Now that you’re back in the office as a new mom, people are naturally going to congratulate you and ask about your baby. But how much should you really talk about being a new mom at work? What’s TMI when it comes to sharing in the workplace about your little one?
This is another area where it’s different strokes for different folks. Or is it just a flat-out mistake to talk too much at work about children?
Workplace psychologist and author Jessica Pryce argues that men and women are judged differently at work. She believes that men who talk about their children in the office create a positive impact on their reputations because they are seen as caring, but that women who do run a much higher risk of being perceived negatively.
Specifically, Pryce believes that women who disclose any issues with children show “vulnerability” which you want to avoid at work “because when you show vulnerability, you’re weak, and when you’re weak, somebody else stronger than you takes position in the pack.”
The "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" Moms
Regardless of whether you agree with Pryce, sometimes how much you talk about children at work is just a matter of your personality and personal choice.
Farah, a debt analyst on Wall Street told us:
"I don’t talk much detail - I prefer to keep work separate and I also don’t have any pictures taped to my computer or anything. That’s just a personal preference though because other people in my group do have a picture or two. If people ask about the baby, I of course will answer, but I usually don’t bring it up much.
Other times, it may actually be about maintaining a particular work style. Gloria, a senior executive at a major publishing company didn’t like talking about her baby. In fact, it even slightly irked her when people asked about her baby when she returned from maternity leave:
I think it’s important as a leader to maintain some distance from your team. I mean, it’s just not my style to talk about my personal life and baby questions seemed to me to be a way of certain members of my team trying to get to know a different side of me...For me, it seemed that there was no upside to them getting to know me personally. They weren’t going to be more productive or efficient because they knew me better, and I was going to have a harder time having tough conversations (which happened often with restructuring and frequent layoffs) with anyone who got to know me too much on a personal level. Perhaps I was also channeling my own boss and mentor who kept a pretty tight lid on his personal life at work."
Career blogger, Penelope Trunk also admitted to steering clear of talking about her children. But even when she does that, she wishes she didn’t and believes that people are more likable when they are “more vulnerable and more real.”
The Shout-It-From-The-Rooftop Moms
Our founder Romy had her babies while she worked at Dow Jones and certainly kept it real. She recalls:
"When I went back to work the first time, my son’s sleep was still in a really bad place. He would wake every two hours and we could never get him back to bed. I was a wreck. My co-workers were amazing and actually talked me through sleep-training.
I guess I worked in an environment where everyone was a relatively young parent and so everyone spoke openly about their kids. And it was lovely. I guess that’s really the true definition of family-friendly."
To be perfectly transparent about your fatigue is brave, but context and company culture are everything.
If you believe that your colleagues and team will not judge you negatively (or that their judgments won’t affect your performance) for being your whole self at work, it can mean a lot more open conversation about being a new mom. In Romy’s case this also meant showcasing a photo of her son in her first presentation to her 400-person weekly sales meetings after maternity leave!
Liz Deninzon at Accenture also felt 100 percent comfortable talking about being a new mom at work. When colleagues asked about her baby (now toddler), she spoke honestly and openly: “People like to know how you do it and there is no need to hide how it is done (with a lot of help!).” She said that she talked about being a new mom “extensively” because “that is what is going on so I did not shy from it.” While her company doesn’t have fixed desks, she did have a photo of her son on her phone screensaver open for anyone to see.
Perhaps there will be individuals who will unconsciously stereotype you once you talk about your role as a new mom. But hopefully for every one of those people, you will be able to forge deeper connections with colleagues who like and respect you more for your authenticity. Managers, in particular, have the opportunity to lead by example when it comes to how much to embrace their identities as parents.
Regardless of where you fall on the sharing spectrum about new motherhood, hopefully you’ll find a space in your workplace where you feel comfortable.