The moment I found out I was pregnant, I started asking myself an endless list of questions. Suddenly, my future was filled with so many unknowns, and I had things to figure out. How was I going to give birth? Did I want to breastfeed? Was I going to co-sleep? So. Many. Questions. There was one part of my life, however, that was still crystal clear, and that was my desire to continue working. I knew I'd be a working mom and, as a result, I knew I'd hear the offensive things people say to working moms that they never say to working dads. I didn't have to procreate and hold a job, to know that our society is still holding parents to sexist, gender stereotypes that insist a woman shouldn't work after she has a child.
I never viewed working while simultaneously being a mother to be a "hard" or "difficult" thing. I honestly never contemplated any other set-up, as I value my career, love my job and gain personal satisfaction and fulfillment from the work that I do. Just like my son is a big part of my life, so is my job and — contrary to prevailing, popular and public belief — I knew I could enjoy motherhood and employment simultaneously, without hurting one or other or both. I knew that, by choosing to work and parent at the same time, I would be facing some backlash and judgment, but I didn't prepare myself for just how angry that judgment and backlash would leave me. My partner, who also worked after our son is born and who is now a full-time student, was never questioned for his decision to rejoin the workforce after our son was born. No one asked him if he was trying to "have it all" or if he had a hard time deciding to return to work or if he missed our son when he was clocking in for a 9 to 5 shift. I watched him enjoy a complex human experience — a fulfilled life — without anyone so much as batting an eye. I, on the other hand, was asked to defend my decision to work and parent all the time. It was as exhausting as it was infuriating.
While times are changing and gender equality is slowly but surely becoming more and more of a reality, it's still hard to feel completely optimistic when I hear the following questions and comments on a far-too-frequent basis. Although, you know what they say: you can't fix what you don't know is broken. So, if we could just put an end to the following sexist and offensive things that people feel far too confident saying to working mothers, but not working fathers, that would be great.
"How Do You Balance It All?'
I balance work and parenthood the same way any adult balances the multiple aspects of life in a healthy (sometimes), responsible (usually), and efficient (hopefully) way.
I find it nothing short of sexist that people automatically assume it's difficult for me to be more than one thing in my life (partner, mother, worker, friend, etc) but don't seem to automatically assume my son's father has the same issue. He is just automatically capable, yet people are scratching their heads and wondering how I "do it all." Ugh.
"Are You Trying To Have It All?"
I'm a pretty easy going person. However, when someone asks me this condescending question I want to scream. Why is having a well-rounded, complex and fulfilling life labeled (for women) as "having it all?" Why is it something women can't just have, but have to "try" to have? Why is my partner, a man who also works and has a child, not asked the same question? Is it because society automatically views men as multifaceted human beings, but women are usually whittled down to one or two defining characteristics, stuffed in a box labeled "mom" or "single" or "wife," and that's that?
The only thing I'm trying to have, is a life. I am a complicated human being, who wants to be edified in every aspect of her life. I can be multiple things, all at once, because, hey, I'm a human being and human beings are complicated. My humanity doesn't just disappear when I become a mother. It's just enhanced.
"Was It A Hard Decision To Go Back To Work?"
No more than any other decision I have ever made.
I know that, for some parents (mothers and fathers alike) it can be a difficult decision to go back to work. I know that for some parents (mothers and fathers) there isn't much of a decisions at all, and their financial situations make a duel-income not a choice, but a necessity. However, don't make that assumption, either.
I didn't think twice about going back to work and/or continuing work after my son was born. I knew I would still spend time on my career when I found out I was pregnant, and I knew the career was going to continue after I held my son in my arms. While motherhood is fulfilling, don't assume it's capable of fulfilling every other aspect of a woman's life. Don't assume a woman "has to" work. Actually, just don't assume much at all, and you'll probably be fine.
"I Would Miss My Baby Too Much..."
If you say you would miss your child too much to return to work, I don't doubt it.
