Archive for July, 2011

How Many Is Too Many?

How many children do you have?  One, Two, Three?  In my case, I have four.  I have always known that having more children adds complexity to any family and certainly to the working mother juggle.  But the findings of a recent study out of Australia, titled “Fertility and Labour Market Participation”, really got me thinking about the impact of having several children on a mother’s career.

The study demonstrates that women with three or more children are significantly less likely to be in the workforce than women with two or fewer children.   And despite being discouraging, the research makes total sense.  I started to catalog my own personal experience with four children. 

  • I spent three years pregnant and nearly two full years on maternity leave.
  • I worked for many months, sleep deprived, after returning from maternity leave.  And I was certainly performing at less than my best.
  • I now struggle to find in-home childcare that is willing and qualified to care for four children.  And I pay dearly for what I have.
  • The complex logistics of my family require me to create an arduous plan at the start of each week to keep things organized.
  •  I typically have at least one child event per week that interrupts work in some way.
  • Most importantly, I need to LOVE four uniquely amazing children.  And that requires time and attention.


Wow, the impact of many children on a career is worse than I thought!  But then I considered the positive aspects of my own career and the careers of other women that I know with three or more children.  This brought me back to the core insight of The PRIMARY DILEMMA – working mothers are not all the same.  The ability to manage a career as a mother of many children is more complicated than simply the number of children that one has.  I personally know two women, each with 5 children, who are presidents of large companies.  They have supportive and enabling husbands and an incredible ability to create order in chaos.   I know several women with 4 children who are successful surgeons.  And I know lots of women with 3 children who are successful entrepreneurs, architects, designers, etc.   

So after feeling mildly discouraged, I perked up.  I am blessed to have four children and the energy to raise them and to maintain a career.  And I am even more committed to the importance of the PRIMARY DILEMMA Project.  Working mothers are not all the same.  This is just one more example.

The Imposter Syndrome

Why do working mothers impose such pressure on themselves to be perfect?  I recently had dinner with my best friend from high school, an amazing mother who works in PR and balances work-family masterfully.    I sat down to the table and asked “how are you?”  Her response was “completely overwhelmed”.   She had just taken a new job and was trying to manage the Imposter Syndrome.   I asked “what is the Imposter Syndrome?”  She explained that it was the fear that people at work, or at home, will figure out that you are not perfect.  “Ahhh…” I said.  I know that syndrome all too well. 

Our wonderful male friend who was at dinner with us laughed and noted that we were both crazy.  Keep in mind that this guy is no slouch himself.  He has a huge job in media and is the father of two boys.  His comment perfectly captured the different perspectives of men and women.  He said”Come on.  It takes really bad work to get fired.” 

I laughed with my high school friend because our male friend had so obviously missed the point.  But his comment triggered an enlightening conversation for the three of us.  Our realizations were the following:

Guys go to work and they work hard.  But for some reason, they don’t have the burden of perfectionism weighing them down.  They aren’t worried that they will be “discovered” as an imposter.   They also seem to look at life as a bit more of a marathon.  Women, on the other hand, look at life as a series of sprints.  While they are sprinting for career of parenting, they need to demonstrate complete expertise.

That dinner conversation really made me wonder about women and our fear of failure.  Does it hold us back from asking the right questions when we don’t have all the answers?  Could this be part of what prevents women from seeking new professional opportunities?   How does this impact our parenting?  Does fear of the Imposter Syndrome actually make us afraid to just be ourselves?