workplace culture

What about when Mommy cries? (What about when it's AT WORK?)

Photo via  Flickr  user raruschel (Raissa Ruschel)

Photo via Flickr user raruschel (Raissa Ruschel)

A funny thing happens when you return to work before you feel like you're on solid ground, emotionally: You get emotional at work. I go into this in a lot more detail in my book, but I'll sum it up here: The 700+ women I surveyed said that they felt "back to normal" emotionally right around six months after giving birth, on average. You know where I'm going with this. By then, maternity leave was a distant speck in the rear view mirror.

It's the worst! The last thing you want to look like at work is a mess (and really, you're not a mess...think about all of the executive functioning skills it took just to get out of the house). And yet, there you are, crying at the office Keurig.

What helps (besides longer, paid maternity leave)? The experts I interviewed offered up wonderful ideas for self-care plans, little escape hatches for when you need to get your shit together, and fast. But, as you know, I'm also a fan of bringing your whole self to work and displaying some of those vulnerabilities. Can that include tears? If part of the point of The Fifth Trimester is showing your coworkers that they can get through this transition too (and still succeed at work), is it acceptable to cry?

"I'm by no means an advocate of being a leaky, sobby, out-of-control employee," Anne Kreamer, author of It's Always Personal: Navigating Emotions in the New Workplace told the audience of female lawyers at a lunch hosted by Law & Reorder that I attended this week. "But if you shed an occasional tear, it's okay." I hung on her every word—as a longtime big-media executive and mother of two, Kreamer knows her stuff—and learned these three things about crying at work:

1) Women cry differently than men do: "Women's tear ducts are anatomically different than men's," Kreamer told us. The result: Women have a higher volume of tears, and those tears are more likely to fall down their cheeks and be visible. So this is not a matter of women being hysterical and men being withholders. It's just how we're built.

2) Some crying requires managing up: "If you're facing a significant stressor," says Kreamer—and I will pause here to note that returning from maternity leave counts—"it's actually incumbent on you to mention that to your employer. Be clear and get ahead of it."

3) Crying actually does make you feel better: Cue that old song from Free to Be You and Me (which really holds up, by the way). "No one wants to cry at work, but you can take it as a helpful signal that you need to sit down and figure out what's really going on," says Kreamer. "Women report crying at work most often because they feel angry, not sad, and that can be a catalyst for hormone release in the body." Huh. I flipped to the index of Kreamer's (excellent, really recommend it) book to learn more. She writes: "Crying stimulates the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps us feel better—and that also reduces prolactin production, which eventually helps curb the flow of tears, resetting our emotional equilibrium."

So cry! Like every other little bit of The Fifth Trimester, it's temporary and surmountable. I leave you with this gem.

5 hidden ways motherhood impacts your career choices

Because, whether we like to admit it or not, it does. So let's own that.

When the Harvard Business Review released this story and an accompanying ICEDR report on Millennial women in the workplace, several news outlets latched on to its primary finding: Women don't leave their jobs because they want better work/life balance. They leave, first and foremost, for better pay. And indeed, the wage gap is real and persistent, with women making about 7% less than men—only about half of which can be accounted for by the old "she doesn't want to work as hard because she has kids" argument.

But, you guys. Check out this chart (the top five reasons baby-making-age women leave their companies) and let's give it the old fortune cookie treatment, but instead of adding "in bed" to each option, add "because as a mother...." Go ahead, try it. You'll see that motherhood infiltrates all of the reasons.

Taking it point by point....

1) "I found a job elsewhere that pays more money" because as a mother, I need to support my family and pay for childcare. 

2) "There are not enough opportunities for learning and development for me here" because as a mother, I need to know I can eventually advance to a leadership role and create a workplace that works for my life—and my peers'.

3) "The work here is not as interesting and as meaningful as I would like" because as a mother, if I'm going to spend my time away from my baby, you'd better believe I want to be doing work that feels worthwhile!

4) "There is not a fair balance between how hard I work and the compensation I receive" because as a mother that feels especially crappy for the exact reasons described above.

5) "We are starting a family, and I would like to spend more time with them" because as a mother, time is fleeting, and while I know I won't get these baby years back, I also don't want to lose years of my career.

The subtext all boils down to workplace culture and motherhood—two things that aren't at all easy to separate. You aren't only a worker at work and only a mother at home. Being a parent affects your outlook on nearly everything. So yes, by all means, look for a job that pays more. But let's all be open about why: More money, more passion, more interesting work makes us more satisfied as working mothers.


