05/29/2014 03:43 pm ET Updated Jul 29, 2014

The Female Double Bind Part I: The Bad Mom vs. The Moocher


The Double Bind: An emotionally distressing response as a result of two conflicting messages.

Yeah, I think we know something about that.

Call it what you want: Hobson's choice, a Catch-22, damned if you do, damned if you don't; whatever figure of speech you prefer, it's all the same. Society expects one thing, but then demands another. And it's exhausting.

Even with all the research in the world, these double binds do not need to be proven by science -- we live them every day. Oppression is the new norm, and the double standard is its bread and butter. Think about it; in the past month alone, we have been bombarded by news surrounding Jill Abramson's controversial firing (allegedly over salary), Shailene Woodley's third degree over feminism and one of the most horrifying gun slayings by a killer with haunting expectations of the female body. While it is clear we cannot escape these double binds, we can push back.

After much reflection, observation and coaching, I have found four major double binds currently affecting females. Over the course of four separate blogs, I am going to go through each double bind and explain what they are, what they mean and how we can overcome them. Keep in mind that these are just a few -- the double binds don't end here. There are plenty more lurking in the waters, and as women. it's our job to find them, share them, and fight them. Let's get started.

1. Lifestyle: Work vs. Home
(The Bad Mom vs. The Moocher)

Before we begin, allow me to share an excerpt Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In:

When a couple announces that they are having a baby, everyone says "Congratulations!" to the man and "Congratulations! What are you planning on doing about work?" to the woman. The broadly held assumption is that raising their child is her responsibility.

I've said it. You've said it. We've all freakin' said it. And unfortunately, it's a very natural question. The United States is the last industrialized nation without a paid maternity leave policy, leaving a sticky dilemma that must be addressed. And apparently, we as a society believe it's the female's responsibility.

OK girls, let's address the pros and cons. Leaving work means more time with our children, less money spent on childcare, and a more "traditional" family. Staying at work means trying to chase the allure of "having it all," career longevity, and increasing the odds of a promotion. But let's be honest, the lucky women who have the ability to make this choice at all still deal with the inescapable double bind:

The Bad Mom or the Moocher?


Now, let's run through the gamete of the stay-at-home moms. Typically, full-time moms fear being judged for various insufficiencies, whether that's a dearth of practical work skills, an unbalanced lifestyle or a lack of ambition. Take novelist Erin Almond's struggle on admitting her full-time mom status:

But even though I continue to write and occasionally publish fiction, now that I've had my third baby the truth is, for the most part, I'm a stay-at-home mom.
So why do I hesitate to admit this?
If I'm being honest with myself, it's because that label makes me feel diminished, unimportant, perhaps even a betrayer of that wide-eyed dreamer who went off to California to get her MFA 10 years ago.

So... it seems like the stay-at-home moms are just bringing it on themselves, right? Wrong. Consider the common phrase, "you have a baby, you lose a brain." Geeze. Yes, the Motherism prejudice is alive and well. Even without research, Google provides the nail in the coffin with the search results of "moocher + stay-at-home mom." I almost shook from anger.

On the other hand, 60% of America believes that children are better off when a parent stays at home to focus on the family, and 51% believes it is the mother's responsibility. Considering only 9.5% of dads stay at home full time, it's easy to see which partner deals with the "bad parent" label. And let's not even get started on the women who do not have children, by choice or not. (How does she NOT want kids? Is it medical...? I mean if not, she must be, like, super selfish or something.)

To summarize what we have covered thus far: Ouch.

Should mothers who wish to raise their own children and devote their valuable time to running the house without compensation really be judged as "moochers" or incompetent? Should working mothers be labeled as lesser parents when research proves their children show no developmental differences? I don't think so.

What's worse is women are judging each other based on these choices. None of us really know how to navigate this landscape gracefully; there's no handbook for it! Maybe we can ask our moms, but the times are really different. Maybe we can ask our friends, but their circumstances are also really different. And often, we see our chosen female anchors making different decisions than our own, and we panic. We doubt. We judge.

Instead of turning on each other, we can support each other. We shouldn't be making these decisions alone, and we shouldn't expect every one else to make the same choices we do. Think about any regrets you may have and realize the woman standing next to you has them as well.

It's vital that we reserve judgment while accepting our own decisions with confidence. Choosing to stay at home, choosing to be a full-time mom or choosing a hybrid is not easy. We will never measure up to what we think our roles should look like, nor will anyone else. And who is setting those "ideal roles" anyway?!

Crap. It might be us.

Accepting our own individual path while rejecting the status quo is our first step to breaking the double bind. Let the ambiguity rush in, and usher the expectations out. Our time and efforts are valuable and irreplaceable -- no matter what our negative self-talk screams back. Society is blessed to have such a dynamic gender.

How we decide to spend our adulthood is a personal choice -- not a multiple choice. We can create our own fulfilling role, bring it to life and gracefully allow others to do the same.

Next on my list? One of my personal favorites, The Weakling vs. The B*tch. Stay tuned, Part II is on its way.