On Jan. 17, 2019, Christina Perri released the lullaby album “Songs For Carmella: Lullabies and Sing-Alongs” to celebrate her daughter’s first birthday. The album consists of 10 songs Perri sings to her daughter “every day of her life.” Carmella, born in 2018, is Perri’s first child, marking the singer’s entrance into motherhood in an era when being a mother is more difficult than ever.
Millennial and Generation Z women such as Perri struggle under the weight of gargantuan societal expectations. Women today must juggle working and mothering simultaneously. These duties are expected to take place separately — the characters of mother and professional are not supposed to overlap, making the task even more impossible.
By combining her career as a singer with her role as a mother, Perri’s lullaby album shatters the barrier between working and motherhood. Rather, the singer offers an example of a more integrated approach to the two. Society currently expects mothers to have it all but have it all separately, demanding superhuman abilities; but with this album, the artist who brought us “Human” fittingly puts having both children and a career back into the realm of human capability.
Historically, the attainment of motherhood unequivocally excluded a career. However, more and more women are pursuing both. These women experience social challenges, both at home and in the workplace. At work, they must fight the bias that has formed the basis of discrimination against working mothers for years — the notion that mothers are less committed to or competent at their jobs. At home, they worry about appearing less committed to their children when they rely on babysitters or family members as caregivers.
Society has made it seem that being successful in either role necessitates the denial of the other. Women are forced to be exclusively a mother at home and a professional at work, harming their abilities to adequately fulfill the enormous responsibilities of both roles.
These responsibilities are only growing with the changing technological landscape. Technology has allowed for the expectation of perpetual availability, as workers can now respond to emails and work on projects when they aren’t traditionally “on the clock.” Remaining competitive in this new environment requires mothers to be mothers and professionals separately but in the same moment.
Women must be able to do quality work while still giving their full attention to their children. Because mothers are considered the primary caregivers even as competitive employees, they often lose additional sleep beyond the deprivation caused by raising a newborn.
Additionally, social media gives mothers unprecedented access to comparisons for “good motherhood.” They can read blogs and books showing what it means to be a “good mother,” applying a similar pressure to remain competitive in that realm. With access to all this information, working women often contend with the feeling of guilt that accompanies pursuing a career on top of motherhood, feeling as though their gain is necessarily their child’s loss.
Perri faces all the classic challenges of motherhood. Like other millennial mothers with access to unprecedented resources, when she was pregnant she “did every preparation possible — went to all the classes, read all the books and all the blogs…” She coped with the sleep deprivation of new mothers, telling People magazine that “you get real weird when you haven’t slept for six months.”
But even despite these difficulties, Perri says that Carmella is the “biggest and best thing that’s ever happened to me.” In a move that subverts the expected separation of career and motherhood, she decided to make her next album focus on Carmella because she “didn’t want to pretend that it didn’t happen.” She refused to keep her life as a mother hidden from her life as a singer. By integrating her two roles, Perri offers an alternative example for working mothers today.
Perri understands the challenge of juggling both roles, explaining that the one original song in the album, ”You Mean the Whole Wide World to Me,” was “really the only song I wrote all year because, creatively, it’s just so challenging when you’re tired and in baby land.” Rather than expecting her work to remain the same and unaffected by becoming a mother, she decided to instead release an album of songs that she sang to Carmella every day. The result was an intimate glimpse into the quiet moments shared by a mother and her child, as deeply moving as any of her previous albums.
The Bottom Line
Though women in previous generations often chose between a career and motherhood, emerging societal expectations dictate that women shouldn’t have to choose. And ultimately, this expectation makes sense. Why should women have to lose the joy of being a mother if they want to pursue the joy of having a successful career? And why should women defer the fulfillment of a career if they want to have children? As well intentioned as this expectation is, it unfortunately demands that women take on two lives simultaneously and separately rather than integrating them into one. Perri’s lullaby album teaches us to reimagine what it means to be a working mother. Until women can be mothers in the workplace and professionals at home, they can never really have the joy of both.
When they struggle under the weight of two roles, women might begin to question why they would even want either. At their best, motherhood and a career can both be true joys in any woman’s life. By combining rather than splitting her time between the two, Perri allows herself to experience them as such. “I just didn’t want to jump into a new project that wasn’t related to how amazing my life is right now due to my daughter,” she says. In this way, she allows herself to fully experience the joy her daughter brings to her life. In the album’s original song, Perri tells Carmella that she means “the whole wide world” to her. And when her world is not split between her child and her career, her joy is felt far and wide.