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The Myth Of Nightly Family Dinner

Real life is complicated and dinner at six with the kids, especially for most working parents, not always possible. We regular moms have to give ourselves permission for the occasional slip.
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Recently, New York Times reporter Daphne Merkin wrote a love poem to Tory Burch in The New York Times T Style magazine. I couldn't help myself, I read every oozy, gushing word.

I love reading profiles of successful businesswomen in glamorous fields, especially if they're mothers. These profiles are rarely revealing - the woman is always a) exceptionally kind; b) generous; c) athletic, read ... thin, a careful eater; d) has/had a great relationship with one of both of her parents.

I recently read a similar profile of One King's Lane founder, Alison Pincus.

I read these stories of the ambitious, stylish women for inspiration; even though I know I'm going to find is the journalistic equivalent of junk food. Just as I do after nibbling on a bowl of tortilla chips, after I finish I feel bloated with mild regret. What have I learned? What drives them? How do they manage? When did they go from being run-of-the-mill smart, thin, driven gals to becoming business phenoms?

After gorging on way too many of these profiles, I think I have an answer. The one thing that all of these women seem to have in common (in addition to seed money), is that they say they have dinner at 6 p.m. with their family. Tory Burch says she does this every night.

Really? Every night?

The typically awestruck reporter breathlessly admires the mogul's prowess and always finds her way to a seat at the family dinner table where she is entertained by the family, and in the case of Merkin, leaves with a slice of cake and a cupcake wrapped up for late night nibbling. It's a very nice story, one that I really want to believe because I wish upon a star that it were true.

I doubt its veracity. Everything I know about being in business is that no one eats dinner at 6 p.m. Not even the kids. Successful business people need to be constantly connecting with others to make business happen and that means meetings late in the day, cocktails in the early evening. Dinners out. Fundraisers, pop-up store openings, book parties. Whether you are already a brand or just building one, leaving yourself open to opportunities through networking or having your photo snapped for the society pages is a time-worn tactic for achieving business goals. That usually means missing a family dinner, or two or three. Week after week.

So why propagate the myth? Because if you are a woman in business, the idea makes for great storytelling, it helps build the very old-fashioned idea that a woman, even one who runs an aspirational brand, is a mother first and a mogul second. Family dinner has long been touted as the linchpin of stability for families across the socio-economic spectrum. Because these women are creating their own narrative as role models, family dinners tuck neatly into the paradigm.

I don't doubt that these women scramble home to kiss their kids goodnight and eat a quick dinner when they can. Alison Pincus says she plays with her one year old twins and dines with her husband at that hour. Family mealtime is a way to connect with something solid in lives lived as ambitious whirlwinds. But it's curious that after so many years with women in the workforce, successful women, really, really successful women, have spun stories to prove that they are good mothers and that these stories are woven into their narratives as business people.

Profiles of successful men rarely mention the wife and dinner with the kids. Alison Pincus's husband, Zygna founder Mark Pincus has been a daily diet for the media recently, and one large profile only mentioned his very successful wife in passing, for example.

Maybe we regular moms are to blame. Perhaps we want our most successful women to be living whole lives, no compromises. The myth of the family dinner is designed to make them seem more accessible and human. But, as we all know, real life is complicated and dinner at six with the husband and kids, especially for most working parents, not always possible. We regular moms have to give ourselves permission for the occasional slip. I wish the role model businesswomen who are also moms could, too.