Becoming a mother is the most rewarding life change that I have experienced. It completely consumes my attention, and emotional well-being. Undoubtedly so, how could it not? I’ve planned for this time and carried my daughter for 9 months. I was home with her for 1 year, and I will now spend the next lifetime being there for her, being her mom. On the flip side, I find being a mom, and being a working mom in today’s society extraordinary hard. There is incredible peer & social pressure towards moms about what your next parenting step is. Have you started your baby on solid foods? Do you breastfeed, pump, formula feed? Will you be a stay-at-home mom? Will you go back to work and will it be full time or part time? All of these discussions are part of interacting with people, and some of it is advise seeking or advice giving. Whether these discussions can be primarily positive, there is still a level of “social acceptance” and “social norms” that we as mothers get sucked in.
When I decided to go back to work, my role as a mom changed. I can’t count how many comments and advice was given about going back to work full time. However, the worst feeling was the social pressure. The pressure from society that has evolved within the last few decades. It’s been deemed socially acceptable and almost demanding for moms to go back to work without considering all of the facts, and to place our children in a caregivers hand. While there is still a small percentage of mothers staying at home, this percentage has declined significantly. For example: 69% of Canadian families with at least one child under 16 were dual-earner families in 2014 (up from 36% in 1976) – Three-quarters had two parents working full time in 2014. Only 27% of Canadian families with children were single-earner families (down from 59% in 1976) – Among the 27% ONLY 16% had a stay-at-home mother. Lastly, ONLY 9% had a parent that was either unemployed, attending school or permanently unable to work.
For me, the decision of staying home was not financially feasible at the time. When I became a working mom, I was naive on the difficulties I would be faced with. As a lot of moms would know, you morph into that “everything mom:” the family administrator, the taxi driver, the maid, the cook, the nurse, and teacher. I wear a lot of hats being a mother. When I was back at work, I wore all of these hats, among the several I wore at my “daytime” job. Shuffling all of these hats came at the expense of my mental health. Stress is one of the leading causes of emotional and physical health decline in moms, today. The amount of stress working moms experience jumped 40% compared to full- time women who do not have children. As a working mom, we continue to move forward, because it’s expected of us. At some point, somewhere, it has been increasingly clear that once your maternity leave is over, we go back to work.
I remember, everyday driving to work, I would be mentally checking off my to-do list. I was setting reminders on my phone, appointments, playdates, family events, and not to mention all of the reminders at work for important follow-ups and deadlines. By the time your work day ends, I’m scrambling to get to daycare on time, all while remembering if I pulled out something for dinner. There is no doubt I was constantly looking at the clock, counting down the minutes to bedtime. Finally, bedtime comes, my daughter is peacefully sleeping, and I start feeling guilty. Guilty that I ran myself so thin, and that I lost sight of the meaningful moments with my daughter and my husband. My husband certainly receives the short end of the stick, most days. Not because I don’t value his love and appreciation, but because my time has run short.
As a working mom, once I have created a routine that works, you now have to factor in your sick child. The social demand of moms going back to work, now translates into your child going to daycare. While our children are attending daycare, it is to be expected that they are exposed to an unlimited amount of germs. The average amount of cold viruses your child might be exposed too are between 8-12 per year (as per Statistic Canada). The list of illnesses that they might be exposed too (not including colds) can vary, but they can happen at any time. The average cold virus can require stay-at home care between 2-4 days; longer duration depending on the daycare provider and illness. A working mom, like myself I am only entitled to 2-3 paid sick days per year. This hardly covers me for only 1 illness, if I’m lucky. If you require more days, or your child is sick often, you are often left using your vacation days, asking family, friends, or neighbours. For myself , I don’t get the luxury to have family come in and help us when our children are sick, we don’t have family who live locally. I would be using unpaid days off.
Additionally, what happens when we get sick. So using your 2-3 sick days for the year on your child, plus any additional time you have used, you now have to be off for even longer, when you fall ill. However, using unpaid days doesn’t always get you an understanding golden ticket with your employer. So many moms, you get the opposite treatment. Mandatory requests to make up each day you have been absent, working overtime, or attending countless meetings to review the reasons “WHY” you have been absent. Not to mention the ridicule you face among your colleagues and/or manager because they were likely accommodating absences. This is a vicious cycle that is never ending. Do you go to work sick, and get everyone else sick. Do you stay home and use what availability you have. In the end, your biggest uphill battle is your need of accommodation and support from your employer.
