13 Things We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Working Moms - Eleanor's Place
(this article re-published from Vogue)
There is an abundance of #content about work and motherhood on the Internet. Some of it strives to be empowering—meet the “mompreneurs!” Some is well-intentioned but assumes the worst of us (see: the trope of the “wine mom”). And, yes, not nearly enough of it is about fatherhood and men juggling the nonexistent idea of work/life “balance.”
There are bright spots, but even some efforts to be helpful and tactical about working parenthood—including logistical breakdowns of how powerful parents organize their schedules—often overlooks uncomfortable topics and darker truths, the stuff few people want to discuss publicly. For example: How much time do working parents actually spend with their kids, and who is watching them while Mom or Dad circle the globe on business? How do moms who work outside the home and stay-at-home moms really feel about each other? What are the hidden costs of having kids, both emotional and financial?
These are questions that might invite squirming, but would also likely provide helpful context for others struggling to make it work. Not asking means the answers can end up shrouded in shame and silence—and we really don’t know “how she does it.” Vogue asked more than two dozen mothers, including single and married women, business owners and freelance employees, in fields ranging from finance to marketing to journalism and the service industry, to compile a (non-comprehensive) list of things we tend not to talk about when we talk about working parenthood.
Working parents, in some cases, might see their kids very little, or not at all, on a given weekday.
“I don’t see my kids at all on Wednesdays because I have to drive 2 hours to our main office, so I leave at 5:00 a.m. and come home at 8:30 p.m. I feel horrific about this. I’ve done the math on not seeing them 1/7th of a year and I hate myself for it.”
“What I really want to know, as a new mom who works, is how many hours do people spend with their kid, and how many hours a week do nannies or other caretakers spend with their kids? I feel like I should spend more time with my baby than our nanny. Is it just moms who think like this because of societal pressure or do dads also?”
And who is watching the children of the super-accomplished people who appear to have both fabulous lives and full careers and small children?
“I want to know who stays home when kids are sick, the nanny is sick, or shit hits the fan. Like, if Something Navy has a childcare issue, does she cancel her day to deal with it? Does her husband? Does the fact that her husband may do that enable her to be as successful as she is? I assume it’s mostly moms who deal with this stuff. I think women’s professional advancement is probably hindered by the fact that they’re the default people dropping their lives for their kids, so we should really talk about it.”
The practical fallout of the pay gap: After kids, some women’s careers take a backseat to that of their male partner, especially if he earns more.
“The hardest part for me is putting my work second to my husband’s, because he makes many multiples of what I do, and has the health insurance. So if I’m on a business trip, or we’re trying to schedule competing work things, he tries to accommodate me, but the knowledge of which one of our careers is expendable hangs over everything. It’s frustrating, and makes me think that I’m ‘playing’ instead of working, especially since me working from home and being the main caregiver has allowed him to focus completely on his career. It’s not his fault that he majored in something practical and high-paying while I majored in musical theater. But all of the years home with the kids did really quash any chance I had of a ‘normal’ career.”
“We never talked about how many hours of childcare each of us would do before we had my son, and sometimes I find myself resenting the fact that my day is the default day being cut into if something happens, like he gets sick, or there’s an emergency doctor trip.”
The tension between moms who work outside the home and stay-at-home-moms is real.
“I am trying to teach my growing girls that work can—and should— be fulfilling, exciting, and empowering, and that my absence during the days (and sometimes nights and weekends!) is worthwhile and healthy for all of us. But the stay-at-home-moms that are fixtures at pickup, playdates, and school trips make me feel constantly undermined, sending mixed messages to my kids about the importance of being omnipresent, and giving me major #momguilt by sharing all the ‘adorable’ things my daughter did while I wasn’t there. I know we’re all playing for the same ‘mom’ team, but it just doesn’t feel like that most days.”
There are hidden costs of being a working parent—especially a single working parent.
“I feel like people don’t know how expensive it is—because I’m single, a business trip is $250 a night to get a babysitter. I have at least two work trips a year, which is $2,000 gone, just like that.”
The idea that all moms would rather be home with their kids instead of working is a myth.
“I think women want more flexible schedules that allow them to take off for a kid’s sick day without worrying about being fired, but I’d love to see a story about a mom who generally loves her job and isn’t panicked, freaked out, or on the edge of a breakdown.”
Speaking of: Working moms are too often portrayed as harried, scatter-brained, and missing key moments in their child’s life.
“Not every day is a whirlwind. Sometimes we actually have our shit together.”
There’s a double-edged sword when it comes to discussing your family at work.
“You’re damned if you talk about your kids—because you can be written off for promotions or big projects, aka “mom-tracked”—and damned if you don’t. I have a friend who has three kids [who got] saddled with a weekend-long project because her manager didn’t want to bother a member on her team—a guy who has two kids. She made a specific point to not tell this boss about her family structure because she didn’t want to get mom-tracked—and she feels she’s still getting screwed over.”
People don’t talk enough about about the curveballs.
“You hear a lot of ‘I work all day, then go home, put the kids to bed, and get back online.’ Which is true. But what happens when your kid doesn’t want to go to bed? And bedtime is a 2-hour process while you are on deadline? Or someone wakes up sick in the middle of the night and so the 6 hours of sleep you thought you were going to get becomes three? Or the kid you normally have to wake at 7:00 a.m. wakes up at 5:00 and is ‘all done sleeping?’ ”
Sometimes working parenthood means missing the kids by day . . . but lacking the energy to care for them at night.
“I feel guilty throwing them in front of the TV in the evenings, but I’m so tired from work and also feel like I can’t handle them, even though it’s half of the time I spend with them in a day.”
Talking about childcare can create a certain class discomfort.
“I hate saying I have an au pair/nanny. It makes me feel pretentious and then I think everyone assumes we’re wealthy (we’re not).”
“In some situations, I find myself saying, ‘I have childcare until 5:00 on weekdays’ instead of saying the word nanny, which is dumb, but there is a part of me that can’t get away from worrying that people will judge me. And most of that probably comes from my own judgment of others before I had kids! This idea that women who have nannies don’t have any worries and everything is easy for them . . . and it’s just not true. I’m still up at 5:00 a.m. with my kid. And then I work all day and am with him all night. It’s a luxury to have a person I trust come to my home to watch my child, but it doesn’t take away the hard parts of parenting.”
Sometimes, you’ll long for your pre-kid life.
“Irrational as it may be, sometimes I really miss not being able to just throw myself into a work thing all day and night or all weekend, because I need to take care of my kids. I find myself jealous of single colleagues who have unlimited time for their big projects.”
“I resent having kids when I see everyone climbing the ladder but me, or when I do taxes or anything that requires me to sum the total amount I spend on their daycare/nanny/preschool.”
But, on the other hand, kids bring joy to your life and can also be a grounding force, especially for workaholics.
“The hard stop at 5:00 p.m. to go pick up my baby has been good for me. I used to work regularly until 8:00 p.m. And that doesn’t leave much room for a life. I am busier now. I spend more hours taking care of my family than myself. But giving my baby a bath or taking walk, all these little mundane things have added a lot. My life feels fuller in a way that is different than the things that used to make me feel full. Finding happiness in, like, giving my kid a banana makes me happy about my whole life.”
“My kids are more than emotional support animals, but when I’m super-stressed out by work, just sitting with them in my lap and watching Nick Jr. at the end of the day feels like my saving grace, and I’m thankful to them for giving me that peace and perspective that there’s more to life than just work.”