It is hard to be a working mother. There are days you just don’t think you can manage everything on your to-do list. You may be tempted to confide in a colleague or you boss at work and unburden yourself, but here’s a word of advice: Don’t. Instead, call a friend, your sister or your mother.
Why? There is already a prejudice in the workplace against working mothers. Studies have shown that 60 per cent of Americans think that children would be better off with one parent at home. Admitting to someone you work with (or for) that you are overwhelmed is just reinforcing that bias — and could hurt your career.
You may think your company is a strong supporter of working mothers. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. One mother I know worked for a famously family-friendly company. But when she returned from maternity leave, she was shocked at how differently she was treated.
In her words, “I felt like I was being accommodated right off the fast track.” Everyone thought they were helping her, when in fact she found herself being given assignments that had “mothers’ hours.” As a major contributor to her family’s income, that was not what she was looking for. She let her company know she wanted to be treated just as before.
I have been in the position of having many career discussions with senior people evaluating their teams, so I’ve seen this from both sides. In some cases, women with children are viewed differently than men with children. Bosses worry that any challenging new job might overload a working mother, causing the valuable employee to leave.
When discussing an up-and-coming woman who also happened to be a working mother, one senior manager actually said, “I expect her to go part-time at some point. My wife can tell anyone that it only gets harder when the children are older.” I did not let that statement go unchallenged.
When your children are young, you might be considering the entire work-family equation. You may not want the heavy travel job. Or the projects that demand frequent weekend work. Careers go through phases, and that is natural.
When you first enter the workforce, often as a single person, you may be looking for a job with great training and advancement opportunities. Travel can be more appealing than an empty apartment, and long hours with young colleagues may seem fun. However, once you have a partner and children, you might reassess your time commitments. The important thing is that the decision about your career trajectory should be your decision — not someone else’s.
All parents (and this goes for men as well as women) should ask themselves two important questions:
Once you understand what career path you want to be on right now, let your manager know. This could be the fast track, being in a steady state or even cutting back your hours while remaining with the organization. You do not need to share too many details of how you will integrate your personal and professional life. But do let them know that you have childcare to cover whatever option you choose.
Present your professional side at work, and save the crazy moments for your friends. One mother with two young children sent out an email at 1 a.m. about an upcoming meeting. I asked her what she was doing up at that hour, and she replied, “We are 24/7 at my house.” I don’t know exactly how she manages it all, but she does — and I am proud to work with her.
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