ask the readers: starting work after being a stay-at-home parent

I’m throwing this one out to readers to weigh in on. A reader writes:

Do you have any general advice for a stay-at-home parent going back to work full time after 5 years of staying home with the kids? I’m fine socially at playgrounds and PTA meetings. I’m a little worried that I have mom brain though when dealing with this new job and new coworkers. I think most of my coworkers will be younger than me and don’t have kids. I know I should try to not talk about my kids all the time, but do you have any other general advice? I start next week!

Readers, what advice do you have?

{ 301 comments… read them below }

  1. HR Generalist*

    Stop with the imposter syndrome, everyone starting a new job is likely just as “mom-brained” as you are! Don’t worry about younger coworkers, they’re probably just as intimidated that you are older. It’s recognized that age is often associated with maturity/wisdom, regardless of the actual facts, so you likely have the edge there.

    Also – I’m a young office worker (early 20’s) in an office where the women are all at least two decades older and I don’t mind hearing about kids at all. As long as it’s not all you talk about, you’re probably fine! Don’t stress so much :)

    1. Accountant*

      And actually the term “mom brain” bothers me so much. I usually hear it in the context of women describing themselves as forgetful and stupid from exhaustion and the mindlessness of childcare. That is not the sort of term any woman needs to use in the work place to describe herself ever, if she wants to be taken seriously.

      Even if you think you are stupid from exhaustion, for the love of Pete, please call yourself “tired” rather than describing yourself as having “mom brain” or even worse “mommy brain”…. and I say this as a woman who has a child. I don’t at all mean to pile on the OP and bet she was probably just using that term as shorthand, but I just think women need to be conscious of what that phrase implies not just about themselves but about other working women with children.

      1. Future Analyst*

        YES. Or better, don’t comment at all about your self-perceived stupidity/exhaustion/etc. First impressions are important, and you should act professionally, regardless of what your inner monologue is saying.

      2. Julia*

        I don’t use the term mom brain myself, but I think the reader was more talking about having a brain that has been filled with mom related responsibilities for the past 5 years, so she might be a little rusty in the world of office norms, spreadsheets and conference calls (or whatever she’ll be doing.) So it’s not that her brain has been turned off or is too tired to function- it’s just been very busy building skills that don’t directly translate to the job market.

        Just my two cents, I don’t think “mom brain” needs to be thought of so negatively.

        That said, I could see someone using that term with the wrong person and having it backfire on them and then the mom might not be taken as seriously at work. So yes, maybe not a term to use around the office.

  2. Dasha*

    You’ll do great!! I’m sure it will take a little while to get back into the swing of things but try not to worry so much :)

    1. AMG*

      I think it’s really this simple. You will have other things to talk about, not everyone will be younger, and it will be fine. It’s a different mindset that you won’t be used to, but it’s not particularly challenging. Focus on work. You had a life before kids, so you know how to talk to people. I’ve done it and it’s no big deal. Good luck and congrats!

  3. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

    Make sure your child-care plan is solid, complete with multiple back-up options for an absent sitter, sick kids, etc. It can be so stressful to be pulled between making sure your kids’ needs are met and feeling like you can’t take time off when you are sick.

    Make some kind of plan for having time to yourself (maybe you were getting that before when the kids were at pre-school or gymnastics, etc.). Don’t trap yourself into spending every free minute with the kids when you’re not working. Take some time for you, too so you aren’t too tired.

    1. C Average*

      This.

      Also, if you have to arrange kid logistics by phone, step into a conference room! There’s nothing that makes me think someone has mom-brain like having to overhear one side of conversations about forgotten lunches, homework, parent/teacher conferences, soccer practice, orthodontist visits, Girl Scout cookies, or whatever.

      (All these things are aspects of my existence, but my colleagues don’t know that and they don’t need to.)

      Good luck!

      1. Colette*

        … but keep it to a minimum. One of my coworkers steps into a conference room right beside my desk, which is how I know she spends a lot of time on personal calls.

    2. No to Stella and Dot*

      Totally agree about having back-up childcare plans. I know this is NOT indicative of all parents, but several friends/coworkers of mine have absolutely no back-up childcare plans when it comes to their kids being sick, out for a snow day, etc. When they’re asked what the plan is, they’ll shrug and say something like, “Oh, I guess I’ll just work from home.”

      Both of my parents worked full-time while I was growing up, and they always had a couple of back-up options. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it just blows my mind that’s not even on someone’s radar.

      1. TheLazyB*

        But if you have no family nearby what else can you do?
        Neither my husband nor I can work from home. If DS is sick, one of us has to take leave. It sucks but the only other option would be dumping a sick child onto a self-employed friend and potentially making her child sick. If she even said yes, which I doubt.

      2. fposte*

        Additionally to what TheLazyB notes, a lot of commercial childcare options don’t let you bring sick kids, so those don’t work as backup either. I’m not sure that it’s that your co-workers are heedless, it’s that they’re aware of the limited options.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          Where I live, there are at least a few “sick kid” day care places. I don’t know what they cost, etc., but I know they exist. Your co-workers should be exploring whether something similar exists where you are.

          1. LW*

            Seriously? I would not drop my 10 month old off at a sick kid daycare that doesn’t know his schedule or needs, or where he might catch something additional. I am a pretty laid back parent but this is just not an option that seems reasonable to me. Having a backup that you trust is really difficult is there is no family nearby. Cut your colleagues some slack.

            1. fposte*

              Though that seems to go too far the other way to me. You’d always stay home, regardless of what was needed at work, and how much you’d been out, rather than put your child in an established childcare for the situation? I mean, I get it as a kneejerk reaction, but it seems to me that it exists because people need it.

              1. LW*

                I realize this is not the case for everyone but if I am not at work no one else does it for me. I make up the work at night or on weekends in addition to taking leave, so yes my partner and I take turns taking time off for sick days when our child is ill. I’m not forcing anyone else to pick up my slack at the office by doing this, which is the complaint I often see from nonparents. We have no family nearby and all of our friends work too, so what else can we do?

                1. fposte*

                  But if you have a childcare like this, that’s one of the answers to “what else can we do?” If you don’t need it, then it’s a moot point, but it’s not a horrible thing that makes people bad parents even to consider–it’s quite a useful support, in fact.

