When I went back to work after being on maternity leave, it felt like everything had changed but nothing had changed. I'm not going to sugar coat it: for me, it was hard being a working mom. I had the same responsibilities and deadlines that existed before the baby, the same commute — the same everything. But now, I also had the sleepless nights due to a teething baby, or my baby had unexplained diarrhea that I worried about all day while I was away from her, or I was getting phone calls from her daycare provider telling me that she hadn’t eaten and hadn’t napped.
Trying to function the way I had before kids was nearly impossible.
Fortunately, I worked for a company that was incredibly supportive of my situation. My boss handled interruptions in my schedule like, well, a boss (despite not being a mother herself; she was just awesome). The company allowed me time every day to pump breastmilk in a private room that wasn’t a broom closet, and occasional tardiness due to child-related issues was taken in stride. Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive work environment. The truth is, the majority of my colleagues didn’t have children of their own. Some were still in college, others were childless by choice, but they all did little things that made me feel more comfortable and supported once I had a baby in my life.
I'm not trying to assert that everyone who works with a parent should, like, go out of their way to treat them differently or make special concessions, but the fact is, we're all more than workers — we're people. Actual human beings. And while various aspects of your unique lifestyle and identity shouldn't necessarily inform how well you perform your job, they do, unmistakably, inform absolutely everything else.
So if you feel like treating your colleagues according to nothing more than the "work" part of their identity, I'm sure that's totally fine. You'll obviously still be professional, respectful, and courteous. But if you feel like going beyond that, and actually engaging with their full, human selves while sharing space for nine hours a day, try a few of these tips:
Don't Complain When She Comes In A Few Minutes Late
Trying to get out the door on time when you have an unpredictable child to deal with (especially one who inevitably chooses to poop just as you're getting on their jacket and shoes) is virtually impossible. Even when you get up an hour earlier. Try not to judge.
Offer To Bring Her Coffee
Hey, remember how we were talking about how hard it is to get out the door in the morning? Yeah, that mom coworker of yours probably doesn't have a lot of extra time to stop for coffee, which she desperately needs and wants. (She is exhausted, I can pretty much guarantee it.) Treating her to a Starbucks is the way to make a friend for life.
If She Needs A Place To Pump, Provide A Private & Comfortable Space
This one applies primarily to bosses, but seriously. No broom closets, no bathroom. Give her the respect, privacy and clean space she deserves. And if you're not the working-mom-in-question's boss, but you happen to have a really comfortable chair/couch and a door that closes, offering to scoot out periodically while she makes use of your space will definitely make you her favorite.
Don't Complain About Being Exhausted Because You Were Out Partying Last Night
Exhausted because of one night when you didn't sleep? Because you were out having a good time? Can you not?
Try To Be Understanding When She Gets A Call From The Daycare
She knows it's interrupting work. And she's praying it's not a request to come pick up her kid early.
Occasionally Ask About Her Kid
Chances are, she's holding back because she doesn't want to annoy you. You don't need to ask her every day, but in the early years, most moms love to share a story about their small adorable child every so often.