I have been saying “I’m sorry” since that time I scribbled on the dining room wall when I was 3 years old. I’ve noticed American culture conditions women to apologize, no matter how they are acting. I notice in meetings: most of my male co-workers don’t offer an apology for talking over anyone, but my female colleagues seem to default to starting sentences with “I’m sorry, but… “ As a mother, I am noticing this imbalance even more. How many times has society expected me to apologize for being a mom? Oh, let me count the ways.
First of all, it’s like our society’s norm is not to recognize families’ needs. If having a kid inconveniences our businesses (and apparently they do, otherwise they would universally provide realistic leave policies that allow you to make a living after welcoming a new family member), how are we supposed to create the next generation of geniuses to make the flying cars (or at least implement more sustainable energy practices) so there could be a generation beyond theirs?
Since becoming a mom, I have often felt like a stranger in my homeland. I am constantly making excuses about why I need to take off from work since, when you have a kid, they need your attention: on sick days, to tour preschools, to register for kindergarten. It’s like parenthood is an “also ran” in the grand scheme of my life, and I don’t feel this is just the case for working moms. It’s almost impossible to find car services and methods of public transportation that can accommodate babies and young kids in a safe way. Minors are the last group of people anyone seems to think about, unless you work directly with them as teachers and coaches and pediatricians.
However, I’m not sorry for being a mother. I don’t intend to raise jerks, so I have to believe it is a great thing my partner and I are doing, in bringing more brain power and creativity into the world through our children. I can’t feel truly great about that yet, though. Not in these times I’ve found society expects me to apologize for being a mom:
When I took leave with my first child, I definitely checked in at work. It wasn’t expected, but when I hopped on a conference call on my eleventh week home, it was appreciated. A lot of advice to working mothers suggest that it’s good to start peeking in at what’s going on at the office before your maternity leave is up, so it doesn’t hit you all at once when you return. However, I think that’s a dangerous habit. I would have been much better off waiting to do work until it was on my company’s time, not on my leave time (when I wasn’t even getting paid, thanks to our country’s current sh*tty leave policies). Those 12 weeks on maternity leave were the only extended time in my newborn’s life that only required me to be a mother, and not an employee. I should have cherished them more.
While weaned humans typically have dedicated areas where they consume meals, breastfed babies eat wherever the source of their food is. Though society is putting up fewer and fewer barriers when it comes to normalizing breastfeeding, the laws put in place to protect my right to feed my kid (and, more importantly, my infant’s right to eat) don’t protect me from judgment. There would always be someone who looked a little freaked out, or even disgusted, when I would nurse my kids in public. It made me uncomfortable to witness those reactions, almost to the point of feeling apologetic about what apparently was an inconvenience to people in the park who had to have me, a breastfeeding mother, in view. Not like they couldn’t look somewhere else, right?
Over time, the knee-jerk reaction of feeling shame at people’s negative response to breastfeeding moms dissipated. It merely took too much energy to consider others’ opinions on the matter of me doing what was best for my baby, which was, in this case, feeding her at any time, and in any place, necessary.
Trust me, I’m not an asshole about this. I don’t take my child to expensive restaurants for late dinners, when bonafide adults are trying to enjoy an evening out. I would never do that, because I am sometimes one of those adults.
Having said that, please don’t throw shade at me if I’m eating in a family-friendly restaurant (one with a kids’ menu) at a normal hour. If I truly had a choice, I wouldn’t opt to dine out with my kids, at least not until they were both old enough to order off the grown-up menu. Eating out with young kids is messy, and not often a pleasantly peaceful experience. But there are more pros than cons to taking them out to eat with us, the biggest being I don’t have to cook.
No one, not those with kids nor those without, is immune from lateness. Even with the best intentions, life happens. No hot water for a shower. Double-backing for forgotten keys. Train trouble on the commute. It’s so easy to point to a working mom’s kids as the source of blame for whatever caused her to mess up, and I am often the one using my kids as an excuse (like when we went through a separation issue with my daughter for a while when she was in preschool, which truly was the source of my lateness on those days). But everyone is dealing with their own stuff, and I won’t be made to feel that I have more to prove, as a mother, since I risk parenting snags getting in the way of work.
