When I was a working mom, I would be on the receiving end of some unintentionally hurtful comment at least weekly. Occasionally, the comments weren't unintentionally hurtful, but obviously and willfully mean. Whether accidentally or on purpose, some of the cruelest things anyone could do to a working mom usually revolve around the idea that the role of "mom" is prescribed, "natural," narrow, and static, and working moms are flagrantly and wrongly subverting that.
Of course, thinking of motherhood as something that must be done in such a particular way for more than about 30 seconds leads to a cascade of questions whose answers ultimately lead one to the realization that "OK, there actually isn't one single way to do this and there never was and everyone is going to be fine so we can stop clutching our pearls." Sadly, too few people actually do think about it critically for more than 30 seconds, but hunker down in their preconceived notions of what's "best for children" and what mothers are "supposed to do."
I think the biggest problem working moms face when it comes to dealing with criticism, judgment, or thoughtlessness, is that not enough people are willing to put themselves in the shoes of a working parent. From the workforce itself (which, by and large is not structured in such a way to accommodate anyone interested in balancing parenthood and a job, unless you're talking about Patagonia in which case OMG are you guys hiring?!) to individuals unwilling to consider someone's situation outside of their own set of circumstances. This, unfortunately, leads to callous and sometimes cruel behavior, up to and including the following:
Give Her Crap About Leaving On Time
To start, I will never understand how it is that leaving on time is somehow worthy of judgment. Dude! I've been here since 8 a.m., so leaving eight and a half hours later is hardly subversive or slacking. Besides, if I don't leave on time the daycare is going to close. I'm not leaving "early" and I'm not leaving because I'm lazy. I'm leaving at the same time every day because I have to.
Suggest "Someone Else" Is Raising Her Child
Do you say that of fathers who work? I'm thinking probably not, because either,
a) you know that a man who works is capable of raising his children and working;
b) you're not interested in making a man feel bad about time spent away from his child;
c) you're keenly interested in women conforming to an idealized, sexist paradigm that was never as universal as the American cultural narrative has led you to believe.
Also, since when does just one person raise a child? Not only does that sound impossibly stressful and exhausting for the person doing the raising, but it doesn't sound particularly beneficial to the child in question. A child is going to be influenced, cared for, and loved by a great number of people over the course of their life. That's a good thing.
Intentionally Exclude Her From Activities
I truly believe the Mommy Wars are manufactured, largely by people who aren't actually moms. (#tinfoilhat #trustnoone) I will, however, admit to having witnessed the phenomenon of stay-at-home moms either assuming working moms aren't interested in playdates and volunteer opportunities, or just straight-up dismissing the idea of inviting them to join in.
As someone who has been on the other side, it's really hurtful. Obviously a working mom's schedule is going to be less flexible/more challenging than that of most stay-at-home moms, but it's nice to be considered. We're all moms, you guys!
Suggest Ways She Could Stop Working
Look, if your working mom friend is like, "I'm thinking about ways I could leave the workforce, but I need to figure out how to handle x, y, and z," then by all means share your thoughts and suggestions.
If she has not given you the indication that she actually wants to leave her job, then save it. It reads less "helpful" and more "passive aggressively judgmental and pushy."
Make Her Feel Guilty About Not Being Able To Make Events That Take Place During Work Hours
It's just not possible sometimes, you guys. In a perfect world, sure, we'd like to help you out with all the PTA brunches and committee meetings and all that. But our time allowed away from the workplace is limited and we really want to save that up for, like, our child's school play.
Honestly, it's not just the work hour events that can be tough. If I'm away from my children most of the day, it's going to be a hard sell to get me to spend evenings away from them, too.
Go On About How You Could Never Be Away From Your Children All Day
You could. You could if you had to because you'd do anything to keep your children clothed, fed, and housed. Parents do what they have to for their children and this is the reality for a great deal of moms.
But you know what? Not all moms have to work; they choose to work and that's OK. They've found what works for them, even if it wouldn't be your ideal. So you talking about how awful it would be only attempts to undermine their choice and make them feel like they're wrong.
Ask Her If She Feels Guilty
Again, it's not so much asking as saying, "You should definitely feel guilty."
Remind Her That She's Missing A Lot Of "Firsts"
Yeah: we know. This is one aspect of the whole working mom thing that actually really blows and there's not much we can do about it. Being reminded is just sort of rubbing salt in the wound. So, you know, don't. Please.
Suggest Being A Working Mom Is Easier Than Being A Stay-At-Home Mom
"Well it must be nice to get out of the house and have time to yourself!"
I'm sorry, but what do you think "work" is? Even for people who love their jobs, work is hardly "time to themselves."
"Well I'd like to see how you manage being a SAHM, because it's exhausting. You're lucky."
I'm sure it is exhausting, but you know what it isn't? A contest. Working mom, SAHM, work-from-home mom: they're all uniquely challenging. Let's not attempt to create some sort of martyr-y hierarchy, because it will be one of those things that is never solidly established and only serves to breed resentment.
Say She Doesn't Care About Her Children
What a spectacularly crappy thing to tell a mother, even if it's obviously absurd. So many people and institutions in society attempt to make working mothers feel bad about their choices (whether or not they are actually unencumbered "choices"), and one way they do that is suggest, subliminally and overtly, that they are uncaring and selfish. The suggestion is made so frequently that it is often a source of guilt and worry.
This is, of course, false, unnecessary, and cruel.
Working moms are a huge part of the workforce and our communities. Moreover, these boss bitches are raising the next generation. Let's be kind to them.