Tina Fey is quickly becoming the patron saint of working moms. Her recent article in the New Yorker illustrating her struggles to balance home and work life was spot on in its description of how a working mother's emotions can swing between searing guilt and feminist defiance in a split second.
Fey is frequently asked "How do you juggle it all?" by strangers and loved ones alike. The question stiffens her spine every time. The implication is that she doesn't and it's clear that she can't.
This got me thinking: What other insensitive or downright ignorant questions do working mothers field on a daily basis?
When I put this query out to the universe I received over 100 replies via email, Facebook and Twitter -- which may not sound like a lot but for the fact that the majority of responses shot back to me within 15 minutes of clicking the send button on my inquiry. Apparently this is a hot button issue.
Now that I have sifted through replies packed with exclamation points, cap locks and emoticons, it seems that most fall into seven general categories. I have summarized them here in no particular order except to note that it is both surprising and understandable number seven received the most votes.
See also: How do you balance it all, manage it all, handle it all, do it all, fit it all in, find time for yourself?
Like Fey, other women understand that this is a question wrapped in an insult wrapped in an accusation.
"It makes me feel that they are suggesting I can't possibly be doing it all, am sacrificing some of my duties or am just making due in parts of my life and that of my children," said public relations specialist Samantha Lueder. "I feel like they are just dying for me to say 'well you can't do it all and my kids and job suffer…"
My friend Diane, an architect, was once asked how she found any time for herself by a woman who had just finished lamenting that, between going to the gym, taekwondo classes, having lunch with her friends and catching up on e-mails, the day was almost over and unless her daughter had a play date scheduled, she hadn't a moment to herself. We cannot print Diane's answer.
See also: Why don't you feel guilty?
Whether a woman does or does not feel guilty, she never appreciates getting asked this question. It's an irritating query whether it comes from a coworker, friend or stranger and especially from an in-law.
When children's book author Jennifer Lynn Pereyra is asked this question she usually replies something along the lines of, "Yes, it can be hard." She'd like to say, "Nope, not really. Dropping them off some days is the only thing that keeps us all alive!"
Our children sometimes unwittingly play the guilt card by asking things like, "who is going to pick me up?" and "why do you have to work?' Their innocence can rip our guts out though, as Kristen Brown, ad exec and mother of one notes, this is the ideal opportunity to explain to her little one that she has to work or they would be living out of their car. Also, she enjoys work.
See also: Are you afraid they won't know who you are?