Have you read this news story about the advertisement that has had many working mothers in an uproar?
If not, here’s the ad in question. It was sent out by a real estate firm, Costello & Costell0, in Issaquah, WA.
Offensive, isn’t it?
The back is even worse:
But frankly, I was even more offended when I read the “apology” that the Costellos issued. It said,
There are thousands of professional agents working in our area who are also dedicated mothers, including several members of our team. Our original hope with this message was to show the value of having a full-time agent in a competitive market, but we completely failed. We have the upmost [sic] respect for moms and working mothers, and we know that the job of a mother is far more demanding than what we do as real estate professionals. Again, we are truly sorry.
It was this line that made me grind my teeth: “we know that the job of a mother is far more demanding than what we do as real estate professionals…”
They entirely missed the point as to why their ad was so offensive.
I wasn’t offended by this ad because I thought they undervalued the job of a mother. I was offended by this ad because it very strongly implies that a mother can’t successfully run a business out of her home if she also has small children. It’s a slap in the fact to mothers who DO work hard, every day, to succeed as a mother and a businesswoman. It’s a giant middle finger to all the mothers who stay up late and get up early so they can devote hours to their businesses while the kids are still asleep. It’s a rude “F— you” to the mothers who do hire babysitters, or depend on relatives or spouses, or even their older kids, so they can attend meetings or perform other client-facing activities.
The Costellos didn’t devalue the job of a mother. They devalued a woman’s ability to be a success at more than just motherhood, and they implied that only people (or perhaps just men, apparently) who are able to devote 40+ hours outside the home can be a success at their jobs. They also seem to be under the impression that women who run a business from home only work “part-time.” What about the moms who work early mornings, late nights, and many weekend days — often putting in 40 hours a week (if not more) to their businesses, while using the daytime hours to cook, clean, run errands, change diapers, etc.?
These mothers work hard so that they can give their best to their clients and their families, and I’m willing to bet they work harder to do it than two guys in fancy suits with cushy offices, who (I’m willing to bet) never have to give a second thought to who is watching their children while they’re working. Based on the bright idea they had to run this ad, I’m guessing they either have no offspring at all, or they have spouses utterly devoted to the 24/7 care of their children. Working moms by definition don’t have the former circumstance, and hardly ever have the latter luxury (the vast majority of working moms with whom I am acquainted having spouses who work full-time as well).
Kids are expensive. Daycare is expensive. Both facts are why so many mothers have attempted to find a source of income that doesn’t require them to pay for daycare yet still contributes to the family finances. And there may be some mothers as caricatured in the ad who only make a halfhearted effort to make their businesses succeed. But in my experience, working moms who set out to run a business out of their home pour their heart and soul into it, and make an effort to give their clients the best work that they have, while also making sure that their children don’t suffer as a result.
It’s an exhausting life to live, but many mothers do it anyway, because they don’t have the luxury of being able to choose to parent full-time or earn money for their families – they have to do both just to be able to afford the basic necessities. And what doesn’t help is when companies like Costello & Costello seek to denigrate and disdain the work that they do. Perhaps they should reconsider their (ungrammatical) apology and start supporting working mothers instead of insulting them.
Daycare is a frequent topic of discussion in the Catholic Working Mothers Facebook group. How to find a good daycare, what is a fair price to pay for daycare, what questions should you ask when interviewing daycare providers, how to resolve various daycare issues, lack of availability of good and affordable daycare in certain areas, and so on.
The frequent questions made me wonder if there was a specific saint for Catholics to invoke when dealing with daycare issues. I took an informal poll in the Facebook group and did some searching online, and here’s what I found.
There are actually several candidates for the patron saint of daycare issues/daycare providers, but no one official per se. The leading candidates are:
St. Gianna Beretta Molla
Given that St. Gianna is the patron saint of working mothers (as well as the patron saint of this blog!) she seems a perfect candidate for the patron saint of daycare issues as well. Both St. Gianna and her husband, Pietro, had demanding careers (she as a doctor, he as an engineer), and they no doubt encountered many issues with childcare as their family grew. I’m sure she interceded for her husband, Pietro, after her death as he left his children in the care of another and worked to support them without her.
St. Stylianos is primarily a saint in the Orthodox faith, but his page on Orthodox Wiki says he’s also venerated in the Roman Catholic Church. I didn’t even know he existed until I did a Google search for “patron saint of daycare,” but to my surprise I found out that my son Gabriel was born on his feast day (November 26). Now my son has a new patron saint!
I love what the Wiki page says about him:
During this period, Stylianos concerned himself primarily with children, not just the physically afflicted but also with those who were in need of spiritual guidance. Families from all walks of life were said to have entrusted to Stylianos the enlightenment of their children, and he was forced to seek out larger headquarters and to recruit from the ranks of his hermit friends the assistance needed to tend to so many. His was probably the first day-care centre in the world, where mothers could safely leave their children while tending to other matters of the home.
Stylianos was to become the patron saint of children yet to be born, owing to stories of his miraculous intercession for a young woman who helped him with children but could bear none of her own. When the woman conceived, her husband out of sheer joy spread the word of this miracle, and before long many barren women came to the great hermit. Those whose faith in Jesus Christ was genuine became fertile.
I love that he provided a service for mothers so they could attend to “matters of the home.” Just goes to show that stay-at-home-moms can appreciate good daycare, too! Here are some prayers to St. Stylianos.
