Working Moms: Balance or Fifty Shades of Control?

Friday night I caught Lisa Belkin’s column on the Washington DC attorney at Clifford Chance, who also happens to be a mother to two young kids. Belkin covered this woman’s story because her way of abruptly quitting her demanding job came in the form of a detailed memo breaking down just how long and challenging her day was trying to manage two small kids and a high-pressured job.The memo is easily interpreted as shrill and drips in martyrdom – but in case you haven’t yet seen it – her day begins unpleasantly around 4am and ends some 20-ish hours later when she finally goes back to sleep around 1am.

This woman’s memo was actually forwarded by someone at Clifford Chance to the legal blog Above the Law and hence became today’s hot story on work-life balance.

Note to self: never distribute something en mass unless you’d like for it to go viral. I bet this tired working mom wasn’t thinking about that when she hit the old SEND button.

As I read through her 20 hour day, I thought about my day. Here’s what it looks like usually:

Me when I wake in the morning, prior to busting out in song.

9AM – wake up feeling refreshed and amazing, with vim and vigor, excited to face the day while birds chirp happily outside my window. Usually I break into song.

9:30AM – After some time perusing the headlines and catching up on emails, while resting in my bed, my husband usually draws me a warm bubble bath while my children are busy downstairs making me a breakfast of egg whites and prepping the Kale chips for lunch

10am – I head to the spa while Mr. Wired Momma teaches the girls Mandarin

12pm – Home in time for lunch and those kid-made kale chips. Then we do family yoga and meditation and talk openly about all that we’re thankful for. This usually takes a few hours.

Should I keep going?

So back in reality-land once I got past the whole “What the hell did this woman think parenting young children and working was going to be like” shock of her memo, I moved on.

For me, there’s so many different ways to approach this particular story, especially as someone who makes an effort to talk about work-life choices and the challenges we all face in trying to raise kids today. Over the course of 2011, however, I started to move away from the actual story as the real inspiration point and started to realize that often the real story lies in the comments section. The comments in both the HuffPost under Belkin’s article and in the original story in Above the Law are fascinating. One of my friends on Facebook actually used the word “trolls” to describe the assholes commenting on the ATL piece. She’s not totally off-base there. But if you, too, believe the real story lies in the comments – then I’d argue the real story here is as much about how husbands and wives share work and family responsibilities as this is a story about an over-worked and exhausted working mom.

So about that – again – here’s the link to the woman’s detailed memo. I don’t know who she is and I don’t know who her husband is, I don’t know how factual her memo is and I don’t know how exaggerated it is. In other words – I don’t know much.

C’est vrai.

But let’s assume she is being totally factual, then please allow me to be blunt and cut to the chase:


There are millions of single parents out there who have no choice but to keep on keepin’ on and raise their kids to the best of their bone-tired exhausted ability. But for a married couple, of which she is, there is no acceptable reason in this day and age why any one person is handling the 4am crying baby, dressing and feeding the children, taking them both to daycare, picking them both up from daycare, getting the kids’ dinner on the table, bathing them both and putting them both to bed.

Again, we don’t know if she is playing the role of the martyr or if she married a huge jerk or if her husband happened to be away on work travel on the very day she clearly just SNAPPED – but we should have a conversation about marital roles.  Especially because just last week I was afforded the great opportunity to speak to a group of really interesting, smart, dynamic women who were having a mothers retreat, and only a small – VERY small – handful of them could admit that their husbands know how to tend to their children without any notes, guidance or advice from them.

How very Christian Grey of them, I found myself thinking.

She look familiar? Photo Credit: SF Gate On the Block Blog

I was pissed at them just like I am at you if this is the truth in your house.  I believe women do a tremendous disservice to themselves, their children and their husbands if they themselves control everything at home. If when leaving for a trip or even a day of errands, if a detailed note has to be left or instructions have to be given (beyond something innocuous like “don’t forget the birthday party at 2pm” and for that we have apps), then how can we strive for achieving work-life balance beyond our front door if we don’t even have it inside our home?

