You know how I know we haven't fully normalized the idea of the "working mother"? I still have to put "working mother" in quotation marks. Women are going back to work after maternity leave and think of themselves as abandoning their children -- and I don't think they are coming up with this idea on their own.
I know this because I work with and coach women who are making the transition from maternity leave and back to work. And every time I ask my workshop attendees what they are most nervous about, the answer is almost always that they will feel guilty about spending such a little amount of time with their children during the work week.
Erin M., a mother who just went back to work when her baby was six months old, actually told me: "the idea that my son calls my name during the day and I can't be there when he needs me absolutely breaks my heart."
Whenever I hear stories like this, my head immediately goes to the vision of my husband and my children on a weekday night, laughing and playing games. He is a man who works the regular 40+ hours a week, especially when you calculate the amount of hours he spends commuting and entertaining clients at night. I think about the kind of father he is and how connected my children are to him. I think, there is no way they will ever grow up and say, 'that dude didn't spend enough time with us.'
My husband is always doing bath time and reading books at night, helping with piano practice and making it to parent teacher conferences. And on the weekends, it's non-stop between piano lessons, gymnastics, multiple trips to the playground, family dinners and much much more.
When we think of the fathers of our children, we don't instantly jump to the notion that they won't be spending enough time with their kids because they're working. So, when is this light going to refocus and shine on the working mother and when will we drop the quotation marks and all just be working parents? I ask this because when society decides to normalize the working mother, that's when women who are making this extremely difficult transition will start to let their shoulders drop just a little bit. Maybe they will only be waking up at 4 a.m. and dreading the day they return back to work once a week, instead of EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. Maybe they will feel empowered by their decision and feel confident that they are doing the right thing for their family, simply because it is THEIR family.
Maybe when we decide to normalize something that now affects 67% of women in the workforce we can break the cycle of guilt that has plagued too many mothers in this country. One that forces them to make decisions, like leaving their career of eight years that totally fulfilled them, because they didn't want to "abandon" their baby.
Yes, we can agree that there are some other major changes that need to happen besides the normalization of the working mother, but this sure would make the whole thing just a little bit easier. And we all know a new mother can use all the help she can get.