The St. Nicholas Center has this to say about his patronage of children:
In the West Nicholas is most widely known as the patron saint of children. Many of his stories tell of children rescued from calamity and returned to the care and keeping of their families. In France the most familiar story, both told and sung, is of three little children lured into the clutches of an evil butcher and rescued by St. Nicholas. Other stories, as well, tell of children who disappeared, were kidnaped, fell into a well, or suffered some other disaster-all to be delivered through the good offices of St. Nicholas. These accounts of a child forcibly taken from parents, followed by a time of grieving and despair, then the miraculous return of the child, have profound and universal appeal which makes Nicholas the much valued Guardian of Children. It is no wonder he is the beloved patron saint of children.
Sending your kids off to daycare isn’t quite the same as having them lost or kidnapped, but sometimes it can be traumatic leaving your little ones in someone else’s care for the day (especially on the first day back from maternity leave, when you feel like you’re abandoning your tiny, helpless baby). St. Nicholas sounds like a good candidate for the patron saint of mothers who are struggling with leaving their children.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is one of my favorite saints! (I gave my youngest daughter the middle name of Elizabeth partly in her honor.) She was, like me, a Catholic convert and a mother of five. Unlike me, she was a widow and had to raise her children as a single mother, while working as a teacher and founding a religious order. (Incidentally, I didn’t realize it until just now, while doing research for this post, but her birthday is today! She was born August 28, 1774. Happy birthday, Mother Seton!)
I have to imagine that Mother Seton had many moments when her position as a teacher conflicted with the needs of her children, so I think she can sympathize with those of us who need to find reliable, safe childcare so that we can both work and make sure our children are safe and happy while we are away from them. She was also a kind and conscientious care provider to the children sent to her for schooling, which means she could be a patroness of both daycare seekers and daycare providers. She also started New York city’s first charity, the Society for the Relief of Poor Widows with Small Children, so I think she can sympathize with those of us who wince at the amount of money we pay to daycare each week!
Incidentally, if you are interested in watching a great movie about Mother Seton’s life, I highly recommend A Time for Miracles. I own it on DVD (as part of this collection, which I found in the $5 bin at Walmart last December) and it’s excellent — plus it starts one of my favorite actresses, Kate Mulgrew, as Mother Seton.
Use the Rafflecopter app at the bottom of the post to enter. The giveaway ends at 11:59 p.m. MST on Saturday, August 15. Winners will be announced Sunday, August 16. Please note that entrants MUST leave a valid e-mail address in the combox so I can contact you to award your prize!
Prize #1: Shades of Orange Knitted Infinity Scarf Donor: Lisa Adkins, ARose4Lisa
A beautiful handmade knitted infinity scarf, perfect for fall!
Prize #2: Royal Blue Bracelet with Silver Cross Donor: Megan Caire
This bracelet is made with royal blue beads on stretch cord and features a silver-colored metal cross.
Prize #3: Teal Bracelet with Gold Cross Donor: Megan Caire
This bracelet is made with teal beads on stretch cord and features a gold-colored metal cross.
This necklace is made with coral beads on stretch cord and features a gold-colored metal cut-out cross.
Prize #5: Catholic Sistas 2015-2016 Catholic Through the Year Bundle Donor: Martina Kreitzer
An amazing gift donated by Martina Kreizer of Catholic Sistas!
The Catholic Through the Year 2015-2016 downloadable planner bundle includes a Calendar, a Homeschool Bundle, a Household Management bundle, AND a Blogger bundle!
Go to the Catholic Sistas store link to see the details of which resources are included in each bundle.
(Please note: this is an electronic resource, not a physical one.)
Prize #6: “Like Living Among Scorpions: One Woman’s Quest to Survive Her Suburban Life” by Jennifer Fulwiler (Kindle edition) Donor: JoAnna Wahlund
From Amazon.com: “Whether she’s soaking her living room in Raid bug spray, fantasizing about living in a $50,000 sleep capsule, or dragging her brood of rowdy children out of Whole Foods, Jennifer Fulwiler’s life is sure to be a source of inspiration (or at least entertainment) in this collection of essays originally published on her blog. With a new introduction and conclusion, as well as a foreword by author Simcha Fisher, Like Living Among Scorpions is a fresh look at the most popular humorous posts that chronicle Jen’s attempts to keep her sanity while managing a house full of babies and scorpions. Longtime readers will love reliving these moments with Jen, and new readers will enjoy this introduction to her unique perspective on life.” (Note: this prize is for the Kindle edition only. You must have a Kindle or a [free] Kindle app on an appropriate device to receive it.)
One year ago today, I was sitting in a small conference room at my workplace, pumping breastmilk for my then-10-month-old son, Peter, and thinking about a recent Facebook PM I’d received from a new Facebook friend. A mutual friend had directed her to my blog, and she was glad to find another Catholic mom of many who also worked full-time outside the home. I was happy that she’d contacted me, because it was rare to find someone else who could understand the joys and challenges of being a Catholic working mother.
Which got me to thinking — I knew we couldn’t be the only two Catholic working mothers out there; in fact, a recent thread in another Facebook group for Catholic moms had asked how many of its members worked outside the home, and I was surprised by the number of respondents.
I wondered, not for the first time, why wasn’t there a Facebook group specifically for Catholic working mothers? We really needed a source of community given that it seemed no one around us understood what it was like to live as we did — constantly trying to balance faith, work, and family in a culture that was increasingly hostile to Catholicism.
