an open letter to moms who have left the paid workforce

Please come back.

I know some of the reasons you left–wanting to teach your children your own values, not wanting to leave your babies with strangers, wanting to spend quality time with your kids, not having a job with the flexibility that a parent needs, lacking a spouse that supported your wanting to work, not having decent childcare, realizing that paying for daycare would wipe out your whole paycheck–those are all good reasons.

It’s selfish of me to want you to come back, when those situations all still exist. But I’m so tired of being the only working mom in my office. I’m tired of having to explain to everyone that I work with why I can’t go on overnights every week, or have conference calls every day at 5:30. I’m tired of going to work social events and having no one to talk to about the day-to-day cute things that my kids do, or the struggle to keep my laundry in check.

Sure, there are dads in the office. But while we might have a chat now and then about parenting, I can’t help but feel that they have a fundamentally different feeling about it than I do. The men that I work with are married to women who are the primary caregiver for their children. Some of those women work, but the men all seem to be able to work late every night, and to me, that says that their wife is the one who’s rushing home to get dinner on the table, to make sure that homework is done, and that the kids’ clothes are clean.

I’m so, so tired of feeling alone.


August 25, 2006. thoughtful parenting, work.


  1. penguinunearthed replied:

    I sometimes feel a phony “working woman”, since my husband is the primary carer, so I’m like all those dads in your office. But I still rush out at 5.30 to see the kids, so I’d probably fulfil some of your needs.

    One of my friends at my old job told me the other day that she really misses me for that reason; there’s no-one she can share her triumph about a first wee in the potty with.

    So she sends me early morning emails when we’re both in the office before anyone else.

  2. mommo replied:

    Came through here. Just wanted to let you know that even though it feels lonely sometimes, you’re definitely not alone 😉

  3. Library Lady replied:

    You aren’t alone. And since you read my blog, you knew that already!

    Both of the women who work with me are moms. But they only work part-time, and neither worked when their kids were little. They cannot FATHOM what my life is like, and when they wail about how pressed for time they are, I want to ROTFL. And it makes me feel even more alone than if there were NO moms at work.

    As the African-American housekeeper pointed out to Jane Fonda in a long ago “Doonesbury” cartoon–“Honey,you’re as busy as you WANT to be. I’m as busy as I got to be. I hate to break it to you, but there’s a big difference!”


  4. elise replied:

    You just love to open cans of worms don’t you! LOL!

  5. Andy replied:

    Oh, I can’t even begin to explain just how much I feel your pain. Working in social justice is so incredibally rewarding, but the hours go far beyond that of a normal work day. With a little one at home and one on the way there is little time (and energy) to participate in all the things I would like to, and sort of need to in order to feel as if I am really doing my job justice. No one I work with has children as young as I do, and the ones that do have partners who stay home with them. It’s hard to relate and have a mutual understanding of why I can’t do all that I want to, or feel as if I should do.

  6. Anjali replied:

    That’s got to be tough. When I went back to work, there were about twenty women in my office, many of who were pregnant the same time I wa,s and others who also had small children. It was such a great working-parent community to be a part of.

    I won’t be back to work again anytime soon, but I can assure you, I will be back.

  7. Mary Tsao replied:


    I did feel slightly guilty when I had to say good-bye to the other moms in my office when I quit my job. They looked at me like I betrayed them. Just a little. But I couldn’t do the crazy busy lifestyle anymore. I didn’t feel I was doing any of my jobs (mom, wife, worker) to the best of my ability. It was a frustrating feeling.

    I can imagine it’s lonely when you’re the only working mom in the office.

  8. jackie replied:

    I don’t work in an office, but I understand–the academic moms in the blogosphere are the only reminders sometimes that women can do this, all at once– and I only work part-time!

    Hope you get some mama co-workers soon.

  9. Laura replied:

    Totally with you on this one. I’m lucky that my boss is a mom to children much younger than mine. She knows the drill. But other than her, no one else. When I talk about some crazy morning I’ve had stuffing poptarts into the kids while they get dressed and then rush to brush teeth, put on shoes and make the bus, my colleagues look at me like they’re going to report me to the DHS. Although most of my colleagues are the type to go home at 5, there are a handful who brag about how many hours a week they’ve worked. Since everyone’s on salary and no one really notices that they’re working that much except them, I feel for them. But I also worry sometimes that the culture could turn into that. And that would suck.

