Paradoxical Expectations of the Working Mom

Working moms today are often harshly criticized because we are held to almost impossible standards—we are expected to work like we don’t have kids; and we are expected to raise children like we don’t work. Even when fathers are assuming more child rearing and household responsibilities, they are praised as doing extra while mothers are seen as only doing par. The home is still seen as our primary domain, and it’s up to us to figure out how to level the playing field if we want to be with the big boys in the corporate world.

Climbing the Corporate Ladder

Like many female colleagues of my generation, I was encouraged to “have it all” and look up to women who seemingly found a way to balance work and motherhood. I found myself struggling to sustain my career momentum, however, once the Dumpling come into the picture. In a fast-paced city like New York, where nine hour days are the minimum and anything above is normal, the grind can be especially gruesome. Compared to my colleagues who come in earlier, leave later, and participate in after-hour social events, I often feel like I’m not a team player because I dart out of the office at 5:30 pm.

While other moms are more understanding, there are a few who think every woman should make the same sacrifices they did. There’s the successful female executive with the “I-did-it-and-so-can-you” attitude who thinks the rest of us are just a bunch of complainers. Then there’s the stay-at-home mom who questioned my judgement in putting the Dumpling at daycare when she was only six months old.

Although progress is headed in the right direction, corporate America still isn’t too family friendly. Maternity leave is not mandatory and left to the discretion of the employer. Americans also clock in more hours per week (special shout out to New York!), have fewer holidays, and vacation days compared to most of our European counterparts. While taking holidays and long lunches are culturally acceptable in Europe, it carries a negative stigma in the U.S. The higher up the corporate ladder the we climb, the more we are expected to be accessible 24/7 and available to travel regularly.

Meeting the Demands of Modern Day Motherhood

Even if moms are willing to grind it out, childcare is a common challenge. The core U.S. household is typically made up of only the parents and their children. Therefore, extended family members, like grandparents, do not play major roles as caregivers on a daily basis, and most working parents are forced to seek outside help. Day cares often have long wait lists, are expensive, and penalizes heavily on late pick-ups. jigg and I pay $270 a week, and we are fortunate to have our in-laws do the evening pick ups and babysit for about an hour until I get home. Otherwise, the current local rate for a nanny runs anywhere between $15-$25 an hour. While live-in helpers are common in Asia for many middle-class families, they are entirely out of reach for most in the U.S. For example, a cost of a live-in helper in Hong Kong, who helps with not only childcare, but also cooking, cleaning, errands, and general household chores six days a week costs approximately $4,010 HKD per month, or $514 USD. That’s about a week’s pay for a nanny in the U.S.

Modern parents also need to be very involved. Child experts recommend a barrage of activities that parents should do with their toddlers to develop their sensory, gross motor, fine motor, social, and communication skills. Once school starts, parents are expected to review homework assignments, attend parent-teacher conferences, volunteer for funds raises, etc. Most of these responsibilities inevitably fall onto the mother.

Society in general has expectations (often hidden in a form of unsolicited advice) of how our children ought to behave by cherry picking from the best practices across different cultures. My elders brag about how they managed to put dinner on the table every night, do chores by hand, and raised kids without the fancy gadgets. I’m told to admire the French, who cook sophisticated meals for their children and are firm in their discipline. Compared to Americans, we have raised a kiddy population of obese, picky eating dictators. My Chinese relatives bring up how so and so enrolled their children in swimming, piano, and Mandarin classes and advised I should look into them as well before my daughter falls behind.

Time Scarcity

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It’s no wonder that I always feel like there’s not enough time; I’m working two full time jobs on a daily basis. In the span of 24 hours, “work” and “commute” take up approximately 12 hours of my day; there’s not much I can do to easily change these unless I quit my job or move closer to the city. “Sleep” takes up eight hours (Do I really need eight hours? Yes, I do), which leaves me with the remaining four to do everything else under “other”.

