Earlier this month, shortly after settling into my work day, my phone buzzed with a message from my husband. Apparently preschool drop-off had not gone well that morning. Our three-year-old daughter was distressed, saying she had a tummy ache and wanted her teachers to go away. This was week one at her new preschool and one month into my new job. (Note to self: when possible, stagger those big life changes.) The rest of that day, I was distracted, anxious about her but also worried about what would happen if I ducked out a bit early that day to pick her up.
Starting a new job can be difficult—learning how to do the work; signing the never-ending pile of HR forms; situating yourself in a new environment and getting to know the different dynamics at play; not to mention the very important feat of finding the best lunch and coffee spots nearby. By the end of my first week I had mentioned my daughter to a few people in conversation, and I was struck that no one asked me how old she is or even her name. It turns out I’m the only parent in the group and, two months in, this has proven to be the hardest thing about transitioning to my new job.
Being the only parent on my team means the work environment isn’t exactly family-friendly—in fact, being family-friendly isn’t even a consideration. I’ve been told by my boss and new colleagues there isn’t a lot of flexibility in terms of hours of work or working remotely, and there’s no precedent for it either. So, even if I work myself up to ask for these accommodations, I’d be the only one doing so. It’s not something I thought to ask about during the interview process, especially since I was hell-bent on hiding the fact that I have a young child in fear that it’d make me a less attractive candidate. In hindsight, I wonder if knowing about this lack of flexibility would have affected my decision to take on the role. Maybe not, but it would have been nice to go in prepared.
This transition has been especially jarring because my previous workplaces have been chock-full of working parents, with some of my closest colleagues having children around the same age as my daughter. This meant we went through similar stuff at the same time—we’d swap stories about tantrums and how we handle them and trade books, advice and even hand-me-downs. My boss was also a mom, which made me feel at ease if anything kid-related came up during the work day. She was also emotionally supportive and understanding when I was learning how to navigate my career and parenthood after returning from maternity leave. Spoiled, I know.
My new set-up is decidedly different. There’s no one to commiserate with when my three-year-old wakes me up at 5:00 a.m., and does anyone understand when I have to take off two hours into my work day to pick up a sick kid? It’s also led to some self-consciousness on my part—questioning if I talk about my kid too much or whether being a parent affects my job performance compared to my co-workers (of course, it doesn’t). This feeling isn’t unfounded either: Studies show that moms are considered less committed to their jobs compared with their childless coworkers. Great.
Recently, one of my new co-workers offhandedly mentioned that I could get more flexibility because I have a little kid. Ugh —I don’t want anyone to think I’m getting special treatment, especially since I’m not. When I took on this job, my husband and I agreed that he’d take on proportionally more of the parenting responsibilities while I adjusted to my new role – we’re super fortunate that he has flexible work hours. Of course, there will inevitably be days I’m late and sick days that aren’t for me—that’s the reality of being a working parent. But I know that my time management is tops and that my work will get done. The thing is, until I’ve proven myself here, no one else knows it.
As lonely as it is sometimes to be the only parent in the group, in some ways, it’s also kind of great. Similar to hanging out with friends who don’t have children, being at work is now a true break from being a mom. It’s the place where I get to dress up, drink an undisturbed Americano and where, if I’m not up to it, I don’t have to think or talk about potty training because no one is asking about it! In previous settings, I didn’t get this reprieve. Someone was usually chatting about poop or swim class sign-ups or temper tantrums.
Truth be told, around two months in, I’m somewhere in between. While I enjoy the separation between work and parenting, I would love to shake these feelings of isolation and guilt that I get from being the only parent on my team. I’m still figuring out how to do that. Until then, I’ve put up a few photos of my kid on my bulletin board and I’m learning to be at ease sharing the sweet, funny stories that make up my time off the clock.