As I listened to the whirring and hissing of my breastpump — an object that was, to me, a symbol of my working mother status — the Holy Spirit slapped me upside the head. If you want a group like that, maybe you should start one.
I was kept busy the next several weeks welcoming new members. “I’m so happy to have found this group! I thought I was the only one!” was a common refrain.
One year later, we have nearly 700 members [edit: as of 6:15pm MST on August 8, we have 701 members!) — Catholic working mothers from all walks of life. We have mothers who work full-time, part-time, work at home, or do freelance work. We have mothers who are pregnant with their first child and mothers of large families. We have mothers who are nurses, pharmacists, teachers, software engineers, military officers, editors, and countless other professions. We have mothers who are married and mothers who are single. We have mothers who are wholly committed to their careers and mothers who are only reluctantly working because their family needs their income. Most importantly, we are all faithful Catholics, striving to live our vocations as mothers and employees in accordance with Church teaching.
The success of the Catholic Working Mothers Facebook group was the inspiration for the start of this blog. To commemorate this anniversary, I’m going to have a great giveaway, featuring some prizes created by a few of our members! Be sure to come by the blog on Monday to check out the available prizes and find out how to enter!
Years ago I was firmly encamped on the “why should anyone have to pay for my choices?” side of the equation. It seemed pretty straight forward to me. An employer pays you to work and while on maternity leave you are *not* working so why should a paycheck come along with your leave? It wasn’t fair to the other employees and gave mothers a benefit that other workers didn’t get.
I was all about the equality. Then a funny thing happened along the way. I started working full time and got pregnant.
We had not intended to be pregnant so soon after I started work. I looked at the calendar and realized two things: 1) I could not afford to take any time off during the pregnancy if I wanted to get a paycheck during maternity leave and 2) if I had gotten pregnant a month earlier, I would not be eligible for any maternity leave at all. We barely dodged a bullet on that one. For the remainder of that pregnancy, I doggedly dragged myself to work no matter how bad I felt because I wanted to be able to take as much time as possible after the baby was born, but we could not afford to go unpaid. It was a hard pregnancy, not from a medical standpoint, but from a physical endurance standpoint. Oh, the places I threw up… Even still, I only managed to save about six weeks of leave. Luckily that leave happened to fall over Christmas time so the built-in work holidays extended my time to about seven weeks. It is very hard to leave a seven week old baby to go to work, but this was the choice we had made and it was just the way it was.
After that pregnancy we decided that amassing enough maternity leave for the next potential pregnancy would be a top priority. I scrimped and saved days, only taking time when it was absolutely required or over Christmas time. Family vacations were pretty much out. We did manage to take three days to go to Chattanooga for a long weekend once, but that was it.
Every possible day went into the bank and by the time I was pregnant again, I had built up enough time to be able to take a handful of days off during the pregnancy and then take nine full weeks off after the baby was born.
That pregnancy was a little bit easier because I didn’t get quite as sick–is that a boy thing?–and on the very worst days, I had enough time to call in sick. It wasn’t very many days, less than a week over the whole pregnancy, but enough so I felt like I could stay home if I was feeling especially horrible every now and again.
It is very hard leaving a nine week old baby to go back to work, but this was the choice we made and it was just the way it was. I was generally pleased with my second maternity leave. We made a plan and executed it. I got to stay home for nine weeks this time. I imposed no undue burden on my employer and I was only paid for days that everyone else got paid. Why should my decision to bear children obligate my employer?
Again after that pregnancy we decided that amassing enough maternity leave for the next potential pregnancy was a top priority. Again I scrimped and saved days. Again family vacations were out. With each maternity leave, my leave time was emptied out to zero and I had to start all over again every time. Every day put in the time bank was security for the potential of next time.
It was during this interim between pregnancies that my thoughts about maternity leave began to change. I admit my changing opinions were prompted by my own flagging energy. I was tired. I needed a vacation. I worried about children getting sick, me getting sick, something happening which required time from me. I had exhausted my paid time and almost all of my FMLA time. If something unexpected happened that required more than a day or two off, I would quickly go unpaid which would be catastrophic for our family. With FMLA I only had three weeks of time off left of guaranteed employment which had to last an entire year. If anything major went wrong, we would be totally screwed. It was very stressful.
As I had to deal with this cloud of unease over my head, I watched my non-childbearing coworkers go on leisurely vacations to the Bahamas, take regular extended weekend gambling trips, go on impromptu vacations all over the country, and take whole weeks to visit family far away. None of this was possible for me. I wasn’t exactly jealous–well, perhaps–but the inequity of my equality began to clarify itself in my mind. While our employer treated us exactly the same, I was using my time to create and foster the next generation, which is exhausting, and my coworkers were using their time to relax and recharge their batteries. I was excluded from this renewal because I “chose” to have a baby and then another one and, maybe soon, another one. It was wasn’t that I regretted my decision to have babies, but that I realized that having babies is a fundamentally different activity than going on vacation. And given the length of my childbearing years, I could potentially go another decade without a vacation.
I came to the conclusion that there is no fair way to treat maternity in the workplace. You can either make allowance for women to have babies which means that non-childbearing employees will not get as much paid time off as the one who bears a child, or you treat pregnant women exactly the same which effectively means they forfeit any potential time off in favor of maternity leave. No wonder most women abandon childbearing after once or twice. It is an exhausting way to live. The question for society to decide is who will bear the brunt of the unfairness: grown adults who would be restricted from a benefit that did not apply or newly delivered mothers and their newborns?
