Huffington post published the below blog by Catherine Dietrich a few days ago. I read it whilst on my lunch break at work; and it made me cry. Good crying, that crying that you do when you feel someone really gets you. So I replied – in the same way I’d reply to an email full of questions – please see my responses below in “” marks.
I don’t know how you do it.
We’ve all been tickled recently by the hilarious BBC interview that went so very wrong when a toddler and baby came running into the room while their dad was on Skype being interviewed about democracy in South Korea. It was my favourite YouTube moment of the year ― until a few days later, when a friend reposted this on Facebook, a spoof of what it would have been like if it had happened to a woman. A working mom. And the reason I laughed so hard is that it so absolutely could have been true.
But actually, it’s kind of not funny.
Because working mom, I don’t know how you do it.
“I’d say we, but I can’t speak for all working Mums. But I can hands down say I manage by papering over the cracks and compromising massively”
I don’t know how you get up in the mornings and get not only your small people looking presentable, but yourself as well. Hair, make-up, clothes-that-do-not-fall-into-the-Activewear-category, grown-up shoes… but you do.
“I manage by putting my make-up on in the car (my make-up lives in the passenger footwell), using an inordinate amount of dry shampoo, ensuring I only purchase work wear that is washable at 40 and doesn’t require ironing. My grown-up shoes stay in the car and I change into them literally seconds before walking into the office.”
I don’t know how you make breakfasts and packed lunches, and get small people to sit down and eat said breakfasts, while simultaneously preparing yourself mentally for whatever tasks are waiting for you when you get to your desk… but you do.
“At best my kids eat breakfast in front of ‘Blaze and the Monster Machines’ as I’m getting ready I’ll pause to shout the threat I’ll turn it off if they don’t eat. At worst, they eat Brioche out of a sandwich bag in the car as we rush to school to make it before the door shuts and we have to do the sign in late walk of shame”
I don’t know how you manage to do the school run, administering that all-important “one last kiss,” and then haul yourself across town (or sometimes even further) to wherever work is, and arrive on time… but you do.
“As I said above, it’s a race to avoid the late walk of shame. A race we don’t always win! And that all-important kiss, sometimes it doesn’t happen, sometimes in the mad rush of things. There are mad mornings where ‘the boy’ has slipped through the school gates shouting ‘Bye Mum’, as I try to heard the smaller one out of the sandpit and no kiss happens. On those days, I have a really crappy day. Or other days the mornings gone to shit before we even get to the school car park and I’m this horrid shouty Mum. Hollering at her kids to hurry up and muttering ‘Fuck my life’ under my breath, as they howl beside me because I won’t carry one of them and the other one wanted to wear red pants not blue! On these days, I have an event shitier day as I’ve failed to hold my shit together long enough to make my kids feel loved before I rush off to work”
I don’t know how you field meetings and pediatrician appointments (both of which could be moved at any given time), sick kids and conference calls, and the eye-rolls of those who don’t know better when you absolutely have to leave at 5 pm (I hear the voices only half-joking: “Oh, half day today?”)… but you do.
“With a major amount of hustle, that’s how I manage this. Working at 1am to catch-up, something those cracking jokes about ‘day’s off & part-timers’ don’t see happening! Working through lunch, making up the time where you can to strike a balance. Calling in favours – sometimes more racking up favours owed as yours have all been called in already. And at its worst, when all other options have been discounted simply forgoing pay to make sure I’m where I need to be for my children”
I don’t know how you keep straight in your head the permission slips that need to be returned and the birthday gifts that need to be purchased and wrapped while simultaneously putting together a PowerPoint presentation on That Important Thing for a room full of people… but you do.
“The honest answer is I don’t. It is not a coincidence that the child in school uniform on onesie day has a working mum who hasn’t got around to reading the newsletter yet! Most of the time other Mums help me out here by giving me a heads-up the night before. I buy birthday gifts in bulk on Amazon prime so when we realise we should be at a birthday party in 15 minutes’ time we can chuck a gift in a gift bag, scrabble a homemade card together a fly out the door. And work, well I’m too busy to have time to worry about presentations to rooms full of people, after all I have a toddler who is void of reason, presenting to reasonable adults is a breeze.”
I don’t know how you finish your day job and then rush home to start your other, harder, more demanding job. You cook dinner, you get them to tell you about their day, smiling while you try not to feel sad about the moments you missed. You coo over their artwork, oversee homework, referee skirmishes, kiss better booboos, do bath time, read bedtime stories, and then when the lights are finally out, there is the matter of running your household to attend to. Making sure uniforms and sports kit are clean and in the right place, opening the post, checking the diary, finding time with your spouse…
“Because there are so many moments missed I don’t mind bedtime and bath time. This is our time to chat and giggle, we have no option but to multitask. We don’t have time to sit and chat after dinner with roughly an hour between getting in from work and the kids needing to be in bed. So we do spelling with bath letters, a bedtime story happens at the same time as reading. My spouse and I rarely eat before 9pm, I haven’t shaved my legs since January, the housework always falls to the bottom of the list. I have every intention of getting things ready the night before, but to be honest it rarely happens. More often than not we scrabble about in the morning, wet wiping the uniforms to make them accecptable for another day!”