And who, pray tell, is to blame for that?

Mirror Mirror on the wall…..who is the most controlling of them all?

You got it.

So to the woman who wrote the exhausted, martyrish memo to her bosses at the law firm – I first ask you to spend some time on your extended reprieve from the paid-working world – evaluating the holes you dug for yourself. Ask yourself why you structured your life not as a partnership but as a sole proprietorship even though you had a, presumably, capable husband. Each time we leave detailed notes and instructions, each time we handle the 4am wake ups and the breakfast and the daycare drop off and dinner and bedtime, we undermine our partners and the importance of them, we undermine their confidence and we do our children no favors in the event of our untimely deaths (I am super good at imagining worst case scenarios). We also are teaching them archaic lessons about the roles of men and women as they grow up.

Oh and- let’s cut to the chase here people – no one likes  a martyr – especially me because I have a hell of a time spelling that word.


Look, I will leave it to everyone else covering this story, to evaluate the wake-up call companies need in this day and age – to start accommodating the lives of all of their workers – not just working parents. I think we all know that every working person is plugged in constantly and feels the demands of working infringing on their supposed “free time” – whether they have children or not – thanks to the technology bleed. This is not a challenge uniquely facing working moms.

What is a challenge uniquely facing so many working mothers is the need for control – the need to manage every aspect of our child’s lives ourselves – and not share this with our spouses or more accurately – place the expectation on them from the beginning that we will need their help in this PARTNERSHIP of raising the children. For that, I don’t feel sorry for any working mother in this predicament because such is the grave she digs for herself.

And don’t think for one second that I, too, am not or have not been guilty of:

  • Leaving Lists
  • Laying out Outfits
  • Calling to check in on how carefully he is following my schedule
  • Managing all the appointments and activities and family calendar myself
  • Handling all the grocery shopping yet being pissed when he doesn’t know what we need to replenish
  • Imagining the hateful note I will leave because no one in the office understands the daily challenges I face

But I think honesty, communication and letting go – is an important part in making any mom’s day more manageable and less likely to be a 19-20 hour day. As much as it sometimes physically pains me us. It is an important cycle to break if you’re in it now and it’s a habit to be avoided if you’ve just had a baby. Release this side of your inner-fifty shades, is what I want to scream at this tired working mom who just quit her job and now we’re all talking about her.

So there you have it. Hopefully you’re not disappointed that today’s post isn’t a rant against corporate America. I’ve had enough of those in my innumerable posts on work-life choices.  Nope, today’s post is a demand that we let go and make sure our partners are also working because if they’re not, we’re often the ones to blame.

“Like” moi on Facebook and I promise – it’s not a red room of pain where I tell you what you’re doing wrong all the time. We actually have fun and great conversations there. And please – tell me – what did you think of her memo, what did you think of my post – what do you think??? One friend who writes the fabulous blog Tiny Steps Mommy suggested on the WM FB Page that we all email in a detailed memo time-breakdown of our days. I kind of loved that idea and if enough people actually email me their memos, I’ll do a post about it. It could be fun. is the easiest way to reach me. Until then, I must get back to our Wired Momma family meditations and my 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep.


