10 Ways Employers Don't Realize They're Angering Working Moms (And How To Fix It)
As if parents with jobs didn’t have enough drama in our lives, people continue to anger working moms, without realizing it. The reasons that fire me up usually have to do with failed time management, whether it’s school related stuff cutting in on work time, or job related issues encroaching on the limited hours I get to spend with my children. In a world where we are increasingly expected to be available every hour of every day (thanks internet), parents, who are already “on the job” every hour of every day, are even more stressed out when people don’t respect the boundaries between work and life. I cannot, and should not, be expected to answer emails or calls or work on projects beyond the forty or so hours a week for which I’m getting paid. And yet, so many parents, myself included, hop online after the kids are asleep to clear the decks for the next workday, anticipating that things will pile up if we don’t tackle them immediately.
Ideally, I would not be required to serve a set number of hours to get my job done. I am a grown-up and I can be trusted to just get it done by the time it is due. Sitting at my desk from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. doesn’t ensure the quality of my work, it only makes me accountable for showing up. That’s why I feel flexible work schedules would make working parents, like me, a lot less angry.
It’s a fact, when businesses give their employees more flexibility with their hours, they're usually happier, more productive, and make a positive, financial impact on a company’s bottom line (as turnover will decrease and fewer sick days will be used). Still, the move towards work flexibility has been painfully lethargic. While newer companies in tech are more likely to embrace more generous paid leave policies and malleable schedules that accommodate their employees’ lives outside of the office, the majority of employers are turning a blind eye to what workers really want and need. Limitless snacks and craft beer on tap and nap pods and massages are all lovely, sure, yet they all represent the trappings of a place that doesn’t want employees to leave the office. As a working mom, I have to leave work. I try not to take my work home with me, because home is where my kids are.
I don’t want to stop working, because my career is part of how I define myself and it's something I'm immensely proud of. I’m more than pleased with the work I do, and I want my children to take pride in their mom because of it. I just get really pissed off when some of these antics are pulled, intentionally or not:
You Don’t Realize The Workplace Caters To People Who Don’t Have Dependents
Work culture is slowly evolving, but most offices are still run the way they were when the 9-to-5 workday was established almost a century ago. Back then, and until very recently, families could afford a comfortable life with only one parent earning an income, while the other tended to the children and domestic responsibilities (guess which gender was typically assigned which role).
More guys are becoming stay-at-home dads than ever before, and there is a significant number of single moms in the workforce. So why are so many companies sticking to the outdated model of the workday? It has working parents like me and my husband scrambling to assemble after-school care. It has so many parents stressed and frustrated, because they don't get the opportunity to be engaged in their children’s lives for more than the half hour before they catch the bus in the morning, and the mere hour after working parents get home and their children go to bed.
I don’t want the school day to extend to meet working parents’ needs.
I want the work day to be as flexible as we need it to be to meet everyone’s needs.
You Plan After-Hours Department Outings
Drinks after work. Volunteering on weekends. Letting work-related activities creep into non-paid time is not only disrespectful (to all employees), but is tone deaf to those of us who can’t afford to give more of ourselves to our jobs than we are already. In my opinion, time is money.
If you want to treat your staff to drinks, sign them up for a wine club or bring in snacks for meetings or dedicate one workday a year for employees to volunteer for their favorite cause. Don’t, however, guilt us into cutting into our personal calendars, for fear that not showing up to work events outside the office might jeopardize our career advancement. As a working mom I work smart, because I literally have no time to waste. Evaluate me on my performance, not on my attendance during after-work happy hours.
You Switch Meeting Times At The Last Minute
My weekday is scheduled to the minute, from the time I wake up at 6:15 a.m. to hustle the kids through the morning routine, until 10:30 p.m. when I’m packing up their lunches for the next day. Pushing a 4 p.m. meeting to 5:30 is blatantly disregarding any plans I have put in place so that I can focus on work while at work. Now, as a result of someone else's poor planning or lack of consideration, I’m scrambling to make last-minute arrangements for the babysitter to stay later, or for my husband to leave work earlier than he had planned in order to get home to the kids.
