We've Got Work To Do
Working moms. Everyone’s on board with modernity, right? ‘80s movies like “9 to 5”, “Baby Boom” and “Working Girl” provided slapstick, heartfelt evidence that gender doesn’t dictate business sense, after all. So why is it that thirty-something years later, I’m writing about the judgement some of the smartest, loveliest, most capable women I know face as they head back to work postpartum? The reaction they’ve got as they return to their careers seems the result of a patriarchal mindset that’s so buried in society’s consciousness that people might not even realize their comments are hurtful. I myself am (kind of) a stay-at-home-mom and have literally had my hand pat by a man who cooed “you’re doing what you should”. It felt so icky! No one has the right to decree what someone else’s family “should” do because everyone, and every situation, is different. And I know mindsets can’t change from one blog post, but the double standard where men go back to work a day after their babies are born with congratulations and a woman who stays at home with her baby for six months (not to mention the 9 months her bod was an actual home for that baby) is questioned, that’s gotta be talked about. Here are stories and thoughts from three working moms. I want to hear yours, too. Type it, share it, shout it!
(Thanks to working mama Karyn Kimberley for meeting me on her lunch break to snap the photos of Whitney and Molly.)
I have the privilege of waking up every morning and entertaining the rockers of Saskatoon from 6-10am at Rock 102. My day starts around 4am, which sounds horrible, but I love it. I love the thrill of being on the air, creating hilarious (and not so hilarious) comedy bits, and delivering information in an entertaining way. I love my coworkers, the company, it’s an extension of who I am. And I’m good at it. In fact, after I became a mom I realized it’s one of the few things I am good at. I have two babies…under two. When I was on mat leave with my first I knew I had to get my ass back to work before I went crazy but just as I was ready to make the leap, oops! I got pregnant (insert your “didn’t you figure out sex makes babies” joke here). I already had post-partum depression/anxiety and being pregnant meant it needed to be addressed, so I started therapy and medication and decided to stay home until my mat leave was done so I could throw up in peace every morning. Of course, ‘in peace’ turned into ‘while I was holding my crying 7 month old baby’.
I’m now two weeks away from going back to work with a 21-month-old and a 6-month-old and I CANNOT WAIT TO GET OUT OF HERE! Of course, I love my kids but I find it so draining to be a mom and I feel like I’m missing out on all the fun, creative, exciting things my coworkers are doing. This time around, just once a week, I worked while I was on mat leave and people thought I was nuts for not taking ‘full advantage’ of the time off. There have even been Facebook comments asking why I don’t want to stay home with my kids.
Here’s the thing, I want my girls to see me working. I want them to see me as my whole self, doing something I love that keeps me vibrant! And I want them to do the same IF they decide to have babies. I want them to know it’s okay to put yourself first even though the entire world tells you you shouldn’t, and even when you tell yourself you shouldn’t. I think that’s where some of my post-partum depression and anxiety came from: I expected my baby to be enough for me. I expected it to be satisfying to have the house clean, her in bed, and my feet up when my man came home from work. But I was missing so much of myself I had no idea where to look. I was sad all the time, mad at my husband for the littlest things, and would randomly have knots in my tummy and heart palpitations. I didn’t know what was going on until I started talking about it with my sister. Then I started therapy, taking time for myself, and not trying to be superwoman. Massages, napping, exercising, ordering take out, paying a cleaner… I started feeling better. Well, maybe it was the meds :) I realized I’m a mediocre full-time mom, but I’m a KICK ASS part-time mom.
Make no mistake, there is guilt. Lots of it. Guilt when I leave my babies with someone else while I go do something important to me. And people make that guilt worse with their confused looks when I tell them I’m going back after six months. I can tell they think I should be raising my own children. Well guess what people, I’m raising my babies with my husband and our nanny. Back in the day, we were a community of women, breastfeeding each other’s babies… you know, the hippie red tent kind of thing. Now I feel like it’s mom vs. mom, comparing ourselves to each other, watching out the window as a fellow neighbourhood mom strolls by. We have thoughts like, “looks like she lost ALL her baby weight already” or “she’s got it together, why can’t I?” and we feel bad about ourselves.
Men don’t have to think about ANY of that stuff. They’re not even asked about parental leave whereas I’m given 20 questions about why I’m going back ‘early’. Women are just expected to be the primary caregivers and we’re judged on all the decisions made in the baby’s life like baby carrier vs. stroller, homemade baby food vs. store bought, even what the baby is wearing. (Like whoa people, I can barely dress myself!) Fortunately, my husband took two months of leave with both our kids. With our second, he was a major source of care for me. I needed him. I took care of the babies and he took care of me and the house. He was, and is, the only man in his company to take paternity leave and a lot of the guys acted like he was purposely throwing a baby-sized wrench at them and making them pick up the slack. I told him he was a pioneer, a sexy one, and I don’t think anyone knew how much work he was doing while “off”. These are his babies too and he needs to help me raise them 'cause this shit is hard! He gets that but the rest of the world doesn’t.
