Lori Hick Mercer, a working mother of four, thought she was telling her neighbor how blessed she felt to have a flexible job that allowed her to get home by 4 p.m. most days and work from home on Fridays, but when her neighbor responded by saying,
"Oh, Lori, you work so much!" she was caught off guard. "I wanted to bite back," she said.
Whether passionate about their career or work mainly to make ends meet, most working moms know the feeling of being blindsided by a comment - from a friend, coworker, family member or teacher - that seems to call their parenting style into question.
With working families on the rise, we asked working mothers what comments push their buttons; here are the top responses, along with suggestions from Devra Renner, a clinical social worker and co-author of Mommy Guilt: Learn to Worry Less, Focus on What Matters Most, and Raise Happier Kids for how to respond without burning a bridge.
1. "I could never let someone else raise my kids."
- What you want to say: "I raise my kids, you $%&*" Yes, you might be tempted to point out that you didn't pluck a random person off the street to care for your child or show this idiot your bills and ask if they want to pay them for you.
- What Renner suggests you say: "We're very lucky. To us, our nanny is like an extension of our family. We choose her carefully and trust her completely." She thinks this positive, happy-with-my-life approach won't create as much tension as slapping her in the face(!). But Renner warns, if the comment sends your guilt level through the roof (rather than just your anger at this person), it might be a sign that you're not comfortable with your situation.
2. "Isn't it hard to be away from your kids all day?"
- What you want to say: "No, I run skipping. Of course it's hard. Thanks for reminding me."
- What Renner suggests you say: Answer truthfully, then open a dialog by saying, "Why do you want to know?" Renner reminds that for some mothers, it's hard to be away; for others it's not. If this comment gets your defenses up, take a moment to consider the source. Maybe this person is thinking about going back to work and is wondering what the work-life balance is like? Maybe she's just trying to empathize with you. "I don't think there's a reason to defend it," says Renner.
3. "It must be good to get away."
- What you want to say: "Yes, my job is like a mini vacation every day, and they pay me!"
- What Renner suggests you say: This comment probably says more about the state of mind of the person asking than it does about you-either they need a break from their own kids or don't have kids themselves. "Let's stop polarizing the conversation about who has it worse," says Renner. Instead, try joining forces by saying, "Actually, I could use a real get-away from kids and work. Want to plan a spa day?"
4. "You must really love your job."
- What you want to say: If you enjoy being a working parent-which 78 percent of working mothers said they are in a recent survey from Care.com-you may not hesitate to say, "Yes, I do!" or there's always the snarky "Well, I sure like having a roof over my head and food on the table."
- What Renner suggests you say: Again, take a moment to consider the source. Could they genuinely think your job sounds cool? A great answer to anyone who says this is, "Yes, I love being able to provide for my family."
5. "If you'd just cut back on things, you could afford to stay home with your kids."
- What you want to say: "Wow, I hadn't thought of that. I'll quit tomorrow!"
- What Renner suggests you say: She suggests deflecting this comment as politely as possible by pretending you didn't hear it or saying, "You're asking me something that has to do with my finances, and I'm not really comfortable talking about that."
6. "I don't know how you do it."
- What you want to say: "I was feeling pretty good today, but thanks reminding me how challenging my life is."
- What Renner suggests you say: Renner says that choosing to see this statement as a compliment takes the element of competition out of the situation. She suggests simply saying, "Thanks for the compliment. It gets complicated sometimes, but we all do the best we can.'"
7. "You must start scrapbooking."
- What you want to say: "Sure, as soon as you find three extra hours in my day."
- What Renner suggests you say: The last thing a busy mom wants is to do is add to her list of things she must do, whether it's scrapbooking, cooking or watching a certain TV show. It's okay to say, "I just don't enjoy (it). Our family has other traditions."
8. "Your child needs more attention at home."
- What you want to say: "How do you know how much attention he gets? Are you saying I work too much?"
- What Renner suggests saying: If you hear this from a teacher, it might seem like an attack at first. "I'd suggest taking a breath and considering whether this person in a position to be able to back this statement up with facts, or is she just assuming that because I work, my child is somehow being cheated out of time spent with me," says Renner. No matter how this makes you feel, it's important to dig deeper and find out what the teacher really means. Renner suggests saying, "I'm confused as to why you would think this about my child. Did he say something to you about it? Has his behavior changed?"
9. "I didn't think you'd want the promotion because you have young kids."
- What you want to say: "Do you make the same assumption about the fathers in this company?"
- What Renner suggests saying: Considering that nearly six out of 10 working moms aspire to move up in the workplace, according to a recent survey from Care.com, a comment like this would make many working women see red-and could even get the employer in legal trouble. "We don't need to make assumptions, we need to talk about job performance," says Renner. If you are in the market for a promotion, make sure your boss and coworkers know before they have an opportunity to make an assumption about your ambitions.
10. "Don't you have any family who can watch your kids when they're sick?"
- What you want to say: "No. When my kids are sick, they need their mother."
- What Renner suggests you say: Regardless of whether you have family who can pitch in, you shouldn't be made to feel guilty for taking care of important family responsibilities. Renner suggests sticking with the facts if faced with this comment: "My kid is sick, I need go home."
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