Marcy Markusa: The Mommy Myth and what it means

CBC Information Radio host Marcy Markusa reflects on the weeklong series The Mommy Myth, asks who is perpetuating that myth, and looks at what listeners are telling her about their experiences.
Lauren Phillips and her family at home in Winnipeg. Phillips, co-ordinator of the academic success centre and assessment services at Red River College, was one of several mothers featured in The Mommy Myth, a series that aired this week on CBC. (CBC)

It's been an interesting journey watching my girlfriends have children. These are women who are partners in law and engineering firms, owners of family companies, teachers and scientists.

These are busy, professional women who went on to procreate with the promise of our mothers' generation ringing in their ears.

The Mommy Myth

Check out our full coverage of The Mommy Myth, a series that aired this week on CBC's Information Radio.

That promise came from a lot of our moms, who stayed at home or worked part-time when we were growing up, and it sounded something like this: "Don't lose your identity … you can have it all … go to school, achieve job success, and then have your children. We have paved the way for you to do this."

Of course, those mothers couldn't have known what would happen to many of their daughters after they had their children. They couldn't have known that changes in modern families would bring about "The Mommy Myth."

The myth, to me, is that nothing is lost in the journey to have it all. Now, if you step back and consider that statement logically, how could it not be? You are taking one full-time job and adding another.

I would like to say right now that we are not excluding the fathers in this equation. Quite the opposite.

Fathers, in fact, might be part of the key to helping everyone have it all, as they too struggle to take on a larger role in modern families. They often face employers who don't value the man's role in parenting in the same way they do with women.

Women still catching up

Looking at the roles is part of this story. Looking at how workplaces view men and women and parents overall is part of this story.

The reality, however, is that there are stats to back up why women might be feeling the brunt of the challenge.

Statistics Canada says that women today still take on twice the amount of child-care duties compared to men. They do more of the housework. They also make on average 83 cents for every dollar that men make.

Despite the growing number of men who are truly hard-working, equal partners in parenting, women will still be playing catch-up.

So let's get back to The Mommy Myth and who is responsible for perpetuating it today.

There is this dream out there that with some kind of magical planning and the focus of a Zen master, women can achieve the balance of maximum success in the workplace as well as being the picture-perfect cookie-baking mother whose house is always clean, has date nights with her spouse, and is completely balanced at all moments of the day.

There's even an ad on TV right now for Chartered Professional Accountants that shows this woman in a three-piece business suit flying in a helicopter, signing off on important business deals, laughing in meetings and then returning home to celebrate her daughter's homework with a quiet moment in her designer kitchen. She is smiling confidently at the camera. 

Who is that woman? I don't think she exists.    

Setting up for failure

I think those who "have it all" in real life have figured out new definitions of what that means, and those who haven't end up "doing it all" and feeling like perpetual failures because it's not done to the standards that they or others have set up for themselves.

Case in point:  I met one of my friends in Safeway on Christmas Eve and she basically broke down because she had to buy a "bag salad."

She told me that all she wanted to do was make a homemade salad, but it came down to a choice: put up the tree or rip the lettuce.

She allowed herself the out, but was brought to tears again when a relative came over and didn't notice the Christmas tree at all. Instead, they asked her why she hadn't done more Christmas decorating like her mom used to do.

Another woman named Patricia wrote to me just this week using the handle "Executive Mommy."

Just like my "bag salad" friend, Patricia also had a moment of redefining parenting success that was all too swiftly taken away.  Here's part of what she wrote: 

"Dear Marcy, 

"Recently, I bought a 'fat bike' (it has really fat tires) so that I could mountain bike during the winter. I tested the features of my new bike by riding my new clean bike through my living room and out the front door, down the front steps. When my daughter heard my plan, she said, 'No Mama! You're going to die!' I calmly told her not to worry because I had practised this in other ways and I was wearing my helmet. I told her about all the times that I fell while I was learning, and that I won't go faster than I feel comfortable doing. 

"The next morning we got ready for work/school as usual. She was unusually quiet during the ride to school. As we approached the school, she said, 'Mom. I don't need you to walk me into my classroom today.' I was surprised because, she's only in Kindergarten and unlike the older kids that just get dropped off in the school yard, I always park my car, walk with her into her classroom, and help her get undressed.  I asked why she didn't want me to go with her and she replied, 'Mama, if you can ride your bike down the stairs and through the snow, I think I can walk into my classroom by myself. You can just open the big heavy door for me.'

That's what being a working-Mom is to me. I'm teaching her in everything I do. I may not be the mom that makes cookies for the bake sales (I usually send a cheque), but I'm still instilling values and teaching confidence."

Isn't that a wonderful story? Now here's the last line of the e-mail:

"When I told this story to a colleague of mine, she replied, 'AND you have time to workout?! Seriously, are you TOTALLY ignoring your child?'"

Unbelievable, right?

Cost of trying to do it all

I want to give the last word to Sharon McIlraith, who wrote to Information Radio's Facebook page.

Sharon's story is a great example of why the cost of trying to do it all is just too great.   

"I am the mom of a child on the Autism Spectrum as well as a full time Manager. Trying to manage not only the demands of work, but the large and growing demands of having a child with additional needs, as well as home life (meals, laundry, housecleaning etc.), has become too much to handle. I tried to do it all and although I had it all, I was not doing any of it well. Trying to live up to the expectations that society puts on us is hard. We are supposed to be super moms, excellent employees who can take on more and more responsibility, and do it all with a happy, balanced life. Not possible. I pushed myself too far trying to live up to that image and now I am on a medical leave having overloaded myself. In the end my son and husband did not have the mom and wife they deserved, my employer didn't have the best employee and I was not the best I should have been to myself."

She went on to say, "I think we can have it all, man or woman, but not at the same time. Men do not have the same pressures put on them as women.  I have a wonderful husband who splits duties of house, child and home. However, the crux of the issue is still the difference society places on men and women."

Let me know what you think. Send me an e-mail at

About the Author

Marcy Markusa

Host, Information Radio

Marcy Markusa hosts Information Radio on CBC Radio One 89.3 FM / 990 AM in Winnipeg. Born and raised in the Manitoba capital, Marcy is passionate about the future of our community and loves how it's growing in both confidence and prosperity. She thrives on getting honest and straight-forward answers for listeners and infuses the show with her energetic warmth and sense of humour.