We need to love ourselves and each other. Babies take a LOT out of us, especially if you breastfeed (which is your choice, do what works for you and your baby!) in which case even one night out with friends needs to be carefully planned with your partner. It's so easy to lose yourself while raising a baby. Yes, children are amazing and you want to do everything for THEM, but do them a favour and be YOU first. If being yourself is running a business that you love, or painting, or writing, or even staying at home with the kids (which I give mad props to ‘cause obviously I think it’s way hard), remember the happier and whole you are, the healthier you are. The healthier you are, the more patient, and the better example you set for your children. Lots of love to my fellow parents. This is some crazy ass stuff, but man it’s fun!
As an entrepreneur running my event company, Lux, I don't collect EI or get paid time off as I need to keep my business thriving and continue to pay my staff regardless of my personal choices. When I had my first child, I didn't have staff or childcare help and so I really had to balance the demands of my growing business with the demands of a new, first-time mom. It was very stressful and so I worked hard to grow my business to the point where I had staff to support me while I grew my family.
My sister is also an entrepreneur with two young kids at home and I admire her for how she can turn on and off. When she's at work, she's not thinking about her kids. She doesn't worry about them because she knows they're in good hands, and frankly, worrying about them doesn't help or make you closer to them. When she's at home, she's not working—she's completely "there" with her kids. That’s something I'm working on and it's coming....slowly. Mommy guilt is a bitch!
I’ve often felt judged, like people assume that I don't want to be home with my kids. I do, but I also need to work. It's just the way it is. I think a lot of people truly don't understand that as an entrepreneur, I don't get time off and there’s no pause button on my business. Even when I was pregnant, I nearly lost out on a major contract with an out-of-town company when they found out my due date was before the event. We’d negotiated everything and suddenly, they told me to hold off on signing, that they’d had new information. I had to talk them down from the ledge, telling them I wouldn’t have committed to something I couldn’t handle and that I have staff and support—a conversation that never would have happened if I were a man. There’s inequality in how people view parents. Just the other day, I saw it from the other side of the mirror. One of the girls I play ringette with has three young kids and her husband was with them, running around the rink and more than one person said "poor so-and-so, he has his hands full". That mom is with them all day, every day and I guarantee no one says anything like that to her.
My work is important to my family but what’s more is that I believe I’m not the best person for my kids ALL OF THE TIME, that it truly “takes a village" to raise them. Nora's teachers are teaching her things I didn't think she would understand at her age and Jack's babysitter finds ways to calm him down and make him smile in ways I don't. For me, working makes me a better mom.
I worked full-time while pursuing my business degree which taught me a lot about balance, organization and time management at an early age. After almost 15 years with a company that allowed me to grow personally and professionally, I was ready to go on my first maternity leave in 2013. I had my beautiful daughter and our life was forever changed. I was recruited to a new company, but it was such a difficult decision to make with a 6 month old baby. It was an opportunity I could not pass up but I cried every day leading up to my first day in fear of having made the wrong decision. It was, however, the right decision for our family. I work a lot and travel, but my husband is very supportive and our daycare provider is phenomenal. My second maternity leave, I took the entire year plus an extra month of vacation time. It was hard to go back with two kids under two, but it didn’t take me long to get into a routine and find value in my work again.
Aside from the monetary benefits, I think our appreciation for each other and their ability to be so communicative and affectionate at a young age has helped us to not take each other for granted. They’ll grow up knowing this was a decision that was right for our family and that every family is different. I hope they understand that although I am always connected to my work with phone, laptop, and iPad, there will never be anything more important than them. I’m working hard on shutting down on my days off and soaking up their funny little personalities.
I work remotely since my Regional office is in Calgary. The other day, some guys made comments assuming I had a home office and that my kids must be at home with me while I “worked”. Well, I don’t know what they do for “work” but I’m accountable to many people so having a one and three-year-old to care for would not allow me to work at all. I have never been so blatantly judged to my face for being a working mom. One of the men actually said, “I thought you would want to raise your own kids.” My face went blank and for a moment I heard myself trying to explain my situation to these two men who don’t know me personally but only by title and role in a company. I stopped myself, remained calm, cut off our conversation, and left. I don’t have time for ignorance.
Being a mom is the hardest job in the world. Working, not working, single parent, it’s damn hard. It’s amazing when a person finds a job, career, or passion that’s right for them and it took me years to figure out what I wanted in a career. It was only after I had my kids that I truly realized what I truly wanted in a job.
Thank-you to Whitney, Molly, and Marla for sharing with us and to my OCM sisters (many of them being working moms who have felt the sting of being judged or undervalued) for encouraging this post. Here's to fostering a more supportive, understanding, and fair-minded world for mothers.