Soon enough I was pregnant again. This pregnancy proceeded in a similar manner to the second working pregnancy. I had enough time to be able to take a handful of days off during the pregnancy, could even take time at the end of the pregnancy to start my leave before I actually delivered, and stayed home until the baby was nine weeks old. I suppose I could have been stricter with myself during the pregnancy and squeezed out another postpartum week, but coming to work day after day after day while pregnant after not having had a vacation for multiple years is a drag. I returned to work and had to start my time bank from scratch again, but a change in leave policies means that finally, after all these years, I can regularly go on vacation again.
Thus far I have whined a lot about my inability to use my vacation time as vacation time because that is the general extent of my problem, assuming all goes well. I am a professional, white-collar employee with paid sick and vacation time who was previously allowed to bank almost as much as I could. Since my income is our family’s only income, we could not afford for me to take unpaid time during maternity leave. The consequence is that I go to work everyday, we don’t go on vacation, and my leave is never as long as I am technically, legally entitled. This is tiring, but also the best case scenario for the majority of working mothers in the United States. Once my eyes were opened, through my own self-pity, to plight of pregnant women trying to live the ideal that “no one should have any obligation to pay for my choices,” I didn’t have to look far to find horror stories. I am supremely pampered and privileged compared to other women dependent on their own incomes to survive.
One woman I know had to have an unexpected, surprise emergency C-section, ending her first pregnancy when she was rushed directly from a regular prenatal visit into the operating room at the hospital. The extreme discomfort she was experiencing, which she had dismissed as the normal pains of late pregnancy because she didn’t know any better, was actually her son’s foot hanging out of her cervix at 37 weeks. Her employer at the time was a small company which did not have to comply with FMLA. She did not have paid time off. Two weeks after delivering a baby through major abdominal surgery, she returned to work. Two weeks was as long as she could afford to go unpaid. What choice did she have?
Another woman I know was a coach at a small college for a few minor sports. She had been pregnant when she got the job so FMLA, which guarantees time off after a full year of employment, did not apply to her. Her employer would not make any allowances for her to miss any time during the seasons. It just so happened she was due in the middle of one of the seasons. She looked at her game calendar and her due date. She found a stretch of time around her due date where there were five days between games. She coached a game on one day, scheduled an induction for the next day, delivered the baby, and then returned to her full coaching duties on the fifth day. What choice did she have? Missing a game opened the door for her to be fired and the law did not protect her.
Another woman I know is an immigrant to the US. She had been planning a trip back to her home country for years with her high school class reunion being the occasion. She had saved money and days for years to make it happen. Less than a year before this event was scheduled, she discovered she was unexpectedly pregnant. She had previously had some problems with infertility so this pregnancy was a joyous surprise, but also presented a conundrum. If she took a maternity leave, her time bank would be depleted and she would have to cancel her long-planned trip home. This was a severe disappointment to her. As her pregnancy progressed and she was generally healthy, she decided to shortchange her maternity leave, return to work early, and take her long anticipated trip home. Three weeks after delivering her baby, she returned to work. This is not necessarily the choice I would have made, but her opportunities for going home and seeing family and friends were extremely limited and I understand why she made it.
These stories are not uncommon and they range from mildly vexing to unbelievably cruel. It isn’t that I know a whole bunch of unlucky pregnant women. It is that the average working pregnant woman faces these situations. As I take them in, what surprises me the most is the general unawareness that others have about the choices pregnant women have to make. I have been asked at work by coworkers how much extra paid leave I get for maternity. They are shocked when I say there is nothing extra. They have access to the same policies and documents that I do. Why do they think there is extra maternity leave? Consultants come through the building and ask pregnant women when they are going to start their maternity leave. They are aghast when the standard answer is “when the baby is born.” It is explained repeatedly that every day taken before birth is a day missed with the baby later, but they do not seem to comprehend. There seems to be this blind adherence to the widely held image of maternity leave beginning weeks before birth and extending three full months afterwards. This image has no basis in the reality of the lives of most working pregnant women. The reality is that the vast majority of every pregnant woman you see in any type of employment have had to make difficult, calculated, and usually exhausting choices to balance their health, their babies’ health, the demands of their employer, and their need for income. Most of the time, the woman’s health is deemed the most expendable by the woman herself.
If we, as a society, have decided we want women well represented in the workplace–and we have–we need to come to grips with the fact that women have babies. The act of bearing children is not aberrational but fundamental to human society. There needs to be allowances made for this one unique task that only a minority of the population can complete. An allowance that does not function on the assumption that one employee’s periodic gambling habit has the same value as another employee producing a baby. Mothers and babies deserve paid maternity leave.
Every time I make this declaration, someone always clutches his pearls and fears for the Republic. I don’t really understand this reaction. We make demands on employers and general society all the time. The standard benefit package required by law includes unemployment insurance, worker’s comp insurance, retirement insurance, old age medical insurance, and now, rightly or wrongly, medical insurance. Why couldn’t maternity coverage be added to these basic requirements? We have to stop viewing maternity leave with suspicion or idealization and begin seeing it as a normal part of a woman’s life.
