You'd think that, as an educated and civil society (well, mostly) we'd be smart enough to avoid the backhanded compliments moms get at the office. Alas, we still have a long way to go. Despite the fact that just about 70 percent of moms are employed, it seems that all co-workers haven't necessary learned how to talk about us regarding our "mom status" in a way that isn't cringe-inducing and eyeroll-worthy.
Being a working mom is hard as hell, and I can say this as someone who has had the full range of "working mom" experiences. I've done the working mom thing, the stay-at-home mom gig, and, currently, the work-from-home gig. In my own personal estimation, while all have their challenges (and benefits), being a working mom is hands down the most difficult of the three. So, hearing misguided nonsense from your well-meaning (or, let's face it, passive aggressively obnoxious) co-workers does nothing to alleviate this already difficult role.
To be fair, I realize that if you aren't a working parent (and, specifically, a working mom) chances are high that you may not be aware of some of the social landmines you should avoid that make us feel like crap and slam us with a hefty dose of mommy guilt. It's OK, I'm here to help. (You're welcome.)
"I Always Forget You're A Mom"
When this is said just as a matter of course, it's totally fine. I've heard this from coworkers and thought nothing of it, because it can just be an expression that we're so wrapped up in work life that whatever goes on outside the parameters of our building sometimes falls off our radar.
However, sometimes this can be pretty backhanded, even unintentionally. When it's said in complete shock, it's like you don't think I'm maternal, which is kind of mean and hurtful. When it's said as a compliment, it's like, "What's wrong with moms that I'm lucky I can pass as a non-mom?" There's nothing wrong with being a mom, you guys.
"You're Really Focused For A Mom"
Yes, believe it or not, my critical thinking, intelligence, and ambition did not exit through my vagina when I gave birth. Am I tired? Sure. Do I have a lot on my plate? Absolutely. However, as a mother, who is tired and has a lot on her plate, I am required to get really good at focusing if I want to get anything done. It's sort of like, you know, literally anyone else who wants to get something done and you don't marvel at how focused they are. Your shocked "compliment" is pretty condescending.
"It's OK That You Forgot. You're A Mom, You've Got A Lot Going On."
This is another one that can go a few ways depending on tone, wording, and context. Because, of course, work-life balance is important to everyone, and parents in particular have a lot of responsibilities outside of the workplace. I know that as a mom, superiors in my office acknowledging that I was a person outside of my company meant a lot.
That said, I didn't want to be graded on a curve and I certainly didn't want any of my shortcomings blamed on the fact that I was a mother. There are any number of reasons someone might make a mistake. When people jump to one's maternal status, regardless of what's actually going on, it's really demeaning.
"You're So Brave To Trust Someone Else To Raise Your Kids"
For real, you can go screw yourself. If you can't understand how wildly offensive and mean this is on your own then you are beyond my help. You're going to need, like, three ghosts to visit you on Christmas Eve to help cure you of this level of awfulness. So, until then: bye Felicia. Have fun being an uncouth jerk for the rest of forever (or until the Ghosts of Office Parties Past, Present, and Future come to visit you).
"I Give You So Much Credit. I Could Never Be Away From My Babies."
If you don't have kids, don't even go there. Because you're speaking hypothetically, which is a fancy way of saying you really don't know what you're talking about.
"Good For You For Taking Some Time To Yourself Every Day"
I'm sorry, but do you count work as "me time?" God, I hope not. "Me time" is sitting in a cafe with a book for a few hours, or going to the beach, or burning off some energy in spin class. Who the hell is relaxed dealing with Rodney in accounts payable? Even if you enjoy your career, chances are it's not "me time." It's,"earn money and provide for my family time." For the vast majority of working parents, a job is a necessity, not a way to unwind from the demands of raising children.
"Good For You For Getting Some Extra Money"
Oh yes, for all those cushy luxuries like food! And rent! And preschool tuition! I'm a real baller.
"You Look Great For A Woman Who Had A Baby"
If you have to qualify, it's not a compliment. For real, I can't say this enough. "You look great" is sufficient. You're getting your point across. Just stop right there, otherwise you're making us feel consoled, not complimented.
"Smart Move Coming Back To Work. Stay-At-Home Moms Are So Insufferable"
I would love, once and for all, to stop relying on comparative "compliments." We don't have to put down other people in a group in order to prop someone else up. Stop telling me my goodness as a mom or a women is because I'm not like some other woman. It's icky. It's the mom version of telling someone they're not like "other girls." Guys: all moms, working moms, SAHMs, work-from-home moms? They're my tribe now. So be nice and judge people based on the content of their character rather than these baseless and sweeping generalizations.
"Oh, I Didn't Think You'd Want To Be Involved In This Project. It Requires Travel And/Or Late Hours And I Know You Have Kids."
You might mean well, but with all due respect, you don't know what's best for me and my family. So please don't rob me of the option to make those decisions for myself. Me taking a step in my career, even if it means some time away from my kids now, might be what's best for my family in the long-run. Or maybe, hey, you're right and this opportunity, while great, isn't coming at the best time and I'll pass. But you just don't know until you consult with me.
"Good For You For Knowing What You Want. I Couldn't Slow Down My Career By Having Kids."
Who says my career is slowing? You don't know what I'm up to. And OK, maybe my priorities have shifted a bit. What does that have to do with you? This is coming across as really judgmental and presumptive, even if you don't mean it to.
I'll sum it all up: don't make assumptions about motherhood, careers, or me in the office and you'll be just fine.