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.
How do you juggle it all?
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.
Do you feel guilty for working?
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.
Are you afraid they will think the nanny is their mother?
See also: Are you afraid they won't know who you are?
"Honestly, how in the world anyone could think that asking this question would lead to a productive conversation is beyond me," web designer Ginger Anderson wondered.
I agree. If penguins can find their lookalike chicks in a colony of thousands, let's assume human parents and children can identify each other on a consistent basis. To anyone who asks this question, good luck with the rest of your adventures in stupidity.
Where are your kids?
See also: What do you do with your kids when [fill in the blank]?
Yep, people actually ask this question. And working women want to know: Has a father ever been asked such a thing?
"This question is annoying because it suggests that the person asking wants me to always be in a state of fear or anxiety when my daughter is not in my presence," noted dermatologist Dr. Dina D. Strachan. "If I weren't so polite, I'd tell them 'I don't know.'"
When Hillary Homzie, author and teacher, is asked what she does with her children when she travels, she'd love to say "I pack them in my suitcase. I've cut holes so they can breathe." Good thing she's got better manners than the questioner.
Is it hard leaving them with complete strangers?
See also: How could you leave your kids with strangers?
Many working mothers told me they believe that such comments are often made knowingly and with intent as a way to get in a jab at the working mother. What are they really asking?
As business owner Jennifer Gerlock put it, "It just makes me so angry that people assume that because I work it means I don't love them enough to even care who is watching them. Of course I worry about them!"
Yes. We working mothers are total morons who grab people off the street to watch our offspring as we selfishly try to earn a living. We are incapable of doing background checks or selecting a loving, responsible caregiver. Plus, all caregivers are monsters and we have the Nanny-cam to prove it.
Are you sure you can handle it?Several respondents had the experience of a boss looking them straight in the eye and asking if they could really handle a project given that they also moms. For example, Suzy Stauffer's boss once asked her "What's your childcare situation?" when she requested a promotion.
Ironically these bosses are often women who sometimes end up being less family-friendly than a male superior.
The polar opposite of the "juggle question," it is far more insidious because it comes from a place of prejudice rather than ignorance. It demontrates that even in this day and age, women can still be unfairly placed on the mommy track.
What's for dinner?See also: What are you doing about dinner?
This was voted the working mother's most reviled question. "The question seems innocuous but it implies that it is my job to produce it," seethes Rosemarie Fabien, Ph.D., a communications consultant. She compares it to the question, "Have you stopped beating your wife?"
I hear you sister. However, my reasons for despising this query are probably different from yours. Anyone who knows me knows that I am barely up to the culinary task of pouring milk over cereal. So why assume I can process a concept as complex as dinner? Whenever this question hits my ear, my neurons come to a screeching halt. For the record, I never know what I want to eat, I have no idea what to feed you, I can't make you anything to eat and I would rather starve than answer this question. That said, if you're ordering, I like salads, Japanese and Italian.
Surely I have missed a question that is like nails on a chalkboard to some working (or stay at home) mother out there. Please feel free to sound off in the comments section.