What could this look like in the United States? It could take a variety of forms and I am open to many of them. We could impose a requirement on employers to provide the income, or we could impose a tax that would be paid out as a benefit by the government. Or, most interesting to me, we could require the widespread availability of maternity insurance subsidized by employers. This maternity insurance would look a lot like currently existing short-term disability, except it would be specially designed for pregnancy and the postpartum period. I don’t have a problem with employees having to pay into such insurance as long as the employers are also required to pay into the system. Currently this type of insurance is generally limited to companies who provide access to it instead of it being available to all workers, regardless of company.
I support a limited but guaranteed income for employed women on maternity leave. I do not support or approve of European or Canadian-style maternity leave. In my mind, their overly generous policies go far beyond the basic support necessary for the health and welfare of mothers and babies and have become lifestyle support. Onerous taxes are imposed, which force some mothers into employment who never would have chosen it on their own. They also set up a situation where one woman who happened to be employed at the right time can keep a paycheck coming for years while staying home with children and another women living a very similar life, but unemployed at the wrong moment, gets nothing. Long, open-ended paid leaves are not my goal, only that the health and well-being of pregnant mothers and babies are protected around the natal period.
To me, the ideal balance of the wants and needs of mothers and babies with the desire to not create extended lifestyle support would be a maternity leave policy that would begin at 38 weeks of pregnancy, to allow the mother a little time to prepare for birth, and continue until the baby is 12 weeks old. This period of time would allow the mother to completely heal, establish a good supply of milk, and bond with her baby for a short period of time beyond the intense and exhausting newborn phase. Again, this is an ideal. In my mind, anything has to be better than what currently exists which is nothing.
It is time for this country to understand that there is no equality or fairness when dealing with issues around childbirth. The burden will be borne. The question we have to answer is do we choose compassion or do we choose cruelty towards those bearing the burden. Thus far, we have chosen cruelty. I can only hope that someday we change our minds.
“How can Catholic moms balance work and family?” asks Lea Singh in her article on culturewitness.com. Ironically, the author says she chose to stay home, a choice I completely respect, but it does make me wonder how she is qualified to write about something she’s never attempted herself. Ms. Singh’s thoughts on Catholic working mothers are misguided and hurtful to women whose vocation includes both motherhood and work outside the home.
As a mother who has chosen to work, I would like to counter her perspective with my own experience and insights.
I want to be clear: all moms work, and I am not trying to start a debate about whether stay at home mothers work harder than moms who work outside the home or vice versa. For the sake of this post, however, I will use the term “working mother” to refer to mothers who work outside the home in addition to their work of raising a family.
Singh lists the main reason she feels it is difficult for Catholic moms to balance work and family; namely, that Catholic women are supposed to have babies until our fertility runs out. She goes on to list some of the work/childcare arrangements that she feels are acceptable.
Her faulty NFP logic might lead an uneducated reader to believe that Catholic women are obligated to have as many children as they physically can for the duration of their fertile years (barring dire health or financial difficulties). However, this viewpoint is simply not consistent with Catholic teaching.
Then the author gets to the heart of it, the part that stings for many of us Catholic working mothers. She admits that Catholic teaching does not preclude the use of paid caregivers, but goes on to say:
“At the same time, it does strike me as not exactly in the spirit of Catholic teaching to have your children be raised by strangers so that you can both pursue your own careers. Working to bring bread to the table is one thing, but working for reasons of personal choice is quite another thing.”
First and foremost, paid caregivers are not strangers and they do not raise our children. As a fellow Catholic working mother said,
“Who are these parents who let ‘strangers’ raise their children, the parents who supposedly completely abdicate their primary role in their children’s lives? I’ve never met one, and I know a lot of families where both parents work. We, who send our children to daycares or employ nannies, choose our care providers VERY carefully. We do background checks, we interview them, we call references, we do trial periods to see if they complement our children’s personalities, and we try to involve them in our family life and become involved in theirs. Our ideal care situation is one in which the nanny or daycare worker becomes almost a member of our own family.”
Singh insists that there are “indeed psychological and emotional consequences to being raised by paid caregivers” but she does not cite any studies to back up this claim. In fact, many studies show just the opposite.
Secondly, Catholic teaching reaffirms that women who are mothers can work outside the home – and there is no caveat that working outside the home is only permissible if you need the income.
“…the true advancement of women requires that clear recognition be given to the value of their maternal and family role, by comparison with all other public roles and all other professions. Furthermore, these roles and professions should be harmoniously combined, if we wish the evolution of society and culture to be truly and fully human.”
We need only to look to the example of St. Gianna Beretta Molla to see a beautiful portrayal of a woman who was a devoted wife, mother, and dedicated physician. St. Gianna and her husband Pietro had a paid caregiver, who helped with the domestic duties of their home and with their children. The Mollas were well-to-do, but always generous and prudent with their time and resources. St. Gianna considered her work her mission, as we read in Giuliana Pelucchi’s biography of the Saint. It is evident that St. Gianna felt that her work as a doctor was part of her vocation; she felt God called her to help others in addition to her primary vocation as a wife and mother. Harmoniously combining work and motherhood is not an easy task, nor is there a set formula to achieve balance. It’s something most of us working mothers are continually striving for. How blessed we are to have St. Gianna as a role model!
