Women want it all but can’t – children, husbands & marriages suffer

Women want it all but can't - children, husbands & marriages suffer

Women want it all but can’t – children, husbands & marriages suffer

Hollywood actress Kim Cattrall concedes: “I’ve learned that women can’t have it all …most of us women spend 20 to 30 years on a diet.” And for what? 

The following is a transcript of an interview between Patrick Wanis, Human Behavior and Relationship Expert, Ph.D and Dr. Vicki Panaccione of the Better Parenting Institute exploring the impact on children and husbands by women who want to have it all.

Also see the following articles by Patrick Wanis:

“You can’t have it all”  – https://patrickwanis.com/blog/you-cant-have-it-all/

“Women can’t have it all – hot body, career, happy family & travel” – https://patrickwanis.com/blog/women-cant-have-it-all-women-suffer-children-lose-husbands-divorce-pinkett-smith/

“Women can’t have it all”  – https://patrickwanis.com/blog/women-cannot-have-it-all/

Patrick Wanis: This is Patrick Wanis, Human Behavior and Relationship Expert, Ph.D. Can women have it all? Recently there has been huge argument and debate in the media about women wanting it all. In 2005, Jada Pinkett Smith, married to actor and singer, Will Smith, claimed that women can have it all. In fact, she told a Harvard audience, “Don’t let anybody define who you are. Don’t let them put you in a box. Don’t be afraid to break whatever feeling anybody has put on you.”

And then she went on to say, “Women, you can have it all — a loving man, devoted husband, loving children, a fabulous career. They say you got to choose. Nah, nah, nah, we are a new generation of women. We got to set a new standard of rules around here. You can do whatever it is you want. All you have to do is want it.”

Now, again, they were the words of Jada Pinkett Smith to Harvard audience back in 2005. And yet it’s six or seven years later that people are talking about it. The Atlantic wrote an article just recently saying, “Why women still can’t have it all?” I responded to Jada Pinkett Smith’s comments back in 2005 and wrote two other articles with another one in 2011. But just in the past weeks, CNN, Huffington Post, New York Times, and the Atlantic have all been debating the topic “Can women have it all?”

Interestingly, much of the perspective or slant has come from the argument that the corporate world and men should shift so that women can have greater careers, so women can be more successful at work or can still juggle a family and a career. The perspective that everyone seems to be neglecting is: if women do set out to have it all, what will be the impact on their children?

Vicki Panaccione is a child psychologist, and she’s also the founder of  www.betterparentinginstitute.com

Vicki, it’s a huge question, but can women have it all?

Vicki Panaccione: It is an age-old question; I guess since the ’60s when women started breaking out of their roles, and I think that like everything else women can have it all to a certain extent as long as they find a comfortable balance. For instance, you can’t be a corporate jetsetter and be flying all over the world for your job and still be at home tending to your children.

I think you can like probably — Jada Pinkett Smith probably has some help — nannies and so on — that she can be away from her kids or she can take her kids on location when she’s filming or whatever she’s doing and have support their nannies and people to help them with their children. But if you’re talking about the general run-of-the-mill homemakers, housewives, mothers, and career women, I think that balancing for these women is a whole lot more difficult than balancing for somebody who has a lot of outside help.

Patrick Wanis: Of course, there are also those women that have little choice but to spend most of their time at work, some women even working two and three jobs in order to survive. But let’s talk about the key question: What is the impact on children of a woman who is spending all the time in a career or in a career that demands 60 and 70 hours a week?

Vicki Panaccione: I think it can be difficult for the kids. It certainly provides them with a different relationship with their mothers than they would have with the mother who is more available to them. So if they have a caretaker or the other parent is home but they have somebody who is a reliable consistent caretaker, then they’re still getting stability and security. Unfortunately though it’s not from their actual mother, but the kids may feel secure because their daily schedule runs pretty much the same whether or not mom is at home. But I think the question for women, too, is: Who do we want to have influencing our kids and who do we want to be raising our children?

