Glancing at my watch during meetings and saying apologetically, “Excuse me, I need to hop on a conference call” felt more comfortable than admitting the truth: that I was about to barricade my office, strip half naked, and hook myself up to a machine. At the time, I thought talking about pumping would undermine my credibility as a professional. I feared colleagues would question my work ethic and focus.
Because I am a lobbyist and often work from the State Capitol, my “conference call” ploy also involved excusing myself from budget hearings and bill conferences to walk several city blocks to my car to pump in a parking garage.
Recently, a female senator proposed a measure to designate private spaces in the Capitol where women could nurse or pump. A male senator laughingly introduced an amendment to place the lactation suites in the female senator’s office. “It’s not funny. It’s not funny. It’s not funny,” the female Senator was heard to murmur to herself. Her measure did not pass.
The message was clear: nursing moms should stay home. They have no place in government: as legislators, lobbyists, or citizen advocates. Is it any wonder, in this environment, that I trudged off to my “conference calls” day after day, afraid to acknowledge that I was straddling the line between employee and mom?
All of the difficulties I’ve mentioned, right down to pumping in a car that was bitterly cold or swelteringly hot, actually make me one of the “lucky ones.” I work a white-collar job where I can excuse myself for private moments on my own schedule, unlike teachers, nurses, and innumerable shift workers. Although my employer, like many, is too small for relevant legal protections to apply to me, my boss was always supportive of my choice to pump. Perhaps most importantly: I have a private office with a door. Even given all of these advantages, though, the anxiety ate at me: was I cheating coworkers and clients of the best of me by dividing my time and attention?
It’s not funny. It’s not funny. It’s not funny.
Everything changed for me the day our office manager allowed an outside auditor to use my office. I braced myself to tell the auditor that I needed my office for a “conference call,” so he would need to move to the conference room.
Instead of the middle-aged white man I was expecting, a woman about my own age looked up when I knocked. I briefly explained that there had been a mix-up and I would need use of my office. She smiled kindly and said, “No problem, but I will need a private place to pump.”
Words failed me for a moment. Then, before I knew it, we were chatting about our babies and about the difficulties of pumping and working.
I was inspired by this fellow mother’s poise as she calmly asserted her right to pump. After that day, I pushed myself to speak candidly about pumping. The results surprised me.
First, I found that people were much more understanding than expected. In fact, asking for accommodations from colleagues brought me closer to them.
When I presented at conferences at hotels, as I do frequently, I stopped going to my car to pump and started asking colleagues attending the conference if I could use their hotel rooms. One colleague got in the habit of always asking for two room keys and wordlessly sliding me the second key before I could ask. Another colleague not only shared her room with me, but left a muffin and a juice on the bedside table for me to snack on while pumping. Acquaintances became friends and friends became family.
Second, when I stopped focusing so much on myself, I started to notice colleagues doing whatever it took to support their own families. My boss, who was caring for her aging mother in another state, had no compunctions about stepping out of meetings to take calls from her mom’s caregivers or cutting her work week short to catch a plane. A dad closed a meeting early to take his son to karate. The more I opened my eyes, the more I saw a network of family support everywhere I looked. This prompted conversations with colleagues and clients that brought me closer to them and even increased our commitment to our mission.
When I told my husband what I was witnessing, he said, “You’re bringing your whole selves to work.”
Finally, asking for accommodations related to pumping set the stage for the rest of my journey as a working mom. I put away the pumping equipment long ago, but my need for flexibility hasn’t disappeared. I still occasionally excuse myself from meetings, now to pick my daughter up from preschool.
Perhaps most importantly, by making my family obligations visible and paramount, I hope I am doing my small part to pave the way for other working moms in years to come. I’m not on a conference call; I’m taking care of my child. I am an outstanding employee and bringing my whole self to work only makes me better.
My friends think my husband is the perfect man. And, in some ways, they’re not wrong.
“Liz’s husband is the type of man who unloads the dishwasher, unbidden,” my best friend once lauded him. Indeed, he is the sole keeper of the dishwasher, loading and unloading it daily, without complaint. He takes out the recycling and the trash, including emptying the diaper can in our daughter’s nursery and enduring its gag-inducing odor. Sometimes, when I’m watching TV, I hear the dulcet whirr of the vacuum cleaner in the next room. He cleans out the fridge as soon as he notices so much as a speck of mold. He grocery shops and cooks marvelous meals.
Were he a CrossFit enthusiast, he’d be a candidate for the book series “Porn for Women,” which features handsome, muscular men—often shirtless—performing household tasks, accompanied by quotes like, “As soon as I finish the laundry, I’ll do the grocery shopping. And I’ll take the kids with me so you can relax.”
So, I’m the luckiest woman in the world, right? The thing is, sometimes living with this angel of domesticity makes me feel like a big fat failure.
Somewhere deep down, I believe I should be the “housewife.” More specifically, my idea of a good mother is an overburdened housewife. I read so many stories about how mothers still bear the brunt of household chores, even when both spouses are working full-time. Since my husband and I both work, am I getting off easy? I contribute to our household in plenty of ways that don’t involve scrubbing or sauteeing, but somehow I still feed bad.
When I was growing up, I was not neat, and my family did not teach me how to clean. My father collects stuff of all kinds, and he would freak out when housekeepers rearranged his things. So, typically the house was in disarray.
