Disclaimer: If you find yourself saying something nice to a working mom with the best of intentions, that's a great thing and you, my friend, sound like a nice person. However, in my experience, being a working mom can often involve lots of thoughts and feelings (in my case, some super-sensitive ones) so it's ever-so-slightly possible that your kind observations might not land the way you intend for them to. And while I would argue that the very fact that you're considering what not to say to a working mom speaks volumes about you, many of these examples aren't exactly cut and dry.
I mean, you're probably not going up to any working moms you know and shouting, "WOW, YOU ARE NOT WITH YOUR CHILD, HOW COULD YOU?" If you are, this would be a different conversation (one that I'm probably not the best person for, to be honest, because it sounds like you're a real handful to deal with). But your comments — however well-intended — could still strike a nerve you may not even know is there. Good news, though! This is the Internet, and that means we can have a totally healthy, mature discussion about working moms. Here are a few common culprits (illustrated with animal gifs, because they don't have to worry about a J-O-B) when it comes to things you might think are compliments for working mothers, and why they might not work from some people at all.
"I Could Never Do It."
I can feel the sting of this one right in between my ribs. It implies that there's something wrong with a working mom because she can do it. Or because she's willing to do it, or because she has to, or because she wants to. If nothing else, it's a reminder of that which no working mom ever needs reminding of: having a career and a kid is hard. Even if it's also awesome; even if it's also necessary; it's never not hard. These words just make that inescapable reality feel fresh (for probably the 10th time that day).
"You’re Doing Great For A Working Mom."
Perhaps try it this way, "You're doing great!" Boom. If you feel like you need to use more than three words, I'd encourage you to consider, "You're doing great...and I'm jealous of all that you are." That's all you have to say.
"You Make It Look So Easy."
OK, I'm not so sensitive that I can't appreciate the sentiment here. But I kind of feel sheepish about it too, because yes, while I understand that professionalism is required for many jobs, and it's often not appropriate to, like, sky-write a random list of working mom challenges so my whole city can see it. I also try to be honest and real in my exchanges with people. So, if I hear that it looks easy, I feel like it could mean that I haven't been totally open about the work that's actually involved. In other words, yes, I'm going to try to put my best forward, but I'm not trying to hide my other foot, at least not on purpose.
"You’re So Lucky That You’re Able To Focus."
I suppose we could call it "lucky." Or perhaps we could call it "required" when there's a paycheck involved. And I do have my moments when I find myself scrolling through my photo roll and the latest batch of pictures I took in the backyard when my son had extra rosy cheeks and looked beyond adorable. But I don't let them steer my entire day. Perhaps it's a good thing that my phone only has room for so many images.
"I Didn’t Think You Were Going To Keep Working."
Surprise? I just couldn't let go. And this statement feels like it could be weirdly implicative of so many unkind things, ranging from, "I didn't think you were smart/strong/capable enough to handle a job and being a parent," to, "I assumed that your "career" was just a facade you had in place until you could pop out a baby and give up pretending that you care about your life." Like, maybe just tell me I look nice today. I promise I won't respond with a rant about sexism. It's fine. Let's just play it safe at merely reducing me to my physical appearance. I would so much prefer that to backhandedly complimenting my working mom life.