I don’t know how you do it, but you do.
“Thank you for this wonderful compliment, but I’ll let you into a secret – it’s all smoke and mirrors”
Most of what you do goes unacknowledged, because you make it look easy. You never let your kids think for one moment that there’s anything more important to you than they are, and, by some Houdini-esque, magical sleight of hand, you simultaneously keep climbing the corporate ladder, ensuring there are places open for the rest of us, ensuring we don’t get left too far behind.
“What beautiful words. If I make it look easy, it isn’t I promise you. Most days I creep into bed way after midnight and there isn’t a part of my body that doesn’t ache with tiredness. I can feel frequently I’m a part time person, half of me in all camps and failing everyone as I’m spread so thinly. The easy bit is never letting my kids think for one moment that there is anything more important to me than them. That’s natural, that’s the thing I don’t have to work at. That love just happens. That corporate ladder, honestly, at times I feel I’m hanging on to by a finger nail. I promise there is no magic sleight of hand, just grit and hard work. But becoming a parent has made me a better employee I think, office noise doesn’t bother me, multitasking isn’t an issue, indecisive clients have nothing on a four-year-old deciding what shape they want their sandwiches cut into. High expectations at work pale into insignificance when pitched against a two year olds expectation you can put a broken biscuit back together to stop their tanrum! I get to drink hot coffee, I go to the toilet on my own and can get my own toilet paper. I have a lunch break and get to scroll through the internet uninterrupted or have a chat about current affairs – it’s my pleasure to hold that door a jar for you in the future.”
I’ve heard it said that there can be tendency towards judgement between different “camps” of women – the stay-at-home moms judging those who choose to value their careers too much to abandon them; the moms who go back to work judging the more Stepford-orientated among us for staying home… I have to say that I’ve never experienced any judgement of this kind.
“me too, I have nothing but admiration and respect for Mums (and Dads) that stay at home, the notion touted we are in competition with each other makes me so sad. I want us all to succeed in raising kind and loving humans in whichever way we chose”
It’s been my experience that, whatever we do after we have children, it’s always accompanied by an element of regret and guilt. Those of us who stay home feel guilty for letting our careers stall, our educations go to “waste,” our skills get rusty. Those who return to work feel torn.
Judgement has no place here.
“Amen to that, you’ll find no judgement here with me”
I’ve also heard it said that it takes a village, and that working moms have a team to help them. But in the middle of the night, you’re still mommy. When your kids are sick, you’re still mommy. You have to know who is where, when, and you’re the one who makes sure things don’t fall apart. You deserve every bit of credit for doing an impossible job, no matter how much help you have.
“..and you deserve credit for doing a job 24/7 I get a break from by going to work. For sometimes not speaking to an adult for 12 hours straight, for your infinite patience, for giving Mums like me the heads up on non-uniform days, for collecting our kids from school when we call to say we’re running late, for giving up yourself for your children, for putting your career on hold, for making the job of a mum look so easy that a judgement wrongly exists that you somehow have it easier than me (you don’t, I know you don’t, I know I couldn’t do it 24/7, I need the rest bite care of an office)”
I can’t speak for women the world over, but from my little corner of reality I just want to say this: Thank you, working mom. Thank you for doing the hardest job in the world and making it look easy. Thank you for taking judgement from those who don’t know better and brushing it off because, really, you’re far too busy for all that. Thank you for walking out of that meeting early and ignoring the sighs from the people who didn’t need to so that you could get back to your kids. Every day you are making strides towards normalizing work-life balance for parents – even if it is sometimes at the cost of your own pride.
Thank you for holding our metaphorical seats open for us in the office, so that when those of us who stayed away longer do go back you’re there, just ahead of us, making sure the path is clear and we don’t trip over.
Thank you for showing us that who we were before, although never the same again after children, is important to preserve.
I don’t know how you do it but, just, thank you. You’re my hero.
“Thank you for noticing me and my struggles, thank you for appreciating what I do daily, thank you for supporting me in ways you’ll never know you do, thank you for not judging me. I see you and your struggles too, the gratitude and admiration is mutual. It will be a pleasure to welcome you back to the office if you decide that route is for you. We working Mums have got your back, as you say our foots in the door keeping it open for you. You the stay at home mum, you might not see this as I whizz past you in the playground in a fluster; but you’re my hero”