It's frustrating and ridiculous and pretty unfair but, sadly, society views working mothers differently. When a woman has a baby and goes back to work, she is viewed as a "working mom" who is probably selfish for "leaving her kid" and whose work will certainly be negatively impacted by the fact that she, now, has a kid. Really, no matter how you slice it, a woman's entry into this new demographic all too often leaves her subject to the preconceived notions and new expectations that go with it. Which is probably why a working mother's decision to talk, or not talk, about her kid is one she has laboriously thought over.
If she decides to boast about her new babe, will she be perceived as "weak" or "distracted" or "just a mom," now? If she doesn't talk about the new addition, will she be "cold" and "a bad mother" or "someone who shouldn't have procreated in the first place because clearly she hates being a mother because, um, why doesn't she talk about her kid?" I mean, honestly, we just can't win, can we? And while there are plenty of work environments that facilitate a woman being a mother and a worker and, you know, a complex human being that men just casually get to be without any sort of judgement or shame, there are many more that don't.
I was curious about how other working mothers handled the subject of discussing their children at their place of employment. Did they talk about their kids at work? Was it a common subject of discussion with their co-workers, bosses, and/or subordinates? Why? Why not? Here's what 16 of them had to say...
"I talk about my kids at work often. Most of us have children. I am fortunate to work in a child friendly environment. My kids have had to come to work with me when childcare issues have arisen. Seeing coworkers' kids is common. It may be that the nature of social work is a bit warmer and gushier than other environments, but people ask after my children daily. I have worked in other fields where I would not have been this comfortable."
"I absolutely talk about my daughter at work. We are essentially an office of three and both of the women I work with are mothers. I am lucky enough that our work environment is one where family is a priority for all of us. That said, I have known my immediate supervisor for going on 8 years now, and she knows a lot more about my day-to-day life with my daughter, who has ongoing health issues/concerns [that] pop up and sometimes when they do [it]can be all-consuming. The other women know, in general, what our family deals with, but I am more careful in what I disclose to [my supervisor] because I'm still getting to know her and the worry about [the] perception [of work/life balance] is constant. I've known her less than a year and I'm still trying to prove myself to her."
I think when it becomes a more conscious decision is when I'm considering how people perceive my ambition. I do, sometimes, consciously choose to downplay the role parenting plays in my life when I want to be sure I am seen as ambitious. For example, I am very careful to talk about having a second child. I would never initiate bringing this up because I would worry that my boss (who is a mom with 3 kids of her own) might wonder when I'm getting pregnant, when am I going to be out on leave, and will I give it my all in the meantime? These are questions my husband never has to worry about, because he just gets me pregnant and takes off 2 weeks in like a year or two when the baby is born.
"My son comes up in [conversation] and when something fun, interesting, or exciting is going on in my life I'm bound to share about it. Having worked in an environment that had very few families, talking about a child was just perceived as weird or out of context or not being able to relate to the topic. If I ever needed to take a sick day to care for my child or if I was running late due to school/day care drop offs (in which case I would call ahead to let others know), it was looked down upon with great negativity and disgust, as if I were doing it on purpose. Now, working in a more family-friendly environment where more people have families and enjoy spending time outside of work, everyone asks about one another's families and we all enjoy talking about them. Personally, I love to talk about my son any chance I get. He's a huge part of my life."
Yes, and I'm kind of ashamed at the way I approach being a mom in the workplace. I talk about my daughter in a few different ways with different people. Since I'm in marketing for an entertainment studio, I talk about her very generally as if she's my own focus group when we're having discussions about play patterns, content, etc. (e.g. My kid really responded to x, y, and z.). With my direct supervisor and team, I go a bit deeper, mostly to manage work expectations (e.g. My kid is starting school/doesn't have school, my kid has to go to the doctor, my kid threw up something weird). Then, I have my mom/parent friends, made up of mostly colleagues around the same level and I consider some of them to be my friends even outside of work at this point. And THEN there's mostly everyone else -- either men or very senior level women -- and I don't bring her up at all. I don't want it to shape in any way good or bad how they perceive me.