12 Responses to Working Moms: Balance or Fifty Shades of Control?
  1. esra krause
    November 12, 2012 | 12:44 pm

    Hey Monica,
    Enjoyed reading your post. Most of the time I agree with you, but this time, I will have to say no… I am not sure that you were able to understand the perspective of this woman. Having practiced law myself, know the demands, incredible pressure not only from the client, the senior partner, the ABA to do things correctly, it is an extremely demanding profession, which I have said goodbye to since I had the kids as it is not possible to have it all, the kids would never see me not to be successful, but just to be able to maintain my job. There is more to me than success at work, so, I had no regrets leaving. However, when you put 3 years into a law degree, have a mountain of student loans, and the wish to become a lawyer, it is hard. This woman was actually lucky that she was ok to be at work at 9 am and leave at 6 pm. That is a part-time job in lawyers’ field. Part time is 40-50 hrs/ week and full time is 100hs+. I have a very good friend, male, who goes in at 5:30 and leaves at 10 pm, and it is repeat every day and every minute we are with him, he is on his blackberry. It is a very demanding and challenging job.
    Second, perhaps your kids are older now and you have nicely forgotten the feeling of being woken up from deep sleep mutlitple times a night. We are right in the middle of it, and while Leyla is 15 months now, for the past 15 months, we have been waking up 4-5 times a night to console her and put her back to sleep. We were against cry it out method,and it has now become a habit. But let me tell you how exhausted we are, our bodies feel it, our minds, and we snap at the littlest thing right now as we have many more constraints on us. This is even with Adam helping me out at night too. When you do it for super long, and your body never has time to recover, it starts taking a toll. Perhaps your kids were better sleepers? Perhaps they did not keep waking up for long periods of time. I felt like the woman was talking about Leyla in her memo!
    I know that lawyers have a bad rep, but the work they do is important to be done properly, otherwise, there will be consequences for the client. Like a surgeon, who should not operate on you drunk or sleep deprived, same thing.
    I understand what you are saying about the husband being equal here.. though I am not sure that is reality. Adam tells me he works all day and I work part-time, so, I am in charge of all the kids’ stuff. I honestly don’t know how I would ask him to take on more of those responsabilities like the doctor’s visit, or homework, or what not, I think he would get fired from his job if he kept taking time off to do 50% of that work. Perhaps your husband’s job is more flexible? But when we chose for me to work only part-time it was so that he could earn more of the money and me do the kids’ things. Yes, I do have to leave notes and tell him what to do, because he asks for them as he is not involved in the day-to-day.
    So, while I think that you usually talk to most women, I felt today that you were talking more to women who might have similar arrangements as your life, which I believe is not the majority.
    So, you asked for our opinion, there it is, nice and long. Hope you don’t take it the wrong way, I don’t mean it as a way of telling you off, but just to show you that woman’s perspective perhaps as I have had similar experiences.
    Keep writing, I love reading your sarcastic humor and daily life. Thanks! Esra

    • Jen
      November 12, 2012 | 1:39 pm

      I think that Monica hit the nail on the head here — and not just from a one-sided perspective. The paradigm shift in the working world, where women can make (tough) decisions to be moms and successful business leaders is made possible by the social acceptance (and normalcy) of the involved dad, and the letting go of “having it all”. In the true sense of family-rearing partnership, both my husband and I work full-time, but have very different schedules. I can count on his structured work-week to have him home at 6 pm everyday, while my erratic, but flexible schedule allows for me to take the kids to doctors appointments, participate in fieldtrips, run carpool when neccessary — but often calls on me to work late nights and weekends. We have a full-time nanny (who is practically part of the family), and family members in the area to help with childcare when needed. I am not apologetic nor do I feel guilty for this — as it is a decision that we have made. Like every mom, regardless of employment status, I have doubts trying to “do it all”, and during one conversation with my OBGYN, she said to me “every HAPPY working mom has PLENTY of good help”. Don’t be afraid to ask for it or hire it. I realize this sounds elitist, but this whole conversation was started about a Clifford Chance associate, and the assumption that her salary would be able to afford good and plenty of help is a safe one. In my opinion only, in her martyrdom, she does not have appropriate help from her partner, nor does she have the right childcare. I know and truly sympathize for the working family that cannot afford this situation, and who often not not have a choice to email in a resignation letter to deem her job too demanding to “juggle” with parenthood. That is another circumstance and conversation.

