I launched this blog because I wanted to explore the concept of trying to “have it all,” and mainly my motivation revolved around trying to have a successful career and a family. While I haven’t posted much on that particular topic, I do plan to get around to writing more on it in the near future (I’m sure the world is on the edge of its seat waiting). This particular article on the ABC News web site this weekend seems like a great place to start.
The article lists seven ‘annoying’ questions that working mothers despise. It suggests that what many may consider seemingly innocent questions can come off as demeaning or threatening to working mothers. Queries like “How do you juggle it all?” and “Do you feel guilty for working?” are on the list. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been asked any of these specific questions, nor do I think I’d find them insulting if I were to be asked. But I’m also the type of person who will tell someone the details of my three-year-old daughter’s stomach bug five minutes after we’ve met, so maybe it’s my lack of filter that would make some of these questions seem perfectly normal to me.
However, I can tell you while none of these specific questions have upset me over the years, I have been insulted by many remarks made by coworkers and former colleagues that have made it very clear to me that working mothers continue to go up against misunderstanding, prejudice and just plain ignorance in the work place.
One that sticks out particularly vividly came from a former boss. Now, this person was a decent boss and I didn’t have any real issues with him as a manager when I was working for him. And after I had my second child, I left the company – not because I didn’t like the job or him, but because something better came along. It was a strategic career move any person would have made, children or no children.
But a year or so after leaving the job, I came back into my former office one day to visit. I was on an assignment in the area and popped in to say “hi” to former colleagues.
“What, no babies?” my former boss said to me when he saw me.
I know it was just his light-hearted way to say hello to me and he meant no ill will with the remark. I made some dumb joke about how while I was not smuggling my children in my purse, I did have a diaper in there if anyone needed proof I was a mother, then tried to move beyond the topic. But inside, I was annoyed. The remark rubbed me the wrong way. Alot.
“No babies?! WTF??!!” I said to myself, a bit incredulous, later that day. I felt as if by greeting me that way he was summarily reducing me to the woman who was “pregnant all the time.” Obviously, to him, I was that “woman who has babies.” And that was apparently mostly who I was in this person’s mind – regardless of the fact that the majority of the time I was with the company I was, in fact, not pregnant and had accomplished quite a bit professionally. If reviews mean anything, then my time there was not defined by being pregnant. I always received great reviews on job performance.
But the truth of the matter is that there, and many other places I’ve worked, there aren’t a lot of parents. No, I should say there aren’t a lot of working MOTHERS. There are plenty of men with kids who have wives that make the sacrifices and who don’t need to feel ashamed when their kids are sick because they need to work from home and carve out time to run to the doctors for a prescription. The fact that they go home to kids at night is not a major factor in their career and this is why they are not seen as the ones with “the babies.”
As a fun, happy end-note to this, I’d like to point out a remark made recently my current boss; a wonderful, more-enlightened individual, who I mesh with much better. We were at a lunch event with several members of our team and the subject of another co worker, in another department, came up. She was out on maternity leave, or had just returned from maternity; the exact details elude me. Anyway, she isn’t someone I know and I mentioned that I’d never met her. My boss noted I probably had not ever interacted with her because she mainly works on tasks unrelated to our team’s focus and also because, in his words, “she has babies a lot, so she isn’t really around much.”
Now, I know this sounds horrifyingly backward, but to know my boss and his brand of sarcasm, it is the exact opposite. In a read-between-the-lines, you-have-to-know-him sort of way, he was taking a swipe at exactly the kind of ignorance that prompts people, like my former manager, to say “What? No babies?” to working mothers. And, because I can read between the lines, I know just what he means. And that is one of many reasons why my current work place is a great environment for a working mother, like me, who does alot MORE than have babies.