              2. Zillah*

                I’m sure that some people do need it – but there’s also nothing wrong with looking at it and saying that it isn’t worth the risk and discomfort to your child. I wouldn’t want to send my kid to a “sick kid” daycare on a regular basis, because bugs would get passed around even more than they do in a regular daycare and they’d end up sick more often, and even potentially be exposed to serious illnesses. And, I also wouldn’t want to drop my already-feverish small child off in an unfamiliar place where I had no relationship with the people who ran it.

                I’m not really clear why this emergency would be Not Okay but waking up with food poisoning would be.

                1. Zillah*

                  Oh, sorry – I probably needed another sentence or two there, since you guys cannot read my mind! :P

                  Basically, I feel like a lot of the comments about how it’s essential to have a million back up plans because it’s inexcusable to stay home to be a little unrealistic. Yes, sometimes it will be a very busy time at work, and if that’s the case, it’s important to try to minimize the impact at your work as much as possible – but sometimes emergencies happen at super inconvenient times. I’m not clear on why a sick child is an inexcusable emergency, where I doubt people would say the same thing about a person being out because they got food poisoning or their pipes burst.

                  If that makes more sense?

                2. fposte*

                  @Zillah–okay, I got it, I think :-).

                  I’m generally in agreement that kids get sick and people take time out and it can all pretty workable; that’s been my experience. And yeah, I’m engaging in the annoying pastime of talking more about the problems even though I think they don’t predominate. That being said: my thought on the (admittedly pretty marginal) topic of the sick-kids child care was mostly that I didn’t understand what seemed to be complete dismissal of what seemed like a very useful program.

                  It was also touching on a murkier and more contentious area, which is I’ve seen parents prioritize a personal preference of caretaking over a pretty significant work thing–“You do the presentation instead of me because Madison hates not having both parents home when she’s not feeling well,” that kind of thing (though I’m obviously exaggerating–well, a little). In a highly theoretical situation, I could see co-workers and managers being frustrated if they were left holding the ball on something big because a colleague takes a day out for a non-emergent family illness where an option was rejected out of preference.

                  So I thought I was on the train of always respecting the parents’ decision about whether to take off work or not, but I think maybe I’m only nearby. I think that what you can expect co-workers to cut slack for, whether you’re a parent or a non-parent or a very skilled dog in the workplace, does relate both how emergent the situation at home is and what the co-workers have to do due to your outage. Which I think most people are generally pretty aware of, and we’re generally not bombing out of appearances before the Supreme Court to get our rims detailed or our coats groomed, but we’re also not bombing out of them because we’re not willing to have the other parent (not a hypothetical) or a day care care for a kid with a cold. Maybe I’m also arguing for the wisdom of keeping your reasoning for your time off to yourself, too; this may go to Hep Hep’s statement down below about not asking for permission.

          2. TheLazyB*

            They don’t exist in the UK (afaik). And it was hard enough getting my child settled at nursery, no way would I leave him with strangers when he’s sick.

          3. fposte*

            They’re not that common (none in my area), and they’re also not cheap. I wouldn’t leap to assume that co-workers haven’t explored the possibility.

          4. Zillah*

            I don’t really think it’s your place to tell parents that they “should” be exploring where they can leave their (presumably small) children who are already feeling sick and miserable with strangers for an entire day. I’ve never heard of such a thing, but even if I did know of places near me, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a parent not wanting to expose their children to further stress and potential illnesses when they’re already sick. That’s about as ridiculous as shaming people for calling out because they have a migraine or the flu.

            1. AnonEMoose*

              I said “explore the possibility,” not “definitely do.” It’s a possible option, nothing more, nothing less. Doesn’t mean it’s ideal or will work for everyone, but in a pinch, it might work. At least some of the facilities I heard about had at least one nurse on staff, so at least there’d be someone who can monitor the kid and would know if something was changing for the worse.

              Frankly, I try not to make my personal life my co-workers’ problem, and I expect the same courtesy in return. That doesn’t mean I won’t ever cover for someone; I’m usually happy to if asked, if I’m not totally swamped myself.

              But the favors shouldn’t be excessive, should flow both ways, and there should not be value judgements about why I’m taking time off vs. why you are (provided all company policies about attendance and PTO are being followed). Oh, and if I do cover for you, especially on short notice, a few words of appreciation go a long way.

              1. Zillah*

                Sure – but I don’t think any of that is exclusive to parents, and I’m not sure why a sick child would be treated differently than any number of other emergencies that come up. If the absences/effect on work gets excessive, that’s something to talk about, but I don’t think it should have anything to do with why the absences occurred.

                1. Working Parent*

                  Amen to this! If PTO / sick time exists as part of a benefit for a job, more often than not care of dependents is explicitly included in the appropriate uses of that time. How the time is used is none of my coworker’s concern.

                  If this was a ‘how to start work after being a full-time student for 4 years’ post, I don’t think anyone would have mentioned having a back up plan to not have to take time out for sick leave / emergencies.

                  All that said, having a good regular childcare resource is good. Our daycare is awesome for my daughter and definitely made going back to work after maternity leave easier.

                2. AnotherFed*

                  I don’t think a sick child is being treated terribly differently than say, a plumbing emergency, it just happens to be the most significant change in the OP’s life. Presumably she could decide whether it was worth it to pay the emergency plumbing visit fee to call in the plumbers in the wee hours and make it to work or to resolve the situation by taking a day off, just like she can decide whether sick child daycare is worth it. YMMV, but sometimes, you just plain have to be at work and there simply isn’t any way for someone to cover for you.

                  And if the OP had been a student for 4 years, we would be writing in advice about transitioning from academia to business… and probably covering things like business casual dress vs. college dress code and telling the OP that throwing a tweed jacket over a band t-shirt does not make it appropriate office wear.

          5. Vin packet*

            Uh, no. You can’t just drop a toddler off at a random place they’ve never been with people they don’t know, especially on a day they’re already feeling out of sorts. I’ve never heard of a sick day care, but it honestly sounds ridiculous.

