Writer. Adventurer. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a series of steampunk novels and short stories.

I Won’t Apologize for Being a Working Mother

Today I got all four-letter-words kind of mad.

Working from Home with Children

A customer talked to my manager and while giving feedback had some comments about me. This customer said that “one time while on the phone someone in the company heard a child in the background so I must have been working from home.” This person followed up by saying that working from home was okay.

Well, no, working from home wasn’t okay, or the customer would not have mentioned it. Working while children are around also isn’t okay, or it would not have been commented on either. Only if something is remarkable is it remarked upon. It must have bothered this person enough for them to remember it.

When Did This Happen?

il_570xN.457431784_91ukI cannot say when I talked to someone in the company and my children were present. It could have been while I was driving them to school or picking them up at the end of the day. It could have been when they were on vacation or home sick. It could have been when we were at the doctor or dentist or therapist or ophthalmologist. I’ve had work conversations in most of these times and locations.

My industry, international logistics, is 24/7, so I don’t stop answering the phone because I’m not sitting at my desk. In fact, I recently changed jobs, and a huge reason for that was so that I could have a flexible schedule for my children. They needed their mother more than the 8-to-6 office gig did, so I found an awesome job with an amazing company.

Age or Gender Is No Excuse

At first I was going to write the comment off due to the person’s gender and age, then I realized that doesn’t matter.

I won’t apologize if you’re 25 and think that having a dog is just like having a child. I won’t apologize if you’re a power parent with a spouse/nanny/parent who manages the children while you climb the career ladder. I won’t apologize if the kids are in college and you have free time to brush up on your tennis serve. I won’t apologize if the children have been gone so long that you don’t remember how to change diapers or wipe a runny nose. And I won’t apologize if you never had kids and don’t understand what becoming a secondary priority in your own life is like.

How Do I React?

The real question here is how do I react to it. Do I act like nothing has happened and continue to annoy the customer (and possibly others who haven’t spoken to my manager yet)? Do I no longer take calls if my children are present (and miss opportunities to increase my revenue)?

Eventually this will pass, but Ace is still a toddler and Sweetpea is in preschool. The time when they truly understand to not bother Mommy when she’s on the phone is far in the future. I cannot expect them to be more than what they are — children.

So I’m not quite sure what to do.

Looking Down on Working Parents Is Not Okay

Bottles 03I assure you, given the choice between sitting in the office with the stocked fridge, shiny coffee maker, delivered lunches, and coworkers to unload the company dishwasher OR spending time with a child sick with the stomach flu, I would choose option A every time. I enjoy my job and I enjoy my company. No one likes being with a sick kid.

But the sick kid doesn’t want to be with anyone else more than their parents, especially when they aren’t feeling great. You have to be there for them when they need you.

I also want to help my customers and be available for them. So don’t you dare judge me if I’m trying to balance my commitment to my family with answering your calls. If push comes to shove, then I’m going to chose my family and you can go to voicemail.  You should feel honored that I took time away from my family who I love and cherish to answer your call.

What You Can Do to Help

If you have a coworker who is home sick with the baby AGAIN, or is ALWAYS leaving early to go to a sports thing, or comes in late because it’s summertime and the babysitter ran late, YEAH RIGHT, don’t give them any grief.

You aren’t the time police. It isn’t your job to decide what is most important in their life. Don’t judge them or look down on them because they were doing something that they probably didn’t have fun doing in the first place.

I recommend complaining about those other coworkers who take the amazing vacations and post pictures that look like Travel Magazine photo spreads. They were having too much FUN while everyone else was picking up their slack. (Actually, shaming people for using their vacation days is another shitty thing that Americans do that I can’t stand. I’m being 101% sarcastic here.)


This has been your Public Service Announcement. I apologize for the less-than-upbeat post, but words had to be said.

3 comments on “I Won’t Apologize for Being a Working Mother

  1. rrwillica
    September 19, 2015

    I have a thirteen year old, a nine year old, and a three year old. At this point I can tell you that I haven’t discovered the age yet when “mom is working” becomes a reason to not interrupt.

  2. vlsperry
    September 19, 2015

    I’ll tell you one thing: I’d rather hear a kid in the background and talk to someone who speaks my dialect of English than have to deal with outsourced service/tech help I can’t understand at all!

    And I’m glad for you and your family that you found a job where you can spend this time with them. I don’t think you get quality time without a fair amount of quantity time.

  3. Teresa Pesce
    September 19, 2015

    Wow! That was one powerhouse post! In your own self-description, you write, “Tracy Cembor attempts to juggle a preschooler and a baby, a full-time job…” Two words, “attempts” and “juggle”, are meaningful choices. Are you “attempting” or are you succeeding, in your OWN opinion? Not what do other people think – what do YOU think? And are you “juggling” or are you giving your full attention to your client/customer when interacting with them when your children are present? What do YOU think? There’s nothing worse than judging yourself. Others may judge you ineptly or wrongly but the judgment that will really hurt is your own. So maybe rewrite that self-descriptor.

    When applying for writing assignments, I’m careful to give the impression that my field of expertise is the field I’m applying for. If I were to list all the areas for which I’m qualified to write, I’d lessen my chances of being hired. Why? Because people tend to pigeon-hole each other. It’s how they understand who you are and what you do. Classifying, defining, pigeon-holing – people do these things. So when someone calls you at work and they hear kids in the background, they are confused between two pigeon-holes: office and home. In that moment, they need your help. When they hear children and interrupt your conversation to mention it, say something like, “I’m in my mobile office. Please go on…” or “I’m in my home office. Please continue…” These work because, without mentioning children, you say the magic word: “office” so they are mentally repositioned to see you as an executive. They understand and feel clear and confident, and move on.

    When I hear someone say, “I’m a working parent”, specifically bringing their children into the conversation, I think they “mean something” by that. After all, most people who work are also parents. What do they mean by defining themselves as a working parent or more specifically, as a working mom? I hear it as a very polite heads-up that they may sometimes prioritize the children over their work responsibilities, and quite properly so. Their child may be ill, or need to be picked up or dropped off on short notice, or any number of things. “I’m a working parent…” seems to send a message that there are two jobs here, and one job will sometimes be more important than the other, and the job that will be more important is not the job someone is hiring them for. The most important job is their children, by the very nature of children and their needs, and the precious parent-child relationship. So if someone comments to you or your manager, they may be concerned about your availability or your focus. It may not be an accusation or a judgment; it may be an unvoiced question you can address proactively.

    As for me personally, what do I think if I hear kids in the background? I feel like I’m intruding, and I feel apologetic. My judgment isn’t triggered, but my concerns are. Can a mother put off kids fussing with each other, needing homework help, tugging on her shirt, wandering off so she has to check on them to be sure they’re safe? I don’t know, but I think perhaps it would be difficult.

    I think anyone who handles a job and children deserves a medal and a great deal of respect.

Comments are closed.


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Posting Schedule for 2014-15

Monday through Friday I will be posting about writing as business and craft, the science of creativity, all things steampunk, and progress on The Dreamless City.

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About the Author

Tracy Cembor attempts to juggle a preschooler and a baby, a full-time job, random geekery, and the writing life. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a steampunk urban fantasy novel. Come join the adventure.
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