Working Moms: To Judge or Not to Judge?
Two years ago this month, I returned to work after having my son and taking four months off. Some people acted like I was taking a sabbatical, but my “time off” was hard work. At the end of it, the highs and lows and every moment in between were a complete blur. Looking back, I can hardly remember it. Going back to work wasn’t as hard as I had expected. Yes, I missed my son, but I had a great job with coworkers and clients ready and waiting for me.
What I wasn’t prepared for in my transition back to the working world, was the judgment that oozed out from others regarding my decision. I laughed off the well-meaning but hurtful comments and questions like “aren’t you afraid you’re going to miss out on these early years?” Umm…yes, yes I am terrified of that, thank you for asking. I was even asked “why did you have kids just to have someone else raise them?”
In our situation, we were fortunate enough to be leaving my son with grandma (thanks mom), and I had turned out okay. When I’d respond with that line, it would shut them up pretty quickly. Still, I was shocked by how quickly woman – yes, 99 percent of the time it was a fellow mom – jumped to conclusions when it came to the subject of my returning to work. Note, I didn’t say “my decision to return to work” because I never even seriously considered the alternative. For a variety of reasons from financial to personal, I always knew I’d take maternity leave and go back.
Two years later, the comments are fewer. I think that’s partially because my son is a toddler and not an infant, but after talking to other moms in the same boat, I also think I’ve become desensitized to the remarks. It also helps to avoid the mommy-and-me classes and hang out with moms who aren’t going to say stupid things like “I’m so lucky I can stay home” or “you must enjoy the break.” So, I’m not lucky? And second, work is definitely not a break of any kind. Basically, I just wake up in the morning while running head first into mommy job number one – getting my son snuggled, fed and dressed. Then I leave the house, hopefully without PB&J on my blouse, and go to my PR job where I spend all day putting out fires – figuratively not literally. Finally, I return back to the mommy job at the end of the day for a sprint to the finish line of dinner, playtime, bath and bedtime stories.
A good day is one where I don’t screw something up like forgetting a lunch appointment or diapers. Yes, I’ve done both multiple times.
We working moms don’t want you to feel sorry for us. At least I don’t. I’m also not saying that working is the right thing for every mom. Clearly, it’s not, and I think it’s great that there are stay-at-home moms. I’m thankful and a tad bit intimidated by them.
The larger issue I’m hoping to tackle is parental judgment. It comes in all shapes and sizes – from other moms, older adults, grandparents – you name it. I feel judged for being a working mom, but my friend who is a stay-at-home mom feels like people don’t give her the same respect for not working. Why is it that we can’t just accept people’s personal decisions, not ask 20 questions or give out advice like we’re the next Anne Landers and leave it at that?
I’m not just talking about the decision of whether to work or stay home. We judge parents who let their kids sleep in their bed (“you don’t want them in there until they’re teenagers”) or the ones who let their kids eat sugar (“they’ll get cavities”) or watch TV (“their brains will turn to mush”). I know this because we’re the parents who let my son do a little of all of the above and I’m not ashamed to admit it. But, hey, that’s me. I don’t care if you choose a different path. In fact, I’m probably a little jealous and think you’re a much better parent for not giving into your kids like I do. We’re all just doing what we have to in order to get by while trying to raise happy and well-adjusted children, right?
I know a number of recent and soon-to-be first-time moms. Many will work, some will stay home. Most will use disposable diapers, some cloth. Most will breastfeed but a few won’t for a variety of reasons. Let’s just support them in their decisions and be there when they ask for help. Lord knows we all need it.