            Snow day care for older kids is a little more doable–some after school programs will pick up te slack (for a hefty fee). Sick care for preschool age children if you don’t live near family is nearly impossible unless you can afford a full-time private nanny.

              1. Zillah*

                Yeah, I feel like this is a really fine line where we can’t shame people on either side of it – especially since I’m sure that the vast majority of parents who have to use it wish they didn’t.

              2. Working Parent*

                And likewise — the fact that it is a thing doesn’t mean that non-parents can shame parents for not using it.

            1. Student*

              So what exactly do you consider a doctor to be? A nurse? The medical staff at the emergency room?

              They are the strangers that you leave your child with when the child gets sick. They don’t know the child, their routines, and moreover, they don’t care and won’t even pretend to do so. They are, however, trained to treat your child’s illness and are usually able to prevent the spread of diseases between different sick children. Unless you have medical training, they can probably treat your child better than you can if they become seriously ill. In fact, even if you ARE someone with medical training, there’s good odds they can deal with your sick child better than you can – because they are less emotionally invested in the outcome, they can consider options with less distraction, less stress. That is why, if a child gets very seriously ill, no one expects Mommy or Daddy to magically fix the illness – they expect Mommy or Daddy to take the kid to a doctor to find the uncaring stranger who can fix the illness.

              I would guess that the staff at a child care center that specifically caters to sick children have probably dealt with many more sick children than any normal parent, including many different variations of illness than most parents run into. They probably get more training on not spreading disease than most parents do. They probably have pretty reasonable first-aid and triage skills, from experience. Assuming they are only modestly competent, they are probably better at dealing with sick children than the average parent. I’d encourage scrutiny and vetting of specific locations, just like with anyone else you entrust your children to, but I can’t imagine why people are so dismissive of the basic idea. It won’t be a viable option for many people. It won’t be the best option for many people. But it will be a very reasonable option for some people.

              I just can’t understand why so many people think that there is absolutely nothing someone could do for their child better than they can as parents. It’s flat-out not true. Sure, there are many things you will be better at – and you’ll be much more likely to advocate for your child than anyone else for many years – but you are not personally the best choice for every thing involving your child all the time. Goodness, think back to your own parents, and the places where they were not your best resource – it doesn’t diminish them as parents or dismiss their overall importance to face that they aren’t always right or always best. And, frankly, sometimes parents are downright wrong, and it’s the healthiest thing for all involved to acknowledge that honestly whenever possible – not to pretend it will never happen.

          6. K.*

            I had never heard of such a thing until a friend mentioned one in her area (three states away) last week in a Facebook conversation and I promptly started daydreaming about how amazing that would be for us about once a year. Alas, no such option anywhere near our home or offices. Not that hours of Googling can find me, anyway.

            (Fortunately, my spouse and I do both have pretty geographically flexible jobs and can work from home — or anywhere else with a reliable broadband connection — basically whenever we want, and my job at least is mostly very hours-flexible as well. It was not always so for us but we’re lucky right now.)

          7. Christine*

            There are no “sick kid” places near me- I’ve looked! The nearest one is over 90 minutes away, and I live in a fairly metropolitan area. My husband and I both work because not doing so is not an option if we want to pay student loans and eat. We have no family nearby. My 16 month old gets sick- a LOT. She has a lot of health issues and her immune system isn’t as great as it should be.

            That being said, I was extremely lucky to make friends with a coworker who retired last year and has stayed in the area. About 40% of the time my daughter’s been sick, she’s been free to watch her last minute. I repeat, I’ve been extremely LUCKY. There are so few options for those with sick kids and no family nearby. I won’t even get into snow days.

      3. fizzchick*

        Just a quick note to say there is such a thing as emergency backup care. My CA-based employer has it as a subsidized benefit, so that we can call as little as 2 hours before and say “I need someone to care for my sick toddler from 10AM-4 PM” and the service coordinates it. I pay $4/hour for someone to come to my house (employer covers the rest of the cost, so that’s not what the providers get paid) and I can use up to 40 hrs/yr. It is AWESOME. Would also work for elderly parents – basically any dependent. If the kid isn’t sick but their regular center is closed you can bring them to an alternate daycare for $2/hr. It’s fabulous, I had no idea such a thing existed before I worked for this employer, and I wish more employers would put such a thing in place.

        1. Mabel*

          That’s a great benefit! My company’s HQ office has an emergency (not every day) day care for employees whose usual child care was not possible at the last minute (snow day, for example), and people really appreciate it.

        2. K.*

          My previous job had the same as part of their EAP and I used it more than once for my spouse’s ill, elderly mother while she was recovering from surgeries and needed help at home. It was a lifesaver.

          (Of course now that I actually have children, my current employer does not offer it. Alas.)

      4. Janet*

        I have to join the chorus here as a working parent who got promoted to management when my son was 2 (he’s now 16). I would have never considered leaving him in an unfamiliar place when he was sick (but that doesn’t make others wrong for doing so). Here’s what worked for me: 1) trading off with my husband. We’d look at our work responsibilities, and whoever could most afford to be gone would take the day off. If we both had critical responsibilities that day, we’d each take half a day off. 2) doing critical tasks at home while I was with my son. He slept a lot when he was sick (still does), so I could usually get some work done – sometimes more than I could do in the office. 3) A critical one that I haven’t seen mentioned here yet – planning ahead. I tried to finish critical work tasks ahead of the deadline, so if my son or I got sick, it wasn’t a catastrophe. I learned quickly to never leave a critical project till the last minute – ever. That minimized the impact of any missed days and helped me be less stressed too.

  4. Bend & Snap*

    Why would everyone be younger and not have kids? Is that typical of your field?

    Honestly, try not to think of yourself as a mom in the workplace. I have to shed my mom persona at work to get into the groove. And it’s not something I want to define me professionally. I think that happens to a lot of people–there’s an office “mom” who always has goldfish crackers in her purse and 1 zillion pics of her kids in her office and is always late/frazzled/sticky.

    Disassociate all the mom stress (and joy) from work and I think that will help. It helps me anyway.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Sometimes I have goldfish crackers in my purse.

      But I don’t open it or admit to it, I just clean it out when I get home after I realize they migrated again. ;)

        1. Hlyssande*

          Mm, goldfish. I’d keep a baggie of them in my purse, but they wouldn’t survive the day.