My mother was more interested in her career as a painter and intellectual pursuits than in keeping house. (To her credit, she took care of me and my brother part-time for our entire childhoods.) As a result, mounds of dirty clothes accumulated in the laundry room.
My husband’s family, on the other hand, didn’t order takeout as frequently as we did or have a housekeeper. I’ve never seen my mother-in-law leave dirty dishes in the sink, as my mother frequently did.
Six years ago, for The Christian Science Monitor, I wrote a paean to my mother, praising her for finding time for her own pursuits, even if it meant putting off some household duties. Her behavior was a kind of feminist manifesto, I wrote—not modeling how to be a perfect housewife.
New York had recently run a cover story titled “The Feminist Housewife,” which cited a survey from the Families and Work Institute, in which women said that they detested housework and wished for more free time. Yet, when the women got more free time, they cleaned.
“Psychologists suggest that perhaps American women are heirs and slaves to some atavistic need to prove their worth through domestic perfectionism,” the reporter, Lisa Miller, wrote.
After my daughter was born, I suddenly began to identify with these women who feel guilty for not cooking or cleaning enough—in spite of admiring my mother’s unconventional approach.
I work as a freelance journalist, and I stay home with my daughter part-time. My husband has the same dual setup, and outside of that, we are good at splitting the child care. But, when my daughter was a newborn and I was taking time off of work, I cleaned obsessively during her naptimes and at night. I tried to cook more often. I bragged to my new mom friends about how much laundry I did.
My identity as a writer seemed to disappear. I didn’t give myself so much as a few moments to read or write in my journal.
And, I took for granted my own contributions to our household. Tucked away in my home office, I manage our finances, sort the mail and pay the bills. I buy our health insurance (my husband and I are both self-employed), a daunting task that requires hours of comparing plans. I pay our taxes. I’m the researcher—of travel, child care, you-name-it. Between our wedding and our baby, I’ve written more than 125 thank you notes (I worship at the temple of Emily Post). These are important tasks and things my husband isn’t good at.
There are also some household duties that are my responsibility, including laundry. I grocery shop and cook a couple of nights a week. But, I often fall behind on folding burp cloths and onesies, and I’m typically the one who suggests ordering takeout.
Most of my contributions aren’t things you can see. They don’t involve reaching to the back of the fridge with a soapy sponge, or carrying a heavy trash bag down two flights of stairs. Even though my husband always thanks me for what I do, I know he sometimes resents that he does the physically demanding work. He has joked with my brother that he is the “custodian” of our family (a fancy name for a janitor).
My therapist suggested that I need to accept my “21st century marriage.” Meaning, my husband does more of the cooking and cleaning, and I do the tasks that, in the past, were typically assigned to the man.
She also said, “As a new mom, you have a certain idea about what makes a ‘good mother.’ ”
I need to redefine “good mother” on my own terms, as my mother did. For me, that means working hard on my writing; I want my daughter to be proud of her mother’s professional and creative life. I’ve started using my daughter’s nap times to write, and finding other, less-precious time for laundry.
To accept my modern marriage, and my mothering, I need to stop apologizing for being a sub-par laundress and unreliable cook. I need to start really hearing it when my husband says “thank you” for making sure we pay our taxes on time. I need to remind myself of the unseen ways I contribute.
My new mantra is, “This family could not function without you. You are essential.”
Sure, my husband might sometimes resent that he does his work on his feet and I do my work from a desk. But is any marriage without resentment? (Hopefully, not too much.) I’m a perfectionist. But there’s no such thing as a perfect wife and mother.
So what if my husband is more of the “housewife” or “house-husband”? But, wait. Both of those terms are so terribly sexist. Why do we need to qualify marital roles by attaching one of them to “the house”? Both my husband and I make our household work, in different ways—ways that don’t need to be assigned a gender.
I was scrolling through Facebook the other day when I saw an ad for a great summer camp for kids who like to write. My daughter is an amazing storyteller. I’m always looking for opportunities to help her grow in that area because who wouldn’t want to be the mother to a New York Times bestselling writer one day?
I clicked on the ad, read about the program, and I was sold! The camp operated in week-long sessions at 4 hours a day, and there was a location right near our house. I found the page to register, and then saw the tuition. It was almost $800! And my daughter would have to pack her own lunch. And I would still need to figure out how to afford the other nine weeks of summer break activities.
We need to talk about how expensive summer breaks are. As a working mom on a budget with a husband who works as well, I hate the stress that comes around this time every year. This is the time that my inbox starts blowing up with offers to save on summer camps by registering early. Even still, I really can’t afford to pay up to $1,000 a week for my child to experience all of the fun these camps offer.
And if I don’t sign my daughter up for camp, then what? Where will my child go while I’m working? Babysitters around here go for about $15/hr. Even if I could shift my work schedule so I could get off early, and only needed a babysitter for 5 or 6 hours a day, that’s still almost $100 every day.
I don’t know when things changed, but it’s not as common for folks to have a family member like a grandmother or older aunt who stays home and is okay watching all of the kids anymore.
When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time hanging out with cousins, watching television, and playing during summer break. I’d go to the library and read tons of books. Back then, there was always a lot of family around who could watch us kids. We would just pile into someone’s house and spend days there with an adult making sure we ate and came in when the streetlights came on.
To round out the summer, I would maybe go to camp for a week or two. My parents never paid more than $50/week for camp, and that included meals. The way things are these days, that experience isn’t enough for kids. Their school year is so packed, and by summer they’re ready for a break. That’s when the worry starts to set in for me. How am I going to afford summer break?
