I’ve been meaning to put these thoughts out here for a while. I don’t mean for this to become the soapbox this blog stands on, it just seems that now is a good time to share more of my experience with working motherhood in the hopes to better foster discussion and growth in the little community that I’m part of.
If you struggle with anything I share here, I’m not against discussion in the comments (I do publish just about everything as long as you aren’t a Nigerian Prince or offering a magic Debit Card) and love it, but if you’d like to engage more personally I’m available for one on one discussion and happy to facilitate that.
I just wanted to take some time and space to cover some of the assumptions I face as a working mother and my actual experiences – either personally or drawing on the experience of my circle of friends, co-workers and acquaintances. I have no piecharts or studies to quote – just personal, first-hand experience to relate on three of the big ones that I want talk about today. These are the ones that seem most prevalent and are often the hardest to just shove aside.
Assumption #1: It’s All AboutPower Suits and Climbing Ladders.
- Yep, we all probably know someone or a friend of someone who fits this idea – that if we have a career or a job that it’s all about the prestige or climbing to the top of the food chain. I have no doubt that if I had been born 10 or 20 years earlier, I would have seen more of this – as my discussions with older women have shown that this was more common in their generation than it appears to be in mine. But there’s still an assumption out there that having paid work equals these things, and that it’s a huge part of the fire that drives a woman in this part of her life.
- My experience has shown me that it’s a lot less glamorous and a lot less driven. Most of the working moms I know turn down promotions and advancement because it does not fit with their family life. Most just aren’t driven that way if they’re in roles that even provide that kind of upward momentum at all. If we have bigger career goals they’re often sandwiched in short bursts between maternity leaves or put off altogether until the kids are older. Often times these working moms are squeezing in hours between drop off and pick up, or taking roles beneath their previous training or education, sometimes abandoning their previous fields completely because it’s the best fit for their families. It’s more likely that working mom you meet is a secretary and not a CEO. One of the things I love about my work is that not only am I performing daily acts of mercy, but that I bring my pro life, profamily opinions and ideas into a secular workplace even if I’m not advancing up any ladders.
Assumption #2: It’s All About the Benjamins.
- Another big assumption we run into is the assumption of material desires or dollar signs in our eyes. Assumptions that we’re in it to afford vacation homes, new cars, and designer duds. There are often assumptions that we can’t manage money or budget or spend hundreds of dollars on things we could do or make on our own like coffee or haircuts. While yes, sometimes dual income families will have more disposable income than single earner, it’s not a cause and effect.
- The majority of the working women I know work for a small number of things – insurance (either paying premiums or working specific jobs for their benefits alone), medical costs or school tuition, and sometimes money for utilities or groceries. Most of the women I know aren’t banking their paychecks into free-spending slots in their budget. The majority of the women I know are incredibly thrifty and budget mavens. My husband hasn’t paid for a haircut in ten years and my son has only ever known “Mom the Barber”. Usually when you get these women to open up about expenses you’ll learn surprising things – downsizing, promotions or raises that never appear, long-term job loss, outrageous medical expenses, disability, misleading loan officers in college, jobs that were promised by said colleges that never appeared, a need to escape dangerous neighborhoods or move away from abusive family members. The money they need to earn is often directly tied to a specific thing in their lives -sometimes it’s tied something happy and simple like Catholic School tuition and sometimes there can be a lot of pain, struggle, and heartache tied to that line of the budget that necessitates more income. There is almost always a specific reason and that reason is almost always tied to the care of their family, just maybe not in the ways we expect.
Assumption #3: The 27 Hour Work Day
- Just like in number one, yes, we all know people – men and women – who are workaholics or who have bosses who expect too much or who are so driven they don’t pay attention to the amount of time spent on work. I’m not denying these people exist, just that most likely the lady sitting next to you in your churches mom’s group isn’t one of them. There’s a big assumption that when you hear “working mom” that it means you’re out of the house from 7 am until 6 pm, 5 days a week.