The author asks, “How different are you from your secular neighbors if your family looks like this: parents at work full time, small kids at daycare or with nanny?” I’d like to offer just a few examples of how we are different. We are at Church every Sunday, and we are involved in our Church community. We are open to having many children, if God chooses to bless us with them. When we are at work, we are living our faith by example to the best of our abilities. What would the workforce look like if there were no mothers? What would it look like if there were no Catholic mothers?
The author also claims, “As practising Catholics, it does seem to me that we should be setting a higher standard of childcare for ourselves, and that we should be willing to sacrifice more in order live out our vocations.” Really? Last week, my seven month old awoke at 3:30am and would not go back to sleep until 5am. At 5:15am, my alarm went off; it was time to get up and get ready for work. This happens regularly while my husband works the night shift and isn’t around to help. Being a working mother is hard enough as it is, do I really need to hear a fellow Catholic mother tell me I should be willing to sacrifice more to live out my vocation?
Instead of telling other women how they should live out their vocations, why not offer to support each other in our different roles and responsibilities? I have friends who are both working mothers and stay at home mothers, and I respect each of their choices tremendously. I am also open to becoming a stay at home mother one day if God calls me to that. Just because I’m a working mother does not make me “anti-stay at home mother.” My vocation as wife and mother will always be primary; as I have already discussed, however, our vocations may also include that of teacher, doctor, nurse, etc. As a woman’s family grows and their circumstances change, she and her husband can discern whether God is still calling her to serve in that role.
Let’s stop treating career-minded Catholic mothers as if they are somehow harming their families. Let’s start acknowledging that God gives each of us unique talents and gifts – and we are each called to manifest those talents in different ways. All work, whether within or outside of the home, can be a means of sanctification. The path to holiness is not the same for everyone.
Noelle Kitenko is wife to Joshua and mother to a wonderful 8 month old baby boy, John Paul. She is a 2010 graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, where she earned her Bachelor of Science in Operations Research and Computer Analysis. She is currently serving her third tour of active duty as a Coast Guard Officer at the Pacific Area Maritime Homeland Security/Defense Division in Alameda, CA.
I’m pregnant with my third, and I’ve earned the reputation at work as the woman who’s “always pregnant.” All of my pregnancies have been 18 months apart, so I’m sure it seems this way.
How do you respond when people raise their eyebrows because you dared to bring more than two children into the world?
I still can’t figure out why family planning choices seem to be a topic that’s considered open for discussion in any context, let alone an employment one. I don’t know about you, but I’d really rather not discuss my sex life with my co-workers. Sadly, however, it’s a situation that’s all too common for those of us with larger than average families. Having more than 3 kids (or having a third kid if you already have one girl and one boy) seems to be such a bizarre circumstance these days that it MUST be remarked upon.
It’s easier to let the comments roll off your back when it’s a random stranger at the mall or the checker at the grocery store making them, because chances are you won’t see that person often, if ever again.
It’s harder to let the comments go when they come from co-workers, clients, or even your bosses — people with whom you spend a significant portion of your day, and with whom you must, by necessity, establish and maintain an amicable relationship.
In general, I’ve found there are three ways to deal with negative comments about family size or planning in an employment context: defuse with humor, redirect without engaging, or escalating to HR/management.
1. Defuse with Humor
I have an arsenal of humorous responses for every conceivable (ha!) comment that may come my way in the workplace (and elsewhere). I make it a point to practice these in my head, and even role-play with my husband or a close friend, so that I don’t freeze up or have my mind go blank when I’m confronted with a “real life” comment. It really helps!
Q: # kids?! Are you crazy??
A: “Yes, yes I am!”
Q: Was this planned?
A: “When that becomes your business, I’ll let you know!” or “Why do you ask?”
Q: Don’t you know what causes that?!
A: “Yes, and we’re very good at it.” *suggestive eyebrow wiggle*
Q: Are you trying to overpopulate the Earth?
A: “No, just outnumber the idiots.”
Q: Haven’t you ever heard of contraception/birth control?
A: “Yes, why?” [then give them a puzzled glance, as if you can’t imagine why on earth they’d ask you that]
Q: You’re done after this one, right?
A: “We figure we’ll stop once we get an ugly one. Hasn’t happened yet. In fact, they just keep getting cuter!”
A: “We’re going for our own reality TV show. Would you like to guest star?”
Q: Are you going to get fixed?/Is your husband going to get fixed?
A: “Why fix what isn’t broken?”
Q: Are you going to quit your job?
A: “Not unless the government bans pregnant women/mothers in the workforce.”
Q: Don’t you have a TV?
A: “If you think TV is better than sex, you’re doing it wrong.”
Or, if you need a response that’s a little “safer” for work, use:
A: “Yes, why?”
Q: How will you pay for all of those college educations?
A: “If we based our family size on if we could pay college tuition, we’d have to have a negative number of kids. Have you seen how much tuition costs these days??”
Q: How are you going to afford five kids?
A: “I plan to write a best-selling book in which we demonstrate how to deflect questions like that one. I’ve had a lot of experience so far.”
Or, depending on the setup of your workplace:
A: “With my substantial raise/bonus.” *wait a beat* “Oh… you didn’t get one?”
Make sure that you have a big smile to go with each comment. The less ruffled you are, the more foolish your interrogator will (hopefully) feel. Another tactic is to respond to impolite questions with another question, such as, “That’s a very personal question, don’t you think?” or, my personal favorite, “Why do you ask?” This will usually stop many people short because they won’t know to respond, or they’ll realize that maybe they shouldn’t be inquiring about such a personal subject.