Patrick Wanis: And that’s the key point. Do you want to be the mother of your child or do you want someone else or the daycare center to end up being the mother of your child? Do you want to share those first experiences with your child or do you want someone else to be there when a child first speaks, first walks, does something that’s new and fresh and memorable? Do you want to be there or do you want someone else to be there? But here is the bigger question? Do mothers need to be home for their children?

Vicki Panaccione: I don’t think so. I think that, first of all, it’s really important that the mother feels fulfilled in some way because children pick up on the vibe. So if we’re having a mom who’s staying home because she feels like she needs to be home for her child but is not happy being there and is longing to be on a job, work somewhere else, then that may not be the best role for her to serve. But I think if at all possible, it’s important for moms to be present in their children’s life. I don’t think it has to be 24/7, but I think on a regular consistent basis so that the person that the children are bonding to at their very early stages is their mothers.

Patrick Wanis: Aren’t the first three to five years the most critical and therefore isn’t it key or critical that the mother be with the child for those first three to five years on a full-time basis?

Vicki Panaccione: No, I wouldn’t say that. I would say that especially the children when they’re very young, the most important thing is that their needs are attended to on a predictable consistent basis. And other people than the mother can be providing that care especially if they’re not being there, for instance. But you do want the mother to have a presence that the children can depend upon and recognize, but I don’t think that she has to be there all of the time. I think that she should provide a certain role and play a certain part that it’s defined as this is mom, but I don’t say it has to be all the parts all the days.

Patrick Wanis: You raise an interesting point about whether or not the child is being nursed. In other words, is the child being breastfed? If the child — if a newborn baby is being breastfed, then the mother can’t be gone all day in an office, can she?

Vicki Panaccione: Well, it’s a little more difficult because then she has to pump and she can only do so much and so on. But even when babies are breastfed the mother doesn’t have to be there all the time because if the baby locate to the nipple of a bottle she can express her milk and someone else can give the baby the bottle and they’re still getting the breast milk. It’s not ideal because if you think about nursing being more than feeding the baby, there is also that bonding, that intimate time between the mother and the child that serves more of a purpose than simply feeding.

Not every woman decides to breast feed and they can still bond with their children. But I’m saying if you’re going to breast feed your child, it’s more important, it is more enjoyable, there is more intimacy in being the one who actually is giving the breast milk to your child than it being basically given from a bottle.

Patrick Wanis: And also when a mother is breast feeding her baby she releases oxytocin which creates and reinforces her own sense of bonding to the child.

Vicki Panaccione: But also we have to understand that there are women who have terrible experiences breast feeding so it’s not always this wonderful, magnificent experience of holding your baby to your breast. I mean there are babies that won’t take the breast. There are babies who are very hard on the nipples. There are babies who just want to suck forever and that can be very painful to the mother.

So we’ve got all kinds of things going. And if the mother, in fact, is really in a lot of pain and responding in that way, the baby will pick that up too, and so that may not be a situation where you want to continue breast feeding like that because if the mother is in pain and the baby is feeling that energy, that’s not a great bonding experience. So there are all kinds of things to consider.

Patrick Wanis: Okay, that’s a very interesting point. I would argue that children have a unique bond to their mother because they’re obviously born from the mother. Based on your expertise as a child psychologist, is the bond to the mother more important than the bond to the father?

Vicki Panaccione: I wouldn’t say more important. I would say different though. I have just seen that moms and dads really do serve different roles. And if we just allow them to do that and I think that people would be a lot less confused about what their roles are. I think in general mom has that initial bonding, nurturing connection to the baby because the baby did come from her body, but I also think that dads can bond and nurture the child.

It just seems in the earlier ages children tend to gravitate towards the mom, and I don’t know if there’s something to do even with the fact that they’re connected bodily to them or had been or if there is something about their bodily scent but there does seem to be a stronger connection or more of a dependency on the mother but also those are traditional roles that tend to be played out.

But I think that in — the importance of the dad though, I do not want to discount that because here’s the thing, Patrick, if you consider that everything that the mom and dad does are the models for the children as they grow up to learn how to be, and so we want dads to have a very important role because they’re the model of how to be a male, to be a man for the boys and also for girls, how they should be treated by a male, by the man. And so from a very young age, we want to instill in kids what it’s like to interact with both loving males and loving females because that’s very important.

