As a woman in a patriarchal culture, I'm no stranger to double standards. I know what it's like to be told I should be attractive, but I shouldn't "try" to be attractive. To be available but not "too available." To be "sporty" but not too "masculine." I know that, as a woman, I just can't win when it comes to fulfilling everyone's expectations of me and what they think is required of me, as someone who identifies as female. Then I became a mother, and it only got worse. The total mindf*ck double standards society has about working moms are enough to make me want to scream and pull my hear out and bang my head against my desk. Then again, I can't do that because I'm a woman and women should be attractive and I shouldn't give myself a black eye that could potentially require makeup because women who wear makeup are "lying" about their appearance. ugh.
I knew that going back to work after I had my son would be difficult, not because it was a tough decision to make (I knew I would always work, pregnancy or not) and not because I thought I would miss my son too much (I miss him sometimes, sure, but I love my job and find fulfillment when I'm working) and not because I felt like I wouldn't be able to do both simultaneously and successfully (after all, fathers who work do it all the time and with no problem). I knew it would be difficult because our society has some feelings about working moms. I was aware that I would be judged, I would be potentially shamed and that a few too many people would make assumptions about my parenting, because I wasn't willing to forgo a career in the name of motherhood.
Simultaneously, I knew that I would have been judged for "giving up" my career and staying home with a baby. I knew that I would be judged for being a stay-at-home mom and changing my mind about my life or career path or all of the above. Just like I can't win as a woman in this society, I can't seem to win as a mother, either. So, with that in mind, here are just a few of the double standards that make it so difficult to feel supported as a working mother. Step one when trying to fix a problem is admitting there's a problem, right? Well, here's step one.
You Should Always Be Available For Work...
If you're going to be a working mom, you should never let motherhood affect your day-to-day productivity or your overall availability. If you do, you're using your child as an "excuse" and that's just unacceptable. You have to completely compartmentalize your life and not allow one aspect of who you are to bleed over into another. Don't talk about your children at work. Don't leave early or show up late, because of your child.
...But You're A "Bad Mom" If You Employ A Nanny Or Use Childcare
However, you shouldn't be using a "nanny" or childcare or letting someone else "raise your child" while you're at work. How dare you "cheat" by asking for help or letting the village everyone says it takes to raise a child, actually participate in raising your child.
You should be the one to pick your kid up from school and drop them off and attend every school function. You should be the one making lunches and taking them to the playground on a frequent basis. You have to do it all while simultaneously refusing to miss an ounce of work. You have to do it all while you avoid answering that work email on your phone because if you look at your cell phone for a second, dear working mom, you're "missing out" and you don't care about your child enough and you're "disconnected."
You Should Be Focused On Your Work At All Times...
When you're at work, you must be at work. No personal calls. No checking in with your nanny or your childcare. No thinking about your kid or worrying about your kid. You need to turn off the "mom" part of your brain and turn on the "worker" part of your brain.
If you mess up at work, it must be your "mommy brain." If you're not paying attention, it's probably because you're a mom now and you can only focus on one thing. You should put your kids out of your mind and, if you make a snafu at the office, it's probably because you're failing to do so.
...But You Should Miss Your Kid While You're At Work
Simultaneously, you're a "bad mom" if you're not thinking about your kids constantly. People are quick to ask you if you miss your kids while you're away at work because, well, what kind of mother would you be if your offspring weren't constantly on your mind? You should be missing them and you should be so bummed out that you're at work and you should be impatiently waiting to go home and be a mom because, after all, you're a mother before you're anything else.
You Shouldn't Abandon Your Career Goals Because You're A Mom...
If you become a mother and you decide not to go back to work or you decide to put your career on hold, you're a "bad feminist" and you're "weak" and you're lazy and you're abandoning who you are as a human being. Yes, you might be doing what society has expected of procreating women since always (and some people might praise you for it) but you're also left with "nothing to do" during the day and people will wonder how you spend your days when "all you have to do" is watch your kid.
...But You're Selfish If You Keep Working After You Become A Mom
Simultaneously, you're selfish if you continue working after you have a baby. You're putting yourself before your child; your career before your family; your aspirations before childrearing; and that's not an "attractive" quality in a mother. You shouldn't be a stay-at-home mom because, well, what do they do all day, right? You just shouldn't go to work either, or have aspirations outside and away from of your child.
(If you're sensing a "mothers can't win" theme, you're on the right track.)
Women Should Take Care Of Themselves When They're Pregnant...
I'll never forget how quick people were to take care of me — and tell me I needed to be careful or take care of myself — when I was pregnant. My doors were opened for me and my chairs were pulled out for me and my food intake was carefully monitored. I couldn't carry anything heavy and I couldn't do anything strenuous and I needed to be vigilant on a consistent basis. Sometimes it was endearing and appreciated (when someone gives up their seat for a pregnant woman, an angel gets its wings), but it also made me feel like I was fragile and incapable and that was, you know, annoying.
...But Work Throughout Their Pregnancy, Without Accommodations, And Return To Work As Quickly As Possible
Of course, while you're being super careful, you should also be working and you shouldn't be asking for reasonable accommodations as your pregnancy progresses. Need more bathroom breaks? Nope. Need to leave early for an important prenatal doctor visit? Too bad. The Pregnant Workers Fairness — a piece of legislation that would require employers to provide reasonable accommodations for limitations arising out of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions — has been sitting in congress since June of 2015. While it is technically illegal to fire a woman for being pregnant, there are too many loopholes employers can use to fire a woman during her pregnancy. Many women work until the day they go into labor, for fear they will lose their job, be passed up for a promotion or be demoted. Many women hide their pregnancies from their employer, for fear they'll be treated differently because they're expecting.
Of course, there's always the frustrating fact that the United States is the only industrialized nation that doesn't provide mandatory paid family leave. An estimated 25 percent of women go back to work just 10 days after having their baby. Women are told they need to take care of themselves while they're pregnant and/or after they have a baby, they're just not given the opportunity or the support to do so.
"Breast Is Best" And A Mom Should Breastfeed...
You don't have to be a pregnant woman or a mother to have heard the phrase "breast is best" repeatedly. While the #NormalizeBreastfeeding moment has the greatest of intentions, it has also pressured women into breastfeeding that either don't feel comfortable doing so (for a variety of reasons, including sexual assault victims who are triggered by breastfeeding) or cannot physically accommodate breastfeeding. Still, if you're a "good mom" and you love your baby and you want to do everything you can for them, it's implied that you'll be breastfeeding.
...But Not At Work
However, if you're going to be pumping in order to feed your kid that liquid gold breast milk, you better not do it at work. Nope. That's "gross."
Yes, definitely breastfeed your kid and do whatever you need to do to make sure you breastfeed, regardless. Just don't let anyone else see it actually happen, and don't make people aware of how much work and time goes into breastfeeding or breast pumping. I mean, that's just rude.
Ugh. Are you as exhausted as I am, dear reader? It's infuriating and taxing to be a working mother and feel like, no matter what I do, I can't "win." I'm always doing something wrong; always "failing" one way or the other; always making some mistake that proves I'm either a bad employee or a bad mom. It's tiring but, most importantly, this feeling of constant defeat shouldn't be something every mom knows intimately and feels on a daily basis. We shouldn't be made to feel like we're lacking because, well, we're not.