Erica's New Book Releasing the Mother Load is officially out! Order your copy today!
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Erica's New Book Releasing the Mother Load is officially out! Order your copy today!
LEARN MORE

February 20, 2024

September 13, 2023

Embracing Power as Moms: Reshaping Dynamics In and Out of the Home

E:
190
with
Claire Shipman
NYT Bestselling Author

What You'll Learn

  • The Definition of “Power”
  • How Power at Home Affects Power at Work
  • How Gender Norms Impact “Power” in the Workplace and at Home
  • The Role of Mental Health in Power for Moms
  • How Moms Can Reclaim Power in the Workplace
  • Ways Working Moms Can Begin to Feel More Powerful
  • What “Power” Might Look Like in the Home or Partnership

Motherhood can come with a lot of changes—identity loss, the invisible load, career impact, and relationship struggles. Moms often find themselves feeling powerless, in their lives, in their careers, and in their homes. But if we can change the dynamics in and out of the home, we can embrace power as moms and make real shifts on an individual and societal level. 

Today I’m joined by NYT bestselling author Claire Shipman to talk about her new book, The Power Code, and how the concept of power applies to moms. 

Creating The Power Code 

Many moms experience grief and identity loss when they have a baby. It’s common to feel trapped, as though they lack autonomy, control, and power. That sense of powerlessness is something most of us aren’t prepared for. 

And it’s something that Claire and her co-author, Katty Kay, think should change. They wrote The Power Code to address how women are being treated in and out of the home, and how we can reshape power dynamics and bring positive change, not just for women but for everyone. 

The duo has a long history of working and writing together. They have always been drawn to the data that shows that companies that have more women at the top fare better, and fascinated by what it is that women bring to the table. 

Claire believes that the world is better when women have a fair share of power—and that the seeds of more equal power dynamics begin at home. 

I was drawn to Claire’s work, and I couldn’t wait to find out more about what power means to moms and how we can forge new power dynamics that open up the world for everyone. 

The Definition of “Power”

Often when I hear the word power, I associate it with unhealthy masculinity—authoritative and perhaps even aggressive. Claire has found that it’s a common association—in her experience, women broadly have an uneasy relationship with the concept of power. Even women in positions of power often reject the word itself. 

But Claire pointed out that power has historically been defined by men. The idea of power as a dominant or conquering concept doesn’t encompass all of what power can be. 

Power doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game, with a hierarchy where those at the top have it and those at the bottom don’t. It can be a lot more nuanced than that. Power can apply to our homes, to our relationships, and to very abstract concepts, making it hard to define. 

Claire thinks of power as the ability to influence or affect change, having a ripple effect on those around us. In her experience, women are much more motivated by this definition of power than the traditional masculine concept. 

Power is the ability to influence or affect change, having a ripple effect on those around us. 

She believes that if more women are in positions of leadership and power, they can affect change on a larger scale, which would benefit everyone. 

How Power at Home Affects Power at Work

Power exists both at home and outside of the home. And while Claire is focused more on power in the workplace, she also pointed out that one often impacts the other. The seeds of power need to be planted at home. 

Both in and out of the home, invisible labor serves as a barrier for moms. At home, the invisible labor of emotional and mental tasks keep us bogged down and overwhelmed, often leading to burnout. 

It also often has a direct impact on our careers. When we’re struggling with an unfair and unequal burden of labor in the home, we might not have the time, capacity, or energy to dedicate to other areas, like work. Our partners might have more freedom to dedicate their time and mental space to growing their careers. 

That’s why if we want to shift the power distribution in the workplace, the distribution of labor is often a good place to start. 

Both in and out of the home, invisible labor serves as a barrier for moms.

In the workplace, women often carry extra invisible labor as well. Claire pointed out that women are carrying emotional labor, cognitive labor, and so many tasks that often aren’t valued, by partners, by workplaces, or even by society at large. 

Claire pointed out that some companies are beginning to embrace the idea of staying at home as a positive on a resume rather than a gap to be explained. 

She said that for the betterment of society, invisible and emotional tasks need to be seen, acknowledged, and valued. She pointed out that the goal of the power discussion is not to tell moms to spend less time with their kids, or that they should inherently work outside of the home—it’s to change the game for everyone on a large scale. 

How Gender Norms Impact “Power” in the Workplace and at Home

Claire pointed out that the idea of changing power dynamics and urging more women to take on leadership roles isn’t just to help women. 

Just like women, men are often pigeonholed by rigid gender norms or unrealistic expectations. Shifting power dynamics frees everyone. For example, dads might want to stay home with the baby, but feel pressured to fulfill the role of primary breadwinner. 

But if we could value invisible work on an equal level with other forms of labor, we can open up possibilities for all of us. 

When Dr. Dan Singley appeared on the podcast, he pointed out that many dads have been conditioned to view childcare and work in the home as tasks without power—so to them, staying home or playing a more nurturing role versus a more traditional provider role would feel like a step down in power. 

Gender norms and power dynamics hold many of us back from living a life of more flexibility, embracing our values in the home and in the workplace. 

Changing the system isn’t easy. Claire said that if we are going to change the way care work is valued on a large scale, we need more women at the top. 

If we are going to change the way care work is valued on a large scale, we need more women at the top. 

On a smaller scale, we can start by questioning gender norms and their role in our daily lives. Taking a pause to ask ourselves questions like, “Why am I automatically the one to stay home when the kids are sick?” or “Why am I the one to sacrifice my career?” can be a good place to start. 