Would you spend $2.19 a week to guarantee paid parental leave?

Photo courtesy of Pond's End Productions

Photo courtesy of Pond's End Productions

That's exactly 0.2% of the average American annual salary of $57,000. And that's how much it would cost to fund paid parental leave for all parents for 12 weeks following the birth or adoption of a baby. Seriously, two bucks. That's what Rep. Rose DeLauro (D — Conn.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D — N.Y.) proposed as part of their FAMILY Act—so far, to no avail. In the meantime, private companies are doing their best to stay competitive by offering their own versions of paid leave.

The latest and greatest is Etsy, which announced yesterday that it will offer all new moms and dads 26 weeks of paid parental leave, to be taken over the first two years of a baby's life—along with lots of new support programs. That is awesome, obviously, and part of a trend of one-upmanship among tech companies that I'm happy to cheer on. But here's what's especially cool: Fred Wilson, a venture capitalist at USV, who sits on the board of Etsy, gave his blog readers a glimpse at the thinking behind the new policy. It was fueled, Wilson writes, by the need to stay competitive in recruiting and retention (no surprise there), but also because, he explains:

"Etsy is a marketplace where creative entrepreneurs, many of whom are women, can create a more fulfilling and flexible way to support their families. An important goal of this policy change was to align the internal company values with the marketplace values."

Makes a ton of sense. But Fred, wisely, also points out that Etsy is able to make this change because it's a large company, with the scale to support these policies. He writes:

"It's easier to do this sort of thing when you have a workforce in the thousands or tens of thousands than when you have a team of four people working from a co-working space."

Or how about a team of one, like the lovely Etsy vendors I buy from when I need a sweet, unique baby gift, or "homemade" Phineas and Ferb Halloween costumes (homemade by some other far-more-fabulously skilled mom than me)? What about those individual entrepreneurs? Where is their leave—paid or unpaid? Non-existant. Which brings me back to two dollars. Because I would happily spend that, many times over, if it meant we could catapult the U.S. into the present and in line with the rest of the civilized world.

The case against "fake it 'til you make it" for new working moms



This little "shark" is super cute, but I kind of hate everything he stands for (sorry, fishy). Coming back to work during my Fifth Trimester after the birth of my first son, I heard this advice a lot: "Fake it 'til you make it. Just pretend you have it all together, and eventually you will!" While I agree that nothing gets you through a tough transition better than just putting one foot in front of the other and letting time tick on, the idea of faking okay-ness bugs me. Only by owning our struggles do we get to own our successes. Here's why I don't think you should fake it 'til you make it.

BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT A FAKE If you put on lipstick, you are not faking beauty or faking having your act together enough to spend 20 seconds on lipstick. You actually are beautiful. And you did find the 20 seconds. Likewise, delivering an amazing client pitch after a night when the baby was up four times is not "faking it 'til you make it." It's knowing your stuff well enough to succeed—even under crazy pressure.

BECAUSE HIDING THE STRUGGLE GIVES THE NOT-YET MOMS FALSE EXPECTATIONS The postpartum mood disorder experts I interviewed for my book agreed that we are living in an epidemic of outlandish expectations. "Mothers with high expectations are really at more of a risk for developing postpartum issues," says Wendy N. Davis, PhD, executive director of Postpartum Support International. Don't contribute to that by setting an impossibly high (and fake) bar for the coworkers who may follow you into motherhood. It's not reassuring for them to see you be perfect. It IS reassuring for them to see you be IMperfect—and stay, and grow, and succeed anyway.

BECAUSE YOUR WORK SUCCESS ISN'T SOME FLUKE Why credit your success to some head-game when you can simply credit yourself: Your talents, your skills, your level-headedness, your organization, your moxie. Realizing you've harnessed all those great qualities lets you keep drawing on them again and again.


AND BECAUSE POLICIES WILL ONLY CHANGE IF OUR NEEDS ARE VISIBLE Bosses aren't mind-readers! If you come up with some creative lie every time you leave work to take your baby to the doctor, how is your manager going to know that that's something s/he should help accommodate? By displaying your need for flexibility (and still getting your job done), you are helping yourself and the company. The majority of millennials agree that work/life flexibility is high up on their list of priorities while job-hunting. If policies don't evolve, your workplace will become Jurassic, quickly. Help yourself and your employer. Be real.