Society loves to tell mothers (and women in general) everything they “should” be. If you’ve returned to paid work after giving birth, you’ve likely faced your fair share of criticism. “Who’s going to raise the kids?” sexist and backward acquaintances might ask. “But what about breastfeeding? How are you going to make it home for dinner?”
You might force a smile and try to answer without being offended, knowing that the same questions wouldn’t be asked of a working father. (Thanks a lot, patriarchy.) There’s a ridiculous amount of pressure for working mothers to be there for every milestone, every school function, and every PTA meeting, while somehow still working late nights and making it to 9 a.m. meetings. You might feel like you’re caught between worlds; you want to continue to prove yourself at the office, while still being an involved parent, maybe even the most involved parent.
The good, yet also depressing, news is that you aren’t alone. Working moms in all jobs and industries deal with judgment at home and at work. According Joan C. Williams, a professor at the University of California, the discrimination pregnant women and working mothers face in the workplace is called “maternal wall bias.” It occurs when colleagues view mothers as less competent and less committed to their jobs. Essentially, because of gendered expectations of women’s caregiving responsibilities, peers and managers assume moms will put their careers on the back burner...so they give them fewer opportunities or projects, devalue their work, or judge them for ducking out early to pick up their kids.
And although juggling working parenthood has always been a challenge, the pandemic has only increased the difficulties working mothers face—precisely because those responsibilities at home do fall on women more often. “Mothers have disproportionately shouldered the burden of caregiving during the pandemic,” says sociology professor Patrick Ishizuka of Washington University in St. Louis. “As a result, they also have been more likely to drop out of the labor force, reduce their work hours, or utilize family leave provisions.”
Is working motherhood all doom and gloom, though? Of course not. Working moms experience time management lows and productive, supermom highs that statistics rarely capture. Here are 30 realities, the good and the bad, that working moms face on the daily, along with some tips from working mothers on how to tackle it all.
30 realities of being a working mom
1. You learn to appreciate those ‘superhero days.’
You’re juggling pick-up and drop-off like a pro. Dinner’s on the table, everything has fallen into place. Some days it just all works out.
2. ...but know it’s okay if you’re just making it through.
“Some days you are a superhero and a half, and other days you’ve managed to get nothing done. It’s okay!” says Nitro senior product marketing manager and mom Michelle Howard. “It’s important to figure out a groove, and trust me, a groove does work itself out somehow.”
Krystal Dagou, a business process architect at Lowe’s Home Improvement, adds: “I disagree with the stereotype that women are superhuman; it’s not a compliment. Working moms naturally balance a lot of things while trying to maintain a sense of self. It’s a hard job and the more society promotes this image, the more it can be detrimental to the way a working mom sees & evaluates herself. We are human, we make mistakes, but we also do our best to show up for everyone else at the downfall of our own self. Encourage moms to take a break by offering a helping hand, removing some of the constant daily struggles we face. Show grace and patience when she’s not at her best!”
3. You might wish you had another option.
You might envy stay-at-home moms. You also might envy your coworkers without children. Of course you love your kids, but you might feel feelings you didn’t expect.
4. You’re in a constant balancing act.
“I’m not sure if it’s unexpected, but time management and conflicting priorities are a big challenge for me as a working mom,” says Erica King, a senior analyst at Penn Interactive Ventures. “It sometimes happens that you have a big deadline at work but at the same time there is an important event for your children that you want to attend to support them. Medical appointments are a bit easier to justify, but there is guilt associated with taking time away from your team.”
5. You realize just how low the bar is for dads.
When you take the baby to the grocery store, people stare judgingly as you juggle a million things. When your husband takes the baby on a leisurely stroll, however, he gets endless praise from strangers for “babysitting.” You might not have expected it, but it’s now evident that the bar is on the floor.
6. You learn that it takes a village.
American culture is individualistic, sometimes to a fault. There’s pressure to do it all, but as a mother, there may come a point when you can’t do it all alone. Time and time again, interviewed mothers cited discovering their “village” or support system as one of the most meaningful parts of being a working mom.
“Find your village,” Allison Bassman, the director of people and culture at Penn Interactive Ventures, says. “Find the people that will support and help you mentally and physically. Also know it is okay that you don’t finish that chore or last email if it means you get to spend 10 extra minutes of quality time with your child.”
7. You’re excited to go to work.
“As much as I love my daughter and spending time with her at home, I found it refreshing to return to work after my maternity,” says Penn Interactive Ventures product manager Kate Davis. “For the first three months, you are caught up in such a whirlwind of being a new mom. You can almost forget what your life used to be like before bottles and diapers.”
