Picture a parent and a professional

In this blog, I have been writing about (mis) perceptions of working women and working mothers in particular. As a young mother I am confronted with my own expectations as a mother and as a professional. The problem is that the standards of a good parent and those of a dedicated professional were set in a different age and time.

Picturing a good parent, one might think of a person who looks like this:


sweet, tender, someone with patience to discover little things in life together with her toddler. This is a person who is devoted to her role of a mother and everything that goes with it; from preparing food to washing and ironing that cute little dress.

This person does not: pick up the phone to discuss latest developments on potential new business; work on a strategic vision for her company; or meet with Ministers and CEOs.

Someone who does all those things might look like this:


This is the sort of person that takes care of business; makes things happen; and maybe heads a division of other dedicated professionals.

Now these pictures just don’t fit with reality anymore: they are a misfit with the 21st century. Women have adopted to the working world rather quickly. Over the past decades women have entered the job market in large numbers up to a point were, according to Catalyst, they make up around 47% of the labour market both in US and Canada. This means that you have an almost 50-50 % chance that when you are meeting with a dedicated professional, she will look roughly like this:


It is a fact of life that the picture of a parent or a professional is much more diverse than ever. The standard of a hard working professional is no longer a men in a suit; nor are good parents always women.

But these are only the facts, perceptions change much slower than pictures in our head. I have tried to fit in with both: adjusting to fit with the corporate world while trying to keep up with the picture of a perfect mom. Maybe looking like this:


Looks rather perfect, right? But whoever has tried it knows it just doesn’t work. So I wonder why do so many women, including myself, try to fit in with both pictures of a good mother and a great professional? Why are we so frustrated when we find out that we can not make 30 butterfly cupcakes on a school night for our daughter’s birthday? Or when we cannot attend that meeting 500 km from home because the perfectly planned family calendar will fall apart? When we figure out that we ‘still can’t have it all’ as Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote in the Atlantic?

It is because no one knew what it would mean to take on both the ‘women’s’ role and the ‘men’s’ role. In fact men haven’t figured it out either as we no longer life in a Mad Men’s world. We are living in an age of sliding doors and we are creating new realities. We just have to change the existing pictures in our head and replace them with new ones, including this one:



Of course at a risk of creating a new ideal picture, that doesn’t fit with reality…

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    • Irene Janssen

      Great article, thanks Anke! If you want to know more about Dutch motherhood culture and how it developed over time I would definitely recommend the book written by Ina Brouwer: http://www.geschiedenis.nl/index.php?go=home.showBericht&bericht_id=3276

      It compares the Netherlands with Sweden and France – I just which it was published in English… But unfortunately only available in Dutch.

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