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A Note to New Career Moms

The other day I found myself at the doctor’s office for the second time in two weeks.

I wasn’t sick.

My kids were.

First, one caught a virus and juuusssst as he was starting to feel better – poof! – he gave the same freakin’ germs to his brother.

“If I know what’s wrong, can’t I just give one kid the others’ medicine and send them both to school?” I asked my husband. “I’m soooo behind at work.”

“Mother of the year,” he deadpanned.

Touche.

So as I sat in the pediatrician’s office for more than two hours (last-minute visits put you on the priority scale of, say, steerage passengers on the Titanic), I couldn’t help but feel profound gratitude that my boss was so generous about these things.

After all, I work for myself.

Still, I doubt I could say the same if had my old corporate marketing job. As my son entertained himself with Scooby Doo on the iPad, I was thinking about all the proposals I was responsible for in that position.

Proposals the firm counted on winning each year.

Proposals that absolutely had to be delivered by the deadline (sometimes in person) or our team was disqualified.

I’m not proud of this, but the angriest I have ever been was a few years ago when I had one of those all-important proposals due and our sitter sent me a 6:30am “I’m sick” text. I called her immediately and went into a tirade that would have made Alec Blaldwin’s “thoughtless little pig” voicemail to his daughter look rational.

I don’t even remember what I said, but I do remember being hunched over my kitchen table, red-faced and panting into the phone like a dog. All I could think about was how visible that particular proposal was, and how the ball was very squarely in my court. So…with no other sitter choice and a husband out of town – I worked on it from home, totally ignoring my kids who were toddlers at the time.

“Playing with knives, dear?”

“Drinking laundry detergent, sweetie?”

 “That’s okay, mommy just needs to wrap up a few things and I’ll be right there.”

Pfsst.

Mother of the Year, indeed.

In her recent Atlantic article Why Women Still Can’t Have it All, Anne-Marie Slaughter famously says “women who have managed to be both mothers and top professionals are superhuman, rich, or self-employed.” (For the record, Hillary Clinton disagrees.)

Personally, while I found myself nodding (and occasionally fist pumping) while reading Slaughter’s article, I do worry that it sends the wrong message. Particularly when I begin to get emails like this one from a new mother:

“I almost never bring up my child because I’m worried that colleagues and clients will think of me differently…I think part of my insecurity is that I had kids much younger than most women in my office (age 30), so I’m worried people are going to think my career isn’t as important as it is to the women who wait to have kids and put their career first….I have a feeling my colleagues didn’t think I was going to come back because the last girl in my shoes didn’t.”

At first, I was a little surprised this woman considered 30 “young” to have kids but, then again, one of the few female partners at her firm had her first child at 42 and the second at 47.

What didn’t surprise me, however, was the noticeable shift in the way colleagues treated her now that she was a “mom.”  Because when a valuable employee goes on maternity leave, the management team does hold its collective breath, waiting to see:  a.) IF she comes back, and b.) whether she can produce at the same level as before.

Personally, I didn’t talk much about my pregnancies or newborns either for that very reason. It wasn’t out of some creepy “Flowers in the Attic” desire to keep them hidden, mind you, I just never wanted to give my employer any doubt that I would be back – same as ever. In fact, I remember being very late into my third trimester with my second son and he was putting so much pressure on my back that I was talking to a client on the phone with one hand and trying to physically move him into a new position with the other. I never told the client how much pain I was in, but I called my husband immediately afterwards and we went straight to the hospital where I spent the next few hours in triage.

I was back at work the next day.

Ridiculous, you say?

Maybe not.

The New York Times ran an article recently about researchers from Cornell who created fake résumés which were identical in all areas except one: parental status. When they asked college students to evaluate the resumes for employment or promotions, mothers were much less likely to be hired and – if hired – they were offered an average of $11,000 less in starting salary. As if that weren’t bad enough, the researchers also submitted résumés in response to more than 600 actual job advertisements – and “childless” candidates received twice as many callbacks.

So, yes, prejudice exists in the workforce but – even so – I really don’t think the message we should be sending career moms is “sorry, you can’t have both” but rather “know that it will be hard, but do your best.”  We should tell them there will be times when your kid is sick…the sitter is sick…the proposal is due…the husband is out of town…or maybe the husband walked out years ago, who knows.

You may find yourself (as I have) with a breast pump sitting in your best suit on a cold, random bathroom floor in a random office building praying no one walks in.

You will be up all night.

You will smell like vomit sometimes and feel pulled in a million directions all the time.

You will feel guilty when you’re at home and guilty when you’re at work.

You will want to choke Scooby Doo and roundhouse kick Fred and his ridiculous-looking scarf.

You will go against your promise and give your kids chicken nuggets for the third night in a row because it’s easy.

You will miss the deadline – again – and say things you don’t mean because you’re tired.

You will ugly cry.

And while you may not be “Mother of the Year” either, that STILL doesn’t make motherhood and career an either / or choice.

So go ahead and drop the ball.

Just be sure to pick it up again because we need you.

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