I ran summer camps for nearly a decade many years ago. Our camps were a non-profit, and we received grants to operate. Families paid what they could, and most families paid less than $200 for a full 10 weeks of camp that included field trips, meals, swimming, and more.
I understand that for profit camps don’t have the benefit of grants to cover overhead like we did in my non-profit camp. It also makes sense that a specialized camp that teaches something like writing, coding, or acting might require a higher rate for instructors who are more like teachers than camp counselors.
Still, $800 for a week, especially since it’s not even the whole day, feels excessive. After adding in after-camp care, or paying someone to pick my kids up and watch them until I’m done with work, it’s enough to make a working mom feel defeated. The only folks who could possibly afford that are rich, and unfortunately, we are not rich.
As a solidly middle-class family, this is the hardest part of summer. We make too much to be able to take advantage of affordable summer break options, like summer camp, and we struggle to afford things like tuition and babysitter fees. Since we don’t qualify for any scholarships, government programs, or reduced rates, her summer experience is often dictated by what we can afford rather than what she really wants to do.
We did get a break when I found the perfect summer camp for her a few years ago. I reached out and offered some marketing services in exchange for a session of their program, and they’ve been looking out for me every since. I’m grateful for that, but know that most families aren’t going to find a set-up like I have.
So, what are we supposed to do? How do we afford summer break when two weeks of camp or a month of reduced hours babysitting costs more than our mortgage? I don’t know if the administrators of summer camps can be moved. As long as some families can afford to pay the ridiculous fees, there is no impetus for change. Instead, I think we look at our employers.
In an effort not to take advantage of my friends who allow my daughter to attend their camp, I only enroll her for a few sessions. The rest of the time, she’s in “Mommy Camp,” and I supplement with some affordable summer classes. My job is flexible so I can plan some fun and intentionally educational experiences and catch up on my work when I get home. Last summer we went to play mini golf, had a bunch of trips to the library, and visited some historical sites in our city.
As working parents, we have to ask our employers to be flexible during the summer months. They have to be our partners. If we are to be effective employees, we need to know that our children are being taken care of. Worrying about what our kids are doing, and how we’re going to afford care for them for the summer takes away from the brain space that could be used for doing the work that we’re being paid to do.
In a perfect world, summer camp operators would be more focused on making sure any kid who is interested in their program has a chance to participate. We live in a capitalist society. Everybody wants to make money. If they see a chance to make more, they’re going to take it.
I won’t let that deter me from continuing to search for high-quality, affordable summer break options. I know they’re out there. Until I find those unicorns, I guess I’ll be signing my kids up for another summer of Mommy Camp. At least that I know I can afford.
When my credit card bill came in last spring, I died a little inside. It was huge—way higher than usual—and I felt my stomach turn over slightly as I stared at the figure at the bottom of the page. Ugh, seriously? I hate bills and dealing with money and adult responsibility in general. The guttural moan I let out while tossing the bill back onto my desk was only a tiny bit dramatic, I swear.
No, I hadn’t gone on a massive shopping spree or paid for a trip overseas—I wish that were the case. Instead, I had racked up a killer Visa bill paying for two months of summer camp for my children, who apparently cannot be left to fend for themselves when school is out of session.
My kids are young, and because I love them, I arrange for childcare in lieu of abandoning them on school holidays. In my particular region, day camp costs about $225 a week per child (without extended care). Daycare is about the same. School break in the summer is roughly eight weeks long, but my husband and I took two weeks off. That leaves six weeks to cover each year with paid childcare that is safe, convenient, and offers a positive experience. No worries, right?
So last spring, I researched options, got recommendations from friends and other moms in the community, made a schedule and dropped several thousand dollars in camp fees. Bring on summer!
(Sidenote: In a society as evolved (yet imperfect) as this, do we really not have more affordable childcare options? And why is school out for eight consecutive weeks?!)
I’m a parent and a gainfully employed human being. My husband is the same. And yet, in the eyes of more people than I could ever imagine, we aren’t equal. Our responsibilities at home and at work aren’t given equal weight, and I will forever be viewed as “choosing” to work while my husband simply has a job.
As a feminist, I’m not shocked by this phenomenon. This isn’t a new struggle. I understand that I’ll be viewed as a mother first, and a writer/career person second. My husband is assumed to be the breadwinner while any work I do is apparently a bonus. Look at me with my cute little job, helping out! My husband, on the other hand, will be applauded for any basic parenting he does (look how cute HE is, helping out). The world is a strange place.
On PA days or when one of the kids is sick, it’s assumed that I’ll be the one to stay home while my husband goes to work. In reality, we take turns—though my husband is essentially offered Sainthood any time he parents. And then, it gets worse.
I was speaking to a family member about the cost of summer camp when she dropped a bomb. “Is it even worth it for you to work?”
I was taken aback. Then heard the question again, from different friends and relatives. Each time, I gave a dismissive response that ended the conversation. But the message stayed with me.
“Was it worth it for me, as a woman and a mother, to work outside the home?”
On what level do you mean?
Financially? Well, yes. I earn enough income to cover the cost of childcare and still contribute to my household. It’s money that goes toward our family—the same type of money my husband makes at his job. We even fall into the same income bracket. So why isn’t anyone suggesting that he stay home? Why is it inherently “worth it” for him to work, while I have to prove my value in the same regard?