A lot of businesses charge a fee for last-minute cancellations. I would like to see this policy implemented in the workplace to penalize those who switch up schedules without fair warning.
You Tell Us We Look Tired
Really? Really? Well you look... You know what? If I wasn’t so exhausted I would think of a pretty amazing comeback to your revelatory observation.
Co-Workers Or Employers Say "You’re Such A Mom" When We Hand Someone A Napkin
Ever notice how people want to credit your role as a mother when it comes to common sense practices, like having a tissue? It’s a compliment that comes off as belittling. Just thank us and come prepared next time.
You Assume All We Want To Do Is Work And Be With Our Kids
I’m a mom. I work. I write outside my job. I’m on my co-op board. I love working out. I reupholstered a bench just to see if I could do it (I could, sort of). Working moms are interested in so many other things than their jobs and their family, just like their child-free colleagues. Don’t assume that just because I decline an invitation for an event outside work it’s because I am putting my kids first. Sometimes, I just don’t want go.
You Only Ask Us About Our Kids
See above. I do have a life beyond my reproductive and professional capabilities. (It mostly involves Star Wars.)
You Don’t Make It Easy For Us To Pump
Between my first and second kids, New York state passed a law requiring dedicated pumping spaces at places with more than 50 employees. Since I sat in an open floorplan, I had to find a place to pump with my first baby, roaming the floors until someone with an office lent me the room. If time was tight in between meetings, I sucked it up and pumped in a bathroom stall which is, if you don't know, the worst.
By the time I had my second kid, my employer had created a private room for nursing mothers but it had to be booked, like a conference room, and if you missed your dedicated time because a meeting ran long or the subway messed up your commute, too bad. Giving working moms, and all employees, access to private space without so many obstacles would make us feel more human, in addition to supporting nursing mothers who are not ready to give up pumping.
You Ask Why Our Partner/Parents/Nannies Don’t Help Out More
My husband and I have a patchwork of care for our kids: their grandparents, after-school programs, a babysitter, and a neighborhood babysitting co-op we’re in with a bunch of other local families. It is a lot to manage. Having a support system is crucial for working parents, though it can backfire (like when your dedicated caregiver fails to show up at the bus stop to pick up your kid). However, it works for us most of the time.
Still, and even though I'm lucky enough to have the support I have, I occasionally just want to pick up my kids, or peek through the window to watch their dance class in the afternoon. All work and no play will lead to burnout for this working mother, so I make no apologies for leaving work when I do and taking the time to simply be "mom."
You Remind Us We Should Be Feeling Guilty About Having A Job And A Kid Simultaneously
I’m hoping, by now, most people have learned not to ask ridiculous questions like “Don’t you miss your kids?” Or “Are you looking forward to not working on maternity leave?” That is so 20th century, you guys. Yes, I miss my kids at times during the workday. But honestly, I am so glad to be at the office, working on projects that make use of the parts of my brain that don’t get a workout when I’m in "mom mode." I get to have grown-up conversations, and nobody barges in on me in the bathroom (usually). Not only do I need to work to contribute to our household income, along with my husband, a “working dad,” to use a comparable term (which nobody has, ever), but I need to work to satisfy those parts of me that existed before having kids, and that very much need to be fulfilled if I’m to feel like, well, me. I am privileged to be able to cultivate a career that speaks to my creative interests. I think it would be much harder to come to a work environment that I hated, just so I could get a paycheck, and too many women do just that; working to give their family as much opportunity to succeed as they can.
If people were truly concerned about a working mom’s “guilt,” they would see the benefit of reshaping the idea of “work.” Let us have more control of work schedules. Make it about productivity, not about the hours spent at our desks. Make it about quality, not quantity.
If you truly want to help out a working mother, don't make her feel she has a price to pay, as a mother or an employee. The children she is raising might one day be the surgeons saving your life, or the politician making positive change for workplace flexibility that will benefit you and your potential kids.