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PepsiCo's Female CEO Says You Can't Be A Good Mom and Leader -- You Can

The renowned female CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi, admitted in an interview that she believes that career women can't be great moms as well. I couldn't disagree more -- here's why.
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The renowned female CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi, admitted in an interview that she believes that career women can't be great moms as well. I couldn't disagree more -- here's why.

There's no doubt that PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, 58, is an incredible role model for young women -- she combines a stellar career with a solid marriage and two daughters.

But she made some very frank and surprising remarks about career and motherhood when she was interviewed at the Aspen Ideas Festival on June 30 by David Bradley, owner of the Atlantic Media Company.

Indra confessed that even though she has had a brilliant career, which continues to thrive, she doesn't "think women can have it all. I just don't think so. We pretend we have it all."

"Every day you have to make a decision about whether you are going to be a wife and mother," she explained.

Sadly, she even wonders, if you ask my daughters, "I'm not sure they will say that I've been a good mom," even though Indra says she tried to plan her life meticulously so that she could be a decent parent.

My heart broke when I read her words. Here is one of the most accomplished women in the world -- one of the 4.8 percent of women who have become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company -- and she is consumed by mommy guilt and wife guilt.

In fact, she also told her interviewer David Bradley that she would "die with guilt" when her daughters were in primary school.

Wow, this sounds pretty discouraging coming from one of the few American women who has broken through that very hard glass ceiling, doesn't it?

But while I'm totally sympathetic to Indra's feelings, I can't agree with her assertion that women can't be good moms and wives and fulfill their career passions. I do agree with her that you can't "have it all' everyday, and there is no ideal work/life balance for most moms, but I also think that Indra and many, many working moms hold themselves to impossible standards of motherhood perfection.

I have four children myself and have always had a demanding, high-pressure career. I admit, I am definitely not a "perfect" mom, whatever that means.

The question is, what is a "perfect" mom? Are we only perfect moms if we are at home most hours of the day to tie every shoelace, kiss every booboo and go to Mommy & Me play groups?

Indra told her audience that she would "die with guilt" because she wasn't able to attend weekly Wednesday morning "class coffees" with the other mothers.

"I missed most class coffees. My daughter would come home and she would list of all the mothers that were there and say, 'You were not there, mom,'" Indra related.

Indra felt so terrible about her absences that she went to the extent of calling her daughter's school and getting a list of mothers that were not there each week. After the call, she would tell her daughter, "Ah ha, Mrs. Redd wasn't there. Mrs. So-and-so wasn't there. So I'm not the only bad mother."

Well, Indra -- you weren't a bad mother, even though your daughter was upset that you rarely made it to a class coffee.

I bet that your two daughters have grown up to be smart, accomplished, and highly-directed young women who are very proud of YOU, their CEO mom.

You don't have to be with your children every minute of the day to be a loving and involved parent who gives her children values and positive direction in life.

There's not one study that has proven that stay-at-home moms produce healthier, happier children than those raised by working moms.

Indra, as a mother, you led your children by example. Your work ethic and your commitment to your family were all deeply important in raising your daughters to have self-esteem and their own life goals.

I bet that you gave that to them in spades -- and that makes you a great mom.

Plus, think about the advantages that you were able to give your children by working. They were able to go to college without being burdened by crushing loans. And you were no doubt able to expose them to travel and to a whole host of experiences that they may never have had if you had not been a career woman.

Indra, think about the millions of working mothers and wives who have to work to help support their families. And I'm talking about millions of middle class families. Most American families are not members of the financially blessed 1 or 2 percent.

Most American mom's incomes are critical to the economic survival of their families. The very act of their working can't make them bad mothers. In fact, they'd be bad mothers if they didn't help pay the mortgage and the bills so that their children could have safe and secure lives.

Is a mom really "perfect" if she bakes cookies, play dolls on the floor for hours and goes to "class coffees?"

Dads can be great and not do those things. As working mothers, we all struggle to do our very best. I've raced home mid-day for a class play or parent-teacher conference, have edited school essays on business trips and faxed them home and I've run to the store to buy Halloween costumes instead of making them.

Nevertheless, my kids have managed to end up grounded and focused -- and two of them, have even become responsible adults now.

Indra, we don't have to be "perfect" to be good moms, good wives and also good business leaders. And you know what, our kids don't want to have to be perfect, either. Now, THAT would be too great a burden!

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