  2. Monica Sakala
    November 12, 2012 | 12:52 pm

    Esra —
    Thank you so much for taking the time to comment! I really appreciate it and actually think we have more of a shared perspective than it might seem. My girls are 3 and 6 – and I’ve written extensively about how they are early risers and how last fall my then 2 year old spent four consecutive months beginning her day at 4am. So I definitely am very familiar with being bone tired. And my husband is typically gone for an entire week at a time, every other week, for work – so I also am pretty familiar with handling everything on my own. This woman’s memo offered me so many different directions to take this topic – and frankly I struggled with it – but the thing that struck me the most personally – and the most common thread in the comment section about her memo (among the comments that weren’t just plain horrible about working moms) – was the question about where is her husband. And I find myself wondering this a lot in daily life – where is that person’s partner? So I decided to just draw a hard line that I hope women are engaging their spouses as much as possible in this journey, especially when the kids are young, because often I think we are our own worst enemies on this front. You specifically hit on one thing that I really didn’t address because I didn’t want the piece to be too long – and that is this idea of equitable share – and I totally agree with you there. Not possible – and a waste of time – but just this basic idea that we have partners who are engaged, participating and helpful – is really all I wanted to get at. This particular woman – made no mention of hers!! Thanks so much for reading and commenting AND challenging me. I LOVE that!!!

    • esra krause
      November 12, 2012 | 1:48 pm

      Thanks for writing back to me and clarifying certain aspects of your life. I joined your life about 4-5 mos ago, so, I have not read back at older posts. So, yes indeed, you do understand the wakings, the husband gone, my apologies if it was insensitive to make those assumptions. I do agree that I tend to over do it when it comes to the kids sometimes, as I left them for the fist time in 8.5 years about 2 weeks ago with Adam for 5 days. They survived, they were fine, of course Nico did not wear his eyepatch, Ela’s hair never got washed and Leyla never brushed her teeth the whole time I was gone, but it was fine, Adam’s way :) But I did tell him it is not fair that he slacked on those things knowing full well that I always make sure they are done and he took the attitude of what’s 5 days in their lives of not doing it. So, I gave him a list of things I will no longer do for the kids anymore that he has to take over. Yes, you are absolutely right in saying that we, women, have to stop doing those things for them, so they can too do them. He said he was just like the passenger in the car, cause I was driving, he was not paying attention. Now that I asked him to drive, he will try to find the way. I still very much support that poor lawyer mom though :)

  3. Monica Sakala
    November 12, 2012 | 1:52 pm

    Esra- when i pull myself away from that woman’s painful memo – i support her too – just as I support every mom out there. Every single one of us needs help – no matter our circumstances – financial or professional – we all need help. But I feel like driving home the message that we have to ASK for help – and just like you are saying – let go and let our husbands do it their way – though it is different from ours – is critically important! This is SUCH an important conversation to be having!!! I am so glad we are.

  4. Jocelyn
    November 12, 2012 | 2:13 pm

    You knew I’d have a comment on this. Oh, Girl. In fact, in this particular realm, I have many different points. The bottom line, though, is that with small children and a husband is who-knows-where (with mine who has a 100-hour a week job as a chef) is both redeeming (because if I spent all day every day with my children, cleaning up after the children, feeding them, making sure they remain clothed, and entertaining them, I would go absolutely apeshit) and impossible (think of all of those school half days, days off, and sick days). Women’s lib tells us that we can and should “have it all” (the job! the family! all of it!) but I will straight up tell you that this is completely exhausting to the point of inhumane- and I only “work” part-time…and from home, at that!I can also tell you that people who are moms who HAVE jobs have a much different experience than those who do not have the added pressure of a job. Then there are the single mom’s- and, gasp! The single moms who have full time jobs. Holy Hell. I, too, wonder where this woman’s husband is, but I also wonder if there’s a husband at all or if she reached a certain age and decided to “go at it alone” as many women I know are starting to do. I start having anxiety for these women when they tell me what they’re about to do.

    Listen, bottom line is that motherhood is SO HARD, and even my mom (and mother in law) have admitted that it’s even more difficult for our generation- not just because we either “can” or “have to” join the work force, but because we have to be “hover parents” now. Gone are the days of sending the kids outside to play, unattended, all day in the summer. Gone are the days to spank your child and send them to their room when they’re evil (no. you have to spend all damn day TALKING TO THEM, trying to coerce them into acting like a decent human. WTF?!) Do you remember your mom packing you snacks and water bottles for every tiny jaunt out of the house? NO WAY. We’ve taken on too much, expect too much from ourselves and, therefore, inevitably, feel like shit either because we’re too tired or unfulfilled or just don’t feel like we’re living up to our expectations.
    We have to just let it go, yes, particularly when it comes to spouses or, in my case, grandparents who come to help (they get McDonald’s and I bite my tongue). But that letting go takes a lot of effort on our part and takes years to learn. I think we have to not just let go when it comes to having others help us out, but also to the notion that we can do it all. Kudos to those who can. I can’t. The woman you write about can’t. And neither of us should feel badly about that.

