When you become a mother, one of the first changes you recognize (besides the fact that your abdomen will never ever be the same after a C-section) is that changes in your professional life will have to accommodate the radical reduction in free time you now have.
Motherhood definitely makes you move differently in the professional world.
Last year at The Pennsylvania Conference for Women, Michelle Obama offered some insight about the demands that come with being a working mother and their needs for flexible schedules:
"I had both kids and Barack was in the Senate. I told my boss do not check for me for these needless meetings. I do not have time for that. I will be getting work done. If you are looking for me to sit down in meetings to make you feel good, I can't do it because I am working my butt off."
Luckily, the nonprofit I'm employed at takes work/life balance very seriously. We don't exactly have an on-site daycare, but for the most part my colleagues, parents or not, recognize that although being a caregiver can be unpredictable and tiresome, it doesn't mean you will be automatically ineffective as a professional, especially when a workplace is supportive of your situation.
So when an article compared motherhood to the new "work smoke break," I couldn't help but laugh.
Having a toddler pelt you with soggy Goldfish crackers and requests for Puppy Dog Pals, Episode 7 (at exactly at the three-minute 12-second mark) is anything but a smooth, long drag. But studies show that according to some colleagues that are child-free, moms have it made in the workplace. "Are Women Without Children Discriminated Against at Work?" asks if motherhood is the new "smoke-break" that offices everywhere are accommodating.
In the piece, several child-free working women expressed their feelings on their time at work being taken for granted since they don't have a report card conference or PTA meeting to run to after the work day. Helen Read, a 28-year-old civil engineer shared that work/life balance sounds like an inclusive term, but really is treated differently in the workplace depending on whether an employee has children or not. She says management often forgets that even those that are not parents have loved ones that they care for also, and that care can't always be arranged conveniently around the work day:
"People forget that single people have people they care about outside of the traditional relative structure, and they are often more likely to work late when the parents are leaving early to collect the kids from school."
As a working mother, I'd like to add that every working mom is different. I've stayed late to cover many a shift and thankfully have a good support system in place to aid with childcare.
I also have colleagues who call out way more than I do and don't have any small children at home. So it's not safe to assume just because someone is a working parent, that they have zero flexibility. However, at my workplace, I'm thankful for a family-friendly policy that extends to all employees, parents or not. I'm also conscious of seeking those types of policies when I apply for jobs.
But what about those employees who feel they should get first dibs on every holiday including Arbor Day because they have kids? Or the parents who feel like they can show up two hours late and leave an hour early because Junior has a school play after working on his science project all night? Lastly, what about the managers who accommodate all of this?
Admittedly, I'll say that kids are the best excuse ever to get out of anything. Extra-long weekend? Call work on Friday morning and tell them your toddler has had the runs all night. Bestie wants you to hang with her annoying friends from college? No childcare, sorry.
But some argue that it's more than a convenient "excuse." Further, more and more work policies are allowing women to do less work for the same pay, and it's not fair. But even with all that support in the world, most days even with what many would say is an ideal support system, any time I use my kid as an excuse to get out of anything, it's because I damn well need the break. Granted, the mom life is the life I chose, but most days I'm operating on less than five hours of sleep and staying in the shower for an extra twenty minutes just to escape singing the wrong lyrics to "Wheels On the Bus" for the seventeenth time.
Comparing motherhood to anything that resembles a break is comical at least, and insulting at best.
Whether you have a newborn at home or a very ill French bulldog, work/life balance is just that: a balancing act.
Employers have to recognize that life can't always occur around a 9-5 schedule and you don't have to be chained to your desk to be doing your job in many positions. On the same token, employees have to learn how to be flexible and work together. As a mom, I don't expect to have first dibs on every single holiday, nor do I expect not to pull the same weight as my colleagues because I created life (but you got admit that's pretty damn impressive). But seriously, it's also about not taking advantage of policies meant to support those in need. Coming in a few hours late because your elderly mother is sick is one thing, calling out for two days straight because your dog had a few Hershey kisses and the runs might be pushing it.
Lastly, it's about recognizing who the real issue is with. You can be mad all day for having to cover a shift for a third time for a co-worker whose bailed on her work obligations for her family, but is your problem with her or the supervisor that keeps allowing her to do so?
Let's not forget there's another side to the working-mom coin. It's a side where it's automatically assumed I can never go above and beyond because I'm "burdened" by my motherly duties, and in some ways, that's true. Being a working mom means you can't pull that all-nighter on the office presentation because you're committed to a consistent bath and bedtime routine for your toddler. Meanwhile, the next morning, you're faced with the eager new college grad, high on Red Bull and presenting color-coded Excel sheets to the board while you're blowing Goldfish dust off your day-planner.
Whether you're a working mom with two kids or fresh out of college with only a betta fish to care for, there's something to be said about not allowing any employer to make you to lose sight of the fact that work is not life and you shouldn't have to be handcuffed to a desk, a cell phone, or an inbox as proof of how committed you are to your job.
I'm not here to engage in a "battle of the struggles" but if you feel like you're currently in a professional space where you feel like parents are getting all of the "perks," you may need to spend more time in HR's office fighting for policies that support flexibility for all workers instead of ranting about being penalized for the kids you don't have.
I've been on both sides, I've seen a colleague be employed for two months and make the same amount I've made in two years solely based on management's knowledge of her single-mom status, and not actual performance. I've also been the mom who had a manager look the other way when I miss a deadline because newborns = sleep deprivation. We all have privileges at some point in our lives, the point is that we all support one another so that flexibility in the workplace truly serves all employees in a way that's fair regardless if they use personal time for traveling the world or anyplace where Puppy Dog Pals, Episode 7 isn't playing.
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