Maria Gutzeit | Mother’s Day: The Barbie Edition


Many years ago, I was trying to balance bicycle racing at a national championships level, an engineering career, and a desire to contribute to the community. Frustrated that I couldn’t be great at all of that, I got some good advice: You can do anything you want, just not all at once. 

Cue last year’s Barbie movie. The whole movie is best understood by watching a video clip of America Ferrera’s iconic Barbie speech about the contradictions expected of women. Motherhood today takes that to a whole new level. Much like the different types of Barbies, there are different and distinct types of moms laid out for us to aspire to. Fitness/Competitive Sports Mom. Working Mom. Home and Garden Mom. Fashionista Mom. Organic Shopping/Home Cooking Mom. Accounting Mom. Procurement and Scheduling Mom. Volunteer Mom. Date Night Mom. Fun with Friends Mom. Home Schooling Mom. Taxicab Mom. Pets and Animals Galore Mom. Activist Mom. Elderly Caregiver Mom. Artsy Mom. Adventure Mom. Club Sports Mom. PTA/Scouts Mom. 

You can see the contradictions in that long list. It’s also ridiculously clear you can’t do all of those, all at once, yet many moms juggle what they can. 

In the “good old days” we knew mothers and grandmothers who didn’t drive, would be destitute without a husband, couldn’t vote or open a bank account, yet did have ample time to bake cookies and have an immense garden. Happy or not, their options were limited by social norms. Today there are more options but sometimes hard choices. 

Increasingly, families either need or want dual incomes in today’s expensive world. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2023, more than two-thirds of married couples with children saw both parents employed. Married mothers had a 72.7% labor force participation rate. 

All families make their own choices and live with the tradeoffs. Most moms are time-strapped. It is interesting that many organizations still operate as if parents are home all day, free to drive our kids anywhere, and able to run out to buy school supplies, whip out the sewing machine or fill out forms on less than a day’s notice. 

Has anyone else been chuckling at this week’s Home Depot Mother’s Day commercial? Their suggestion that what mom really wants for Mother’s Day is a bag of potting soil might have limited appeal these days. True, if I had the time to pick out and buy the plants, plant the plants, install drip irrigation and weed the plants, I might be down for some potting soil. I love my existing flowers and nature-adjacent yard, especially after this year’s rain. However, I suspect most moms don’t crave adding something else to their weekend task list. 

In our era of expanded choices and unlimited expectations, what moms could really use is time. Yet we all only have 24 hours a day and make tradeoff choices every day. What can we do with the hours we have? We might have to say no to the showstopper garden so we can train for a triathlon. We might miss a swim meet for a trip to Washington, DC. Dad might have to handle the dentist appointment and the vet visit, because Mom is at work and can’t get away that day. We might decide turning the phone off and having a day at the park is just what is needed. 

Last week, I had a double win at work. I worked with a client on an alternative to source testing for estimating air toxics emissions, and the suggestion was accepted by the regulator. Second, we modified an existing permit application for another client, rather than submitting a second one, which would have doubled the cost and processing time. As moms, even in the face of success, we question ourselves. Did I outright blow off a recent school fundraiser? Yes. Did I do something really specialized and valuable in my job? Also yes. Do I regularly fume about demanding kid-related activity emails that can’t manage to cover what, when, where and how in a single email? Yes. Am I happy my kid is active and involved in activities? Also yes. 

Did I cry when my toddler would literally only eat cookies and ice cream on vacation? Yes. Am I sad I’ll be an empty nester soon? Also yes. Such is the life of a mom these days. 

Happy Mother’s Day! 

Maria Gutzeit is a chemical engineer, business owner, water agency official, and mom living in Santa Clarita.  

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