They might say, “I’m just wondering/just curious,” in which case you can fall back on the immortal words of Barney Snaith: “Then I won’t tell you. I never satisfy curiosity.” [If you’ve never read The Blue Castle, get thee to a library! It’s one of L.M. Montgomery’s best novels.]
Or, if you have a casual dress code, you could invest in one of these T-shirts and bypass any potential conversations.
2. Redirect without Engaging
This strategy is helpful if you’re receiving comments from someone with whom you need to maintain a strictly professional relationship that isn’t conducive to casual joking, such as clients, customers, upper management, or even co-workers on your team with whom you prefer not to socialize with but can’t completely ignore. What you want to do in this case is acknowledge the comment and change the subject, sending a subtle yet definitive message that the topic isn’t grounds for discussion. For example:
Co-worker X: “Good gravy, five kids?! Are you crazy?”
You: “Mmhmm. Say, did you get the memo about the TPS reports? What do you think about the new cover sheet?”
Customer Y: “You’re pregnant AGAIN? Haven’t you ever heard of birth control?”
You: “Yes. Let me know if there’s anything else you need.” [Walk away]
Or, if you can’t walk away because you’re stuck on the phone or behind a counter:
You: “Yes. Is there anything else I can help you with?” or “Yes. Let’s take a look at the red Swingline staplers, they might be more to your liking.”
Client Z: “I think it’s really irresponsible to have so many kids when the world is already overpopulated.”
You: “I see. Have you had a chance to view the sales figures that Brian sent over? We’ve had a lot of success marketing our pieces of flair to Chotchkie’s.”
VP Lumbergh: “If you could let me know if you’re going to have more kids after this one, that’d be great.”
You: [bland smile] “We’ll see. Oops, got to go, I have a meeting with the Bobs in five minutes.”
You: [bland smile] “We’ll see. By the way, when I was working on Saturday I found a glitch in the accounting software…”
Keep acknowledging with short, one- or two-word answers and change the subject. Usually, all but the chronically tactless will get the hint and drop it.
If you happen to be stuck in a workplace with the chronically tactless, I’m terribly sorry. All you can really do in that case is make your point clearly and firmly. “That’s personal; I’d rather not discuss it. Let’s talk about Client Project Alpha.” Or, “I’d really rather not discuss my family planning choices at work. Do you know the status of the deliverables for Project Omega?”
3. Escalate to HR/Management
This solution is a last resort, and should be rare (in theory), but it is a viable one if you’re constantly receiving egregiously inappropriate comments or if one specific co-worker seems fixated on your situation, to the point of giving you constant grief about your family size or pregnancy status. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) specifically mentions pregnancy in its fact sheet regarding workplace harassment:
Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.
The EEOC also specifies what workplace harassment is not:
Petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not rise to the level of illegality. To be unlawful, the conduct must create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people.
Even if the negative comments you receive don’t rise to the level of workplace harassment, you can still take action. The first step is to tell the your interrogator, politely but firmly, that your family size isn’t up for discussion, as you would for the chronically tactless. “Milton, I’d rather not discuss my family planning choices with you. Please don’t bring it up again.”
If he (or she) tries to pass it off as a joke or accuses you of being oversensitive, remain calm but firm. “Nina, I’ve made my position clear on this. My family planning choices aren’t something I discuss at work. Please don’t bring it up again.”
After that, you document, document, document. If it gets bad enough, you go to your manager and/or HR – or even the boss of the person giving you grief. Stick with the facts: “I’ve asked Milton repeatedly to stop commenting on my family size but I’m afraid his comments persist. He’s brought up the topic 5 times in the last 3 days. It’s making me very uncomfortable, and I’m having trouble focusing on my work when he’s around as a result. Do you have any suggestions on how to deal with this?”
Any manager or HR rep worth their salt will have a chat with Milton and tell him to cut it out or face consequences (and then enforce said consequences if Milton fails to comply).
Sadly, not all managers or HR reps know how to deal with this type of harassment, and some will try to downplay it or brush it off. If that happens you can try go up the chain, but if that isn’t possible (such as in smaller workplaces) you may have to suck it up and deal with it (while starting a job search, if feasible, in order to get a new job with competent employers). Keep documenting, though – in the worst case scenario, you might have grounds for an EEOC complaint if the harassment becomes pervasive enough.
Thankfully, I’ve never been in that particular situation; I’ve always been able to use strategies #1 and #2 to defuse and deflect comments about my family size in the workplace, and it’s occasionally led to some interesting discussions regarding NFP and related topics.
Do you have any favorite comebacks or responses to comments about your larger-than-average family size? Please share in the comments!
Blessed Zélie Martin is one of the patronesses of working mothers. She trained as a lacemaker and ran a successful business before and after marrying and having children:
Eight more children followed in the next thirteen years. Louis and Zélie rejoiced at each birth and grieved when three of them died as small babies, but the greatest sorrow, especially for Louis, was the death of Hélène at the age of five, on February 22nd 1870, her eldest sister’s tenth birthday. That same year Louis sold his business to his nephew so that he could help Zélie with hers. He had already taken over the book-keeping and was now free to travel to obtain orders. Zélie had fifteen women working for her in their own homes and every Thursday they brought her the work they had done and received the cotton and their instructions for the next week. Zélie assembled the pieces that they brought to her. She often worked late into the night as she always gave time to her children when they needed it and she wrote many letters especially to her two eldest daughters when they were in boarding school.
