"She has three kids. They've got sports, school and all these things that she has to manage before and after she comes in and leaves the office," Stern said. "I don't even know how she has the energy for that and commuting and working all day. I can't even imagine."
Both those at the lower and higher ends of company food chains told me they try to be accommodating when they can.
Liz, 31, a headhunter at a Cleveland recruiting firm, said she knows an essential part of the work-family balance for an assistant at her firm is leaving at a set time every evening and then working from home at night and on the weekends. Nonetheless, Liz said, she tries to make it easier on the assistant by assigning her work earlier rather than later.
"I know I can count on her to do things late at night, but sometimes I'm just like, 'I can just spend an extra 20 minutes now while I'm in the office so she won't have to log in tonight,'" she said. "I don't have to, but I choose to do it because it's the right thing to do."
Picking Up the Slack
Now the bad news: Even women like Liz -- the kind who may bend over backward to help out a working mom colleague in a pinch -- aren't immune to feeling resentment, especially when it seems as if there are working moms who take advantage of the flexibility afforded to them.
At a previous job at a different company, Liz remembered being consistently frustrated by how difficult it was to reach a colleague who usually worked from home.
"You always had to groan when you had to use her because the chance you were actually going to get her on the telephone or via email during the day was really slim to none," Liz said. "She would always make up excuses like, 'Oh, I had to run to the store because my baby was out of diapers, or I had to run because I got a call from the school and I had to go pick up my daughter."
Other complaints I heard were about offenses less egregious but perhaps more common: long lunches at home with the kids, spending too much time on personal phone calls during working hours and calling in sick for multiple days to care for an ill child. In a number of cases, women told me that such perceived transgressions resulted in more work getting dumped on those without children.
"There's a kind of a get-out-of jail-free card if you have kids," said Kelly Burns Gallagher, 31, a lawyer in Connecticut and dedicated triathlete. "Crap comes up, and we're stuck here forever but if someone said, 'I have to pick up my kids from day care, the kids have a game tonight, there's a school activity, they get to leave. But if I say I have to get a run in, that's not an acceptable response."
A 34-year-old doctor at a Florida hospital told me that what really bothered her had nothing to do with actual work, but rather with peer-to-peer relationships. She said she felt that sometimes the working moms she knew suggested that her experiences were trivial compared to their own.
The woman, who asked to be referred to only as M., recalled showing pictures of her pets to a fellow physician and the shocking conversation that ensued.
"She took one look, and said 'Oh, I used to love my cat and think everything he did was amazing, until I had a baby and now I could care less about the cat." She said she was trying to get rid of it. ... That horrified me," M. said.