I resent the idea that children are a liability. If anything, I have become a smarter, more efficient employee since becoming a mom. I manage my time better (since there is so little of it), and am less flappable. It’s all about perspective; annoying office politics are practically a delight, relative to dealing with a five-alarm toddler tantrum at the preschool doorway every morning at drop-off.
I used to feel sheepish during that period when our childcare situation dictated that I leave the office most nights no later than 5:12 p.m., in order to make the 6 p.m. pick-up. But then I realized I was more than making up for the fact that I was “cutting out” 48 minutes earlier than most of my co-workers. I took short lunches, didn’t meander into others’ offices for small talk, and always checked email once the kids were in bed later that night. I wasn’t so much leaving early as I was time-shifting some of the work I had to do.
The antiquated architecture of typical office environments, with butts in chairs for eight or nine hours a day, no longer reflects most of working parents’ needs. The office workday was built this way decades ago to serve men, whose women tended to the children, the home, and the meals. It no longer makes as much sense now that more of us are tending to all those things and working full-time. So I don’t feel bad about “leaving early,” because I always coordinate with my team to get the work done.
On our one and only trip to Disney World, my son had a chart-topping freak-out. It was less of a tantrum than it was a panic attack. The poor guy was suddenly consumed with anxiety, and we hadn’t even taken off yet. He was so scared to be up in the air, and his cries and screams grew louder and shriller as we taxied down the runway. I was so embarrassed, and my husband and I were at a complete loss as to how to console our 4 year old. I was beginning to fear the other passengers would start lobbying to have us tossed from the flight.
But something amazing happened. Strangers started coming to our rescue, passing us toys and gum to help calm him down. The flight attendant brought him an entire snack basket and deftly buckled him back in after he broke free from his seat belt in an attempt to climb into my lap.
I know there are horror stories of parents who aren’t offered a shred of compassion when their kid dares to break the “inside voice” rule. Recently, someone’s toddler in the waiting area by our gate started having a fit and my travel companion remarked, “Now I know why people pay extra to join the sky club.” The thought never occurred to this person that a child’s distress is justified and her wails aren’t a personal attack to the people sharing that space.
We were lucky on that Disney flight, and I can’t help but think it was because there were enough people who understood the stress of keeping a child calm at 17,000 feet, in a pressurized cabin, and no room to move for hours. I just wish this experience wasn’t the exception to the otherwise common practice of hating on families traveling with kids.
It’s not just me in here. I’m changing a baby and/or talking my toddler through an epic elimination. I can’t take responsibility for the fact that there are so few stalls in this restroom, so I won’t be apologizing for you having to wait for me to be done in here. Be nice, or I won’t spare a square.
I mean, this goes without saying, right? Sometimes my kids need me at the exact same time someone else does, and while I don't particularly enjoy multitasking, from time to time it's a necessity.
I have a full-time job, a part-time job, and I am also raising two children who are fun and kind, and usually well-behaved (in public, anyway). I wish I could be more involved in my kids’ school, but in order to do so, something would have to go. The timing isn’t right, at least not while my kids are still in elementary school. I can’t volunteer time, but I always make a donation of actual money to the Parent Teacher Association. That will just have to do for now.
I can’t blame my kid for not wanting to be at a supermarket. I don’t want to be here either. But he’s a kid and his brain is not yet developed, yet, to the point of being able to control his emotions. I am not excusing his loudness, his whining, or his general bad attitude about how long it takes me to pick out avocados. Obviously if he bumps into you during a fit, we will express our regret. But he is not intentionally ruining your shopping experience. So, no apology from me needed.
Imagine: you’re a small person in a big chair with your arms pinned under a smock, and a bunch of grown-ups fluttering around you. Before long, one of them comes at you with a pair of long scissors. The sharp blades grow larger as they approach your head. This has never happened before in your life. And yet, you’re expected to act casual?
Give me, and my kid, a break. My child’s instinct in this situation is to resist. Loudly.