          Maybe I’ll get a bag to keep at work.

      1. Bend & Snap*

        I currently have Angry Birds graham crackers rolling around in the bottom of my purse, getting ground to a fine dust.

        But nobody knows except me :)

        1. H*

          Those Angry Birds grahams are really delicious and I frequently find them floating around in my purse because I buy them for just myself…

      2. AmyNYC*

        I’m not a mom, but I usually have a tide pen, snacks, tissues, safety pins and bandaids in my purse.

        1. Tina*

          Lol me too, it gets referred to as the Mommy Bag since it covers all eventualities! Ironically I know I stand no chance of being this organised when I actually have kids….

          1. Jen RO*

            My desk is known as the apocalypse kit. I have *everything* there, from food to tweezers. (And I don’t plan to ever have kids! But *my* mother always had a portable apocalypse kit – i.e. her bag full of stuff – that I learned to appreciate.)

            1. Kai*

              I like that name so much better! I have been dubbed the “group mom” before, at work or otherwise, because I had aspirin or mints on hand, or whatever. It’s like, no, not a mom, just…prepared and helpful?

          2. Bailando!*

            My son was complaining about the size of my purse and its contents the other day. I kid you not, within the next hour he had asked for (and received) a band aid, tissue, and a pen. Of course I had to point out the irony of that situation.

        2. TrainerGirl*

          +1000

          My purse is known as “CVS”, due to the band aids, ibuprofen, cough drops, mints, gum, nail file, snacks, safety pins, pens, lotion, lady supplies, vaseline, antacids, etc. in it. It’s big but it does cover most (minor) emergencies.

    2. AMG*

      My kids used to put stuff in my purse to keep me company (Barbies, cars) or to make sure I ate (cereal in my pouch with my USB drives and cords? yes, please! Half a banana, already peeled? Thank you sweetie!) and it was a cute reminder of them during the day. Sticky, but cute.

        1. GOG11*

          I am my office’s cat lady.

          Though I only bring them up when someone comments on the pictures of them on my desk.

          …yes, pictures. I got one of those photo collage-type frames and there were spots to be filled…

    3. Laurel Gray*

      I keep goldfish crackers in my purse because they are absolutely delicious, one picture of my child and one picture of his artwork on my office board.

      Also, just because your colleagues may not have kids doesn’t mean they don’t have regular contact with them. I work with people who are aunts and uncles and are very involved in their nieces and nephews lives so occasionally the “mom” talk is all inclusive.

      1. INTP*

        Butting in a bit here, but is it okay to join the mom talk if the kids you have experience with are your siblings or cousins? I want to contribute sometimes but worry it might sound snarky if, say, my peer-level coworker is talking about her daughter getting her drivers license and I mention my brother recently getting his and me being a nervous wreck about it.

        1. Bend & Snap*

          I think it’s fine. People tend to get pissed of about getting parenting advice from non parents, but commiserating with a similar experience? Totally welcome!

        2. Andy*

          that’s cool with me. Not cool is really and truly thinking that your feelings for your yorkie are the same as mine for my child.

          1. C Average*

            Why does it matter?

            No, seriously.

            I’ll never get why parents think that other people’s devotion to pets, hobbies, friends, or any other aspect of their lives is by definition less intense and less important than a parent’s devotion to a child, or why it’s worthwhile to point out the perceived disparity.

            Maybe, objectively, it is true that no pet owner or other individual who is not a parent to a human child could possibly comprehend the way you feel about your own child or feel similarly. But whom does it really hurt if they equate their feelings with yours? Where’s the harm?

            I have been through marathon training cycles and product launches that felt as emotional and all-encompassing to me as a human relationship. Pet owners I know have adapted their lives, finances, living situations, and daily routines to the needs of their pets.

            People who are not parents have intense and important relationships and experiences. Parents who go out of their way to point out that those relationships and experiences cannot possibly compare with parenthood look like jerks and give all parents a bad rep.

            1. NoPantsFridays*

              It only bothers me when they want to have it both ways. I have 2 cats. They’re not my kids — they are just like…feline buddies that share my house. That’s it. They really are “just cats” to me. I would not die for them if I had to. So my feelings are absolutely not equivalent. That’s just me, though, not all pet owners. My issue is when parents call me a “cat mom” or say “awww, you’re like a mom to your cats.” No, no I’m not. My cats’ mothers (two different moms) are God-knows-where. I don’t bring up my pets much, but when other people bring up their pets (most of my coworkers have pets and talk about them more than their children — go figure), I’ll mention them and get comments like these. No, I am not “maternal” toward my cats any more than I am “maternal” toward my computer because I perform system maintenance and use canned air to blow the dust out. My cats are not children-replacements. My decision to have pets is not a failed attempt at having children. If I wanted children, I would have had them.

              Anyway, this is turning into a rant so I’ll summarize. It’s only when they try to have it both ways, that (a) my cats are not like their children and (b) “awwww, you’re so maternal toward your cats.” Pick a side!

              1. C Average*

                Yeah, I’m actually the same way. I mean, I love my cat a lot, but her picture has only been on Facebook once, she doesn’t have any clothes or toys, and if the house caught on fire she’d be a distant fourth behind my husband and stepkids in terms of things I’d save. And I sure as hell am not her parent! Everyone knows a brown-eyed human cannot produce a green-eyed patched tabby.

                It’s the attitude that someone else’s devotion to their pet somehow diminishes a parent’s devotion to a child if the “pet parent” considers them equivalent. Who cares? The existence of rabid animal lovers (by which I mean rabid lovers of animals, not lovers of rabid animals) doesn’t in any way minimize a parent’s feelings about his or her kid.

                1. April*

                  I suspect that many parents who object aren’t doing so because they think it diminishes their own feelings about their own kids, but possibly for the same reason that even childless people might object: they think that is problematic because it equates animals with people. It makes no difference if those people are your own small children or somebody else’s (possibly) grown children, people and animals aren’t the same. There are non-insignificant differences between our species and the others. Frankly, if it appeared that someone really seriously meant what they said about their pets being just as important to them as human beings, I might be a little frightened to be around them. (I would picture them in an emergency picking Fido over me to save from that fire you mentioned, for example!)

