Parents are constantly shamed for their choices. From how we feed our children to how we educate them, everyone has an opinion on how to raise kids. The result? Moms and dads feel endlessly judged for the choices they make — even if they have no other options. This week, families around the country are sharing their inspiring, funny, honest, and heartbreaking stories with Yahoo Parenting in an effort to spark conversations, a little compassion, and change in the way we think about parenting forever. Share your story with us — #NoShameParenting.
Years ago, when I was a manager at a publishing company, I laid off a single mom with a boy who had a slew of behavioral and medical issues. She had no family in town, and the dad was out of the picture. When her son was expelled from school and after-school programs, she had no choice but to bring him to work. When that proved distracting for everyone in the office, she asked if she could work from home, a practice that was touted as a benefit at our company but rarely put into practice.
I too was a single mother without family in town, though the similarities between us ended there. Whenever I had to travel for work or log long hours to crank out a project, my mom would come into town and stay with my son. She’d slip into my role as carpool driver/T-ball mom/lunch maker/homework helper, and my son’s life was never disrupted. His father lived in another city, but he was also very involved.
Knowing this particular mother had limited resources, I agreed to let her work from home. She and I established a work plan to ensure she was able to meet deadlines. She worked after her son went to bed, before sunrise, and on weekends.
Just a few weeks later, I began to receive complaints from her female colleagues. One staffer asked to meet with me and said bluntly, “She has one kid. I have several. What if I just start working from home too?” She was clearly annoyed that while she juggled (and paid for) babysitters and after-school programs, her colleague was given permission to fit her work in around her son’s schedule. Soon another female colleague, this one without a child, wanted to know why the single mother no longer had to deal with the daily stresses related to office life, while she had to show up daily.
I was taken aback by the complaints, which came after just a few weeks and were revealed in private meetings in my office. When the staff was together, everyone wore their supportive hats. No one wanted to admit publicly that they were peeved by the arrangement.
The situation worsened when the single mom’s work began to suffer. She missed deadlines. She didn’t return phone calls right away. Her quality of work declined. She was spending her days tangled in a web of meetings with school officials, medical professionals, and behavioral specialists. She was on a mission to find the right resources for her boy. If she didn’t, she might never be able to go back to work. But something had to give, and in this case, it was her job.
Soon human resources caught wind of the staff rumblings, and after discussions with upper management, the decision was made to let the single mom go. Aside from the decline in the quality of her work, the company was afraid that if it continued to cut her slack, they’d have to do the same for all employees, a situation no one was prepared for. As one HR rep said, “We can’t have everybody bringing their kids in or making their own hours.”
I reconciled my support for this move by telling myself I was doing what was best for the team as a whole, rather than just one person. It was a passive decision, clearly one I still grapple with today, but at the time, I put my trust in HR and upper management.
Over the years, I’ve reflected on this experience, and I cringe each time. We like to blame a male-dominated corporate culture for the lack of support for working mothers, but when we’re given the chance to change the tide (or at least tweak its direction), we often look at how situations affect us at the moment, rather than how to make things more manageable for our future selves, and perhaps our daughters and granddaughters.
What if one day our own kid gets into trouble, or falls ill? Wouldn’t we hope for compassion and understanding from our colleagues? Women are known for being more emotional than men. Shouldn’t that sensitivity chip give us an edge in these situations?
Unfortunately, we can be our own worst enemies. “Women often feel slighted,” Miami-based marriage and family therapist Tania Paredes, tells Yahoo Parenting. “It’s not that we don’t want accommodations made for other women, we just want them made for us too. It’s almost as if we’ve been oppressed for so long, we’re hungry for a reprieve any way we can get it.”
After the single mom left, the company decided not to replace her. Her workload was distributed among her colleagues, something they surely never saw coming. It’s easy to think that the only thing anyone gained from this was more work. But I learned something about myself as a manager, as a working mother, and as a person. There’s lots of talk about supporting working mothers, but plenty don’t realize they aren’t walking the walk — and I was once one of them.
This experience is probably my single biggest personnel regret. Despite my resources, I was a single mom too. I knew what it was like to lack an emergency contact. For years, I’ve felt shame that I didn’t fight more for this woman. As a single mother and a manager, I was in a perfect position to make a statement — or at least try to — and I backed down. If I could turn back the clock, I’d fight harder for her. I would ask to reduce her hours temporarily, perhaps giving her something rather than nothing. I’d speak louder about her accomplishments before her son’s issues came to light, reminding everyone that she had long been a reliable, loyal employee. She had earned that from me, and I didn’t deliver. Instead I caved to the pressures of a select few who felt slighted when their colleague needed to “lean out” and take care of business at home.
I have never looked at working mothers the same way again. I hope my experience can shape the views and decisions of other working moms, so that we seize every opportunity to support one another, even if it means going against the majority.
(Photo: Amy Mikler)
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