“I screwed up … This sh*t is hard”: A Working Mom’s Confession Goes Viral on Facebook

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image19205088Facebook 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.


  1. Thanks for your article Debra. I read it and I wanted to see the Facebook page you were talking about but there is no link to it. I also wanted to read an author bio at the end of the post, but again, no information.

    I’m a writer and a blogger and have been looking around this site to check it out and see if it’s worth applying to guest-post here, but I don’t like that there was no information leading to you. I’ve looked at your other posts and those from other contributors and again – there are no links to those authors. This seems to be a rather large oversight by the owner of this blog-site!

    Any way I’d love to check out your Facebook page if you can send me a link :-) Thanks, Susanne

  2. While I agree with the facebook post, I think it completely misses the mark when discussing the purpose of Sheryl Sandberg’s message in her book, “Lean In”. In fact, having read the book twice, I’d say the messages are in sync. Sheryl doesn’t say to quit cutting corners in order to focus and be successful; she says that you CAN’T do it all and in order to be successful at anything you choose, you must have help and support. This comes from friends, family, your spouse and your employer. She talks at length about how she’s dropped the ball many times and forgotten to get some things done for her kids and family, but her point is, is that we have to stop feeling guilty about it, because we’re human and can’t possibly do it all.
    I think both messages are on the same page; both honest portrayals of ambitious and successful women who are trying to let go of the guilt we all have from time to time.
    And Sheryl’s main point is that instead of bickering back and forth about who’s right or wrong (as the last sentence suggests) we need to champion each other’s causes because, ultimately, they are the same. Who cares if one is making gingerbread snaps and the other is making chocolate chip? The point is that we’re all trying to do the same thing; raise good kids and have a passion of our own that we can pursue. How about we stop looking for a fight and work together to educate the business world, men and even childless women who often judge us for trying to strike a balance? That would be beneficial to us all.

  3. I couldn’t agree more! And you got a excellent point: why do women have to fight with each other?

  4. Debra, this article ROCKS! Your facebook post ROCKS! Your raw, honesty ROCKS!

    I don’t know Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer – so I cannot agree nor disagree with you on whether their “stories” are truth — but yours…your admission that WE CANNOT DO IT ALL – is perfection. Far too few who have lead before us have made these admissions. We’ve all been programmed to believe that a great mom or a great business woman needed to look like Martha Stewart and anything less just sucked!

    So my dear (although we have not formally met) I just wanted to make sure that you get the kudo’s you deserve for stepping out and saying it. Superwoman syndrome is a gift and a curse all at the same time. We are pretty amazing humans when we can create a list of 20 things to do, accomplish even 5 things out of that 20, do all the OTHER stuff that doesn’t make the list but that we do naturally every day anyhow (like cleaning, dishes, dinner and teaching our children how to be extraordinary in their own ways etc. etc. etc.) and still at some point find the time to clean ourselves up and get some rest in.

    You GO GIRL! Much love and huge hugs to you.

    P.S. I am sorry to hear that your son didn’t get in to the public school of choice – but I do believe everything happens for a reason and for that reason – even though it may not be apparent now, I would encourage you not to feel bad about it.

  5. I love this. One thing, though… I realize your are a site/organization devoted to women so I get that the focus of this discussion is on moms. But the truth is, this is an issue for all working parents — moms and dads. As women advance in the workplace, men are advancing in the home. In order to have a progressive, honest discussion I think it needs to be about working *parents* and not just moms.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.