As a woman, I’ve been the target for a ton of unsolicited advice that my husband never receives. From what I should wear (shout out to the middle school administration for forbidding shorts), to what expression I should have on my face (ahem, guys on the street demanding me to smile), to how to raise my kids (I mean...everyone I've ever spoken to since first becoming pregnant?), the unsolicited advice has always flowed openly around me and my life choices. And because I’m a working mom, people have things to say about my career. Because of course they do. And almost always, they are things that they would never say to my male counterparts.
In general, moms hear more offensive stuff than dads, so why should the workplace be any different? I’m glad we’ve evolved to a point where we at least recognize gender inequality at work, based on gender, but I still feel that there is a stigma against me as a working parent that my employed husband just doesn’t have. I mean, why do I have to be the one doing all the work to try to lean in? Can’t guys offer to lean out and make some room?
But things are starting to look up. In early April, my home state, New York, reached a budget agreement that included non-gendered paid leave provisions, making it only the fourth state to mandate that employees continue to receive some income while they tend to the needs of a family member, like a newborn. So hopefully, as we toddle towards progress for working parents, people will stop saying things like the following to moms (which they rarely say to dads), about their careers:
“Are You Going To Come Back After Maternity Leave?”
Sure, it’s a possibility that some moms choose to off-ramp after having a baby. We’re all entitled to change our mind, if we can afford to lower the household income. But why don’t people consider that both working moms and dads would entertain the option of pausing their career? Are we so conditioned to think that men’s success can only be measured within the confines of a job?
“Where Are Your Kids When You’re At Work?”
So, setting up childcare is solely the responsibility of the mother who works? I don’t think so.
“Are You Leaving Your Job To Spend More Time With Your Kids?”
Someone asked me this when I left my job a year after my second child was born. Maybe she assumed I had my hands full at home, or that I felt too guilty to leave my children to work out of the home every day. The fact was I got a better job, one that made me feel better about being away from my kids because the new gig was more meaningful to my career. Imagine that! A working parent who is motivated to cultivate a career that makes her happy! Or is that just something that's reserved for guys?
“Are You Allowed To Leave Work Early To Attend Your Kid’s Game/Play/Tuba Lesson?”
Why is the subject of flexibility exclusive to working moms? Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of adjusting office time to reflect the needs of our lives outside work, but “flex time” shouldn’t just look like women cramming an 8-hour workday into five hours before dashing off to spend another three hours working the second shift of parenthood. Flex time, to me, is about managing work and life through prioritization, whether you’re male, female, child-free, or parent to a brood.
“What Do You Do When You Have To Travel?”
Nobody asks my husband this, because it’s assumed I take care of the kids when he’s away on business. But when it’s my turn to spend a few nights away, people seem to forget that my partner is exactly that, and he steps up. If I were him, I’d be insulted that people don’t think he can handle it.
“How Do You Explain This Gap On Your Resume?”
I’m including this because it’s still rare that fathers off-ramp to be the primary caregivers, though the number of stay-at-home dads is rising. If you’re a stay-at-home mom, it is assumed you weren’t gaining any valuable life experience to inform your career. Untrue. Qualities from parenthood that transfer to the workplace? Time management, delegation, leadership, and communication skills. If you can simplify information so even a 2-year-old would understand it, you’re a welcome addition to any business organization.
“That’s A Good Job For A Mother”
No joke, this was actually said to me, without irony, in reference to my mother’s job as a teacher. You know, because her schedule reflected that of her kids’, and thus could both work full-time and take care of us full-time. Except, that is actually not humanly possible.
“Can You Organize The Monthly Office Birthday Celebration?”
Why, because we know how to book a conference room, or because it’s assumed we have experience throwing our own kid’s birthday parties? I don’t know one dad at my office who’s been asked to galvanize any office celebration, unless you count the Super Bowl pool.
“Your Husband’s The One With Health Benefits Anyway, Right?”
Right. Because he is staff and I’m a full-time freelancer. Please don’t discount my contribution to my family’s well-being. Not only does my salary play in integral role in keeping a roof over our heads, but I’m setting a pretty good example for my son and daughter. I like having a job, and an identity, apart from parenthood. I know I am not cut out to be a stay-at-home parent, and I’m in complete awe of those who are because their job is the hardest, and I’d argue, the most important.
“How Do You Do It All?”
I don’t. I have a partner. And parents. And babysitters. And coffee. We have got to squash this notion of “all” — it simply isn’t attainable. I prioritize and those priorities shift daily. I miss taking my daughter to dance class because I work, yet once a year on her class's observation day, I take off so I can attend. I do what I can, when I can. But I never aim to do it all. Because that is a level of perfection we need to stop asking of our working mothers — and it's one that we have never asked of our working fathers.