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5 Comments to Avoid Saying to a Working Mom

Think About Your Assumptions Before You Speak

By

Mad working mom
Photo credit: Getty Images/Stockbyte

When you're a working mom, some comments just rub you the wrong way. The speaker may mean no harm in his remarks to a working mom, but the underlying assumptions are still offensive.

So the next time you're talking to a working mom, think before you speak. And remember to avoid these 5 working mom comments that are bound to raise hackles.

I could never let someone else raise my children.

This is the most offensive working mom comment you could make. You're basically saying that a working mom isn't raising her own children because she's not with them 100 percent of the time.

This is patently false. As a working mom, you still are the one who comforts your child when he's scared or sick at night. You arrange pediatrician appointments, choose child care and schooling, decide on activities and trips, attend parent-teacher conferences and oversee religious or moral education. You're the one who would step in front of a bus to protect your child's well-being.

Many working parents negotiate flexible work hours or choose part-time work while their children are young. Others stagger the two parents' schedules so that children spend less time in paid care, and request time off work to attend field trips and other school events.

But even the rare working mom whose children are in child care for 11 or 12 hours a day is spending more time with them than their caregivers. Think of all the quality weekend and holiday time that children spend with family. (Speaking of which, here's another comment to avoid: "Oh, that's a long day for your kids to be in child care.")

Ultimately, there's no better test than to ask the children. They know who their mom is -- even the smallest babies respond to their mother's scent, voice and presence.

We made the financial sacrifices so that I could stay home.

I'm the last one who would knock stay-at-home moms. I admire my friends who have cut back to one income without complaint or who saved enough while they were working to afford to quit their jobs once they had kids.

But the assumption underlying this comment is that the rest of us who work, the majority of U.S. mothers, take on paid employment because of financial need, greed or poor planning.

In fact, there are a score of good reasons that moms work that have nothing to do with finances. Many of us enjoy our jobs and would be miserable home full time. (And a miserable mom leads to miserable kids.) Or, we've invested too much in our careers to give it up halfway -- often the case in professions that require an unbroken career path.

Moreover, many working moms have also made financial sacrifices to be more present in their kids' lives. That can range from working part-time to choosing a less demanding career path to turning down promotions that would require more travel or longer hours, the so-called mommy track.

A less offensive variant of this comment, though still annoying, is: "Fortunately, we are in a position where my wife doesn't need to work." The assumption is that the rest of us need to work, and that mom should be the one to give up her job, not dad.

Do you trust your babysitter?

This comment seems designed to prey on working moms' fears. I can't imagine that anyone would ask this question with a positive intent.

The choice of child care is one of the most important decisions a working mom makes. Obviously, we don't take it lightly, and we do our best to make sure the person we hire is trustworthy and well vetted.

The assumption beneath this comment is that any child care experience is substandard. In fact, children learn a lot from being in a group daycare -- following rules, socialization, different cultures -- and they also benefit from having non-parental caregivers who are loving and involved in their lives. It is not the same as being with a parent, but different doesn't necessarily mean worse.

The other version of this question, which I hate almost as much, is "Isn't it hard to leave your kids every day with strangers?" By the time your child has been with a caregiver for even a few weeks, they're no longer strangers. My daughters' daycare teachers are close and loving friends of ours, and I know many families who stay in touch with their children's nannies long after they've stopped paying them for care.

How do you find time to work with children so little?

Um, a working mom finds time to work the same way her husband finds time to work. Child care! This comment assumes that mom should stay home with the kids as the default caregiver, not dad.

Moreover, this comment rests on a premise that when children are little, they need their parents more and when they're older it's okay to work.

While it's true that very young children are more physically draining, many working moms find that it's easier to manage child care and meet their children's need as infants and preschoolers. When they enter grade school and become involved with activities -- not to mention potentially unhealthy peer influences -- some parents cut back their work hours in order to be more present as a chauffeur and chaperone.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I once made this comment to another working mom, without thinking. I immediately realized my error and apologized, but that goes to show you how ingrained some of these assumptions are in our consciousness. I think I'd heard this remark from so many people about my own work that I thoughtlessly parroted it to my new acquaintance.

When are you ever home?

The undercurrent of this comment is that a working mom spends so much time at the office and her children spend so much time in child care that she has no time to tend the home. (And of course, there's the perennial assumption that her husband or partner has no responsibility for housework.)

In fact, working parents usually become extremely efficient at household management from morning to night. We learn which tasks to delegate, outsource or simply let go.

When someone makes this comment, a working mom will probably translate it as: "Your house must be a mess and you must eat out all the time." Hardly a compliment.

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