I will never be upset for someone expressing their feelings. If you think that going to work would be too emotionally difficult, I think you shouldn't go to work (if you can afford not to). However, this comment isn't really said to me as a form of necessary and personal expression, but as a form of judgement. When someone tells me they can't imagine leaving their child for a long period of time, they're essentially insinuating that I somehow love my child less, because I leave him every day to go to work.
Simultaneously, no one seems to tell my partner that they would miss their baby too much, or insinuate that he loves his child less because he works or goes to school, sans kid. Why? Well, in our particular patriarchal culture, he's expected to leave the house, and I'm expected to stay at home with the baby. Ugh. It's 2016, people.
"...And Can't Imagine Someone Else Raising My Child"
People love to romantically claim, "It takes a village to raise a child," only to get upset and judgmental when a mom uses a village to actually raise her child. Ugh.
One, I am raising my child. I am raising my child and working. So is my partner. However, of course we aren't going to be the only two people who teach our son.
And, again, if I were a stay-at-home mom who spent every waking hour with my son, and my partner went to work every day, no one would be telling him, "I wouldn't let anyone else raise my baby." If I'm going to follow the logic evoked when people accuse me of leaving the child rearing to someone else, just because I work, then every working dad parenting with a stay-at-home mom is essentially passing up the opportunity to raise his children. Where's the outcry? The outrage? The judgement? Why aren't more people upset about these "deadbeat dads" who aren't raising their children but, instead, going to work? Hmmm.
"Aren't You Afraid You're Missing Out?"
My son will spent at least 18 years of his life with me. I am not missing out if I'm not with him or by his side every single second of those 18 years. He deserves to learn individuality, so that he can cultivate a life away from his parents; and I deserve the space to be an individual, so that I can continue to have a life away from my child. Just like I want my son to be a well-rounded human being, I want to continue to be a well-rounded human being, too.
Deciding to work doesn't hurt me or my son or rob me of precious moments I'll never get back, and we really need to dispel that myth so mothers who work can stop getting these sly guilt trips on the regular.
"Do You Miss Your Kid When You're Working?"
Sometimes? Maybe? Other times? Not at all.
Again, this question is rooted in the idea that a woman's entire identity is tied to her child the moment she becomes a mother. I am more than a mother. I am capable of having thoughts that do not include my son, just like I'm capable of housing thoughts that do not involve my romantic partner.
"I Don't Know How You Do It"
It's simple, really. In fact, ask a working dad how he does it. That's how I do it, too.
"Is It Because You Absolutely Have To Work?"
There are a number of families who need a duel income to survive. So, yes, there are plenty of mothers who work because they have to, not necessarily because they want to.
I wouldn't be able to live in the city I live in, if I wasn't working. My family needs two incomes, however that's not why I work. I work because I want to work, and even if we didn't need two incomes to live where we live, I would still work. A solid rule is, of course, to never assume anything about someone's financial situation.
[Any Phone Call From Any Teacher Ever]
Why is it that schools, nurses, doctors and anyone else that may or may not be involved with your child, call the mother first if anything is wrong or someone is in trouble? Why? Why not call the father? The mom working probably has deadlines or meetings or obligations that a non-essential phone call would distract her from, yet she is the go-to person who is contacted. Every. Single. Time. Why not the father? After all, if the child does have two parents involved and present, why aren't they contacted equally?
(Hint: gender stereotypes and sexism.)
"Well, Hopefully The Day Will Come When You Don't Need To Work"
My partner and I have a "plan" we're working toward, and it doesn't involve me ever quitting my job or not working. In fact, if all goes according to this plan and we reach our goal, I'll be the only parent working and he will be the one who stays at home with our child (and any subsequent children we may or may not have). Which is why these sexist and offensive questions and comments don't just hurt working moms, they hurt dads, too.
My partner knows he will be essentially "made fun of" for not living up to some outdated gender stereotype. I know that I'll be judged and considered a "bad mom," because I would rather work than be a stay-at-home mom. We both know what others will think, because of these prevailing stereotypes and what society has arbitrarily decided fathers and mothers should do.
We just don't care and, honestly, neither should you. Find what works best for your family, do it, and don't worry about the rest.