8. People ask some weird questions.
“I think there are a lot of expectations put on working moms,” says Davis. Unfortunately, as a society we have not gotten past asking a successful woman, who happens to have a family, if she is capable of “having it all” or “how will she manage a work-life balance?” Most of these questions are never asked to their male counterparts.”
9. You realize you cannot possibly “do it all.”
At first, you wish your house could look like Pinterest, your meals were made from scratch, and your morning routine looked like the “it” moms on TikTok. Slowly, you may come to realize that even the “it” moms don’t have it all figured out, and it’s impossible to “do it all” all the time.
10. The pandemic changes everything… including the 9–5 day.
“The pandemic has changed everything and the future of the traditional 9–5 schedule is unknown,” Davis says. “It is not unusual at this time for employees to work longer hours and put in more ‘screen time’ since most people are working from home. Employers should understand that this might not be feasible, especially for a new mom just returning to work.”
11. There’s no time off.
Your days of relaxing nightly bubble baths are long gone. “I don’t ever get any time off,” says Shannon Reardon, Penn Interactive Ventures’ player experience team Lead. “My time spent away from my desk is spent with my daughter, she loves animals and excitedly chases our dog and cats around, or she will stand near our chinchilla’s cage and try to get her attention. When she isn’t preoccupied with our animals, she is getting into anything that she isn’t supposed to, which makes her a full time job.”
12. And you’ll do anything for “me time.”
“I go and workout most mornings at 6 a.m. because it’s something that makes me happy and it’s my ‘me time,’” says Reardon. “For that hour, I don’t look at my phone and I don’t have anyone else that I am responsible for other than myself. This has been crucial for my mental health, and I think it’s important for everyone, whether they are a mom/dad or not, to find time to do things that help center you.”
Read more: How to Create a Self-Care Plan That Actually Works
13. You learn to pick your battles...at home and in the office.
If you were a perfectionist before, you probably aren’t anymore. Sometimes your kids are going to have mismatched clothes, and sometimes your weekly calendar won’t be color-coded like it was pre-motherhood. You’ll realize it doesn’t actually matter, and maybe feel freer as a result.
14. You bond in unexpected places.
Bet you didn’t expect to meet your new office bestie in a lactation room. Picture this: She’s coming out of the lactation room, milk bags in hand. You’re going in, armed with your cordless pump. Your eyes lock, and you share a knowing look. Next thing you know, you’re carpooling and scheduling playdates. A friendship is born.
15. You realize you’re benefiting your kids.
Research shows that children who are placed in preschool or daycare from an early age have improved learning and increased success in kindergarten. Although sometimes the “mom guilt” creeps in, you can rest easy knowing they benefit from you working outside of the home.
“The hardest part (of being a working mom) is mom guilt!” Dagou says. “Sometimes I feel I miss out on certain milestones or can’t always attend events or field trips, bake fresh cupcakes for the classroom birthday party, or even keep up with my kids’ social calendar. It’s a hard balance of having a career and being fully present as a mom. I remind myself often whenever I start to feel guilty that I allow myself to process those feelings but not stay there and remember that whatever path I choose is the best one for my family to achieve our goals.”
16. The stereotypes hurt.
“The stereotype that just because I am mom doesn’t mean that I won’t dedicate just as much time or energy into my job is something that I have faced that frustrated me,” says Reardon. “I am someone who will work to get whatever is put in front of me done, no matter what, and just because I have my daughter doesn’t mean I will get it done any differently. I take pride in my work, just as much as I take pride in my family, and I do my best to balance my responsibilities equally so that they both have their place.”
17. The FOMO is real.
“Being home and working it is really hard to not go play with my daughter and give her a hug every time I hear her cry or laugh,” says Bassman. “I can’t tell you how many times I hear her laughing, and I just want to go and play with her. The (Fear Of Missing Out) FOMO is real as a mom.”
18. You appreciate weekends a little extra.
A weekend never looked so good. You appreciated them before, but now the idea of spending uninterrupted time with your kids makes weekends even more precious.
19. Unsolicited opinions feel overwhelming.
Maybe your own mom won’t stop bugging you about breastfeeding, despite your decision to use formula. Or maybe you have judgmental friends who insist that attachment parenting is the only way to go and criticize your choice to employ a nanny. Even if you consider yourself to be a strong and independent person, the sting of the criticism can take you off-guard.