  10. Maddy replied:

    I admit, I’m one of the moms who left. (For a part time teaching job, closer to home). I feel your pain,though. My male co-workers would START meetings at 4:30 pm. And I was looking at an hour commute after the meetings ended. My husband would pick up the kids, and I would miss all the early-eve stuff. Or, I would ditch the meeting early, thus proving I was not as “serious” as they were. And the meetings were useless, and could have been held earlier, or skipped altogether. Those experiences and more are why I bailed on fulltime work. And I worked hard to change the environment before I left. But it was a no go.

    I do know that other departments were far more family friendly than mine. I hope that your situation improves.

  11. Deidre Aufiero replied:

    Thanks for posts and comments like this. I left the workforce 4 1/2 years ago at the birth of my daughter, despite my employer trying to retain me with a very accommodating offer. I just didn’t think I could handle it. Even with the addition of my son a year ago, it’s staying home I don’t think I can handle now because I yearn for more in my life, but I’m afraid. Afraid of failing at work and at home. I’m setting a goal for the next year (by the time my son is 2 I’ll be comfortable with having a paid care-giver for him) to do the research and get the job I really want.

  12. dcjoan replied:

    AH! This resonated with me. A couple of years ago I left a corporate workplace (with lots of family-friendly benefits, hence lots of family types–both men and women–there) to join a start up social enterprise. I love the job, and the company is SO MUCH more interesting–but the social dynamic is completely different. I’m one of the oldest ones here (many right of college twenty-somethings), and the only one with school-age kids. None of my “peers” (the ones who are my 40-something age) have kids.

    So I make my own way. I definitely feel self-conscious about being the first one out of here at 5:30 to run to pick up kids. But a friend of mine once said he got passed that, it was an incredibly liberating feeling, and I think he’s right. I like my work and do a decent job, but it’s the life outside that I live for, and (for the most part) I think I’ve found the balance that works for me. (On the other hand, I am occasionally frustrated by the tradeoffs involved…but that’s a different story).

    It’s tough…but really nice to know there are others out there who feel like me! 🙂

  13. Cynical Mom replied:

    Hear hear. I’m there right now. There are a few moms though, I’m not entirely alone, but it’s still an abyss between us and the dads. 😦

  14. Make Tea Not War replied:

    I do know exactly what you mean. I find it rather isolating being a working mother too. On the one hand it is hard for me to connect with SAHMs because I don’t have the ability to go to coffee mornings and the like. On the other hand there is a limit to how much I can connect with my childless co-workers as I can’t go out for drinks after work and so forth.

    The few other working mothers I know, who I have the most in common with, are as frenziedly busy trying to balance it all as I am. So all we can mostly do is smile and nod in recognition as we rush past each other.

  15. Helen replied:

    I would love to come back but the “daycare would wipe out my whole paycheck” factor would be the case for me and it’s just too annoying. I lost my job when I had my son, it infuriates me that I didn’t get maternity leave. My employer wanted me to go back but it would have been all on their terms, which would have been impossible especially when we thought he was going to be special needs (now it looks as if he’ll be fine). I love looking after him but I just wish I had the choice whether or not to go back to work instead of feeling as if I’ve been barred from the workforce.

  16. mothergoosemouse replied:

    Here via Sober Briquette, and this post resonated with me on so many levels. Even though I LOVED my job, I felt just as you did: very few other working moms, and the dads had wives at home caring for the children. Family-friendly, never felt guilty about excusing myself from 6pm EST meetings (Hello, LA-based co-workers? I don’t schedule you for 7am PST meetings, so kindly extend me the same consideration at the end of the day.), pumped in the privacy of my own windowed office. But nobody GOT me, understood the nuances of the challenges that both my husband and I faced.

    I left the job to move cross-country, and while I have returned to work here, I quit three months later. I want to get back in the workforce, but right now it’s my husband’s turn to enjoy his job and bask in some well-earned success.

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