The most pernicious lie I believed about motherhood was a lie of omission.
No one told me that having ambitious career goals while raising children required significant help. By help, I mean any or some combination of: a stay-at-home spouse, accessible and helpful relatives, reliable childcare, a housecleaner or cook.
It was a mystery to me how everyone else managed to keep a clean house, their families fed healthy meals, and themselves maintained while still advancing at work and having time for a social life.
I'm sure there will always be the 1 percent of superwomen among us who pull this off without hired help or extraordinary support systems. But I'm talking about the 99 percent -- the rest of us. We're human: Our minds can only carry so many to-do items at one time. (That would be around seven, research shows.) Our bodies have a minimum requirement for sleep.
I learned this after years of wondering why I was so tired, so rushed and always feeling so behind: The ones who are "leaning in" full-tilt have someone else putting away a lot of laundry and preparing a fair number of meals. Even the ones who can barely afford it, outsource it. If it's a choice between a pricey summer camp for the children or a weekly cleaning service, pick the maid!
No working mother shared this advice so explicitly with me until recently. It's not just a matter of choosing peace of mind or an extra few hours of rest for yourself. Paid help at home can make the critical difference of getting by at work or getting ahead.
Brigid Schulte exposes a few of these truths in her recent book, "Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time." The research bears out these facts: More mothers today work outside the home, spend more time taking care of their children, do a greater percentage of household chores than their spouses and have less time for themselves than in years past.
One of the time-use researchers Schulte interviewed remarked: "Employed mothers talking about sleep is like a hungry man talking about food."
Now that, right there, is truth.
"You can't add work and do more child care without getting enormously time-stressed. You can't have it all unless other things shift in other people's behavior -- unless men actually reduce their working hours and increase their time doing housework and child care, unless cultures change and we're prepared to give social support to parents," says Lyn Craig, a sociologist and time-use researcher from Australia, in Schulte's book.
As a product of a working-class childhood, the idea of needing another person to keep my home as clean as I would like it or relying on prepared meals to feed my family seemed indulgent and lazy. I had watched my mother, raising six children, manage to run a functioning household.
I never saw her sit still. I never saw her take a nap in the afternoon, or sit down to simply watch a television show or read a book. The woman was (and is, to this day) always in motion. From her, I inherited the notion that the best mothers are continuously working.
It is an impossible standard to set for myself, as she didn't work outside the home when we were young. We didn't have multiple activities to which she drove us. The work was no less time consuming, but she had prioritized what was most important and sacrificed the rest.
My youngest sister, a powerhouse attorney with a baby and another on the way, still has ambitious career goals she hopes to achieve. I texted her recently: "You need a full-time nanny, who you can teach to cook, plus keep Mom on standby. Also, up your maid's hours. This is the best career advice I can give you."
I'm done with the lies.