Wednesday, February 5, 2014

So you're not going on the Mommy Track?

I was in a meeting with one of my superiors this week in discussions about my academic future and upcoming promotion when I was asked, "So it seems you've decided not to go on the Mommy Track?"


I assume this was an ill-advised attempt to say that I've chosen not to be a stay-at-home-mom?

But what a strange question that somehow felt it disparaged moms everywhere, especially stay-at-home moms, but also those of us trying to balance work and parenting.

I was completely taken aback. And slightly offended.

The question raised the tension that is often there, usually implicit, in my work and personal life balance. That there is a conflict between working or staying home. And it is not just my own internal conflict. At work I feel I must profess my loyalty to the institution, pledge my undying willingness to work late nights and weekends on the latest publication deadline or grant submission. Also that I feel I am supposed to profess that of course my daughter's feeding issues/teething/stomach flu/night terrors, etc. would never impact my work performance, never ever!

But come on! Of course sleep deprivation, etc., impacts my work performance on a given day. And maybe wrong to admit, but also true that my willingness to work around the clock 7 days a week is reduced now that I have a little person at home completely dependent on me. I try to minimize the impact of any of these things on my professional life, but the truth is, yes, as a parent and family member, I have other responsibilities outside of work too, that are also important. I am striving to juggle them as best as I can. I juggle them mostly successfully, I think, and yet...

These are some of the unspoken truths and tensions that I find in being a professional working mom. Truths and tensions that don't seem entirely allowable in the world I inhabit (instead, there are many junior women faculty recruited...but there are few senior women faculty. Gosh, I wonder why they all leave? Is it because it is nearly untenable to balance the two - both important roles - women often find themselves in?) The fact is that it seems ok to be in my role and be an academic and a mom as long as it appears that my mommying does not infringe on my professional life. Which to an extent of course, I get. They hired me to do a job, which I do well, thanks very much (hence the promotion). But I have different limits professionally now that I am a mom than I had as a younger, not-yet-parenting person.

So when my superior asked, "So it seems you've decided not to go on the Mommy Track?"

This is how I answered:

"Oh, no, I am on the Mommy Track. It is a dual track that runs in parallel to my academic clinical research career."

Probably not the most politic answer. But it pretty much stopped that conversation in its tracks.


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  1. Great answer! I found several different schools of thought as a working mom, especially once I became a single working mom. One boss thought that my ability to handle the logistics of work and home spoke highly of my ability to multi-task. One employer felt that it was truly a trade off - sometimes work overlaps into personal times, sometimes personal times overlaps into work time. For me, there was never a time when I didn't feel guilt in both situations that I was shortchanging someone.

  2. I like your answer. And oh, it frosts me that guys don't get the either/or be a daddy/work treatment. It's always both/and for them. It shouldn't be such an oddity that mommies can be both/and too.

  3. GOOD for you. I feel ya.

  4. wow, that sounded so rude, although I am sure they did not say it to be intentionally rude.

    I love you answer. good for you for saying something that accurately reflects REALITY.

    can you imagine if you asked your superior the same sort of pointed, assumptive question?
    "so, I guess you decided to just closet yourself in your job and forgo any other pleasures that life hass to offer...".


    its very tough, in these "modern" times, you are made to feel guilty or lesser of a person for choosing to be a SAHM (either before, during or after your career), or made to feel guilty or heartless for choosing to arrange for childcare so you can continue in your career path or any old income producing job.

    screw all that! do what you need to, and leave the guilt at the door.

  5. Great answer, Mo. I'm not sure I would have been as quick on my feet.

    It reminds me of something I overheard while at my work-out this morning. As class is departing one woman, clearly annoyed, says to the other "I'm sorry if I seemed short or annoyed with you." And then went on to defend her behavior. The other woman (probably 20 yrs her junior) smiled and said, "That's ok, I deal with rude people all the time."

  6. Good for you! Love the answer!
    I have no idea how I'm going to make it work with twins, I want to be present, I want to be a mom and not miss anything but I have to work and to be honest, want to work. What a challenge we all have!

  7. I LOVE your answer. LOVE LOVE LOVE. Good for you. No one would sit your husband down and ask if he was going to take the Daddy Track. Ugh.

  8. Your answer was perfect. Good for you for thinking so fast on your feet. And boo that the question ever got asked (in that way).