Patrick Wanis: Okay, but one could easily argue though that the bond from the baby to the mother is much more significant and much more critical than to the father because often as the baby begins to grow, he or she will test the safety of the world by taking a few steps away from the mother and looking back to see that she’s still there. Often you’ll see the child running out of the room, playing with someone else or doing something and often running back just to see that mom is still there. And you’re saying that that might be purely and simply because the mother is playing the traditional role because she’s giving so much more time and attention to the baby than the father?

Vicki Panaccione: I think in the example that you gave because if the father was there and had been playing a significant role with the child and the child is starting to take the steps away, the child is going to come back and look for that security, that stability, and it can be a mother or it can be a father. But generally, we see moms on play dates, we see moms with toddlers doing that. But basically, when the toddler is taking steps away or going into the other room and coming back, it’s because they want to make sure that their security and their stability and their foundation is still there. So once they venture off into the world, they can feel comfortable because they can always come back to their safe haven. And if both of their parents have been very involved, then both parents could be their safe haven.

Patrick Wanis: Okay, just to attend to one of the first points you raised, you talked about how important it is for mother to also feel fulfilled in herself so that she doesn’t give off a negative energy to the baby. Shouldn’t that therefore begin with a woman making a decision, “Do I want to be mother or not? Do I want to be a mother or do I want to be a career woman?”

Vicki Panaccione: I think that’s an important decision that women should take a look at, and I don’t think it has to be an “either/or” or an “or.” I do think that women can have careers and raise children and be successful moms, and I’d like to think of myself as one of those women. However, I think that we can’t put one foot totally in the corporate world or in the working world and really go for the career if we’ve got another foot back in the home and wanting to be the mom. I think there’s got to be a balance, and at some point some things may need to be given up in order to — especially in the business world – in order to be the mom.

Patrick Wanis: Well, are women being selfish when saying, “I want to be a high-powered career woman. I want to be an executive and I want children and I want a hot body and I want to do yoga, and I want to do exercise and I want to travel and I want to have time to shop and I want to have me time.” Is that too much?

Vicki Panaccione: Gosh, it sounds a little bit like myself. I think we do all want it all. I mean, it’s just a matter of, again, the balance and what that means to have it all. And I don’t think you can go totally in one direction if you’re going to want the other pieces. So if you just want to have a life that’s all about yourself, then no, you shouldn’t be a parent — there’s a quote somewhere that says, “Once you have children, you get used to knowing that your heart walks outside your body for the rest of your life.”

I mean once you have children, the whole world changes. And you could still want it all, but at that point there is some selfishness if you’re saying, “I’m going to do this to the neglect of my children.” But for some women they feel that “Well, I’m going to provide for my children in another way. I’m going to have a nanny. I’m going to put them in daycare. I’m going to get these afterschool programs so that I can have some time for myself.” I don’t think that selfish. It’s just different than what other women may choose.

Patrick Wanis: But you  also raised an interesting point earlier when you said that obviously every child, every baby has some basic needs — food, water, shelter, security, affection. Some of those needs can be met from someone who isn’t the mother or the father such as a child-minder, someone who works for the daycare center. But the bond comes from a completely different place.

And my question is based on my experience working with adults – adult clients – their greatest complaint is and the phrase often is, “My mother and father were never there when I was growing up.” So they aren’t necessarily talking about the first three years or even the first five years. It could have been from five onwards. It could have been from age five to age 17 that “I came home, mom and dad weren’t there. They came home late. They were busy. They were tired. They’re arguing. They had no time for me. They had no interest.” And then that begs the question, can a woman be a CEO of two companies? Can she be a CEO of a corporation? Can she be a high paid executive whether that’s CEO or not, and be the CEO of the household or of the children?

Vicki Panaccione: It’s almost easier the higher up you go because then you can make the rules. But if you’re middle level, I mean I think that’s really difficult. And so you’re right, I mean, even the children I see, they complain that “My parents don’t listen. My parents are always busy,” and things like that. And I use the word balance a lot because there has to be a balance where some time is set aside where children feel that they are a priority.


