According to the Washington Post, roughly 40 percent of American parents of children with medical complexities will leave the workforce to become a full-time caregiver. The other 60 percent will make workplace accommodations — such as taking more days off — to bring their child to appointments or to attend individualized education program (IEP) meetings. These parents are put in the tough spot of prioritizing their career or their kids. Without the flexibility of employers, working moms often find themselves with no other option except to abandon employment. Summer Tatlici shared her experiences as well as tools on how to advocate for your needs in the workplace.
Worry. That was the first thing I felt when I found out I was pregnant. Not for myself, not for my baby, but worry for what would happen to my jobs now that I was pregnant. I worried about informing the small start-up company where I worked, and about the implication of pregnancy on my career trajectory. To have that worry and that fear in the first place is in and of itself a grave injustice to women everywhere, and speaks volumes about the state of our society. That a woman should fear for her employment because she as with child is one of the biggest and saddest absurdities of the modern era.
As it turned out, my fear was short-lived. My company went above and beyond what I could have imagined, and within a day of announcing that I was pregnant, they had officially set up a parental leave policy. Additionally, my direct managers were more than supportive during my pregnancy as I faced a few additional health problems. I kept thinking how lucky I was that this was my experience with my employer and not one of the far more common “other” stories. I was given time off easily for doctor appointments, allowed to work flexible hours, and have the freedom to make the best choices for myself without fearing repercussions.
Once my little one joined the world, it became apparent that my little guy needed a little extra care. He was born with medical complexities (but that has never slowed him down) and my journey into motherhood started to look a little different than most. After my maternity leave ended, I still needed to be with my son at the hospital multiple times a month. Once again, my work allowed me the flexibility to change my hours to accommodate his needs. This was also at the beginning of the pandemic- I was back in the office exactly two weeks before COVID forced our offices and others across the globe to shut down. I now found myself trying to balance working as a new mom, having a baby that required a higher level of care, and keep us healthy and safe in a COVID world.
Some of those days were tough. One thing that I quickly noticed was that no one really talked about “tough mom days” were or how mentally draining it is to be a mom and also work.
It was almost a social taboo- smile while you do everything and try to be a superwoman 100%. I realized that sometimes, you must be ok with “good enough”. And that was when my days took a positive turn. Did the baby get a bath every time he was supposed to? No, but he was always clean and happy. Was I able to finish everything on my work list? No but I completed enough and that would have to be enough.
Now as I am settling into this journey of being a working mom, I have noticed a few things. One there is always going to be judgment from others- this is how I did it before, I was able to this xyz and why can’t you, why aren’t you able to do this or that. For all of those type of people, I have found as many amazing women on my journey who have been there for me in the most profound and positive ways- other working moms understand the stress of balancing workloads and deadlines with a crying baby that suddenly is teething and thinks 3 am is the most appropriate time to wake up for the day. These women have become my sense of strength. Secondly, there will always be people at work who have more free time to devote to work (that used to be me) and that is ok. It might mean that I sometimes get passed over for raises/promotions (this has already happened); however, family time is the most important time of the day.
Working as a mom presents some of the most intense challenges, and also some of the most rewarding moments. Each day as I figure out how to balance being a wife, mother, and employee, I must also find time to be myself. It is easy to lose yourself while balancing 100 different things at one time. I always try to remind myself that if I do not take care of myself, how can I expect to take care of my child, be present in my marriage or a productive employee. My advice to all moms especially working moms is to find a hobby or something that you can do that is just for you whether that be yoga, taking a walk daily, or even a 10-minute meditation and do this regularly.
For all the moms to medically complex children, it is TOUGH. One thing my husband and I did from his birth, was to celebrate every single success or high moment and allow ourselves space to grieve, be angry, cry or be sad on those tough days when things are not going in your way. Never let someone tell you how you are supposed to feel or think or act- these are your emotions to process. Take each day as it comes- we are on a marathon with our babies and not a sprint. Our children are the biggest blessings just sometimes with a bit different packaging. Lastly, never stop being your child’s advocate and trust your mom instinct.
For mothers struggling to find their footing in the workplace, a few pieces of advice around self-advocacy from HR professionals:
- Have direct and open conversations with your manager and HR- there might be programs to help working parents that you were not aware of
- Suggest new ideas to HR- they love to get new ideas on how to better help employees
- Start a Moms group in your company if you do not already have one
- Explore your healthcare options before you become pregnant or during to understand all that is offered
- Many companies have now started offering Life Coaches or Emotional Support. Use them- many of these services are underutilized
Remember to keep your holistic well being in mind- the world is now a new place and your full well being is paramount.