  9. That's the reality of the world we live in. Sad and unfortunate.

    Perfect response


    Perfection :)

    Sadly, I'm not quick to think of these things on my feet!

    Just this morning I was asked "so are you in the team with two full feet now, not like before?" OUCH!

    I said, "of course I am. Wherever I am, I'm 100% there"

    (that was the best I could do on the spot!)

  11. Fantastic answer. Hopefully the person will think twice before asking such a question again!

  12. I'm a long term reader sometimes commentor, but this post really really stood out to me. Why? Because I worked in clinical research as well. I was not a PhD, I was a coordinator/ manager of research. And I was upwardly mobile/ things were going well. I planned to balance career with mommyhood. And as soon as I had my daughter, I was treated like utter and total crap. I was expected to work late, at home, written up (never in my life before!), when my daughter got the stomach flu three times in one season because of being in day care and so did I, I was treated like a horrible person, slammed, talked about in meetings because I wasn't at work. You know, for vomiting.

    There were no other women in my work who had children. There were all men at the top.

    Eventually the stress on me was too great, the anxiety and the effects on my family were no longer worth it. There is DEFINITELY a mentality in clinical research that it is supposed to be more important than your family. I am sad I only realized it too late. I am sure, though, that not all labs are the same. But, it was devastating to me personally and rough for my career.

    So now I am a SAHM and looking to taking my career in a different direction. And I am a happier person but the transition was hard for me at first as I felt like I was a horrible person for doing so. It's crazy.

    Anyways, good for you for fighting the good fight. As insider I can attest to the fact that ALL you say is true. Good luck!

  13. Like everyone else, I'm impressed that you are able to think so quickly on your feet. It is unfortunate that gender roles are such that no such question is asked of men, and that people have experiences like Glass Case of Emotion above. Academia can be a heartless place for successful women who are somehow expected to simultaneously excel in all things. I have a funny card my mother shared with me: it's divided down the middle with a woman on the left sitting at a desk with an overflowing inbox and then on the other side, a woman standing in front of Mt. Washmore and looking equally glum and overwhelmed in both images. I feel like that a lot; I'm impressed that you are juggling as much as you do. So kudos to you for politely answering a rude question and super kudos to you for being both an awesome Mom and awesome researcher.

  14. Much better response that I would have given. Good for you!

  15. I think this is my first time commenting as well, but I can totally relate to what you say here. I'm in academic medicine. I'm working full time, I'm doing the clinic time, the grants, the publications. I work hard, I care about my performance and my success. But I'm not IN IT the way I was before. Its just...different. Yes, those physical things (late nights, daycare illnesses that I end up catching, too) impact my performance but so do the emotional things. I WANT to spend the weekend soaking up my family time, not trying to fit in more work. I WANT to be at the doctor's appointment with my kid, even though I know my husband could go. I WANT to be involved in the school, to meet with the teacher, to know how things are going. I'm not willing to outsource and give up every aspect of parenting for my career.
    Your answer was PERFECT. Not only did it put the (so rude!) asker in his place (I assume it was "his" and not "her"?) but it describes 100% what it feels like---doing TWO jobs, simultaneously, and sometimes with very conflicting demands, every second of my life.

  16. Good for you. I like your quick wit in the situation and your response. Glad you got your point across. I'd be pissed too.

  17. I can relate to that, eventhough I live in a culture where the norm is that all mothers work, here I feel it is other women (boss in particular) that are the worst, the ones that didn´t go on the "mommy-track" when they had babies and seem to think that everyone should have the work as number 1 priority

  18. Mo, great to have you back and posting more frequently. I enjoy all your posts....good luck with the continued weight loss and with balancing work and home. You gave the perfect answer! It is very difficult to find and maintain a good balance. Good luck! Heather

  19. Awesome post and awesome response. In the law firm world, I have this tension too of claiming that neither track is affecting the other and pretending that your career (while of course important) will never for a single second take the backseat to anything else in life. I play the game but find it maddening.

  20. What a great response. I would never have been so quick on my feet.

    I am in academia too (ABD) and the work/life balance for women is incredibly difficult.

  21. You should check out this article from The Atlantic.

  22. Such a great answer to an awful question! You really know how to think on your feet, Mo.
    And I agree with you that people hire workers, i.e. people who can do a job. But workers are people first. It's a very strange thing when society stops to value the people who perpetuate the human race. That's when I want to move to a Scandinavian country, where they seem to have it figured out.


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