Blessed Zélie and Louis are the first spouses in the history of the Church to be canonized as a couple. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the canonization announcement of such an excellent and holy example of Catholic marriage came the day after the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous Obergefell v. Hodges ruling. Yay, God!
As a working mother, I rarely get this question. It’s most often posed to stay-at-home-moms, and it really makes no sense to me. Do the people who ask this question really have no idea of the massive amount of work it takes to manage a home, especially if you have multiple small children? There’s cleaning, laundry, meal planning, cooking, homework/homeschooling, home repair, yard work, paying bills… the list seems endless, and even if one parent stays at home there often don’t seem to be enough hours in the day to get everything done.
What do you mean what do they [SAHMs] do?! They do everything we’re desperately cramming in on the evenings and weekends with no time – plus, you know, all that childcare. You know exactly what they do; it’s everything we need more time to do.
The flip side of this question is one that I am asked frequently, especially in the aforementioned Catholic Working Mother’s group: “How do you find time to get it all done?”
The short answer is: I don’t.
That’s the plain truth of it. Something always suffers. It’s just a matter of prioritizing. Every evening, when I look at my long to-do list, I identify which items are the most important, and try to tackle those. Everything else has to wait.
Meals and clothes are what I focus on. We need to eat and we need clean clothes to wear. I try to keep up with meal planning but that’s a work in progress. The laundry gets done but it doesn’t always get put away. But we have food to eat and clean clothes to wear.
Then there are a few other essential tasks depending on the day — the garbage truck comes early Thursday morning so the trash and recycling need to be taken out Wednesday night, for example. We need our trash hauled away on a regular basis so that gets bumped up on the Wednesday task list.
Other housework goes by the wayside. For example, my floors are constantly dirty. With an active, mobile toddler we’ve had to pay a bit more attention to the state of the floors, but luckily my ten-year-old still thinks sweeping the floor is fun (she likes to pretend she’s Cinderella). I’m teaching her how to mop, too. Sometimes the rug in the living room gets vacuumed; sometimes it doesn’t. There is generally clutter everywhere. I try to spend time each weekend decluttering but it feels like shoveling snow in a blizzard.
I’ve implemented daily chores for my older kids (10, 7, 5) and I have my 3-year-old pitch in where he can. This is helping to keep the mess level somewhere above “Department of Health Violation,” which is a pleasant change of pace, but I have a toddler who loves making messes (and he’s in that delightful “let’s throw random objects into the toilet” phase) so it’s a constant work in progress.
So what do you do when you feel like you’re drowning in work and there aren’t enough hours in the day? It’s all about prioritizing. Top of the list needs to be your own self-care. In many households, regardless of which parent works outside the home (or even if both of them do), the mother is the spoke that keeps the wheel of the household turning. If the spoke cracks or breaks, the wheel crashes to the ground.
I’ve found Jen Fulwiler’s tips for survival mode helpful to working moms. Specifically:
1. Don’t let your sleep suffer. Easier said than done if you have babies or toddlers (or older children who don’t sleep well), but it’s so important to make sure you’re getting as much sleep as you can manage. Lack of sleep magnifies problems and makes everything seem a thousand times worse, and it doesn’t do anything to improve your work performance, either. I usually go to bed shortly after the kids do, even if it means leaving housework undone. Sometimes during the work day (weather permitting) I might sneak out to my car and take a quick power nap, if I didn’t get decent sleep the night before.
2. Don’t neglect your spiritual life. Again, easier said than done, especially when the thought of going to Mass with your frequently rowdy and misbehaving children causes you to break out in a cold sweat. But we can’t do this alone. God will give us the strength to keep going but we need to remember to ask for it. Even if you take the entire day to say the rosary, one Hail Mary at a time, that’s better than nothing. Even just a, “Lord, please help me through this” at a difficult moment. I may not have the time to read an entire book about theology or the saints, but I’ve signed up for a Daily C.S. Lewis e-mail so I can fit a little spiritual reading into the day.
3. Fit in quality time with your husband. It’s so important to take time to connect with one another, especially after a hectic day or a busy week. Date nights out on the town every week would be awesome, but we don’t have the time or the budget for that. So we’ll spend an hour watching something on Netflix before bed, or just talk while we have a glass of wine. If we have the luxury if a little extra time, we might play a board game together.
4. Make your load lighter. Can you afford to hire someone to help with the housework, even just once a month or once every six weeks? Do it! Has someone offered to watch the kids so you can have some “me” time? Take them up on it! I know many moms struggle with guilt when they try to fit in “me” time, saying that they already feel so bad that they are away from their kids while they’re working. And I understand that. At the same time, while we love our kids, being a parent is stressful. We need to take time to recharge our own batteries or we’ll completely run out of energy at a certain point. Even if it’s just 30 minutes at a coffee shop or 60 minutes at Adoration, find time for you. Every day would be great but that’s often not realistic, so at least once per week. I like to shut myself in my bathroom with a bubble bath, a glass of wine, and good book for 60 minutes of uninterrupted bliss.
Find something that works for you and make it a priority, just as important as the cooking, the laundry, and getting the garbage out every Wednesday. You are important – your mental health, your spiritual health, and your physical health. If one suffers, they all will, and that means your family suffers by extension.