With several studies and conclusive research, it has been proven that working moms multitask exceeding more than 10 hours per week. While feeling the demand to go back to work, there is no escape from public scrutiny “How can you leave your child?” ” Don’t you feel guilty?” “Have you properly researched your caregiver?’ On the flip side, if you choose to be a stay-at home mom you also hear “How do you contribute to paying bills?” “How are you able to save for retirement?” “It must be so nice to not have to work.” No matter the decision you choose, you are constantly judged for your choices. None of these choices get you a “free pass” from judgement.
My husband is a full time advisor. His career commitment is something I have been the most supportive of. He will spend breakfast with my daughter and I, and then off to work he goes. Most days he is gone until dinner time, 6-6:30PM, and other times he is not home until after dinner time, 8:30PM. While he is working full time into most evenings, no one ever questions him about his time spent away from his family. No one questions his active parental role, and wonders if he feels guilty about being away. If a dad chooses to stay home with their child, do you think he will experience the same judgement and expectations as mothers? Will he be questioned by society’s standards about all of his parenting decisions, or will be praised with gratitude for “trying?” If your husband stays home consistently with your sick child, will be pulled into meetings regarding his several absences, or will he be given understanding during this difficult time through this adjustment period? Time has changed. Dad’s are not staying at home full time or even part time. They certainly are not expected to work full time and manage the household duties to the same extent as mothers. Women are expected to do it all. Women are expected to withhold their full time job, while managing the house, without question. If husbands are not expected to withhold the same level of expectations, why are we? Somewhere, and somehow the status quo is that mothers must do it all while facing criticism, while fathers go to work, come home and participate when they can, and receive no judgement.
Mothers are the most stressed. Mothers need the most support, understanding and patience today, than ever before. A study from University of Manchester and the University of Essex which was published by The Globe & Mail https://globalnews.ca/news/4896926/working-mothers-more-stressed-study/ discovered that accommodaions, such as, “working from home and flexible office hours did not improve stress levels” Mothers are, and will always be the primary caregivers in most family settings. This is not to say that fathers do not care, this is just a “natural” fact of life.
Pushing through all of these demands that were thrown at me has led me to develop PTSD taruma, anxiety as well as clinical depression in addition to additional emotional hardship. It has become so vividly clear that there is a very clear divide between what society & employers expect of you, as a working mom, and what is realistic. Realistic expectations do not exist in most employment settings. To be told that “we can’t find the means to accommodate you” , suggesting a “career change” or “maybe you should apply for STD” are not realistic approaches and will never solve this stigma that exist. These were all the approaches thrown at me while severely struggling mentally.
I was struggling the most while trying to return to work and factoring in my need to breastfeed/pump, I was clearly denied. Denied the space and denied the time. This not only forced me to abruptly stop, but mentally and emotionally this was a forced decision that not affected myself, but affected my daughter. To make matters worse, I was later told months after I had forcibly quit breastfeeding, that space would now be available. This is what escalated a mental breakdown. This is what triggered traumatic stress.
We have come along way with recognizing women’s equality, and equality in the workplace, but when I look at all of my efforts and how much I have given it all, it never seems to be enough or seldom recognized. We have still failed as a society. We have allowed working mothers to feel so much burden, and stress from the pressures of work at the expense of our mental health without any support from their employer and with a severe lack of empathy. We have ignored as a society that this is a fundamental women’s rights issue that isn’t talked about. It needs to be talked about. Mothers are the foundation in most families. Mothers play some of the most important roles in our child’s life, so why aren’t we embracing that as a society? As a society, if we can’t create an equal parental ground between fathers and mothers, then how can it be socially acceptable to judge and criticise a mother for needing to catch their breath, or take a break?
There are so many things a “working mom” relies on in order to make transitioning back to work a positive experience, and that comes with a certain level of understanding and support from their employer. Support of a feasible schedule. A schedule that isn’t given on a Friday so we know what we are expected to work for the Monday. We need proper notice. We have a family, and we rely on adequate timing of our schedule, not 2 days notice.
For all of my moms near and far, I am sending you love, and support!