As CEO of a startup that’s become the largest career community for women and mom to three kids under age 5, I’m no stranger to the self-imposed pressures working moms face when it comes to feeling present for our children.
What doesn’t help assuage this sense of working mom guilt? Viral treatises proclaiming that parents who miss even one — ONE — of their children’s sporting events are doing them a grave disservice.
This week, PopSugar published an opinion piece by author Caitlin Gallagher titled: “Parents, Going to Every One of Your Kids’ Games Matters More Than You Know.” In painstaking detail, the author paints a picture of her favorite memory from childhood: her parents proudly watching her play basketball from the stands. Gallagher knew she mattered, she says, because her parents were there, and their dedication to her sports games “proved (she) could rely on them.”
This is all sweet enough — until Gallagher insists on transforming this personal experience into an expectation all parents should meet. She argues that because she had this experience, all parents should behave like hers: the perfect parents that made it to every single one of her games. “Parents, even if you think it's no big deal (and even if your kids say it's no big deal), it matters,” she sums up. And, as of this writing, her argument has been shared more than 1.5 million times.
From where I sit, I agree that showing your children support is inarguably important. Being present at big moments in their lives is important, having interest in their hobbies is important, and showing them that they are a priority is important. But holding yourself and other parents to the impossible standard of attending every game isn’t just unproductive; it’s unfair. There is an inherent privilege to being able to attend all of your kids events. There are many families headed by single parents who juggle work, multiple children and other responsibilities without the support of a partner. And there are parents who work hourly jobs where every shift is a financial necessity. These parents, who tend to disproportionately be young women of color, shouldn’t be held to a standard that often holds impossible for even the most privileged of mothers.
The author of this essay admits that she never knew her parents had a demanding career. She says all she knew was “that they were there for every single thing.” In contrast, I believe we do our children a disservice by not showing them how hard we work, both to support them and to support our own senses of agency and ambition. I believe we also do them a disservice by not showing them that life is a balance that requires sacrifice, and that real love and support comes in many forms, not only grand gestures. Holding yourself as a superhero in front of your kids keeps them from seeing your humanity. It keeps them from seeing and reciprocating your vulnerability. And that’s not the basis of any healthy relationship.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this essay went big. Mothers are disproportionately saddled with parenting expectations, and everyone has a point of view on what it means to be a “good enough” parent. And despite the progress we think we’ve made in portraying women as actual people, relics like this of a time where women were expected to define themselves by their role as “mother” remain. And not only do they remain, they’re incredibly lucrative. In an era where moms are expected to live a Pinterest-worthy lifestyle and online personalities are paid to appear perfect, policing parenting styles will stay en vogue. But the only way towards real progress is to remind women that they can’t always do it all. And that’s perfectly OK.
Despite what this author suggests, if your kids say it’s OK for you to miss a moment, it’s OK. And even if they are upset about you missing a moment, it’s OK. You are a human, and you have a set of priorities that you alone are allowed to align.
So yes, maybe these small moments matter. But the lessons you teach your children off the court —balance, sacrifice, career dedication, and humanity — matter much, much more.
Georgene Huang is the CEO of Fairygodboss.