Aligning values with work, the choice of children, and building your confidence

Women at work, beyond the 9 to 5: The untold realities of working mothers’ lives.

Single parenting a 12 year old son, Mia* works full time in a job that supports her need for flexibility to manage the juggle, and says she couldn’t manage without flex!

Quote: “I get it, having a child is a choice. But the reality is women naturally take the lead on a lot of caring duties and miss out on career progression because of that.”

How to pick the right workplace

I’ve spoken about manager roulette a lot during the Beyond the 9 to 5 series, as so many women have shared the impact of their individual leader on their work experience (and that’s true regardless of whether you have children!). And for Mia, her workplace makes all the difference.

“When I knew I was going to leave my partner, I found a workplace that I knew would be flexible. I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t had such an amazing workplace.”

“Values are really important to me, so I wanted to make sure I worked for a company that aligned with them. I researched the company, watched videos, and they had [flexibility] in the job ad as well.”

Flex is the future

Mia thinks the 9-5 might be on its way out for everyone, not just mothers.

“Someone told me they’ve changed their days to 8am – 6pm, doing 5 days in 4. She’s not even a parent – I love that!”

Mia says companies are realising now that if they want to attract the best people, they need to be in the best places to work. And workforce demands are changing.

“We’re seeing it with grads too, they’re so fussy. I felt lucky to just have a job! The next generation that come through and have children, it will be very interesting to see how that transpires.”

You’re always letting someone down

I asked Mia the hardest thing about being a working mother.

“It’s not easy, it is a juggle. I remember when my child was at daycare and that rush to get him there in the morning then all day in the office and rush to get him back at six o’clock before it closed, all while thinking about dinner and everything else.”

Now, although her work flexibility makes juggling everything possible, she still misses out on school activities sometimes. She laughs about finding herself on the train, on the phone to her son getting ready for school and needing her support. She jokes that his transition to high school has been similar to starting kindie. 

But it’s hard missing out on things.

“You always feel as a working mother that you’re letting someone down.”

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

Mia pointed out a scenario that she also felt before she had children, where people see parents leaving early to go to pick up and wonder why non-parents have to work longer hours.

“I get it, having a child is a choice. But the reality is women naturally take the lead on a lot of [caring duties]. Some women miss out on career progression because of that.”

But let’s talk about choice for a second.

The maternal mandate is the assumption that women will have children and that they will ‘enjoy every minute’. We just have to look at the way childless women are perceived in society to see the expectation of motherhood still culturally applies to women.

Additionally, motherhood penalty research (and prior beyond the 9 to 5 stories) absolutely supports Mia’s insight that women lose out on career opportunities because of their caring responsibilities. 

But as Mia says, mothers want to work and are incredibly efficient.

“Going to the office is a relief for many women. It’s so satisfying, and a lot of women are so grateful to be working and are so productive because they know how to juggle and how to manage a lot of tasks.”

“I want people to know that we’re silent heroes and get it all done, and until you’re a mum you don’t understand it. I sometimes think, ‘What did I do with my time before?’.”

How we look

Mia also sees the pressure to look a certain way as an additional pressure on women.

“Women have to look the part. We have to have our hair done, we’ve got our makeup and our outfit. There’s more expectation on women.”

A piece in the Atlantic on The Economics of Thinness and Tracey Spicer’s book The Good Girl Stripped Bare both speak on exactly this phenomenon.

It’s an additional layer of pressure on women to perform in between family, work, and everything else.

Mothering, menopause, and confidence

Many women share their loss of confidence after having a baby. But Mia points out women have a double whammy with menopause a bit later on.

“Part of being a working mum is confidence. You come back from maternity leave and your confidence is low, it happens to everyone. Then you hit menopause and it happens again. There’s a lot of data on the declining confidence of women at that age.”

Mia herself has noticed the brain fog really affecting her ability to think the way she used to and wants increased awareness and consideration for women.

“I don’t think we should be treated differently because of that, but if it happened to men the world would be different. Women just get on with it and don’t complain. I think we should be considered more.”

“We should have the same opportunities as others.”

*Not her real name. Because of the stigma faced by working mothers, the motherhood penalty, and the fact that the state of women’s relationships directly affects the state of their lives and careers, the women in this series have chosen to remain anonymous.

If you would like to share your story, please send me a message!

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