I recently spent some time with a very successful professional woman. Over the course of a few hours, it emerged that she was training for a triathlon, that she discusses what's in The Wall Street Journal with her teenage kids, that she carefully comparison shops at the grocery story to buy them the most nutritious meals possible and that she teaches them the basics of personal finance over dinner.
That. That's what I can't do. I'm tired just listening to her. I can't tell you how much I respect her, but I'm just not made of that stuff.
I'm a mom. And I'm a professional woman. And the running joke around my house is that I'm a mediocre mother – at best. At very best.
The list of what I haven't done well is long: I didn't know my son was supposed to wear a different uniform in middle school, so he kept wearing the lower school shirt; I didn't make all the school parents' days (not always because there was a scheduling issue but sometimes because I couldn't even); and I consistently missed the paperback book fair. Even today when I try my very best, sometimes it doesn't work; I decided to take my daughter to London and booked the flights but forgot to tell her. She had already made other plans.
And I've never run a triathlon. Or discussed anything, ever, from The Wall Street Journal with my kids. And on nutrition, I try, but I don't go all kale on them.
That doesn't mean I've been a complete wash-out, of course: I read all of the "Harry Potter" books out loud to my son; I make a hell of a pie crust; I make an even better lunch spread. Really, it's fit for a king.
So, have I failed my kids? As a research analyst by training, I've looked for a correlation between excellence in parenting and how the kids turn out. It may exist, but I haven't seen one. And I take comfort in the finding that mothers today – working-outside-the-home or not – spend more time with their kids than our parents spent with us, despite decades-old bad science that said otherwise. That means me too.
And this feels right to me. Yes, my mom stayed at home. But the mores of the time were such that she never spent hours and hours engaging with her children. Summer vacations found her planted firmly in her beach chair, cigarette dangling from her mouth, chatting with the other young moms, for long afternoons, every once in awhile yelling at us to come in closer to shore. And there was true hell to pay if we got her hair wet. Very late '60s and early '70s. And we (mostly) turned out alright.
How do I navigate being a mediocre mom? Humor. If one of the plates I'm juggling falls, I laugh about the broken plate. And I've found that, particularly when the kids were younger, if I was laughing, they took my cue and they were laughing too. The bonus, as they've gotten older, is that they understand that perfection in parenting or a finely calibrated work-life balance is not the ultimate goal here. And laughter can be a lot more fun than chasing perfection.
And so when young professional women so often ask me how I've done it all, I tell them how. I didn't.
Sallie Krawcheck is the CEO and co-founder of Ellevest, a digital investment platform for women.