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Back To School? Working Moms Feel Brunt of Pressure

Back To School? Working Moms Feel Brunt of Pressure

It is back-to-school season, but for many mamas, it’s way more than that. It’s pressure.

As happy as I am to return to the daily routine of school with my four-year-old child, I feel an underlying push to resume all the responsibilities of being a modern mama pursuing her dreams. Not only is fall consumed with managing my child’s school schedule, extra-curricular activities, the inevitable cold season, holidays, and a traveling spouse, but I am also approaching my busy season at work as a donor relations officer.

Every year, I get to this place of astonishment that our culture continues to undermine the value of mothers, whether they work at home or in an office. This is, of course, historic and not new, but that it still exists is disheartening.

In a new 2023 Workplace survey, over two-thirds (68%) of workers surveyed said parenthood impacts a woman’s career progression. Because women are still considered the primary caregivers for their families, the study also stated, “A question highlighted was a mother’s ability to meet the demands of her professional role in the workplace. This highlights that mothers are not offered as many opportunities.”

Even Nicole Ari Parker, who plays the character Lisa Todd Wexley in the HBO Max series, “And Just Like That…” in a recent episode, voiced her struggle with the idea of having another child with her husband while her career projects were taking off and her older children were thriving.

Popular BBC radio host Helen Skelton recently announced she was leaving her job to spend more time with her children.

A few years ago, I thought about working part-time and inquired about that to management, only to find out that reducing my hours would not only reduce my pay, which I expected, but benefits. I would still be responsible for my role in its entirety.

I left that meeting astonished and angry because there was absolutely no way that I would concede to those expectations. I would still be bringing my full talent and self to the role and simply needed more flexibility.

This is one sure reason why many moms leave the workforce.

According to The Mom Project,  83% of working moms will not only leave a job for a position that better supports their work-life considerations, but 43% of women completely leave the workforce after having children.

The fine print on motherhood is that most workplaces structurally force mamas out, and employers allow that much brilliance to walk right out the door. It truly saddens me when I see amazing women leaving the careers that they love because they don’t have support for their work-life considerations. We absolutely need their talents, perspectives, and voices in the room.

In 2022, I read Serena Williams’ article on her evolution from tennis, and what shocked me the most was that she is one of the greatest athletes of all time, and you would think that she somehow would escape the pressures of motherhood and career. Yet, she is a shining example of women’s limitations in this world.

I underestimated the amount of sacrifice it takes to be a mother. I never imagined having to put my ambition on hold or defer some of my dreams as I navigate motherhood. While I know that every experience with motherhood is not the same and that millions of single mothers, as well as mothers of multiple children, have different experiences, I would guess that all mothers have had to sacrifice personally in some way to take care of their responsibility as a parent.

More than 4.067 million people in the U.S. quit their jobs in May 2023, while LinkedIn reports that 61% of the people polled plan to quit their jobs in 2023. Many of those employees are moms.

Still, I do believe it is possible for women to be successful and have children at the same time, but that will require employers to adopt more flexible policies. I never expected that making my child breakfast, and waiting in school drop off would stress me so much as I jet through traffic to make a 9 a.m. team meeting.

Like most mothers, not only have I lived a full day by 9 a.m., but I also want to be respected as the professional I am without feeling like my family is a distraction.

What I do know, based on four years as a mother, is that parenthood will require me to shift priorities and schedules. I pray that mothers will get the respect they are due and the flexibility to raise families without feeling this never-ending pressure to choose their work or their children.

Advocating for increased flexibility and supporting caregivers is so necessary. After experiencing the pandemic, I will never be able to unsee how flexibility allowed me to care for my family and maintain my career seamlessly.

The good news is that some employers are shifting their policies to create a more equitable workplace, and women’s employment rate is at an all-time high.

I love my work, and it brings me joy to wake up every morning to serve my community. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend Smith College, and being surrounded by so many incredible women will always remain one of my greatest accomplishments.

Even greater than that, I learned to be curious about life and pursue a meaningful life that engages my passions. My career is more than just the job I have now; it’s about pursuing what makes me happy personally and professionally and intentionally structuring my life to cultivate the life of my dreams.

And despite the world not supporting mamas the way it should, that continues to be my biggest motivator. I know I am not the only mother who values her career.

Someone in a team meeting recently asked me what my superpower was. I instantly blurted out that mine was motherhood.

My daughter is both my biggest inspiration and motivation to create a space for myself and my voice in this world. I want her to know that her mom is passionate about her work, and I want to be her first example of a mother living a life she loves.

It is necessary to use my voice to disrupt and shatter old cultural norms so that mothers will continue to thrive.

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