“Work as though we don’t have children and raise our children as if we don’t work.” An impossible feat.
Why is there a preconceived notion that we should pretend like we aren’t mothers at work? That somehow, being a mother makes us less competent, less focused, and less capable of being able to handle all of our professional responsibilities? As a mother, it’s infuriating!
Mothers are able to multitask with the best of them—if not better. It’s astounding to me that there is a stigma attached to motherhood in work environments across the board. I’ve heard some of the most ludicrous assumptions:
- Working mothers are unreliable and distracted because we supposedly have more family emergencies and miss more time at work.
- Working mothers are unable to thrive simultaneously in both aspects of our lives.
- Working mothers are working to get away from our home responsibilities.
This is all on top of the fact that working mothers are often times less desirable candidates, get paid less, and are considered less productive. For me, I learned a valuable lesson when an employer forced a choice between work and motherhood. Now, I tell every employer that I’m a mother first.
When I Realized My Workplace Didn’t Accept the Whole Me
At one of my previous workspaces, I was the only parent. I had to adapt to a culture where my boss had little to no sympathy for someone who didn’t devote their existence to their job. I made it explicitly clear that accepting the offer was contingent upon flexibility and that with a toddler, I would more than likely have to take a day off if she was ever sick. I was met with understanding that I would later come to realize was smoke and mirrors.
Some weeks, I would work 60 hours a week. Some days, I would work sick, and some days, I would work when my daughter was sick because there was no backup plan for scenarios that didn’t allow me to come in. I’m sure many of us have been in these situations, but do not mistake this for having a good work ethic or caring about your job. Our health—emotional and physical—is more important than having coverage.
It’s your employer’s responsibility to have systems in place for when these things happen, not yours. I was realizing that the time I was missing with my family wasn’t worth it. I was pleading for help at work but wasn’t getting any. The paid time off I was guaranteed was impossible to take, as there were literally no employees who could do what I did. For a while, it was empowering to feel like an irreplaceable, intricate member of the company. I worked hard and that’s where I wanted to be, but this feeling of accomplishment was short-lived when I realized I was making concessions in my home life.
How I Addressed It With My Employer
Enough was enough. I met with my boss. I knew I was an asset and wasn’t being treated as such. If I didn’t ask for what I wanted, I could not be upset I wasn’t getting it. Zora Neal Hurston once said,“If you’re silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it. I asked for more flexibility, more suitable to the work-home life balance I needed. I was met with passive-aggressive pushback. It wasn’t shocking, but it was aggravating.
I was told my hours could not be changed. I wasn’t budging, so I gave my notice on the spot. My boss nearly cried, then said I was crucial and a phenomenal employee. Then give me what I want, I thought to myself. I was confused. If my job couldn’t make concessions for me, why was I making so many for my job?
If my job couldn’t make concessions for me, why was I making so many for my job?
My most important role is being a mother, so any career I have will always come second. That doesn’t mean I can’t be damn good at my job. But my employer made me feel like I was being forced to choose, and clearly, I’d choose my family every time.
The Bigger Lesson
I do not need to quiet the mother in me to thrive in my career. Employers need to abandon the biases they have about mothers and reimagine some of the status quo so that we can flourish in these environments.
We are often guilted into believing that we don’t deserve to have compromises made for us, that because we chose to have children, we shouldn’t have more “privileges” than our childless coworkers.
I do not need to quiet the mother in me to thrive in my career.
You can set boundaries to create a work-home life balance. If I can do my job, meet deadlines, and work well above the standard, why can’t I come in late because my daughter has a doctor’s appointment?
From that moment, I vowed to tell all my employers that I’m a mother first—take it or leave it. This might seem daunting because we have this preconceived notion that we need to be the right fit for any job that we want or take, but in reality, our workspaces need to be a right fit for us as well. In the current job market, employers are hopefully starting to understand it needs to be a symbiotic relationship that benefits both parties.
Ask for what you need. When offered a position, make sure you are negotiating for what you need. The worst they can say is “no.” If they do say no, is that really the type of workspace you want? We should never be forced to choose between our career and our family.