How Young Working Women Really Feel About Working Moms

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If you're a working mother, here's what some of your young, childless colleagues may be reluctant to tell you to your face: They admire you, but they also hope to avoid walking in your shoes.

It's a sentiment I heard from young women like Taylor Lorenz, 26, who works at a New York advertising agency.

"She sends emails all the time, so I never feel like she's unavailable," Lorenz told me as she described her generally positive relationship with her very busy, working-mom boss. "But if I were her with a 2-year-old and husband, I wouldn't want to be sending emails at 10:30 at night."

It's no secret, as the New York Times recently pointed out, that there's a simmering tension between employees who don't have children and their working-parent colleagues. In short, the former feel as if they end up picking up more slack at work when the latter wave the "Accommodate me, I have a kid" flag.

But as a working mom myself, what I wanted to know was how young, working women in particular felt about working mothers. These, after all, are women who, statistically speaking, are likely to have kids someday -- in the U.S., by age 40, more than four out of five U.S. women have had children, according to 2010 U.S. Census data. When young working women look at moms like me, I wondered, do they see their future selves or do they see us as cautionary tales? Do they admire and empathize with us, or do they resent us when our child-related obligations leave them holding the bag?

It was with these questions in mind that I reached out and interviewed more than a dozen childless, young working women, ages 22 to 36, in various industries. Not surprisingly, their responses were mixed. Yes, resentment was evident among several women whom I spoke to -- but, at the same time, many of the women did express empathy for their colleagues. There were some who said that the working women around them were their role models, and others who were reluctant to follow the same, stress-filled road. Since they were sensitive about discussing co-workers, some asked that their last names be withheld or that their names be replaced with aliases.

'An Incredible Thing'

Let's start with the good news.

Several of the women I spoke to exhorted the benefits of working with moms. One retail sales associate in New Jersey told me she liked how her boss seemed to use her "maternal instinct" to defend her employees in the face of unruly customers. A Boston consulting firm research assistant said that casual conversations with her colleagues have given her a good sense of the financial realities of child care and will help her plan her own future -- plus, she loved seeing cute pictures of their children.

But mainly, they praised working moms for skillfully and tenaciously negotiating the work and family juggle.

"I know people my age who focus more on their pets than ... on the work at hand," said Valerie, 22, an assistant at a medical supply company in suburban Philadelphia. "The fact that my manager has a child and can focus on her work -- I think that's an incredible, incredible thing."

Elizabeth Stern, also 22, an executive assistant at a Manhattan media company, manages her boss's calendar and, as a result, is rather well-versed on the specifics of her supervisor's juggle.

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