Now, do they have to feel that the world revolves around them? No, but they do have to feel that it’s important that they know that they are priority in parents’ lives. And here is the problem I see. Any parent will say that “My kids are the most important thing to me.” I mean, every parent will say that, they mean it. They absolutely mean it, and I believe them, but they don’t live their lives out that way. So they know it, they mean it, but how they’re behaving is not being communicated to the kids. The kids know that they love them, but they are not feeling the priority.

Patrick Wanis: Right. So what you’re saying is they are saying the words “My children are everything,” they are saying the words “My children are my priority,” they are saying the words “I love my children,” but if they are not expressing them then the child doesn’t feel loved and doesn’t feel that he or she is the priority and doesn’t feel significant, then ends up either feeling emotionally neglected, invisible, or abandoned.

Vicki Panaccione: Right.

Patrick Wanis: So is it possible to, or is it healthy, if a woman works and maybe she doesn’t have an option, and she is working a full 40, 50-hour week and sends her children to daycare, is that still healthy for the children?

Vicki Panaccione: I think it can still be healthy for the children. I mean we have a lot of children being raised that way, and I’d like to think that not everybody is going to grow up to be malfunctioning adults. I mean I think it can be healthy. There just has to be some things built in. What happens though is a lot of parents — and we’ve been talking mostly about mothers who are making choices that you just said is the truth for many, many, many moms. They don’t have a choice. In this day and age, a lot of families need those two paychecks for whatever reason they decided that their parents have to work or it could be a single mom. And they don’t want single moms to feel like they are going to really screw their kids up because they don’t have a choice.

The parents will say, “Because I love my kids, I need to go to work. I need to stay late. I need to bring the paperwork home. I need to have a good job so I can support my kids and provide for them.” And so that’s one way of making your kids a priority, but what kids see in terms of priority is really the time their parents spend with them and stopping and listening and being with them. That’s what kids crave more than anything parents can buy for them or do for them. And somehow our society has gotten really skewed in that way.

Patrick Wanis: Yes, and one of the fallacies is “Oh, my child doesn’t need quantity time. My child needs quality time,” whereas children really need both and they need a lot of time to bond with the parents. They need time to do things and be with the parents. And then you talked about some of the specific needs because it’s true.

Parents tend to think that “To express love then I have to give them material gifts and I have to make sure that there’s a college fund” whereas what children really need so that they can feel loved and significant, and develop in a healthy way is they need physical attention and affection. They need nurturing. They need emotional encouragement, laughter, acceptance, recognition, praise, bonding, validation, and they need to spend time with their parents and do things together.

Vicki Panaccione: There’s another expression, there’s all these Facebook expressions now, but one of them that I agree is that the “Children spell love T-I-M-E.” I mean, really if you’re giving your time, that’s more important than giving your things.

Patrick Wanis: So did you say that children often see love as T-I-M-E, as time spent together?

Vicki Panaccione: Yes.

Patrick Wanis: So does that also account for — without getting on complete tangent — for some of the issues that men have around fear of commitment stemming from fear of intimacy because they didn’t get to experience intimacy with their mother as children?

Vicki Panaccione: Wow, that’s a big jump, but I’m not going to say you’re not on the right track. I think that we’re missing the boat a lot with kids because time is so precious and somehow it’s getting away from parents a lot. And going back to the quality versus quantity time, I think it is important. It’s not just once a week we’re going to have donuts together or something. Just being around is important, going to games and practices and to the spelling bees, and just being there for their kids is also really important.

And kids need to be able to count on their parents to know that they can expect them to show up. They can expect them to be there. And a lot of times with jobs that I see is “time with the kids”, that’s the easiest thing to take off the calendar. If a business meeting comes up, if I’ve got extra paperwork, if I’ve got to meet the deadline it’s “Oh, honey, sorry, we will play tomorrow.” And in the meantime, parents are losing a lot of time with their kids, and kids continue to feel less important and pushed to the side. But you have to look at the other side of the coin and the parents’ reality is “I got to give this to keep my job.”