Emotionally? This one is hard to answer because mom guilt is real and it sucks. I love my kids more than anything in the world, and I miss them when we’re apart. But I’m still their mom. Our love and bond is strong. I make breakfast in the morning. I encourage and advocate for them, take them to activities, kiss scraped knees, and mediate sibling-battles. I listen to their child-musings on the characteristics of the unicorn and lie in bed with them until they fall asleep. I go to them in the night when they’ve had a nightmare or need to pee (the bathroom hallway is scary and requires hand-holding). My husband does all of these things too, of course. We have two kids, so there’s plenty of parenting to go around. So yes, we love them and want to be with them, but we also like our jobs. And, you know, financial security.
And what about my career?
It existed before I had young children, and it will exist when my children are grown up. I love what I do, and I can’t imagine giving it up completely. That’s not to say that every mom (or dad) should work. Stay-at-home parents are incredible, just as work-outside-the-home parents are. We’re all living with joys and challenges unique to our families.
So is it worth it for me to work? Yes, of course, it is. It’s what I want, and what my family needs. Like every woman or man, I’m a human being with skills and interests and aspirations. I have dreams for my children and dreams for my career, and they aren’t mutually exclusive. The only real issue is how I have to defend my life while my husband simply lives his.
I stare at my beautiful 17-month-old daughter, as she stares at the TV screen. Her eyes are fixated on the 3D animations that bring repetitive old-timey nursery rhymes to life. I wonder how long Dave and Ava Learn and Play can keep her entertained because I’m lost on what to do next once her attention turns back to me.
This morning I jumped up at 8 a.m. ready to run my child to daycare so Mommy can attempt to have a productive day off from work. She barely opened her eyes while cranking out high pitched whines. Her body was warm to the touch and she was super snotty. When I realized there was no way she could make it to daycare, I begrudgingly yanked off the clothes I threw on and hopped back into bed with her.
An hour later, I stare and relish in my daughter’s excitement when “Happy and You Know It” plays. I think about how I am her primary source for friendship and comfort right now. How important it is for
us to bond whenever we have the time. We moms place so much pressure on ourselves to fit whatever mom description we’ve created in our minds. But the irritation I feel when I have to watch my own child all day alone fits nowhere in that description.
Today, my body feels anxious and restless as usual. Currently, a quarter life crisis is underway, depleting me of important mental and spiritual resources. Every day is a struggle to maintain my mind’s
equilibrium. I work in a position that’s high stress, low paying, and useless to the client population I’m supposed to serve. Every day is a new challenge to carve a time block for myself where I can work on my
next move in life.
Obviously, transitioning from one career path to the next takes time and a certain amount of mental efficiency. But when you have a toddler, a full-time job, and a partner who works late hours, the
time that does fall into your lap easily gets eaten away by other things. Time is conceptually money: precious, essential to get things done, and disappears before you can blink twice.
When I’m alone with my daughter for a long period of time, I feel trapped, irritable, impatient and resentful towards my husband. Why this resentment? Because he goes to work early and comes home late. He isn’t responsible for daycare drop-off and pick-up. He can zone out and play video games while watching her. When he’s home, he can lock himself in the office and do whatever it is he does in there without a tinge of guilt. The few times I’ve tried to lock myself up somewhere in the house, my daughter bangs on the door calling for Mommy. Moms tend to be unable to ignore those calls and if they can, guilt is sitting in the corner shaking its head at you.
Yes, it’s an honor to be the favorite parent. It’s an honor to be a nurturer and a blessing to have children. Even though sheer disgust for my job exists, I know how lucky I am to be able to pick up my child for 3 p.m. I realize how valuable the time I get to spend with her is yet only 50% of me is present. The other 50% is agonizing over where my life is going and what I could be doing at this moment to get
there instead of singing songs with her.
“If only I could get there,” I tell myself, I’d be less depressed and have more of myself to give. More to teach her. More of the world to show her. I’d be a better example of perseverance and success.
This is where I am when I’m alone with my toddler. One foot in the future. One in the present. I’m a firm believer it does take a village to raise a child. Right now I am that village. I’ve just began practicing the art of mindfulness at the encouragement of my therapist. I’m optimistic this will allow me to devote 100% of myself to my family while on this journey. Only once will they be this young and we should strive to cherish every minute of it.
My grandparents owned restaurants while I was growing up. And once they got out of the business, I, ironically enough, found myself five-kids-deep with my husband whose entire family owns restaurants in our small town.
I was a server for many years in the family diner, but after having five kids, my serving roles were relinquished to mom-duty roles.
So let’s clear the air about some expectations when it comes to dining out, shall we?
1. Your children are ALLOWED to be children.
Kids are allowed to be kids. I don’t care what anyone else says on this subject. Children are allowed to breathe, scream and cry in the same space that adults do. If you disagree, there’s a kid-free bar down the street I’d be happy to direct you to.
2. Please, breastfeed that baby.
I was always one of those nursing mothers who praised other moms for their ability to pull out a tit and nurse their baby anytime and anywhere. I wish my anxiety didn’t prohibit me from exploring that same level of badassery.
So I will just say that if you are one of those nursing mothers who prefers to nurse without a cover while dining, by all means, do it. Everyone else is already eating, I don’t see the issue with feeding the most vulnerable that’s in the house just because someone else experiences some minor discomfort from their inability to look away.