  5. […] get a new job, quit her job (as she did), or like my favorite blogger Wired Momma points out in her blog post today – stop trying to control everything and actually make her husband step-up and divide […]

  6. […] blogger Wired Momma had a different take on this that is even less accurate. In her post “Working Moms: Balance or Fifty Shades of Control?” Wired Momma diagnoses the Clifford Chance defector as a control freak who […]

  7. Andrea
    November 13, 2012 | 4:38 pm

    Wow this article really hit home for me this morning. My husband was complaining b/c he had to take my daughter to daycare this morning on his way to work…I felt guilty for arguing my point that I’m getting the other one on the bus and quite frankly get up earlier jackass. But you made me feel better! Because you’re right if we don’t stand our ground we will be pushed to the limits of what we can physically do in a given day being working moms and keep our selves sane. I have discovered along the way how to be a little less controlling or little things that work for our family to keep us from screaming at each other every day. One example, I bought one of those hanging shoe organizers at Target and put my daughters outfits in it for the week so that my husband doesn’t get stressed about dressing her in the morning and she doesn’t end up wearing a stack of laundry that was mistaken for an outfit (true story). I also try to make the most out of the hours given each day. Do homework in the car on the way to gymnastics, work out when the kids are in sports, clean bathrooms when they are in the tub, might seem crazy but I feel like that’s normal life right now. I do worry that some careers are impossible for women to have it all these days. It’s sad but true, I think we’ll start pushing our daughters into specific career paths if things don’t change. I’d rather be realistic with my daughter. I’m thankful I work for a company that has realized that more flexible working arrangements are necessary now.

  8. Monica Sakala
    November 13, 2012 | 5:19 pm

    Andrea – I am so glad this piece was helpful to you this morning and your comments have inspired me. I love some of the ways you make the most of your time and keep everyone from screaming at each other – LOVE IT — and the laundry outfit made me laugh out loud. I’m wondering if I can use some of your examples for my next post? Let me know. I want to solicit more ideas from people on what they do – like the examples you’ve given us. Honestly, I think it would be a great post and let’s be clear – I’m stealing your shoe organizer for outfits for the week idea – that is nothing short of brilliant. Anyhow – keep it up! And let me know!!

  9. Tracy
    November 13, 2012 | 10:26 pm

    Hmmm, this is very thought provoking. I agree – where is her husband? I also agree, it’s a control thing. It’s hard to ask for help when you’re a take-charge kind of woman. We feel like we should be able to do it all – and that asking for help is a weakness. But then, we CAN’T do it all! And a marriage is supposed to be a partnership. A partnership which I have been told is NOT 50/50 rather 110/110.

    For myself though, my guilt lies in not wanting to give up the control. Not wanting to accept the mis-matched clothes that the husband or child picks out. If I do it, it will be perfect. Just how I like my life. But if I allow them to do it, well, let’s just say that ponytails should be even heights on each side of the head.

    So yes, this struggle to be all that we can be is a struggle. The biggest struggle I think is to work with those who love you, and want to be a part of your life, and allowing them to be so!

  10. Monica Sakala
    November 13, 2012 | 10:30 pm

    Tracy – thanks for commenting and I totally agree. It actually physically pains me sometimes to see the outfits my husband chooses if I’m not around that day – but then – it also sometimes physically pains me to see the outfits they pick for themselves…but we do what we have to do – right?? It’s a really tough issue but without help – we’ll all have huge breakdowns, I think anyway. Not to mention – Dads are important!

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