Patrick Wanis: Well, that comes back to the very first thing you said which is about finding the balance. The reason that I raised the issue regarding male intimacy and its connection to a child’s relationship with his mother is that often if the child hasn’t spent time with the mother, hasn’t received that attention or hasn’t learnt that emotional connection, then they can easily have a challenge when they grow up. And that’s what I see with a lot of male adult clients who had played a very unhealthy role for their mother where the child might have ended up playing the role of the man in the house — the husband, the father — or the child just didn’t get noticed by the mother or the mother didn’t have time for the boy or the mother was extremely harsh.

So my personal perspective is that I feel the mother plays a greater and more significant role in the rearing of the child than does a father. I’m not giving an excuse for the father to be neglectful or to not be a father or not play the role of a dad. I am simply arguing that I think a mother has a much more emotional and psychological impact on both sons and daughters but even more so on sons because when those boys grow up they learn how to relate to women based on how they related to their mother.

Vicki Panaccione: Right. And now their mother related to them because they can get into relationships that just mimic that and don’t know how to get any closer than they were to their moms. So you have a really valid point.

Patrick Wanis: So one other perspective that also needs to be introduced to when we talk about women having it all and we say “a career, a loving husband, having the freedom to travel, having her own time for herself, and then having a loving family”, we don’t often talk about the husband.

What impact is there on the husband? When the woman is in a position working more than 40 hours a week, she’s working 50 or 60 hours a week and she’s raising children, then the husband becomes neglected. Then when the husband begins to feel neglected, something else will occur in the relationship. Either he’ll put his interest into his career more or he might even go off and start finding his needs to be met from another woman, but ultimately the gap between the husband and the wife will also affect the children. How does it affect the children?

Vicki Panaccione: Well, I have a slogan that — and I’ve written about the fact that “Passionate partners make better parents.” So I think the closer parents are and having a close relationship, the better they are, more effective they can be as a parent. And you’re right. In this day and age, it’s almost like there’s not enough time to go around. If we draw this pie to take a look at how you’re going to slice this time pie, and there’s the job and there’s the kids and then there’s the marital relationship or the significant relationship and then there’s friendships and there’s family, other family, extended family, and then there is got to be a piece of that pie for self.

And if, let’s say, a working mom doesn’t take time to refuel and take care of herself, then she doesn’t have much left to give anybody. And if she has a job, what she’s going to try to do is give as much of her depleted self as she can to the job because that’s where the money comes from. That’s the thing that’s most in jeopardy on a day-to-day basis. It’s like almost the kids can wait, the husband can wait, but I got to get my job done. Well, you are right. Everybody else feels the effects of that and starts that sense of neglect. People are neglecting themselves, they are neglecting their relationships, they are neglecting their kids, and they are paying for it at their jobs.

So my advice whenever I’m talking to parents and I say to moms a lot, I see working moms all the time, “What do you do for you?” And most of the time these moms are saying, “What do you mean? I don’t have time to do anything for myself,” but they are always running on empty. Their patience is low. They’re irritable so they are yelling at their kids more and so they have a negative relationship with their kids. If they would take time to refuel, they would have a better relationship. They would have more patience to have a better relationship with their kids and so on and so forth.

So something has to give and that’s why I think you can’t have it all fully. You can’t have anything fully. You got to find a balance. So what are you going to balance? Your career, to find time for your marriage, to find time for yourself, to find time for your kids, and find time for the other important relationships in your life. And I think that a lot of working moms – well, working parents in general, are losing that perspective. And if you and I as therapists and working with the people we’re working with, if we can help them find some balance, I think we can help them be better parents, we can help them feel happier about themselves, in their careers, and have more time and energy to devout to their relationship.

Patrick Wanis: That’s an extremely critical and insightful point. Aaron Huey who is with Fire Mountain Sober Living Home for teens in Colorado and works with teens that have an addiction, but he also works with the parents, and one of the first things he says to the parents is “You have to take care of yourself.” So if he is speaking to the mother or the father, he says, “Take care of yourself first, then you’ll be able to take care of the child.”

