Growing up, I didn’t notice or pay attention to the stigma attached to working mothers. My own mother worked, as did a lot of my friends’ moms, and it was kind of the norm in our working class neighborhood of Queens, New York. It wasn’t until I was in my 20s and working myself, that I noticed that moms who worked outside the home were categorized as, well, exactly that: moms first, employees second. Who was expected to prepare the monthly office birthday celebrations at the ad agency where I was employed? Well, the "mom" of our office, of course, who was designated as the figurative, and literal, mother of our office.
And while I did learn from my so-called "office mom," like how to cut a cake for 25 people without the slices falling apart, I never bought into the myth that working mothers had to bring their mom game to the office. I had plenty of male colleagues who had kids, so why weren’t they expected to lay out the plastic forks?
Working mom myths are just that: outdated stories that are being perpetuated in a world where office culture is still informed by the men who established it centuries ago! Who says a 9-to-5 workday is best for working parents? That schedule took shape because men, whose wives tended to domestic responsibilities during the day, literally had nothing to concern themselves with other than bringing home a paycheck. If anything, working moms have been the most instrumental of all kinds of employees in galvanizing the changes companies are now embracing in terms of paid leave and flexibility. In fact, Sarah Lacey, the founder and editor of the influential Silicon Valley blog Pando, is writing a new book (working title: "A Uterus is a Feature, Not a Bug") arguing that motherhood makes a woman a stronger employee, not a weaker one. My anticipation for this book is, well, lets just say it's off any chart a working mother would make for a high-level meeting or presentation.
So sure, we may not get paid the same as men, but we don’t need to believe the same working mom myths that have been out there since "Baby Boom." We can take a page from Lacey's book and kick a few to the curb, staring with these:
You Can Have It All
Career and kids and happiness and a life without consistent struggle. It’s the dream every working mom is chasing, right? Wrong. As much as the world wants us to believe that success means achieving something called "work-life balance," which is really just exhausting yourself by overextending and over-working and doing what you believe you're required to do to prove you're a good mother and a decent employee, working moms are here to say that "it all" doesn't exist. No one can have it all; it’s an impossible goal and I don’t understand why it was set so high for women, or was even a goal at all. Working dads were never challenged to “have it all.” And if working moms are more likely to have employment gaps and fall victim to wage inequality, woman who choose (or are forced to) work and have children are clearly being set up to fail. American work culture needs to evolve past its current mindset that “all” means simultaneous success in all aspects of a working mother’s life.
That You Should Even WANT It All
Seriously, who would even want to take all that on? Who wants to hold themselves to such extreme standards in job performance and parenting, while simultaneously attempting to survive on salaries that don’t afford them housekeepers and chefs and personal assistants? The truth is, we all need help. I am on the phone with IT at least once a month, or whenever I forget to leave my work computer on overnight for the upgrades to install. I employ an intricate web of grandparents and caregivers to cover the hours when my kids are home after school, while my husband and I are still working. I have no desire to do "it all", because there would be nothing left of myself if I gave it all to everyone else. Wanting the best of both worlds can happen, though not often simultaneously, I've learned.
Your Work Will Suffer
Quite the opposite. If anything, I have become more productive since becoming a parent. With more on my plate I’ve had to find ways to become more efficient, working smarter (and not necessarily longer). Plus, I have added incentive to do well at my job; to provide my children with everything they need and want and deserve; to create an environment that is stable. Honestly, parenthood is the ultimate motivator.
You’re No Fun
Working moms are scheduled to the teeth, with no margin for error and no time to waste. We don’t suffer fools, and have no tolerance for delayed subways, forgotten homework, or un-separated recyclables. In other words, we’re a total buzzkill, right? Wrong. We look for every opportunity to find the joy in the cracks between the rigid seams of our day, like when our kids lean into us at bedtime or when we share intimate moments with our partners or when we can spend time with our equally busy friends. We cling to the moments that remind us why we're working so hard.
That Guilt Comes With The Job
I don’t volunteer at my kids' school and, sure, I can blame it on the lack of time between working the parenting shifts before and after my paying job and all the responsibilities that come with adulthood, and be completely justified. But the truth is, I might not choose to spend my free time at my kids' school, simply because I just don't want to. Being there for my kids doesn’t mean doing the things I wouldn’t choose to do with them if I had the time, and it certainly doesn't mean exhausting myself to the brink of insanity. Guilt happens, sure, but it’s unwarranted. Loving my career doesn’t mean I love my kids any less. Wanting to spend more time with my kids doesn’t make me resent having a job. I have nothing to feel guilty about, even and especially when I choose to spend my free time how I see fit.
You’re Just Working To Pay For Daycare
There's no denying that childcare costs are significant and many parents have made the hard decision to stay home with their kids when their salaries are almost completely funneled into caregiving coverage. But work isn’t just about providing food and shelter for your family. It can also be about cultivating a part of yourself that would otherwise go unfulfilled if you didn’t delegate some of the caregiving to other, trustworthy people. Even if I could afford to be a stay-at-home parent, I would not choose to be. There is no right way to parent, but for me, working outside the home feeds my soul in a way parenting does not. Yes, I need the money. But I also have a need to be valued for skills I worked hard to develop outside raising children.
You Show Up To Meetings In Spit-up Stained Clothes
You don’t have to believe this one, but okay, fine, it’s kind of true. Sometimes. Well, more times than I'm willing to admit.