If someone harasses you or complains to me because another mother is nursing their child, I will gladly serve that dickhead customer their plate in the bathroom where they’ve strongly suggested a baby should finish their feed.
I got you, girl.
3. Only assholes don’t tip.
Lets get one thing straight, tips are how servers make their living. If there is some sort of accidental occurrence where you truly don’t have enough to tip, I’m not a cold-hearted bitch and I won’t scold you for not tipping. But if you treat me like crap, order everything off of the dang menu and then leave the place looking like a losing game of Jumanji with no tip, you are a worthless excuse for a human being.
I have my own family, and this whole $2/hour for serving jobs just isn’t going to cut it without customers having the decency to tip. I can tell when I’ve done a great job or a poor job of serving your family. If I’ve gone above and beyond to assure you’ve had the service you need, tip me fairly, please.
4. PLEASE ask me for everything you need at once.
If you see I’m sweating bullets and frantically running my behind off, please ask me for everything your family needs all at once and not little by little if possible. (My kids are camels too, but would you really allow them three refills on their drinks before dinner at your own home too?) Please trust me when I say that, if your server is running rapid, he/she is not being lazy with your table. Have some grace.
If a child personally asks me for a refill on soda, another side or desert, I will always ask the parent if that’s alright. I know sometimes they’ve already approved what was asked before I’ve reached the table, but I want to make sure I’m not going to send you home with a bigger bill than expected or kids with a never-ending sugar high.
I know what it’s like to be poor, and I know what it’s like to feel like you can’t speak up in an awkward situation when your kid asks something of your server that you didn’t okay. I’m trying to make your life easier, and I’m not second-guessing because I disagree with multiple kid-refills on soda.
6. Take your crap-diapers home.
This is not a sub-station inside of your local gas station. If you are sitting down to eat, a server is taking your order and handing you your food, it is a restaurant and should be treated as such.
If you leave your child’s dirty diaper on the table when you leave, I (and the rest of the staff) will FOREVER remember you. I have enough crap diapers to deal with at home without adding your kids’ rump and dump into the equation.
Not to mention, you will forever be the “shit-tipper.” (No pun intended.)
7. I will clean the kids’ mess.
I have been the mom fretting, sweating and occasionally swearing while I try to swiftly clean up the mess my kids made while dining. So please, just get out of there! Part of the serving job is cleaning up after your family when you leave. I understand kids and the messes that come along with them, and I don’t mind cleaning the extra applesauce or mac-and-cheese from the surface of the table.
(Of course, with that in mind, please treat the restaurant only how you’d allow your place to be treated.)
8. I’m trying.
Servers may not be miracle-workers like doctors or scientists, but most of us bust ass to be successful at what we do. We hope that your family has the best dining experience possible.
But at the same time, most of us are a little bit spicy because it’s the type of job that calls for it. So while we aren’t all assholes, we also won’t take your family’s sh*t just for a $5 tip.
Here’s a story about a realization I had lately. It hit me pretty hard, and I still don’t know how I feel about it.
Ready for it?
I’m not my daughter’s primary parent.
Yes, I’m her mother.
Yes, I carried her around for 9 months.
Yes… I birthed her, unintentionally without medication.
Yes, I stayed home with her for 15 months after she was born (thanks, Canada).
But, when my daughter (now 5) falls and hurts herself? It’s Dad. When she cries when one of us leaves? It’s Dad. The one she loves fiercely, beyond comprehension? It’s Dad, too (although I know she loves me… it’s just, different).
I say all this as a staunch feminist, and as someone who wishes traditional gender roles didn’t exist… yet, I can’t help but feel sort of strange about the realization that I’ve somehow assumed the role typically held by (in most heterosexual, monogamous relationships, anyway) the Dad.
Except I’m not the “fun” parent — you know, the one who starts a wrestling match at 10 minutes before bedtime, or the one who sneaks her an extra cookie after dinner?
I’m still the naggy mother who worries about her intake of vegetables and makes her brush her teeth a second time whilst also being the (sort of) absentee parent.
How did all of this happen?
When my daughter was two years old, I decided to go back and complete my second year of law school. I completed two years of grueling law school (which is much harder when you are recovering from postpartum depression/anxiety and also have a serious case of foggy, I’ve been out of the workforce and the education of law for two years), followed by an extended articling period (two years instead of one because I thought it would be less grueling that way… I think I was wrong). And as of this week, I started a new (temporary) job that — while I love it — is going to keep me away from her for even longer stretches of time.
My spouse, on the other hand, has maintained the same career for 12 years, is amazing and highly competent at it, and has secured a position that allows him to take way more time off than I can.
Which is exactly why he’s the one who stays home with her on sick days. And he’s the one who drops her off at school, because I’m already at work. And, he’s the one who picks her up from school, because I work long into the night, sometimes not even seeing her before she goes to bed. He handles her appointments, he picks her up when she comes home sick from school, and he spends a lot of time with her on the weekends while I’m — you guessed it! — still working.
Part of it, I’ve realized, is because I’m a bit disadvantaged by the way my career has progressed. Most lawyers, by the time they have kids, have already put in a few good years of practice, and have already proven their worth. So, when it comes time to take a year off for maternity leave, it’s no big deal — it may even be expected by the other partners in the firm.
There are quite a few “new” or younger lawyers who have kids, but they’re men. And it’s not the same. I’m not even a lawyer yet and I already have a five year old. I’m a gamble, professionally. And I get it. I wish it wasn’t this way, but I get it.