20. You learn to expect the unexpected.
“My toddler's daycare situation became non-existent and was suddenly home with us as we both worked full-time jobs,” saus Jessica Garon, Nitro’s global compensation and benefits manager, of parenting during the pandemic. “We've been very lucky to have flexible work schedules, but it's been rough jumping from work to child care around the clock without any breaks. We didn't really hit a groove with our routine until a year in and now we're old pros!”
21. You realize being a mom makes you MORE qualified, not less.
“People think working moms can't be leaders or hold executive positions because they need to be at home taking care of the family,” says Tiffany Farolan, Nitro’s senior people business partner. “News flash: Many working moms are fully capable and sometimes do an even better job than those who are not parents because of the skills they learn and develop while becoming parents (i.e. patience, creativity, fairness, empathy). The sheer true will, dedication, focus, patience, and perseverance are what makes working moms the ideal leaders employers need.”
22. End-of-day hugs rock your world...
You might not have been a hugger before, but the feeling of your child burying themselves in your arms after a long day might just make you into a snuggler.
23. ...As do vacations.
A whole week with your favorite people. Count you in! The office might be a nice escape from life at home, but the feeling of being with your family after so much time away is pretty sweet.
24. You appreciate supportive managers even more.
“Having a supportive manager who is also a parent has been immensely helpful,” says Crystal Chang, a senior engineering manager at Allbirds. “My manager has always kept the door open for me and did not reduce my responsibilities unless I had asked for it. It's important to keep giving working moms the opportunities that they deserve, rather than assuming that they can't handle it or don't want it—but if they do ask for some reduced responsibilities or flexibility, it's also important to support their needs for this season in their life.”
25. You model gender equality to your kids.
“My kids get to see a real partnership between parents to get things done,” says Samantha Monds, a senior manager at Lowe’s Home Improvement. “Additionally, I think ‘working moms’ can be best supported, when the term ‘working dads’ becomes a norm; the most help comes from both parents being able to balance responsibilities.”
26. You realize it’s not about you.
For the first time, your life isn’t about you anymore. You learn to take a backseat to others’ needs, and become the truest team player a person can be. Talk about a skill that’s transferable to the workplace—and a good reason for the option to work outside the home to exist.
Jessica Balsley, AR Supervisor at DriveTime, says an unexpected positive of being a working mom has been that break from always being there for someone else: “[I’ve enjoyed] finding time to be someone else other than Elaina’s mom. When you have a baby, you can lose yourself and put all your efforts into being a mom. By working, I can relieve myself of that for a few hours a day.”
27. You learn to appreciate the little things.
“I’m addicted to ‘getting things done,’ and I always need to remind myself to slow down and just enjoy time with my kids,” says Alley’s director of client services Rebecca Sherman. “Don’t spend every free moment doing chores. I often catch myself reorganizing my kids' toys while they are playing. I have to remember to play with them instead!”
28. Nothing phases you at this point.
Maybe you used to get stressed by clutter or get knots in your stomach over the idea of making a presentation. Although phobias certainly can’t be cured through parenthood, after you’ve changed another human’s diapers and dealt with grocery store melt-downs, it takes a lot to phase you.
29. You know your daughters look up to you.
You’re actively modeling to your children, and especially to your daughters, that women deserve to have lives outside of motherhood. You’re setting high standards for your daughters, and setting precedents for your sons, too.
30. Your kids are your biggest fans.
“My kids admire me and constantly say, ‘Mommy, I’m proud of you!’ They are interested in what I do and always ask questions about what I’m working on,” says Dagou. “It’s their admiration and curiosity that pushes me to keep going in my career. I love being an inspiration and an example for them to look up to.”
...and 4 tips on how to deal with working mom stress and overwhelm
“Don’t try to figure it all out at once,” Dagou says. “Take your time and know that you are doing the best you can do in those moments. I struggled heavily when returning to work after having my kids, but one thing I wish I could’ve done differently is reach out for help, even if help looks like talking to someone, watching the kids so you can get uninterrupted sleep, or finding ways to incorporate self-care.
“If you have a parenting partner, keep an open dialogue about the shared responsibilities of child-raising, Sherman says. “Find a distribution of responsibilities that feels right for your situation. Don’t get into a cycle of resentment, where you feel that the distribution of work is not fair.
“Go easy on yourself and if something isn't working or doesn't feel right, it's okay to try something new,” Garon says. “It's also okay to say no or ask your employer for accommodations and flexibility.”
“Put your kids first,” Monds says. “If the culture of a company doesn’t allow you to do that, it’s probably not the best place to be. Sometimes work has to be set to the side to be present for your kids and you may have to put in those extra hours when they are asleep.”
Read more: Experiencing Mom Guilt? You're Not Alone