Being a mom is one of the most demanding jobs in the world. And while women who take on paying work in addition to parenthood have their hands full, they represent the majority of mothers. "Women at home with their children represent only a small percentage of families in the U.S.," says Dr. Beth Anne Shelton, professor of sociology at University of Texas at Arlington. Yet working moms—just like their stay-at-home counterparts—often face harsh judgments from those who question their parenting situation. Here are nine remarks working mothers hate to hear and what to do if someone says one to you.
1. Do you really have to work?
"Most women (and men) work because they need the earnings and/or health benefits," says Dr. Shelton. But a family's financial situation isn't anyone else's business. And even if someone's sure a family can survive on one parent's paychecks alone, they might use the second income for "luxuries" like saving for their children's future college education, explains Dr. Shelton.
Still, Terri Bly, a small business owner and mom from St. Paul, MN, doesn't think mothers should feel bad about working when money isn't a motivator. "I love my children more than my job, but I need the combination of intellectual stimulation, pursuing my own goals and raising two amazing little girls," she says. "My brain lights up when I have a balance of career and home." Feel free to share that rationale with someone who asks if you have to work—or simply say you're not comfortable discussing your family's finances.
2. Aren't you concerned about not being there for your kids?
"Even when a mom's at work, the ultimate responsibility for her children and their care lies with her," says Michelle LaRowe, author of . Besides, children can benefit from being around other caregivers, says Sara Sutton Fell, founder and CEO of FlexJobs, a service that helps people find flexible and telecommuting career opportunities. Fell, a working mom, herself, suggests mothers respond to that guilt-inducing question with: "My children are with people who are adding value to their lives and supporting my ideas of how they should be raised."
Or, if you're like JJ DiGeronimo of Cleveland, OH, explain that you make up for hours apart from your kids with lots of quality time together. "I give my children the one-on-one time they demand when I'm home. I'm not sure I'd be playing on the floor as much if I was there all the time," she says.
3. Did you hear about that study on children of working moms?
Everyone seems to have a know-it-all friend or relative who likes to mention "research" which "proves" that some parenting choices doom children. But only a mom knows what's best for her family, says Fell. Plus, "studies flip flop," she adds. In other words, best parenting practices are always changing. So instead of second-guessing yourself, avoid the Debbie Downers as best you can. And when people share the latest findings with you, try ending the conversation with "thanks for sharing" or Fell's go-to response: "I've read that there are lots of benefits for children of working moms."
4. It must be nice to get a break from the kids.
"Working is a break in that a mom is getting the chance to focus on her professional self," says Fell. But, she points out, not everyone is blessed with a job she enjoys; sometimes it's just a paycheck. This remark hits a nerve because working moms rarely have a real reprieve. After all, a mom's still a caring, concerned mom when she's at work. If someone slings that statement your way, acknowledge that all moms need a break once in a while. It could segue into suggesting a future girls' night out!
5. You're so lucky to work from home. But why do you need a nanny?
This implies that work-from-home moms get to play with their kids and work simultaneously—as if that's actually possible! Dawn Allcot of West Babylon, NY, a freelance writer, admits she can't be productive without help. "I need to pay someone to watch my toddlers so I can work," she says. And that's actually the perfect reply for anyone who's made to feel that her home-based gig is a breeze. In fact, Allcot notes, many employers who allow telecommuting ask for proof of childcare if kids are home.Although moms working from home do some housework/childcare during business hours, hired help goes a long way. "If a parent can concentrate on work by having a nanny, the work is less likely to invade the non-work hours," says Dr. Shelton.
6. "Why have kids if someone else is going to take care of them?"
Ouch! This hints that you entered into parenthood without thinking it through. A family friend recently chastised Laura Perez of Newark, NJ, for considering having a second child when she was already a working mom of one. "It's horrible to think that you're not caring for your child properly. But just because you're a working mom doesn't mean you care for your child any less. You just need to find the proper balance," she says.
And that balance is the often the result of much planning and prioritizing, says Fell. "No matter our motivations, the decision to be a working mom (or not) is a difficult and personal one that comes with careful consideration." Don't hesitate to point that out should you feel like you're being criticized.
7. You have another school event? Didn't you just leave early last week?
Rosemarie Poska, a nurse manager and mom of three from Staten Island, NY, often feels the tug of war between her work schedule and busy calendar of family activities, so she doesn't enjoy when coworkers question her work ethic. "Some people say, 'you work banker's hours,' after I put in two hours before they got to the office, didn't take a lunch break and hardly went to the bathroom!" she says. Dr. Shelton doesn't think anyone should resent parents who attend the occasional school event during the day. "We should recognize that everyone benefits from children who are well cared for," she says.
If a nosy coworker passes a comment like this, Fell recommends keeping your response polite and professional without apologizing. Try: "It's great the company allows me to adjust my schedule to get my work done and make my family a priority."
8. "I'd miss my kids too much if I worked."
Though the sentiment might have nothing to do with the working mother who hears it, it can be perceived to mean that working moms must be so cold-hearted to leave their kids every day, says LaRowe. The truth: "Missing your kids whenever you're away from them is 'mommyversal,'" she says. This is a good opportunity to share how adorable it is when your little ones rush to the door to greet you, make pictures for your office or call you at work to tell you about their days.
9. Women should be at home with their children.
Can you say old school? "This indicates that mothers are the only ones who can raise their children," says Fell, adding that today's family structures aren't like the ones of yesteryear: Grandparents in the same household, single parents and stay-at-home dads are quite common. "If you hear this, take a deep breath and remember that someone who tells you this comes from a different perspective."
Dr. Ramani Durvasula, a psychology professor and clinical psychologist from Los Angeles, CA, kept working after her daughters were born because she needed the money. So when a family member said to her, "Once you had your child, you gave up your dreams," she was angry. "It's sad if mothers are depicted as women without dreams," she says. "My legacy for my daughters will not be 'things,' but rather my pursuit of my dreams. What better way to give them permission to do the same for themselves?"