“Other” is a category that includes getting the Dumpling ready for daycare in the morning, then feeding, cleaning, playing and putting her to bed at night. Somewhere in between, I also have to eat, tidy up the house, and make time for jigg and me. I’m scratching my head trying to find time to do everything else I’m supposed to be doing as a “good mother.” If I attend that happy hour, I would miss tucking my daughter in bed. If I cooked in the evenings, being in front of the stove would take away from time spent reading to her. If I enrolled her in weekend classes, she would be spending even more time with outside caregivers than her parents.

Learning from my elders and parents in other cultures should serve as an inspiration. But when their best practices are used as baseline comparisons of how I ought to parent, it’s easy to become disheartened. I remind myself that while they face challenges that I cannot relate to, I have career aspirations and societal expectations that my mom didn’t have, or work hours and childcare costs that my mommy friends from other countries don’t face. As a result, I pick and choose my parenting battles and accept that I do some things better and fall short on others.

DIY Party Doesn’t Mean Doing EVERYTHING Yourself

A nice thing about throwing a party for my two year old is that the Dumpling is still too young to realize that the festivities are for her. That meant I had 100% say in the theme and got to live vicariously through my daughter. The result was a mint green, pink, and gold celebration that I would have liked if I were two going on 32.

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The Dumpling’s mint green, pink, and gold party!

I love making my own party decorations because I can customize every detail on a budget. But I sometimes take the DIY aspect a bit too far—to a point where I thought “doing it yourself” meant doing everything yourself. For example, I was so stressed planning the Dumpling’s first birthday party last year that I had anxiety attacks (and poor jigg was on the receiving end of most of them) because I was pressed for time.

To ensure that I enjoyed every moment of my party crafting this year, I made a list of everything that needed to be done, took on only the projects that I wanted, and sought help for everything else—tasks that I didn’t want to do, am not good at, or were time-consuming and didn’t provide value. While I gained convenience and time at the expense of higher costs, the trade off made sense given my hectic schedule.

Have Someone Else Do the Set Up and Clean Up

On the top of my list was renting a venue because after hours of prepping followed by several more of hosting, the last thing I wanted to do was cleaning. We rented out Good Day Play Cafe, an indoor playroom that was perfect entertainment for our little guests and parents. Their tiered party packages and a la carte options offer a variety of services across different price ranges. The staff was phenomenal and helped with the set up, provided food for the kiddos, and of course, the clean up.

Playroom at Good Day Play Cafe.
The staff helped set up and provided fun table cloths and utensils to match my theme.

Budget friendly thought: Host the party at home and hire cleaners to come afterwards.

Delegate Your Weakness

My strength is in design, not baking. When it came you dessert, I was more than happy to seek professional help rather than spend time learning to bake and sculpt gum paste (and worry whether my creations would be edible).

By chance, I was browsing through Instagram three days before the party when I saw my  my friend’s gorgeous dessert creations and immediately fell in love. I gave her free reign on the design and was ecstatic with the results! One of the beauty of hiring a professional is that she knows what she’s doing and didn’t need much guidance from me.

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Custom handcrafted green, pink and gold cupcakes to match my party decorations
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Add personalized banners and flags to cupcakes for a custom look.

Budget friendly thought: Decorate plain cakes or cupcakes with personalized banners and flags.

Use Pre-Made Decorations

How housewives felt about instant cake mixes back when the product first came to market was how I initially felt about pre-made party decorations: it’s cheating. Then I realized that I didn’t want to spend hours cutting up tissue paper, so I bought a pre-made (but unassembled) party kit from Amazon that came with tassels, decorative straws, and pom pom.

Budget friendly thought: Amazon offers a variation of what is included in their party kits, so explore their sets rather than buying pieces individually.

Focus on the Fun Part!

Delegating out certain tasks freed up more time for me to focus on designing.

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Invitation to the Dumpling’s Birthday and Halloween play date. 
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I realized after the party that I forgot to make a banner with her name. Oops.
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Flags and pom pom wands.
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Favor bags for the little guests.

Remember that Time is Valuable!

People often asked me where I found the time to throw a DIY party as a full time working mom. If there’s one thing motherhood has taught me, it’s time management. When “free time” is scarce, I made sure the it was used efficiently by focusing on my strengths and what made me happy; everything else was a distraction. Crafting is supposed to be fun and therapeutic and I intend to keep it that way!