If you’re a working mom, you’re bound to have had folks make some assumptions about you. Nothing malicious, necessarily. Our human brains just take shortcuts based on our experiences and what little data we might have. We’re wired that way. And our biases come through.
Education and new information can make us aware of these biases, though, so we can start to question them. In an effort to debunk a few of the misconceptions and stereotypes that surround working moms, I’ve rounded up the ideas of a number of Mindful Return alumnae. These women are career-focused working mamas and passionate parents. Collectively, here’s our take on what we believe folks get wrong about us as working moms:
1. We are not as committed to our careers as people who aren’t parents (or as we were before we had children).
Our careers are indeed just as important to us as ever. And so are our children. Sometimes, we need to get creative and flexible to get our tasks done without sacrificing our integrity. A desire to work remotely or a need to have a hard stop at the end of the day also does not translate into any less commitment to our jobs. We don’t erect boundaries between work and home out of a lack of dedication to our work; we do it for survival.
2. Taking “breaks” to pump milk must be easy.
Here’s the not sugarcoated truth: pumping milk is exhausting. Emotionally and physically draining. Annoying. And is most certainly the last thing from a “break.” Particularly on incredibly busy work days or when meetings run long, needing to pump and not being able to can actually be painful, too.
3. Somehow we work “less” than employees without children or than we used to work.
We may work differently, frequently less visibly and more efficiently. But by no means do we work less. So many working moms make the juggle work by being infinitely more efficient during working hours (there’s no time for drama when you’re a working mama), and working additional hours later during the so-called split-shift.
4. We’d all choose to be stay-at-home moms if we could.
So many of us value our careers for so many reasons other than the financial security they bring our families. Our reasons for wanting to work are as different as we are — from being leadership role models to our little ones to our personal passion for causes to intellectual stimulation.
5. We’re not as dedicated to our families as parents who stay home with their children.
This is probably a corollary to no. 4, but just because we go to work doesn’t mean we want to spend less time with our children or are less committed to our families. The data pans this out, too. It turns out the focused one-on-one time that working moms spend with their children is not statistically different from the time moms who stay home spend with their kiddos.
6. We no longer want certain opportunities or projects.
Managers often assume working moms don’t want particular opportunities or projects because they would perhaps require travel, or an unusual schedule. We’ve seen our friends and colleagues passed over for leading litigation teams, client pitches and big meetings simply because a (perhaps well-intentioned) manager simply assumed they wouldn’t want to commit to such experiences. We want employers to ask us how we feel about these opportunities and be flexible about how and where objectives are accomplished.
7. If we are working from home, we must be getting tons of housework done.
Here’s the truth: when we’re working, we’re working. We’re not spending our day folding laundry or vacuuming. Rather, we’re plugging away at work projects just as we’d be doing in an office. And please don’t ask us whether we still send our children to daycare while we are working from home. Of course we do. (When recently asked this question, one mama aptly responded: “That would be like my asking if you take your kids to the office with you.”)
8. Once you have a baby, you’re a completely different employee (and one who is always in survival mode).
It’s true that the return to work after parental leave can be an adjustment, and that sleepless nights with a baby can take their toll. But this is a season of life, and not a new, less-productive normal. Yes, our lives may be fuller than ever, but we are just us. The joys of being a mom can indeed counteract the hard parts, and generally speaking, we find our lives richer and fuller now.
9. “Having it all” means the same thing for all of us.
Working moms’ hopes, dreams, goals and desires are diverse. You can’t lump us into a single group and stereotype about what’s best for the whole. Yes, we each want our version of “having it all” in life — a loving family, a meaningful career, health, and interests that fuel us. But the vision of what “all” looks like is different for each of us. Please take the time to ask an individual working mama what’s in her own heart and what makes her tick before jumping to conclusions.
Lori K. Mihalich-Levin, JD, is the founder of Mindful Return, author of Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave, and creator of the Mindful Return E-Course. A partner in the health care practice of a global law firm, she also is mama to two beautiful red-headed boys. Lori holds a law degree from the Georgetown University Law Center and completed her undergraduate studies at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.