It’s nothing new to say that working parents have it tough. Trying to juggle their professional and personal lives is a never-ending balancing act, and sometimes, balls are dropped. Deadlines are missed. Kids aren’t picked up from school on time. Permission slips aren’t signed. Work assignments are done incorrectly, all in an effort to be it all. To do it all.

In Annabel Crabb’s thought-provoking book, The Wife Drought, she explains why women struggle to hold high-power positions. Too often, these women who want meaningful careers have to choose between family or work. In the end, both suffer, and working mothers lose.

A stand-out quote from Crabb’s book:

“The obligation for working mothers is a very precise one: the feeling that one ought to work as if one did not have children, while raising one’s children as if one did not have a job.”

Crabb knows of what she speaks. This one sentence perfectly summarizes the pickle that working mothers all-too-often find themselves in.

Working mothers face a distinct challenge when it comes to work and their own work-life balance. In the workplace, working moms need to focus 110 percent on their workload, as if they are trying to prove that they are just as capable of accomplishing tasks and beating deadlines as they were before. In fact, they often feel as if they have to overachieve to combat the belief that they might have “gone soft” or are not as focused and determined as they once were. They will pull longer hours just to show that they are as dedicated to the company as they ever were. It’s as if becoming a mother is the M word: something to hide in the workplace, as opposed to being a badge of honor.

But then, the opposite happens to working mothers when it comes to rearing children. Working mothers are also equally expected to be 1000 percent hands-on, even if they have their child in daycare—don’t ask how this is possible; it isn’t. They need to be the Room Mom, prepare organic gluten-free cupcakes from scratch for their child’s writing celebration, and also be on the PTO board, helping to raise thousands of dollars for school events. And they’re also not allowed to talk about work amongst the other moms, whether they are also working mothers or not. When you’re in Mommy Mode, it’s all about your kiddos, not your career.

Here’s the rub. Neither one is possible. At all.

It’s absolutely impossible for working parents to work in a child-free bubble. Your kids come up in conversations (how can they not?) and you’ll have to take days off from work so you can care for your sick kiddos or leave work early to attend your child’s karate class.

And there will be times when you have to miss said karate class because your boss calls an emergency meeting with you and your department. Or you’re traveling for work and you have to miss (gasp!) a child’s birthday.

That’s why flexible work options are really one of the only ways that working parents can not just have work-life balance, but work-life integration. Blending work life and family life is perhaps the only viable solution for working parents. Setting your own schedule to balance your family’s needs—and work whenever you want to, even if that’s at 3:00 AM—can help working mothers maintain their professionalism (and their career), and still be the parent they want to be. One doesn’t jeopardize the other. One enhances the other, making for a more productive (and happier) working mom.

And ultimately, that should be the objective for every working parent.

photo credit: istockphoto.com