How Far Have Families Come? As a Breadwinner, I’m Still Selling Myself

I claim the title ‘breadwinner’ with trepidation. Funny, but I don’t know a single man who uses it. That’s because the word teases political sensibilities, and who wants to do that unnecessarily? Not me. But as a woman, I don’t have a choice.

You see, we female breadwinners still have to sell ourselves to the world. Even if you disagree with me there, we certainly have to sell ourselves to ourselves.

Sometimes the choice just seems wrong. When I’ve had a long week, and my husband, the at-home parent, has been home with our kids, I feel envy. And worry. Maybe even some resentment. By rights, a little voice tells me, that role should be mine. Why do I have to be content with 10 hours of face time during the working week? These are my babies!

Yet I signed on for this. My ambition told me I could have it all: career, marriage, children, the responsibility of paying for their education, our retirement, vacations, doctors’ bills, therapy. . .

That’s just the personal struggle. I’ve also seen ‘the look’ from some people when they learn how much I travel or even when I simply share that I own my own business. There’s something in the air, a whiff of judgement when someone asks, “how are you?” and I say, I’m spinning too many plates. Didn’t they just ask me how I am? Maybe they don’t really want to know. Or maybe they were already suspicious of my arrangement and this is the validation they need to tell themselves it doesn’t work? Two weeks before my son was born, my own mother scolded me for working “too hard” and asked questions she never would have asked me if I were her son.

Then there’s my kids. They miss me on the long days. And that hurts. Just this morning, my son saw me take my suitcase down from a top shelf and proceeded to scream, “I want to go with you”, as I cried myself out the door.

So all day, every day, I sell myself on this version of modern life. Meanwhile, thousands of women join the breadwinner line, many out of necessity. And we’re selling society on this lifestyle while we sell it to ourselves.

I’ve often said that the best salesperson is a chameleon with integrity. She adjusts to changing circumstances without betraying her core beliefs or identity. The female breadwinner is a chameleon, too, only her colors change several times every day as she moves from task to task. Sales and breadwinning are mutually reinforcing roles that can, ultimately, justify the enormous challenge of trying to do both.

Just don’t expect it to happen on its own. I sure don’t. Here’s some reminders I need when I’m packing for yet another cross-country flight:

  • Quality does not require quantity. Yes, time is important, but it’s amazing how much you can bond with your children in a short time. Just like a sales relationship, the content of a meeting matters more than its length. My kids know that when I’m there, I’m theirs.
  • Their words come first. We all know salespeople with great jawbones. But they aren’t great salespeople unless they know when to shut up and listen. Communication with dad is key. Mutual respect for how we parent, individually, a united front whether I am home or away, and keeping in close touch about details, is how we make it work.
  • Deal with expectations tactfully, but firmly. News flash: we’re not on Planet Equality quite yet. Every woman in sales probably has experienced a freeze-out in a room full of men. And most hard-driving mothers have felt the tension between what’s expected at work and needed at home.

    In both cases you bend, but don’t break. You need to find the way to accommodate the team/client without denying who you are. The girl in the room. The mom. It still takes some doing.

  • Believe it: it’s not your mom’s world anymore. Breadwinners need to keep faith in the future. I have great hope that my kids won’t think twice about whether Mom or Dad works/cares for the kids. It’s exciting to break new ground.

    The faith is akin to what’s needed when you’re gunning for an ideal client. You have to believe you’re the best fit when you’re feeling eager: you will connect with those clients you’d be delighted to work for.

  • Trust in your integrity. No explanation will suffice: When you do, you do, as a parent or a salesperson. At the end of the day, there’s only one message that’s fair.

You’re good enough.

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