Why Working Moms Will Never Have Work-Life Balance

I am deliriously tired—the kind of tired that makes you wonder to yourself, "How bad can crystal meth really be?" My husband has been immobilized by surgery (he had his gallbladder taken out). My bouncing baby boy has a cough, some front teeth coming in and a new crib that causes hysteria every time he lays eyes on it. I haven't shown my face at work in two weeks and with the economy being what it is, that can't be good. My house is a mess, my cats have gone feral, I couldn't pick my friends out of a lineup and the N is missing from my keyboard.

But I want to say this very clearly: I am not complaining. At all. That's life. And no, I don't have Stockholm syndrome; I just understand that life isn't always a bowl of cherries (whatever that means). But with Mother's Day just around the corner, I am getting a bit annoyed by the idea that all we get is a single day and a Sunday to boot. If you really want to celebrate the women who raised us, give us a Monday. Nothing says "Thanks, Mom" like a 3-day weekend.

This is my first Mom's Day, so forgive me if I sound ungrateful and confused, but I don't want a card or flowers or even jewelry (OK, maybe some jewelry). What I want is a mass uprising—women throwing off the yokes of their own crippling expectations and admitting loud and proud that the idea of work/life balance is a joke. Modern motherhood isn't hard; it's impossible. There are just simply not enough hours in the day to do everything. I'm serious. It's a rigged game. Add up the time it would take to do all the things you think you need to do—from dinner to quality time to soccer practice plus a good night's sleep—and if it comes out to less than 24 hours, then you are on the right track. If like, in my life, it adds up to 32 or 36, than it's time to give ourselves the only gift we really need this Mother's Day—the right to stop the madness.

To get some help, I'm turning to an expert: Laura Arens Fuerstein. Her new book, My Mother, My Mirror: Recognizing and Making the Most of Inherited Self-Images (New Harbinger, 2009) lays out the five things we need to learn to lift ourselves, our moms and our daughters out of the slough of "not good enough." I think we should give them a try.

1. "It's All About the Mother in Your Mind"
Even the most critical mothers aren't as evil as the voice in our heads telling us we're fat or stupid or crazy. My mom would be happy to know the parent constantly chastising me in my head is a combination of her, my dad, my high-school English teacher, too many Victorian novels, my own conscience and the dizzying array of bad mothers I've been subjected to by books, movies and TV. (Thank you, Faye Dunaway.)

What woman hasn't wished she were June Cleaver or Clair Huxtable or Samantha from Bewitched instead of an overtired crab apple cooking dinner with her coat on and muttering to herself about socks on the floor? As Fuerstein puts it, "Despite the progress of the women's movements, mothers and daughters still share a long-lived common bond: we berate ourselves because we don't act and look as we should, according to the culture's ideals." Here's the deal, mommies: done is better than perfect and a happy family with dirty socks is 400 times better than a perfectly clean and scheduled family headed by a complete lunatic baking brownies at 3 a.m.

2. "Put Yourself in Your Little-Girl Shoes"
I cannot tell you the long list of gobbledygook I argued about with my mother. When I was four, I thought she was a monster because I had to go to nursery school in pants that weren't quite dry. In the fourth grade, her explanation about the birds and the bees had me apoplectic with disbelief. By the seventh grade, I was convinced that my mother was just willfully ignorant.

When we are children, we are hindered by our innocence and naiveté and thus unable to see the world through our mother's eyes. "We're all Alice in Wonderland as children," as Fuerstein puts it. Now, nearly 30 years later, I've realized that sometimes getting to work on time is more important than dry Garanimals. Many of the internalized images of our mothers simply aren't accurate. So let's stop being hard on our own mothers, too.

3. "Long Live the Good-Enough Mother"
Good parenting used to be defined as whether or not your kid made it out of your house alive at age 18. OK, that's an exaggeration; but over the last 150 years, the notion of what or who makes a good mother has grown completely out of control. You can find some studies that show that working moms are bad for kids and others that allege the same thing about stay-at-home moms. Moms who breast-feed for a long time are creepy; bottle-feeding moms are negligent. We're made to worry about measles prevention or autism; bottled or homemade baby food. You name the maternal behavior, and I bet there's a university study out there somewhere saying it's bad for children and another one saying it's good. Can we all just simply agree that there is no such thing as a perfect mother?

4. "Gray's the Thing in Mothering"
This doesn't have to be a Mommy War. Think of a healthy self-esteem and a forgiving and supportive mommy in our mind as one more weapon in a mothers' arsenal. Fuerstein explained to me: "When you have low self-worth, it is difficult to believe that you deserve loving treatment." And that, she added; "means you don't have the generosity of spirit or compassion to have empathy for others." Maybe that explains why we're so hard on other mothers. Perhaps we should call a truce with the mommies on our block and worry about the mommy in our mind. She needs a time out. And remember this: let your partner, if you have one, do some parenting, too.

Happy Mother's Day.