And let’s not even think about the fact that I’m 35 and may (or may not) want to have another baby. Leaving the workforce all over again, before I’ve even started?
It’s a career killer.
So, I have to bust my ass to prove myself.
Which means I’m working way too much. I haven’t had a break since 2017. We haven’t gone on a vacation (aside from the odd weekend away) since 2012. I haven’t taken more than one day off of work since 2017.
All of this makes me an absentee parent, a shitty partner (our relationship is suffering for it, hugely), and an exhausted and basically non-existent friend. I’m not taking care of my body, my mind or my soul.
I’m on a hamster wheel. And the worst part of it all is, I think I like the hamster wheel. I think I like the work I’m doing, I’m just doing too much of it and there’s no balance.
And of course, there’s the guilt when you’re the mom who isn’t really a mom as per your typical family standards. The guilt that I’m putting too much on my partner. The guilt that my daughter isn’t going to ever bond with me. The guilt that she’ll only ever think of me as “working.”
I can’t count how many times I’ve said, even at home, “I just need to do a little bit of work.”
On Valentine’s Day, I rushed out of the office at 6:30 to meet my family at a pizza place for dinner. I could have stayed much longer, but I wanted to see them. I didn’t give my husband a card, and he was the one who went out and bought our daughter a present and card (she’s bonkers about Valentine’s Day). I felt terrible. After dinner was over, she turned to me and said, “I’m going to be a doctor and a Mommy. And the Daddy is going to take care of the babies.”
On the one hand I was proud that maybe I’m raising a girl who doesn’t expect that she’s going to have to be the “primary” parent.
On the other hand, I felt so awful. And still do.
(Ty also got me a card, flowers and new earrings — and I got him NOTHING).
Work-life balance is hard enough as a Mom. For any Mom. Add in the fact that I haven’t even started my career yet — at age 34 — and I might want another baby, which would put me out of the workforce for another 6-12 months, and I may as well just give up now.
Never mind my personal physical and mental health, the health of our relationship, and the strength of the bond between my daughter and me.
I love her more than life, and while I do carve out as much quality time as possible to spend with her, I can’t help but feel guilty. All of the time.
I talk a lot about work/life balance, but I have a hard time practicing it myself, mostly because I’m at such a unique point in my career. I can’t ask for a break. I can’t have a breakdown. I can’t ask for a do-over.
I’m just a (very) junior articling student who is anything but junior in age.
I feel like I’m in survival mode 24/7. And I spend a lot of nights up worrying about how it is going to impact my daughter.
On the one hand, she has the most amazing relationship with her Dad. And I’m beyond lucky to have the most amazing parenting partner in history (seriously, he keeps my life together).
Feminism is a funny thing. Traditional gender roles are something I rail against, but when push comes to shove and the roles are truly reversed, I’m bothered.
Things would be more 50/50 around here if I didn’t have to prove myself so much at the workplace. I wish that I didn’t love the work I’m doing, but I do. I just miss my daughter terribly. And I’m always on the verge of a meltdown. And I need a break. And my relationship is suffering.
But I love my work.
I still don’t know how I feel about the fact that I’m not my daughter’s primary parent.
Like almost every mother I know, I was completely unprepared for how damn expensive childcare would be. Before my first son was born, I worked part-time at a university. After his birth, I took a semester off, and was prepared to go back eventually. But when I began to compare the cost of childcare with my projected paychecks, I knew that most definitely would not be an option.
In New York, where I live, the cost of childcare averages $14, 400 a year, according to The New York Times (and wasn’t very different 12 years ago, when I first became a mom). I remember sitting on the couch with my newborn son and a calculator, doing the math: If I factored in my commuting costs, and the time I would spend grading paper and preparing for class, I would have broken even in terms of take-home pay. I might have even lost pay.
And so I never considered paying for childcare, and became a financially-strapped SAHM. It was not exactly what I planned, but I made it work, as do so many mothers (and fathers) in America, whether they end up going back to work or not. We do it like the kick-ass parents we are.
But that doesn’t mean it’s OK or that we should just accept that this is how things are – that hardworking parents have either have to go back to work and struggle to pay their daycare bill, or not go back to work and struggle to pay their bills at all.
Yet this is where so many of us parents find ourselves, because we live in a country that doesn’t seem to give a shit about working parents – especially moms, who inevitably become the ones who make the choice to stay home with their kids in lieu of viable childcare options. And if you are a single mom? With single moms putting up over 50% of their paychecks toward childcare, it’s no wonder so many struggle hard to make ends meet.
The thing is, it doesn’t have to be this way.
Imagine for a second what it would be like if childcare were truly affordable. If, for example, the government subsidized childcare for all (not just low-income families, but all families). Imagine, too, that in doing so, childcare workers – who are traditionally woefully underpaid – were paid a good living wage, thus ensuring that childcare options were of the highest quality. Imagine that rather than daycare costs zapping 25-50% of your income (as it does in the U.S.), that it occupied something more like 5-10% of your income.
Sounds like a pipe dream, no? Well, it’s not a dream, but a reality for families who live in places like Denmark, which guarantees subsidized childcare options for all of its citizens. Parents in Korea, Austria, Greece and Hungary have similar options, too, with families spending 4% or less of their salaries on childcare for their kids.