                  That said, I suspect most people when push comes to shove don’t *really* mean it when they talk about their pets that way and are just trying to express what you said up above about your intense marathon projects: that the pets are a very significant part of their life that takes as much time and attention as (at least some) human relationships. Which is a nice nuance that I am glad you articulated.

            2. Valar M.*

              “Maybe, objectively, it is true that no pet owner or other individual who is not a parent to a human child could possibly comprehend the way you feel about your own child or feel similarly. But whom does it really hurt if they equate their feelings with yours? Where’s the harm?”

              Exactly my thoughts.

          2. GOG11*

            This. I have to be careful of this. Not because I feel my feelings for my pets are on par with a parent’s feelings for his or her child (they’re not) but because it’s the closest thing I can think of that I can use to relate to that sort of relationship (one in which you care for someone who is entirely dependent on you to get their needs met).

            Sometimes I imagine what life would be like if I had to make child-like arrangements for my cats every day and I get super overwhelmed just thought-experimenting about it. I don’t know how parents do parent things on top of everything else, but I admire them more for it.

        3. Sally Forth*

          Absolutely mention your siblings, cousins, and friends’ kids. Just don’t say “that I’ve practically raised” unless it’s true. A coworker of mine often speaks of her cousin’s son that she sees a couple of times a month and to whom she’s really close. I totally love her stories, but to give them legitimacy, she often says she’s practically raised the kid. Nope. Not even close. On the other hand, I have a friend who’s a full-time step-mom who hesitates to describe her parenting stories. One day I said, “Sweetie, you’ve spent the night in the bathroom holding his head over the toilet. You can have your mom badge.”

          1. INTP*

            Well, my youngest brother was born right after our middle brother was diagnosed with leukemia and started 3 years of chemo. I wouldn’t say I’ve been a parent or act like I know what parenting is like but I definitely did more babysitting and nurturing than the average older sibling because our parents were so busy.

        4. JC*

          I agree with everyone here. I do not have children and do not plan to have children and work with many parents. To keep up with conversations that are often kid-oriented (and I don’t mind that at all!), I’ll contribute what I can–which is usually a story about other parents I know, my nephew, things I remember from my childhood, etc. No one has ever outwardly taken offense at that. And if they did, I would just find it rude on their part; I’m trying to contribute to a conversation that’s outside of the realm of my personal experience, so cut me some slack, ok?

          1. INTP*

            I was just kind of worried about the age thing, since I have coworkers whose children are the same age as or older than my brothers. I don’t want it to be taken as me inconsiderately pointing out that I’m much younger than them as my siblings are the same age as their kids. It obviously isn’t meant that way, but I’ve had some coworkers who were really sensitive about age (none even over 40 – they weren’t old, just sensitive about not being the youngest person in the room anymore) and I don’t want to accidentally offend.

      2. Whatever*

        I completely agree with Laurel Gray. I don’t have any kids, but I love my niece very much. I need a little mom talk in order to know what to get her for presents, etc. Also, even though my coworkers and I all have strict professional boundaries, I am always glad when they tell me little tidbits and anecdotes about their kids or grandkids. They don’t overload me with stories, but it is a part of their life and, honestly, kids are an amusing break from work-related talk!

    4. Revanche*

      Gotta say, snacks in my bag and desk drawer were there long before the child ever existed :)

      (Drawer of Inappropriate Starches, anyone? Anyone? Bueller?)

      1. bluephone*

        I’m working on a Drawer of Sugary Things right now! Because I ate everything in my Drawer of Inappropriate Starches already :(

    5. Rat Racer*

      I once had an idea for a “Working Mom” Halloween costume that would include:
      – Spit-up on shoulder of suit
      – Pacifier/Sippy cup sticking out of purse
      – Dessitin Butt-print on pants
      – Disney Princess, Elmo or Dora the Explorer bandaid on hand or elbow, because we just don’t have normal looking bandaids anymore.

      I have been guilty of coming to work with each of these elements – though thankfully not all at the same time. And the Dessitin butt-print was sufficiently mortifying that I went home to change.

      1. V.V.*

        Oh my Dear Lord!

        A Dessitin Butt -Print?
        Did you see it first or did someone point it out?

        The Horror!

    6. Frannie*

      Please please please do not bring your sick kid to work with you. The kid is miserable and you look really unprofessional. Ditto – don’t bring your kid to work on “snow days” and such; your coworkers are not a daycare center; plan for these situations in advance. Older elementary age kids can sometimes be great helpers, but younger ones get bored and antsy really fast.

      Also, make it clear to your family that they should not call/text constantly. This becomes more of an issue when the kids are school age. I had a rule – I’ll bring you something at school that you forgot once a year; after that, you’re on your own. Kids can – and should – adapt to being responsible for their own stuff.

      Mom of 2 who are now grown.

      1. Rocky*

        Your comment about the calls and texts made me laugh. In one job, my new manager used to get a call every day around 9am where she was obviously talking a child through what they should get dressed in that day (“Well it might rain, what about your purple sweater, darling? No? How about the green one that Nanny bought you?”) I asked how old the daughter was and she was 16!! :-)

  5. Jen*

    I took a (customary, in Canada) year off for maternity leave, then we ended up doing an international move a couple months later, and I was off for another 6 months, after which I started a new job.

    Getting back into the groove of the workplace is really like riding a bike. If you learned how at one point, no matter how long ago it was, you generally feel pretty steady again after not too long. You never really forget how.

    My office is also very young (the vast majority are early 20’s singles), so I decided to keep quiet about family life for a while. Being new, conversation is easy, because you can ask loads of questions about the job, about the company, even about things like the best routes to get in, or good places nearby for lunch. And honestly, being at work was a nice break from focusing on kids for a few hours, so I didn’t really feel compelled to talk about them.

    After a while, conversations with coworkers started opening up into the realm of personal lives, and then inevitably it’d come out that I’m married with offspring. I’d already proven myself somewhat as a dedicated and competent employee, so a “mummy” wasn’t anyone’s first impression of me, and my colleagues were all mostly surprised I had a kid, and it didn’t impact how they saw my work.