- Most of the working women I know, myself included, work alternative schedules or have unique work arrangements – often after long hours of fighting with HR and upper management for these abilities. I know working moms who get a day or two each week to work from home. I know working moms who are considered full time but work 12 hours shifts at the hospital on the weekends and overnights so they can homeschool their kids the rest of the week. I know working moms who work full-time hours snatched here and there during naps and after bedtime. I know families where the spouses work opposite shifts so they don’t need childcare. I know women who always go part-time after a new baby for a year or more. I myself clock in between 6 and 7 am so I can be home shortly after school gets out; I work weekends so I have time during the week to do activities and cut down on childcare. The idea of a 9-5 work day is fading fast in a lot of areas – and a big part of that is companies realizing that more flexible hours and arrangements are leading to happier, more committed employees. Online marketplaces for goods and crafts, telecommuting and so much more are starting a slow revolution in the workplace and some of the first people to really reap these benefits? Working Mothers. When we say “working mom” we’reactually referring to a very wide swath of work, schedules, intent and experiences.
I’m sure I could cover more, but in all honesty, I really should have been in bed three hours ago and now I might get four hours of sleep before my alarm goes off, but those were some of the big ones I wanted to cover. I just want to help illustrate that your average working mother (not those outliers that yes, we all can come up with as an example – let’s just agree it bigotry to judge ant person on the behavior of a few- often makes very specific sacrifices and decisions with their families and children in mind everyday even if that’s not what it looks like on first glance. Those are the topics that, with a little clarity help us see each other a little more clearly. If nothing else I’d like to stop us talking about “those kinds of working moms” or “those kinds of SAHM’s” we all swear we know and talk more about real women, real families and real situations which are so much more nuanced than these big generalizations. So much of this stems from assuming “if x then y” like it’s one of those awful Algebra equations you’re trying to dredge up from the bowels of your memory to teach your teenagers. And those kinds of assumptions are no fair on either side. It hurts when it’s applied to me, it hurts when it’s applied to my friends who mother in different ways. It’s unfair to all of us and it gets us nowhere. It’s way to easy when we follow that equation to take things personally and make it personal.
Mothers are vitally important. The family is vitally important. Creating homes filled with love, peace, beauty, comfort and God is vitally important and all mothers struggle with how best to love and care for their families and create these homes. Fathers are also important and there are many ways to support them in their vocations and work as a family. Every mother has different talents and temperaments. We’re all unique and this isn’t a one size fits all deal.
So what can we do about it? Talk to each other.
Not talk at each other, but actually, talk to each other.
Reach out and learn from each other. Invite that person making it sound like they have all the answers for your life to enter into real discussion with you – either in public or in private – share with them the struggles and beauty in your life. Honor and respect the decisions of your new BFF’s even if you know there’s no way on this green earth that choice would ever be right for you or your family. Do some deeper digging on your own to differentiate between big T Truth and little t personal truth (i.e. BIG T is the big important stuff talked about in the Commandments or the Sermon on the mount and other moments of Big Truth to put it very, very simply, the little t stuff is how you’re called as a unique person experiencing a unique life to live these things in your daily walk). Stop making assumptions, and I say this to ALL of us – this isn’t a one-way street here. Assumptions are the seeds of bitterness, judgement, resentment and spite that the Devil plants knowing we all have green thumbs to make them grow better than he ever could. Reach out to someone different then you – whether it’s different from you in work, income, family size or personal missions – there’s so much we can learn from each other if we reach out first.
I welcome comments and discussion. Please note before commenting that my intent is not to lump people into categories and assume (and go against my own advice). I’m not saying if you’re this than you must think that. These are just general observations and personal experience. This is meant to be a tool to help people not like me better understand people like me – our intentions, our goals, etc. and give a more realistic view of what working motherhood really looks like in the trenches. If I can clarify on anything or if you think something is reading in a way I may not intend please let me know with a quick message in the comments or privately so I can address it directly.
Photo via Unsplash, Georgie Cobbs