as a stay-at-home mom -- I was a senior editor at a popular celebrity magazine. I cringed whenever a writer or source gushed about an actress or other famous woman being a "devoted" mom. While the typical new mom can barely take a shower, famous moms are somehow able to look fabulous, maintain a fabulous career and appear in fabulous places, all while being fabulous, attentive, "devoted" moms.

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I don't question the love any globetrotting star has for her children. But because there's little explanation about exactly how super successful, celebrated women with children do it all, regular "real-life" moms -- many of whom step out of the workforce or let job opportunities and larger ambitions lie -- often look and feel like a bunch of slackers.

When a layoff and stagnant post-9/11 job market in New York led my husband to accept an offer in Maryland, I became a weekday single mother, left alone to juggle a long workday, a long and unreliable commute, a live-out nanny and a toddler I often saw awake for less than an hour a day. I quickly realized that I needed to live a different way and work a different way. Soon after quitting my Manhattan-based magazine job a second pregnancy (surprise, twins!) put me on bedrest. Three small children, including one with learning differences and therapy needs, kept me out of the workforce.

My 2008 book The Stay-at-Home Survival Guide includes an essay titled "Who Takes Care of Katie Couric's Kids?" It was a hypothetical question based on the TV journalist's "superwoman" reality. Couric's daughters are now young adults, but when they were small she was a widowed mother of two who worked more than full-time co-hosting the Today show and traveling the world. How did she do it? How does any woman with children and a super-charged career do it? Do they have stay-at-home husbands or around-the-clock nannies? Do they go days without seeing their kids?

Famous and high-powered men who have children are rarely feted for their ability to be both dads and career-driven movers and shakers. Men are expected to be out in the world while someone else cares for their kids. However, well-known women who have children are frequently promoted on magazine covers as both career successes and ("devoted") moms. The message is simultaneously encouraging ("She can do it, so can you!") and demeaning ("She can do it, why can't you?").

The solution isn't to ignore the parenting part of a woman's life and treat her more like a man. It's exactly the opposite: discuss the parental logistics required of both women and men. If only women are seen as having hands-on parenting responsibilities, the workplace norm will continue to be male-oriented, with work-family policies considered a female-needed accommodation.

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Melissa Stanton is the author of The Stay-at-Home Survival Guide. She is a former editor at People and LIFE magazines and now works as a website editor in Washington, D.C.

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