    Good luck, and enjoy returning to this part of your life!

  6. Adam*

    You’ll be fine. Unless you’re in a field where the overwhelming majority of your fellow staff will be a certain age group I doubt you’ll be the odd-mom out. If I were in your position I’d probably be chomping at the bit to not have to discuss something child related for once. If you have good interesting co-workers you like talking to (or are just plain busy a lot) I’m sure you won’t have to default to child speak any more than you feel like doing so. Good luck in the new job!

  7. Bob Alou*

    As a childfree individual, there’s nothing that irritates me more than being expected to pick up the slack of parents who are constantly coming in late, leaving early or missing days because of their kids. Going back to work means being present at work and keeping up with the rest of us. If you think this sort of thing might be an issue, maybe look for work with a family-owned or small company where they are more relaxed about that sort of thing.

    I am actually fine with conversations about their kids, but it really chaps my hide to see them getting paid equally for all the work of theirs I end up doing.

    1. AMG*

      But not everyone is like this. When I have those situations, I take my work home. In fact, I pull more than my fair share and pick up slack from other people who aren’t raising kids. I think this is a lazy/selfish thing and not a parent thing.

      1. fposte*

        And a confirmation bias thing, I think. We notice when we’re covering for a lot more than when we’re covered for, and we hardly ever notice the people we don’t ever have to cover for.

      2. Bob Alou*

        Absolutely it is probably more a lazy/selfish thing, but I think a lot of parents probably don’t realize how often it happens, and the rest of us are too polite to mention that we hate it as much as we do. We completely understand that some situations are just unavoidable–no one can plan for a child to be sick, naturally. But I agree with the person above who recommended making sure your childcare situation is in order and have multiple backups.

        1. Bailando!*

          Playing devil’s advocate here…say someone is dealing with a chronic health issue (their own)? Say Crohn’s, or MS, or another type illness where flares are common and unpredictable? Is it more that you feel parents have a sense of entitlement that gets under your skin? What if the chronically ill person had that same sense of entitlement? Would it bother you as much? I just find this whole discussion fascinating, and I’m trying to get a good sense of where everyone is coming from.

          1. AnotherFed*

            Personally, I don’t care what the recurring reason for absence is, but I notice that it’s always certain coworkers who have issues. I’m not their manager, so they could be making up time after hours or teleworking or have some other arrangement, but when I consistently have to cover meetings or other work, I get irritated. If it’s just a case of not seeing someone to know if they are working or not, then it’s not my problem, but when it increases other people’s workload, it becomes a problem.

            At my last job, we had one guy at work whose child was terminally ill. He was the worst offender in terms of excessive absence, but no manager was going to take action on a performance issue due to lack of attendance with a parent whose child was dying slowly. We all felt terrible for him, but his work was terrible and we always ended up having to redo it (if he even submitted anything in the first place), then would feel guilty for being mad at him.

          2. Treena Kravm*

            I think it would change based on how we judge their preparedness. Because let’s be real, we all judge based on the info we see. I think the parents that get judged the most are the ones who either don’t plan, or don’t make it clear that they’ve planned, and a situation still popped up. Of course you don’t control whether or not your kid is sick, but you can have a back-up plan, as others have suggested.

            But the same thing would happen with a chronically ill person. Because of course flares are generally unpredictable, but everyone of those illnesses are exacerbated by choices the person makes. So if we see you “treating yourself” to gluten for lunch, and then call out the next day because your Celiac’s is acting up, of course we’re going to judge you. Yes, you can’t control that you have Celiac’s, but you definitely controlled the gluten going into your body.

            As a society we tend to over-judge parents and think they should be perfect all the time. So they get it a bit harsher or don’t get the benefit of the doubt as much as a chronically ill person does, but over time, I think both parties will get judged.

            1. Melissa*

              At the same time, though, I think that we childless and childfree folks often underestimate how difficult it is to have a back-up plan in place or secure alternative care. How is a parent supposed to make it clear to his or her co-workers that they had a Plan A, B, and C and they still all fell through? How many additional plans are parents required to have? Are they expected to have extended conversations with us to prove that they worked hard enough to try to find child care? And who gets to judge?

              Same thing with the illness; actually, I think that’s more egregious. I would not judge someone because they had a flare-up, even if they partially contributed to that flare-up. Besides, it’s not true that every one of those illnesses is exacerbated *only* by choices people make. You can have a bad day with celiac or Crohn’s or something else without doing anything aside from existing.

              If I am consistently picking up the slack for someone else I don’t assume that it’s because of their children (or their chronic illness); I assume that it’s because they are the kind of person who drops the ball all the time and that they would do it regardless of whether or not they had kids. I’ve also worked with far too many competent, amazing people who have happened to be parents – and occasionally had a snafu with a snow or sick day that they couldn’t resolve. I try to give them the benefit of the doubt and assumed they tried their best, rather than automatically assume that they were just too lazy to have a back-up plan in place.

              1. C Average*

                Honestly, in these cases, I think the less explaining about the problem and the more focus on the work, the better in terms of the impression you make.

                For example . . .

                There’s a woman in my office who perpetually has child care drama and is having to work from home or leave early to deal with kid stuff, and when she talks about it, she talks aaaaalll about it: “I need to work from home tomorrow because Kid A has a bit of a cold and honestly, he’s probably fine, but the daycare has a strict policy of not allowing anyone with a runny nose to attend, and my regular sitter has gone back to school and we haven’t found a replacement yet, and with my luck Kid B will catch this bug and I won’t be back in the office until next week . . .” All the overexplaining makes her just seem flaky.

                Meanwhile there’s another woman in the office who’s actually probably out with kid-related stuff even more frequently than the first one, but she’ll say something like, “I’ll be offline for the next hour because I need to head home to deal with an urgent family matter. I’ve rescheduled the conference call with China for tomorrow. I’ll log on from home and wrap up the teapot design draft and have it to the review team by end of day. If you need anything urgent, ping me.”

                In other words, just calmly explain that you need to deal with something family-related or health-related, pivot to work discussion, and don’t apologize or overexplain. You’ll look like you have your stuff together and people won’t think of as the drama-prone person who’s always dealing with kid stuff.

