I recently spent some time with a very successful professional woman. Over the course of a few hours she brought up her triathlon training, that she discusses what’s in The Wall Street Journal with her teenage kids, that she carefully comparison shops at the grocery store to make them the most nutritious meals possible and that she teaches them the basics of personal finance over dinner.
That — that’s what I can’t do. I’m tired just listening to her.
I’m a mom. And I’m a professional woman. And the running joke around my house is that I’m a mediocre mother at very best.
I didn’t know my son was supposed to wear a different uniform in middle school, so he kept wearing the lower school shirt. I decided to take my daughter to London and booked the flights but forgot to tell her. She had already made other plans. I didn’t make all the school parents’ days (not always because there was a scheduling issue, but sometimes because I just…well, as the millennials say, I just can’t even.) And I consistently missed the school book fair.
Even when I try my very best, sometimes it doesn’t always work. I’ve never run a triathlon. Or ever discussed anything from The Wall Street Journal with my kids. And on nutrition, I try, but I don’t go all kale on them.
I haven’t been a complete wash-out, of course. I read all of the Harry Potter books out loud to my son. I make a hell of a pie crust and an even better lunch spread — really, it’s fit for a king. But the list of what I haven’t done well is long.
So, have I failed my kids?
As a research analyst by training, I’ve looked for a correlation between excellence in parenting and how the kids turn out. It may exist, but I haven’t seen one. And I take comfort in the finding that mothers today — working-outside-the-home or not — spend more time with their kids than our parents spent with us, despite decades-old bad science that said otherwise.
And this feels right to me. Yes, my mom stayed at home but the moirés of the time were such that she never spent hours and hours engaging with her children. Summer vacations found her planted firmly in her beach chair, cigarette dangling from her mouth, chatting with the other young moms for long afternoons, every once in awhile yelling at us to come in closer to shore. There was true hell to pay if we got her hair wet, but we (mostly) turned out alright.
How do I navigate being a mediocre mom? Humor. If one of the plates I’m juggling falls, I laugh about the broken plate. And I’ve found that, particularly when the kids were younger, if I was laughing, they took my cue and they were laughing too. The bonus, as they’ve gotten older, is that they understand that perfection in parenting or a finely calibrated work-life balance is not the ultimate goal here. And laughter can be a lot more fun than chasing perfection.
So when young professional women so often ask me how I’ve done it all, I tell them how: I didn’t.
Sallie Krawcheck is the CEO and Co-Founder of Ellevest, a digital investment platform for women, to launch in 2016. You can request an invitation here. She is also a Wall Street refugee, having run Merrill Lynch Wealth Management and Smith Barney.