And interestingly that supports exactly what you’re saying and leads me to one of the closing points that I’ve often argued and put forth: the key contention that the marriage has to come first so that the children will be taken care of, that if there is love, romance, passion, a healthy relationship, that creates the foundation, the safety, the nurturing for the children in which the children can grow and it also becomes the role model. What was that slogan that you just said? Would you repeat that?

Vicki Panaccione: Passionate partners make better parents.

Patrick Wanis: So again, Passionate Partners Make Better Parents, which again supports the contention that you have to put the marriage first. You have to look after each other and love each other so that then you have the stability and the security in which to raise your children.

My closing point — and I’ll be curious to get your feedback on this — often when speaking to people about trying to make decisions, “What’s more important to you, the raising of your children or career? Do you want children or do you want a career?” is to stop and think about how you’re going to look back on your life. What will you remember at the end of your life? Will you remember the work achievements or the memories of time spent with the people you loved?

And maybe you’ll say, “I will remember the work achievements.” “I want to create a legacy” versus “I want to create a legacy with the family.” And each person makes that decision. So someone might say, “My dharma, my purpose in life isn’t necessarily to be a parent.” And I think that that’s something that we haven’t mentioned but in closing, is it okay for women to make the choice that they don’t want to be a mother?

Vicki Panaccione: I say personally I think it is. I don’t think society has really decided it’s okay, and so women can be looked on as “What’s the matter? Oh, you couldn’t have children? Oh, what’s the matter with you?” or “You’re being selfish.” There are some negative opinions about women who decide not to have children. But I really honor and respect them. One, because you have to really — I think really want to have children to be the best parent you can be and to really put the effort into raising kids. And there are many, many people who turn out to be parents by default or because that’s what they’re supposed to do.

And it used to be ‘we get married, we have kids, we move on’, and it was just what you do. And I think that for a lot of people it’s still the case, well, we’re supposed to have kids. So if a woman does not feel compelled – there’s many women I know that say, “I don’t want to bring a child into this world. Look at the economy, look at the world, the environment, whatever. I just don’t want to bring a child into this world.” I think that they should have the right – not only they do have the right to make that decision but also be supported on that right because if you don’t want to have children, if you don’t want to raise children for whatever reason, I say all the more power to you and please don’t, because you have to be really, really be willing to give it your all to be a parent to raise a happy successful child.

Patrick Wanis: You also said that Passionate Partners Make Better Parents, so we also have to have a passion to raise children. Otherwise, you won’t be able to do it in a way that’s fulfilling to you or fulfilling to the child because as I always say, the ultimate responsibility of any parent is simply to provide whatever is necessary to help a child to realize his or her full potential.

Vicki Panaccione: Right. And that potential basically comes from the kind of life that the parent lives. Parents are the role models and the strongest teachers for children. And so if you want your kids to have a good life, you live that life. You live the life you want your kids to have, and that’s the best way to – not guarantee – but do have a stronger possibility that kids are going to have that kind of life because that’s the role model, that’s what they are going to go for. But if you’re living one kind of life and say, “But I don’t want you to live this kind of life. I want you to have a different kind of life,” the chances are less likely that’s going to happen because you’re the model, almost their condition to go the way their parents go.

Patrick Wanis: And again, you’ve just reinforced the role that a mother and father play in forming a child or forming a child that hopefully will end up being very healthy and happy and fulfilled.

Dr. Vicki Panaccione, thank you very much. People can get more information and learn more about you, your work and get more advice and help at www.betterparentinginstitute.com

Is it thebetterparentinginstitute.com?

Vicki Panaccione: No, there is no “the.” It’s just www.betterparentinginstitute.com and actually there’s a couple of articles on there on the blog about passionate partners make better parents. So that would be a good resource to check out.

Patrick Wanis: Great. Well, again, thank you very much for your time, your energy, and your wonderful insights. And again, people can learn more about you at betterparentinginstitute.com.

Dr. Vicki Panaccione, thank you very much.

Vicki Panaccione: My pleasure. Thank you, Patrick Wanis.

Patrick Wanis: This is Patrick Wanis, Human Behavior and Relationship Expert, Ph.D at www.patrickwanis.com

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