                1. Treena Kravm*

                  Yes! It’s the people who don’t plan, they then feel the need to explain themselves, so they then go on and on about the situation, which unfortunately just reveals to us that *you* didn’t plan. The ones who normally have their Plan A, B, and C, but still need the afternoon off know they don’t have to justify it because it truly is a one-off and they know it’s not a reflection on them.

              2. Treena Kravm*

                I’m not saying anyone has to pre-emptively provide evidence that they’re “trying,” I’m also not saying that I would judge someone after one incident–it’s a pattern I’m talking about. When people are milking their kids/illness to cover their laziness, it shows really clearly. Most parents I work with are great, but there have been 2 where everything they couldn’t do was because Kids. Can’t stay late for a deadline we all knew for months would result in a late night? Kids. They’ll actually say, “I didn’t expect them to get sick the first week of school!” Etc.

                I have a chronic illness and my boss didn’t know about it for a year and a half. I dropped the ball a LOT (for me) and sure I could have said, Oh, chronic illness. Instead I just apologized and fixed it without giving excuses. I only ended up telling her because my co-worker knew and we were discussing my treatments and she overhead.

                Similarly, I have an aunt who has lupus, and we all hate her so much we almost wish it on her. Everything is because Lupus. She was 3 hours late to her daughter’s (3 hour long) bridal shower, and it’s because she got lost because Lupus. She says mean things and is cruel because Lupus. Now when I go on with my life and meet someone with lupus, am I going to judge them based on her? No, but if I notice little things like excuses right away, then I’ll be paying closer attention.

      3. Daphne*

        I am childless by choice. I did work with a couple people who really milked being a parent as excuse for laziness. One of them had an amazing ability to dodge work. However, most didn’t. The worst offender probably had some other excuse for her laziness before she had kids. The flexibility that parents are given also works for me. I have to take the dog to the groomer. I have dental and doctor appointments. I want to leave early on Friday to have a beer with a colleague. I would so much rather have a beer than go to some kid’s band concert.

    2. Amy*

      I take it you’ve never has a serious illness of your own, or responsibilities for taking care of an aging parent? Those things happen. In my experience as a working parent, a working environment that is flexible for parents of young children is also often flexible for an employee’s personal illness or additional non-traditional family caretaking.

    3. Tiffy the Fed... Contractor*

      OK. I just have to add a comment here even though I know I shouldn’t.

      I am a mother, and I am pregnant. I also get to work on time and work just as hard if not harder than my colleagues i.e. meeting deadlines, exceeding customer expectations, taking on extra projects, etc. Just because someone is a parent doesn’t mean that they are going to fit this persona you are assigning to working parents.

      Maybe it is specific to your office, but the experience you have described is not one I have encountered with enough frequency to assign it to all working parents.

      1. Bob Alou*

        No one was talking about you specifically. I’m sure you’re a delight to have in the office and never put anyone out. The OP asked for advice, and that is what I am advising.

        1. Colette*

          Your advice was basically look for a company where they’re more relaxed, which actually makes little sense – if parents are not handling their own work at your employer, then your employer is pretty relaxed about it, correct? You’re the one that’s angry about it – but unless they report to you, it’s entirely possible that you only notice when they don’t do something that you think they should, and don’t notice when they do things that you don’t care about.

          1. Bob Alou*

            Even employers who would prefer not to be lenient about time off are unlikely to say no to the many needs of parents of young children. I have worked in both family-owned offices and megacorporations, and it was equally annoying to be asked to pick up the slack. Ultimately my advice is the same as the person above: get your childcare plans in order and have multiple backups. It will depend on her office whether she can be flexible with her schedule without pissing people off. AMG below is also correct: be conscientious and thoughtful.

        2. Tiffy the Fed... Contractor*

          Obviously you’re not talking about me. You don’t know me. Although you did appropriately assess that I am a delight to work with.

          I just didn’t think that stereotyping working parents like you did was a fair assessment as worked with plenty (both before and after becoming a parent) who were not like what you described.

          1. Bob Alou*

            I did not stereotype all parents. I specifically mentioned the ones who come in late, leave early, and miss days often.

              1. Bob Alou*

                I didn’t say it wasn’t. Anyone who did these things would be annoying. But the context of this letter is the OP is a parent coming back into the workforce. People who aren’t parents are irrelevant to responding to OP’s question.

            1. The Banker Mom*

              I’m a mom, and have mom’s who I directly manage. There is thing called an Attendance Policy. Though there are some protections for parents in our state, we do hold all people to the same accountability in regards to tardiness and absenteeism. Though admittedly, it comes down to work ethic… There have been days where I have made my husband, the breadwinner, who also doesn’t earn any money as a self-employed contractor, take the day off to stay home with sick kids. And there is a young single person in our office who is repeatedly late and/or calling out conveniently on Fridays or Mondays. So to pointedly say its a parent issue is inaccurate.

              The guilt associated with missing work to stay at home with your sick kid is one of the things a like least about being in the workforce!

              1. Laurel Gray*

                +1000 on that last line! I wish some people could understand that no one wants to miss a day of work (and be swamped when they return) to make runs to a pediatrician, urgent care, pharmacist, on top of playing MomNurse to an under the weather, irritated, stuffy etc tot who would prefer to be at school than home in bed.

                1. fposte*

                  To be fair, though, co-worker/supervisor frustration isn’t because they think you’re having fun on your day out of the office.

              2. Bob Alou*

                The context of this letter is the OP is a parent coming back into the workforce. People who aren’t parents are irrelevant to responding to OP’s question.

                1. Victoria, Please*

                  Um… really? Since I’m not a parent, I have NOTHING relevant to say to anyone is is a parent?

                  I disagree with this assessment.

                2. fposte*

                  That’s not how I read Bob’s comment. I read it as him saying that since the OP is talking about parents, he’s talking about parents because non-parents aren’t relevant to the question.

                3. Zillah*

                  I think it’s quite relevant when the comments are disputing your characterization of certain behaviors as being more typical of parents than anyone else – because if that’s inaccurate, your comments aren’t all that relevant, either.

                4. L Veen*

                  You stated in your very first comment that you’re a childfree individual, so you’re saying that your own contributions in this thread are irrelevant.