"I talk about my family at work, particularly with the younger women. There is a perception in my field that it's near impossible to have kids as a woman, or that there will be stigma, and that you will be negatively perceived or actually worse at your job. I think it's important to be an example of someone who has made it work. I don't gloss over ways it can be hard, but emphasize that it can be done."
"I do mention my kid from time to time in casual conversation ("how was your weekend?"), because my office is full of other moms, including my boss, who has 4 kids, so I'm not in the kind of corporate environment where I feel like it would be held against me ("oh, she's got baby brain"). At my last place of work, the big boss was a woman who was unusually hostile toward working moms, so women simply never mentioned their children at all. They knew if they did the boss would act as though they couldn't possibly be doing their job to the best of their ability if their brain held a single kid-related thought during working hours. If I'd had kids while I was there? Well, let's just say I'd have HR on speed dial as a precaution. Outside the office, with clients for example, I generally don't talk about kids with men because I think there's a subtle but distinct bias that if a woman's talking about her kids in a business setting, she's not a serious professional. With women clients, I might talk about kids a little if they are moms themselves because women tend to bond that way and they're less likely to have that kind of bias (because they've been the target of it)."
"I talk about my family with customers who come in. Since I'm self-employed, my 4 year old is often 'assisting'. Today she serenaded people with her piano and wanted me to get her a hat to collect coins."
I mention my kids. Granted I work in a kids environment so it's different, but I can't imagine not talking about my kids.
Rachel T, 32
"I definitely talk about my boys. They even come visit my office almost once a week. My place of work is pretty family friendly, since a lot of people work here specifically because of the work-life balance (at least in the finance area, since we get paid less than our counterparts the corporate sector but don't have to work ridiculous hours). Within the year I gave birth to my second son (2014), there were 5 other women who also gave birth on my floor alone, out of approximately 40 people. I try to never bring them up in a way that would place blame on them (if I'm late, for instance), but chatting about new milestones and what we did on the weekend? For sure!"
"No. I actively make a conscious effort not to mention my kids because I'm the oldest person in my group and the only one with kids and it only widens our gap. Some kid-related stories still manage to come out from time to time but mostly it comes up when people ask about my weekend. When I do interface with someone outside my group or my director, who has kids, the adult/kid stuff comes out. I compartmentalize and have a group of moms at work and I relegate all my kid convos to them."
Yes, I discuss my kids with my boss all the time. His son and my oldest daughter were born 2 months apart so we do a lot of comparing and complaining about what our kids are doing now. Lots of pictures are shared. I find it comforting that we're able to discuss the trials and tribulations of parenting with each other.
"I am a Kindergarten teacher, so it's a bit different for me. I discuss my kids often and am even able to share funny stories with my students. I also discuss the kids with my parents as needed. My son has a speech individualized education plan, and that allows me to share both the parent and teacher side of it."
Amanda K, 36
"I don't hide my kids, though I used to. When I was younger, there was always a judgement about how young I was with a young kid, and unmarried. Now I drop it in to make the point that I have children and have not, nor do I intend to, stop working; I'm committed to my job and my family. With some people, I talk in detail about them but only if they do as well. With others, it may be a passing comment here or there but no real substance. With people I don't know, I only ever mention them if the other person mentions theirs first. I find I don't just do this with work situations or children. I view it more as a soft skill around conversation and building relationships. Some relationships include children while others do not; same with politics and religion."
My only co-worker is my husband, so our whole business and parenting relationship is completely intertwined. At my last 'real' job I was actually pregnant and it was a very supportive environment for people with kids. Everyone (including men) chatted about their kids and there were at least a couple babies brought in to the office at various times. This was in the UK, if that makes a difference.
"For me, this is a 'know your audience' kind of thing. I gush over them and share war stories with other moms, talk mostly work or sports with the sales guys who sit near me, and I'm somewhere in between with most other people. I have pictures of them all over the place, so lots of people ask."