The money for these programs comes out of their taxes, in much the same ways that our taxes pay for public schools, libraries, and our public safety departments. In a recent Op-Ed for The New York Times, Katha Pollitt argues that in much the same way that many of us have begun arguing for paid parental leave and health insurance for all, we need to add universal childcare – as well as guaranteed living wages for childcare providers – to the list.
“Affordable high-quality child care is an idea that should appeal to everyone,” writes Pollitt. “It’s good for workers and employers, for communities and families and children. It would create lots of jobs. It would allow lots of people to go to work. It would raise incomes and relieve a lot of stress and unhappiness and give children a good start in life.”
MORE, PLEASE. I’d like to see all the political candidates — including the men — put this issue at the top of their lists. Sadly, as Pollitt points out, this issue has traditionally not been given the spotlight in the way that it really should – perhaps because so many people don’t think it’s an issue that impacts them directly.
But with the majority of us becoming parents eventually (86% of women become parents by the end of their childbearing years, for example), it absolutely affects us all. And the issue is only getting worse, as the cost of living increases without wages rising to match. So many parents are facing poverty and economic instability, which has huge impact on young children. The health and wellbeing of everyone in our country should be a priority, no ifs, ands or buts.
The time is now to address this issue. We need affordable, high-quality, accessible childcare options for all families and all children. Our childcare workers need to be paid well so that they can offer the best care to our kids. And this all needs to happen ASAFP. Every awesome parent out there and each and every precious child deserves nothing less.
I was at the bus stop waiting for my three elementary school kids to come strolling off the bus. While waiting, I was scrolling aimlessly through my Facebook feed. I suddenly stopped on a post with a comment about working from home, where the mom was lamenting that her family didn’t understand her working remotely, and didn’t think she needed a babysitter for her kids during her work hours if she was at home.
As a parent who works from home, this really struck a chord with me. I have received similar criticism when hiring summer babysitters, as well as comments like, “Well, when you get bored of your work, you can just take a break.” Or “it is nice to have a hobby.” Umm, I have a job, people! A legitimate job that I get paid to do and really, I rather enjoy!
I think people often misunderstand what it means to be a work-from-home parent. Maybe it’s easier to understand the role of a stay-at-home parent or a parent that works in an office outside of the home, but it seems that no one really understands how working remotely “works,” or how you start working from home in the first place. So maybe by telling my story, it will shine a light on how working from home can happen — and clear up some of the misconceptions that go along with it.
Landing A Remote Job
My story began as a stay-at-home mom. I quit my job in the city after having my first child. I received little maternity leave and my job demanded heavy travel, which I knew I could not personally balance with my new work/baby life. So I quit and we lived on a single salary for a while. However, I always knew I wanted to go back to work when the kids were older.
The hard part? Having a gap in my resume was viewed like a crime against humanity by many recruiters. Luckily, an acquaintance saw through that hole and asked me to write for a new website he was helping to launch — Upparent.com. The good news — I could do this job 100 percent from my house.
But you don’t have to be a writer or rely on personal connections to land a work-from-home job. You do, however, have to take some things into consideration. First, make sure you can actually do your job remotely. You have to know that you personally can work from home, and that your job is one that lends itself to remote work.
Interestingly enough, just about every mom and dad at my kids’ bus stop works remotely. Our jobs range from project manager to realtor to virtual school psychiatrist to corporate event planner to direct sales consultant to content creator. So there are a lot of jobs that are doable from home — you just have to make sure yours is one of them. There are also plenty of resources to help you discover remote job opportunities. For example, Indeed.com lets you search “remote” as your location versus a particular city. (Side note: if you type this in other search engines, you will get Remote, Oklahoma. Great if you live there or want to relocate, but not so great if you don’t.)
The Mom Project is a staffing agency that also offers several remote job opportunities, and is specifically geared toward highly educated professionals who may have a gap in their resumes (usually from staying home to care for children).
While there are many benefits to remote work, there are also many challenges, so be sure you also consider these before deciding whether it is right for you.
1. Childcare. Working from home does require child care for non-school aged kids and for school-aged in the summer, just like a job onsite would. Trust me, I play a chess game of slotting in babysitters every summer. Thankfully nationwide childcare resources like Sittercity.com make it super easy to find sitters and nannies.
2. Self-motivator. It also requires discipline and a comfortable sense of self. Think, could you live on a space station for a year by yourself? Okay, maybe it’s not that extreme, but you have to be okay not having co-workers sitting next to you.
3. Lines are blurred. It’s important to know when to step away from work. This can be easier said than done when your lunchroom is your refrigerator and your PC is your trusted laptop inside your purse or diaper bag. (And yes, I did take my laptop with me when I bought a new purse.)
1. Flexibility. For me the positives outweigh the negatives. Yes, I can often be seen with my laptop at after-school activities or really anywhere there is WiFi, but I love the flexibility.
2. Casual Friday most days. I love that my casual Friday may just be any day I don’t have an in-person meeting or a video conference call. (Although I may or may not have my slippers on during those calls.)
3. Better work/life balance. Since your commute may be only 12 steps versus an hour to and from work, you have more time to enjoy home life. For example, you will never miss that trusted “must sign for package,” a daily walk with your faithful dog or a moment to search for the perfect party favor for your kid’s upcoming birthday party.
As one mom pointed out in the comments section of that Facebook post, moms today wear so many hats, and society expects them to hold down several full-time jobs simultaneously. This is true whether you are a stay-at-home mom, a mom who works in an office, or one that works remotely. We are all just trying to raise our kids the best we can — and avoid mom guilt as much as possible along the way!