Rather than just living out traditional roles, we can start to recognize flaws in the system and lean on our own values to make decisions for family and our careers. 

The Role of Mental Health in Power for Moms

The data shows that women do opt out of power much more frequently than men do. But Claire pointed out that the “why” is complex. 

It isn’t that moms are unambitious—more often, it’s that we have broader life values and we can see how those will come into conflict with power in the current system. For example, if we take a promotion at work, will we be expected to travel or work longer hours? Women tend to be more likely to consider these implications and factor them into their career decisions. 

Claire said that women are also more likely to accurately predict that having power could bring more stress and anxiety. Studies show that women in positions of power are more anxious, stressed, and depressed than men in similar positions or women who aren’t in the same power level. 

This likely centers around a clash in values and time—when we feel that we have to sacrifice important family priorities for work or vice versa, it creates a lot of stress. 

It also likely has to do with the invisible load—moms who are in high-earning positions are likely to do more household tasks than their partners. They might feel overwhelmed by mom guilt, the mental labor, and feeling pressured to work as if they don’t have kids and mother as if they don’t work. 

These complex dynamics with mental health become even more extreme in minority groups, who face additional challenges to power, discrimination, and workplace biases and stereotypes. 

Claire pointed out that this is why allyship really matters. We can advocate for those who struggle even more with access to power. It can even increase our own sense of power from a psychological standpoint to stick up for others. 

How Moms Can Reclaim Power in the Workplace

So how can we go about reclaiming power in the workplace? There are many ways. Many moms are opting for alternative work situations, starting their own online businesses, which often allows more flexibility and autonomy. 

But Claire pointed out that we don’t all have to leave our careers or reinvent ourselves to embrace power. The most important thing we can do is to change the way we look at power in the workplace. 

Claire said that our own instincts about the way we want to lead and use power are good. If you have an instinct toward collaboration or a more democratic work approach, then embrace it. Look at it not as weak, but as a way for you to be powerful—to affect change in the way that feels right for you. 

Our own instincts about the way we want to lead and use power are good.

Another way we can start to reclaim and reshape power is by speaking up. If you are in a meeting room where you feel like men are speaking more and heard more, don’t be afraid to say something. If you see a male colleague step over what a female colleague is saying, say, “Let her finish.” 

It’s helpful to understand that a simple statement isn’t rude or condescending—it’s simply communicating in the moment and affecting change. 

Ways Working Moms Can Begin to Feel More Powerful

Claire also pointed out that the way we feel about power and the way we feel about ourselves matters. 

When we start to reframe what power means, we can find ways to embrace it that feel right to us. This often starts with building up our own confidence. Claire recommends “power priming,” or writing down a time when we felt powerful. Studies have shown that simply remembering a powerful time can change our brain function and create space for more power. 

Priming ourselves before an interview, a meeting, or another situation where power might benefit us can help us enter with more confidence and project our own power. 

We can also work on redefining positions of power for ourselves. Claire said we can add our own recipe to power. 

For example, if we find ourselves wanting to not reach for a promotion because we think it’s about status or money or prestige, and we don’t value those things, we can reframe that and think about what we will be able to do with that position. 

What opportunities will we have to make a positive difference in our company? What changes can we bring about? How can this position help us embody our values? Can we create shifts that move “power” away from a traditional hierarchical structure in the company? 

Step by step, position by position, we can start to shake up what power means, not just as moms, not just as individuals, but on a broader scale. 

We can start to shake up what power means, not just as moms, not just as individuals, but on a broader scale.

What “Power” Might Look Like in the Home or Partnership

Reclaiming power in the home is a different ball game. Most of us aren’t searching to be the “leaders” in a partnership like we might in our careers. What we’re most often yearning for is partnership and equality. 

But doing the work to share the invisible load, to talk openly about gender norms and roles and what we want from our lives as partners and moms is a way of reclaiming power. 

When we can create equal partnerships, and we both yield power together, using our values to guide our decisions, our labor distribution, and the way we raise our children, we can move the needle and plant those seeds of power—not so that we become the “heads of the household” but so that all labor can be valued. 

When we can create equal partnerships, we can move the needle and plant those seeds of power. 

This might look like redistributing labor, taking mental and emotional tasks into account. It might look like taking a nontraditional approach to parental leave. It might look like establishing creative routines and schedules so that one parent can return to school or work alternative schedules. 

For each family and each partnership, it might unfold differently. But when we all wield power, when we all make decisions, when we all talk about labor and parenting and values, we can carve out a path that feels right to us. 

Our virtual therapists can help you and your partner work through these conversations, redistribute labor, and communicate about dynamics in the home! Book a FREE 15 minute virtual consultation today.

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Tags:

Working mom, Mom guilt, Gender norms

Stage:

Postpartum, Motherhood

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OUR GUEST

Claire Shipman
NYT Bestselling Author

Claire Shipman is a journalist, author, and public speaker. She spent almost three decades as an award-winning television journalist on ABC News, NBC News and CNN.

Together, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman have written four New York Times bestsellers: Womenomics, The Confidence Code, The Confidence Code for Girls, and Living the Confidence Code.

Erica Djossa
Erica Djossa
PMH-C | Founder of Momwell
Erica is the founder of Momwell, providing educational resources and virtual therapy for moms. She is a mom of three boys and a registered psychotherapist. Erica’s work has been featured in the Toronto Star, Breakfast Television, Scary Mommy, Medium, Pop Sugar, and Romper. how they want it.
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