It's no secret that being a working mom is hard. However, there's an element to being a working mother which no one discusses: bravery. There are little moments of bravery every day; leaving your child in someone else's hands, being brave enough to believe you are making the right decision to work, and the bravery it takes to ask for what you need, in order to make your life manageable as a mom in the work force.

Recently, in the news, Obama has spoken at length about family-friendly workplaces,

"Take flexibility -- the ability to take a few hours off for a school play or to work from home when your kid is sick. Most workers want it, but not enough of them have it -- even though studies show that flexibility makes workers happier and helps companies lower turnover and raise productivity. Take paid family leave. Many jobs don't offer adequate leave to care for a new baby or an ailing parent, so workers can't afford to be there when their families need them the most. And the United States is the only developed country in the world without paid maternity leave.

Flexibility is key there. If we know anything about having young children and babies, it's that there is no standard, everything has to be flexible. Every child is different, every family is different. Being the mother of a young child means that your life has to be flexible, which of course, is incredibly hard when you're a working mother in the work-force. However, when something doesn't work for your family, it takes a lot of bravery to ask for help. I'm sharing my story because I was brave, and I want all working mothers out there to know it is your right to ask for the flexibility you need in raising your family. If we cannot be there for our children, than what's the point?

When you love your job, speaking up about anything can always be a little nerve wracking. You don't want to rock the boat, or worse. You just want to be understood. Upon my yearly meeting with the new headmaster of the school this year, I explained that I would not be able to do overnight field trips next year, for a few reasons. One, is that Eric is traveling more for work, and it can sometimes be a last minute trip; I didn't want the school to book me on a trip only to have me cancel last minute! When you have an upper school faculty of under ten, it's hard to find other people to fill your spot. Also: the simple fact that I'd only have a little one year old next year. A one year old whom I adore and don't want to leave for three or four nights. He still needs me. And, I don't want to leave him. He's just a baby. I explained all of this in my meeting, and described that with Eric's work schedule it would just be incredibly difficult to manage. I was told "duly noted." I really didn't think much of it after that meeting, as in the past, any teachers with young children were excused from the overnight trips, no questions asked.

My annual contract came in the mail and the overnight trips were still in the contract. I assumed this was a simple oversight, as it was in my contract this year, but I didn't go on the trips because Weston was only a few months old. So, I was brave and scheduled a meeting with the headmaster. I went in to the meeting to discuss the "oversight" and another issue: that on Thursdays I could not do 4:00 bus duty, but I was more than happy to do 3:00 bus duty (on any day of the week). I've done 4:00 Thursday bus duty since my first year at the school and had never asked for any changes before this. Again, I really didn't think this would be an issue.

I calmly brought up the two contractual issues, and his response was quite shocking to me. He explained that it was not an oversight at all, but that he indeed remembered our discussion, but in fact chose to keep the trips in my contract. I was told that the overnight trips would be staying in my contract because if my husband was home to watch Weston, than I was expected to go. I was told I had "expectations" to fulfill and that he understood my "situation," but that if I could go, I would be going. Furthermore, I was told that I was also expected to do 4:00 bus duty, and if no one could fill that position and help me out, than that was it...oh well. Too bad. I was really taken aback. Where was the flexibility? Where was the family friendly work environment?

How many nights did I spend after hours, making dinner, holding my baby, and talking to students' parents on my home telephone about advisor issues? How many afternoons did I stay late at school because a student needed me? How many classes did I cover for colleagues whom were sick or had to run out to take care of their kids? I've been a flexible, helpful where was my flexibility? It's funny, upon finding out I was leaving the school, I had colleagues approach me and ask me how much money I had asked for; I'd look at them strangely and say, "Money? I didn't ask for money, I asked for an hour on Thursdays and to not go on an overnight trip next year." I was simply asking for a little time with my baby. I had spent countless hours in school, with other people's children, and all I wanted was the understanding that I couldn't be away from my child for a few nights, and that 4:00 bus duty would have me home way too late. To say that I was shocked by his responses is an understatement. For an educational institution that boasts their family values, I felt like my family values were being swept under the table. 

When I walked into that meeting, in which I thought everything would be cleared up, I was intent on signing my contract for the next school year. I never thought that my simple desires would be denied, thus making my work/life balance even more difficult to deal with. However, I left that meeting knowing that I could not return to school. My son is my priority, and asking a teacher to leave her one year old because it is "expected" of her is not the game I choose to be playing. I have expectations, and my son expects me in that rocking chair at eight o'clock every night, so that is where I choose to be. The whole situation is unbelievably disheartening. I have spent 17 years of my life at that school (9 as a student, 6 as a teacher), and have devoted every fiber of myself to making sure my students left those ivy walls as moral, strong, and educated Latin scholars. But, alas, as we know, these things happen, and I shouldn't really be surprised, should I? Sometimes life throws curve balls at you exactly when you need them, and the trick isn't to hit them out of the park, the trick is to make the play which is right for you. 

So, be brave. As the school says, "Speak Up!" Being brave isn't about going into battle knowing you are going to win; being brave is about not knowing the answer, but deciding to go to battle for what you need anyway. Being a new mother is a un-nerving time, but you're still the strong, educated, tough lady you always were, you just have a baby on your hip this time around. Be brave to ask for what you want, because even if you don't get what you need, you're going to learn a great lesson about those around you. 


  1. So true and great advice - You don't know what you can get (or can't get) in terms of workplace flexibility unless you ask.....

  2. Just found your blog via Longest Shortest Time Mamas on FB. I too had a similar situation at an educational institution. In my case I was a tenured prof at a university with chronic illness. I thought it would be a simple matter to ask to spread out my teaching load so that I taught 2 courses in fall, 2 courses in spring, and 2 courses in summer instead of the usual 3+3 with summers devoted to research. Nope. I also asked for a computer to run voice recognition software as I can no longer use my arms to type or mouse. Again, nope. After 10 years of service, I reluctantly walked away. Had to put my health and well being first. It was difficult but now I'm much happier with my life.