I didn’t do the working mom gig for long—only 10 weeks after my first child was born. I was a teacher at the time, the primary financial support for our household, and my husband (a full-time student) and new baby relied on me to not only pay the bills and buy the groceries, but also provide health insurance for us all. So after my maternity leave, I had to return to work and finish the school year.
But we didn’t have childcare. We had searched throughout our pregnancy, finding no in-home centers we were comfortable with and year-long waitlists at daycares. Year-long?! Babies on this waitlist aren’t even conceived yet! We were scared and confused and about to be parents.
Finally, a spot opened up at a nearby daycare, that, to be honest, wasn’t our first choice. Or even second choice. But it was something and we had to take it. Those 10 weeks came and went, and as my husband earned his degree and landed a job, I transitioned into the SAHM life. My child was fine at that local daycare for a couple months, but that experience definitely opened my eyes to how difficult it is for parents to find someone we trust to watch our precious babies.
Yet, this is the reality for working moms everywhere. Especially in the U.S. where we lack maternal (and paternal) leave policies and force moms back into the workforce when they are still recuperating from childbirth, and their babies are still very young.
Working moms also re-enter the workforce after years as a SAHM. Moms who recently divorced, were widowed, or whose spouse lost their job. Or moms who gave the SAHM gig a go and know it’s not for them. Whatever the reason, the bottom line is that moms need someone responsible and caring to watch their young children, or else they can’t do their job.
Because it’s true—raising kids really does “take a village.” And that village includes nannies, babysitters, and daycares. Good ones that we can trust.
Thankfully, some companies out there are recognizing how important moms are to the workforce and working to alleviate some of the challenges they face to getting back into the workforce.
For instance, The Mom Project, which launched three years ago by former Proctor & Gamble commercial executive Allison Robinson, is said to be the “leading career destination for moms.” And in being an industry leader, The Mom Project knows that oftentimes, even if a mother lands a job interview, a giant hurdle to overcome is finding someone to watch her kids. And can she even afford to pay a sitter when she doesn’t have the job yet? So, to overcome this roadblock and get more women to job interviews, a partnership with UrbanSitter was born.
What is UrbanSitter? It’s an online database where parents can find nannies and babysitters, and where potential childcare workers can find jobs. But it’s even more than that.
“UrbanSitter searches for real-world connections and tries to replicate the old, pre-internet, word-of-mouth process,” UrbanSitter co-founder and CEO Lynn Perkins tells Scary Mommy. The site connects you with potential sitters that your Facebook friends, mommy group friends, LinkedIn contacts, or other members of The Mom Project have used. It’s basically word-of-mouth, social media style. And as we all know, the best way to find a good sitter is through a recommendation from someone we trust.
Moms don’t just leave their kids with anyone, though. I certainly don’t. Do you have experience? Will you be on your phone the whole time? Are you willing to wipe my child’s butt if he needs help? Do you know that he’s allergic to nuts and how to administer an EpiPen and that he’s a compulsive liar and will tell you that I allow him to eat 10 packs of fruit snacks for dinner? These are only a few of my concerns when hiring someone to manage my wild kids.
Of course, like any other database/search engine that finds reputable childcare, UrbanSitter uses background checks and posts parent reviews. But the site also uses video clips and data about the number of bookings a sitter has had, repeat bookings (always a good sign), how quickly they respond, and whether they have skills like CPR training or are bilingual. Also, UrbanSitter is a babysitting service for the modern age, using “real-time bookings (a la OpenTable) and payment (a la Uber),” they tell Scary Mommy.
Here’s how it works: Through its network of over 100,000 talented professionals and more than 1,000 companies, The Mom Project helps mothers find jobs. And, anyone who secures an interview through this resource will receive a $75 babysitting credit from UrbanSitter. This means they can find someone to watch their kids—for free. Also, this partnership grants every single member of The Mom Project a free first month of membership on UrbanSitter.
This is the village right here. Women supporting other women. Realizing what a mother needs to get back into the workforce. Realizing how expensive, yet essential, childcare is. And making it possible for a mother to go on that job interview and maybe land a job through which she can support her family and further her career.
It’s not just about helping women land a job, either. We need to work for companies who get that we have two jobs—the one they hired us for, and as mom at home. And who understand that our kids come first. That’s why “the opportunities you’ll find at The Mom Project are curated with progressive employers who totally ‘get it’ and are passionate about supporting and respecting working parents,” their website explains.
The folks at The Mom Project help women find part time and full time jobs. Jobs in offices and jobs working from home. Jobs with traditional 9-5 hours and flex jobs. And more and more companies are realizing that allowing women—women who are also mothers—to work flex hours, work from home, or both, means greater overall productivity. I mean, who works harder, can multi-task better, and knows how to work through sickness, noise, and exhaustion better than a mom? Nobody.
Whether you’re re-entering the job circuit after staying home with your kids for 10 years, or you’re forced to go back when they are babies for financial reasons, or you realized that stay-at-home life isn’t for you and you need a job that forces you to put on real pants and interact with adults everyday, it can be a challenge to find a job when you’ve got littles at home. Moms should know their worth and have the resources and support they need to get back in the game so they can kick ass when they get there (which they will.)
So if you’re ready to take the step and you’re asking yourself, can I do this? The answer is yes, you can, Momma. Because there are a bunch of other working moms out there, just like you. And they got your back.