Facebook posts are binary. You’re either grousing about everything, having finally found a forum for a lifetime of complaints about how put upon you are, or you’re spreading sunshine about your intellectually gifted kids, the amazing vacation you took with them and the incredible 14-course meal they had ready for you when you finished your best-time-ever triathlon.
I’m pretty squarely in the second camp: my Facebook life is relentlessly awesome. My page is only two months old, created to help market a novel coming out later this year, and it’s full of what is supposed to pass for cheerful, inspirational commentary from the kind of has-it-all-together writer/entrepreneur/mom whose amazing book you should want to buy and whose life you should aspire to have.
Or it was, anyway, until Monday.
On Monday, I had a very bad day. And I posted about it on Facebook.
“By 8 this morning, I had cooked and served breakfast, packed lunches and put dinner in the slow cooker,” the post began, typically enough. “Then, when I dropped my youngest off at preschool, they handed me an application for him to come back next year. ‘Not that you’ll need it,’ they said, since the plan has been for him to join his big brothers at our neighborhood’s great public magnet school. The word ‘application’ stuck in my mind, though, and a couple hours later, sitting at my desk, it dawned on me why. I never filled out the application to register him with the public schools — the application that was due in December. I know the process; I’ve done it two times already. And I did complete the first step, entering all his information into ‘the system’ to get the PIN required for the application. But that critical next step, the one that actually gets him into the school, nope – just didn’t do it. There is no explanation for this lapse, which, after several desperate phone calls, I am coming to understand is pretty un-fixable.”
So, yeah. My kid, who’ll be 4 in September, isn’t going to be able to go to school with his brothers next year.
“I screwed up,” the post continued, in a clear departure from my usual tone. “I own that and I’ll make it work. But, somehow, in a week when Sheryl Sandberg is insisting that women just have to ‘lean in’ and be more ambitious if we’re going to succeed in business, and Marissa Mayer is doing away with employees’ work-at-home arrangements, I feel like maybe there’s something else that ought to be said, too. Even for the most privileged among us (and I clearly count myself there), this sh*t is hard. Most days, I keep everything going, but, fairly regularly, something slips though the cracks. One sick kid, one blown deadline, one wrong move … there’s virtually no margin for error. The margin is me not sleeping, pulling an all-nighter to make up for work that didn’t get done during the day. The margin is the light bulbs that forever need replacing, the family and social events I don’t attend and the vacations we’ll never take. Everyday, I list out what has to be done. On the good days, I manage to tackle the list. On the bad days, I find myself prioritizing among the things that will be done poorly and those that won’t be done at all. I love my life, I love my work and I love my family. And, sometimes, I come frighteningly close to superwoman/having-it-all status. Sometimes, though, I don’t. And I thought it was time that maybe someone should admit that.”
Right away, people started responding. And sharing the post with their friends. Within 24 hours, it had circulated to over 4000 people, mostly women, many of whom took time from their busy lives to respond to me with words of kindness, support and, overwhelmingly, “Been there. Done that.”
It was cathartic and comforting and incredible. Dozens of women who, from the looks of their own pages, were doing pretty passable imitations of superwomen themselves, were taking this moment to say, “We. Cannot. Do. It. All.”
We are incredibly privileged women in an incredibly lucky generation. Growing up, we had amazing female role models, blazing trails for us in all directions. Our parents and teachers told us we could do anything. And that’s what we expected from ourselves. But, in workplaces that have not changed to reflect the realities of modern families, in communities that isolate us, in a world that demands ever more from us as mothers and workers, we have learned that the achievements we thought were our birthright come at unbelievable costs. It is all so much harder than we thought it would be, so much harder than it needs to be.
Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer tell stories about themselves, holding themselves out as examples to show that we’ve all just got to stop cutting corners and work harder and with more focus, that we can get ahead if we really want to and have wonderful families, too.
Their stories aren’t true.
And if they aren’t going to start telling the truth about what it’s really like to be a working mom, then we will. Watch out, Facebook. It’s about to get real in here.
A version of this post originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune on Friday, March 1.