A familiar scenario to many I’m sure: I have to head out of work early to take my daughter to the pediatrician. I get a call from someone in the field, and I feel the need to shush my kid in the car and gloss over that I left the office early – I don’t want it to seem like I’m “taking it easy” while others are grinding.
Or it’s post-work hours, I take my daughter to the pool, but notice I am getting work messages that are marked “urgent” even though they really aren’t. I respond to them anyway even though it’s after-hours, and I’m trying to be present with my kid. I have a compulsion to prove that I am available, I can keep up with the office and parenting, and I’m hardworking. I feel like I have to prove myself because I’m a mom.
Another familiar scenario: I feel guilty for using the TV as a babysitter while I get things done around the house. I feel like I should instead come up with more ideas for sensory play when we’re at home, but I’m not sure how to fit that in when I should be getting the house clean during my limited time “off.” I feel bad that we’re not spending quality time together, so instead of getting done what I had planned with those few hours, I take my daughter to the park or on a bike ride.
Like with work, I feel the need to prove that I am fully available to my child, that I can keep up with parenting and our home even though I work out of the house most of the day, and I’m hardworking and fully dedicated to my family.
I came across a viral quote last year that completely describes these compulsions: Women are supposed to work like they don’t have children and mother like they don’t work.
What this pressure does to mothers
We’re expected to be 100 percent mother and 100 percent worker when most of us fall somewhere in between the two.
Mothers are expected to be fully consumed with parenthood at the expense of their sense of self or reasonable ability to be that consumed. Employees feel the constant pressure to perform and be available in a competitive work environment.
In both above scenarios, I’m often putting this pressure on myself instead of it being put on me by someone else. My manager is understanding that sometimes things like pediatrician appointments come up during the day and that it’s not affecting my ability to produce high-quality work. My child would likely be satisfied with a bit of TV time, and I know she doesn’t feel ignored.
I’m often putting the pressure on myself because I’m conscious of how I’m being perceived by the larger group.
I want to show my coworkers that I can continue to effectively handle a high quantity of work despite the restraints of childcare. I want to prove to other parents I know that I have the time and energy to dedicate myself to my family and my child’s development and that work won’t take me away from it. I’m not proud of caving in to this pressure, but I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling this way.
So, how do we handle this? Is there something we can do about it?
Overall, this is a cultural problem that will take a large and concerted shift to change. But there are things we can do as individuals to lessen the burden to ourselves and support others.
Talk about parenting at work – and work with other parents
Help create normalcy and acceptance by talking about your parenting obligations with your coworkers. Instead of hiding that I have to leave early for the pediatrician, I should speak openly about it because it’s a normal part of life to have a kid that needs to go to the doctor during daytime hours. Maybe it’ll help another struggling coworker feel more comfortable with their need to sometimes have childcare interrupt their workday.
It might not fix the societal problem overall, but if it helps one other mom feel more supported in their quest to balance work and parenting, it’s a step in the right direction.
I’m trying to be more conscious of not being a work martyr in front of others and instead giving myself a break and not hide that I’m doing so. Sometimes kids get sick on weekdays, childcare falls through, or appointments can’t be rescheduled. We can all support each other and accept that things come up and that it doesn’t mean we aren’t dedicated to our work.
Conversely, I’m giving myself grace with parenting. Instead of feeling guilty about things like store-bought Valentines, I’m embracing it. My daughter isn’t going to recall where the Valentines came from, but she’ll know that I remembered and she had a great time at her party.
Seek out a company that values balance
If you feel like a lot of the unreasonable expectations are coming from management at your office, which could very likely be the case, consider looking at other options. This can be easier said than done because, obviously, it’s difficult to interview and find a new job while you’re working at another.
However, if the expectations of your current position are tough and offer little flexibility, it will be worth finding new employment in the long run. The stress of being pulled in many different directions is not something that is sustainable long term – the weight on you can be hard to carry after a while.
Make sure to do the same support-seeking in your relationships as well. Friendships that aren’t judgmental can be like breathing fresh air. Leaving behind a toxic friendship with anyone who makes you feel less than incredible in your parenting efforts can completely revolutionize your confidence.