              3. amy*

                Banker Mom I think the issue lies a little here. That single, late coworker? Everyone just sees her as a single, I dependant person. When she’s got kids and is still always late or absent, it suddenly turns into a mum-thing. Its like peoples blinkers are on when they look at an unreliable person co oared to an unreliable person who is also a parent, as if that changes things somehow.

                I can almost guarantee you the perpetually late, often absent parent person was once a perpetually late, often absent non-parent.

                1. Treena Kravm*

                  Probably true, but now that perpetually late, often absent parent person has a convenient excuse that they throw around at the drop of a hat.

      2. A Teacher*

        I worked with a lot of awesome parents when I was in the corporate world, that said, we as the “single without kids bunch” were expected to step up when Tom or Sally wanted to go see their child’s school play and around the holidays, “why do you need off Christmas Eve? Tom has a family he needs to be with.” Its that bias toward those with a “family.” We’ve talked about it on here a plethora of times, it seems that employers sway toward flexibility to those with families more than those that are single–not a universal fact, but something I’ve see across the spectrum in my work experience, even as a school teacher the expectation is because I don’t have kids or a “family” I should just be willing to do extra duty and coach. I do both by choice but I do have a family–3 dogs, parents, and a sister.

        To the OP: be yourself–which means talk about your kids sometimes, I like when my co-workers talk about their kids and hobbies, its interesting. You’ll also find that you end up talking shop a lot. Where you work is what you have in common, at least to start. When we get together as staff outside of school we talk about other stuff, but we do talk about school stuff to a certain extent as well. Good Luck!

        1. NoPantsFridays*

          This is basically it. Good post. This is the root of the frustration. It’s not really about parents, it’s about “family friendly” policies that end up being unfriendly to people whose families may include a spouse, siblings, parents, but not children. It’s funny how “family friendly” generally is not friendly at all to employees caring for an ill spouse, parent, or other relative. Yet if that relative were a child, getting time off to care for them would be no problem. Thankfully this isn’t an issue at my current workplace — it just depends on the policies of the workplace and the willingness of management to enforce them.

      3. Anna*

        I honestly think these “parents always get more flexibility” things happen a lot less often than reported. I have no children and have worked with plenty of people who have children and as Dan said above the only ones who were really problematic were finding other ways to slack off before they had kids, and they’ll find some other reason when their kids are grown up and moved out.

    4. AMG*

      The message I am hearing from Bob is to be conscientous and aware of it. It’s hard to juggle everything sometimes (and it all seems to happen at once), so remembering to be thoughtful of your coworkers is key.

      1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

        And I think, in addition to all that, it’s important for parents to know that, regardless of how true or not true it is, if you end up being one of those parents that has to leave early, come in late, take off on short notice, etc, you’re not just dealing with being a slacker employee, you’re coming against a pre-existing notion of parents being more likely to be slackers. Whether or not it’s true is irrelevant; once you get pinned as “that parent,” it’s going to be hard to shake. And thus, it’s useful to be mindful of it.

      2. blackcat*

        Along these lines, being available to cover for coworkers who have covered for you can make things a lot easier.

        When I taught at a private school, “covering” for someone who had to leave mid day because of sick kid meant subbing their class. If we got an internal sub (so another teacher volunteering to sub during a prep period), we were not docked sick/PTO (basically, if they did not have to hire and pay a sub, we were not docked).

        I was the go to emergency sub (when my scheduled allowed) for the spanish and french teachers, who all had small kids. I speak both languages passably, so they’d always check in with me to see if I was free. I never minded, because guess who was always there when I had a doctor’s appointment/plumbing emergency/ when I got into a wreck on my way into work? The spanish and french teachers. I’m sure they subbed for me WAY less than I subbed for them (particularly since I’m one person and they were three), but when the atmosphere was one of we have each others’ backs when life happens, no one comes out feeling used.

    5. Jen*

      I’ll say that in my company, where age skews very young, it’s generally not parents whose slack needs to be picked up. Because there is a much larger percentage of the workforce (95%) who don’t have kids, they also take a much larger share of sick/emergency time that needs to be accommodated.

      And generally, fueled by the hubris of youth, they are much harder to cover for, as they don’t have the professional experience to know how to really effectively communicate their status (and set expectations for when they may be back), and they generally don’t keep good notes on their work, so it’s much harder to figure out where they’re at with any given task (again, because they’re not used to having to).

      Everyone’s life turns a bit pear-shaped sometimes. For both people with kids, and without. Yes, it’s a giant pain when it happens to someone you need to cover for, but I assume that it could just as easily be me (for kids, or parents, or dog, or anything really), and try to afford them the grace and courtesy I’d like to receive if that were the case.

    6. Snarkus Aurelius*

      My sister is an attorney, and she sees lots of women coming back in the workforce after being at home for several years.

      Her biggest complaint is the people who drop everything because of their child. She has seen attorneys leave work because if a sick kid, a school activity, or even a call from school . The only notification she gets is a last minute email telling (not asking) and then she and the rest of the firm are left with time sensitive work. No idea how much work has been done on that departing woman’s case either . Many an evening and weekend have been ruined.

      Moral of the story. Make sure you have back up because you can’t up and leave whenever you want. And if you do leave, make sure your work is covered and cover for other people! Don’t just disappear with a two sentence email.

      1. Bend & Snap*

        Are you suggesting that someone should have 24/7 backup so that they don’t have to deal with a sick child?

        Guess what…if my child is sick I’m there. I don’t want to pawn her off on someone else. I’ll get my work done when she’s in bed, or in the middle of the night, or while she’s on my lap eating a popsicle.

        To suggest that people leaving work to tend to a sick child are bad employees is absolutely outrageous.

        1. Carrington Barr*

          “To suggest that people leaving work to tend to a sick child are bad employees is absolutely outrageous.”

          Seriously?

          Please don’t interpret comments to say what you’d like them to say.

          1. Bend & Snap*

            How would you interpret that? It read as bashing parents who tend to sick children.

            Maybe post your own thoughts instead of policing what other people say? K THX

            1. A Teacher*

              I’m not reading it that way. I’m reading it as make sure that when you do leave, make sure people know where you left off at. Not always possible, emergencies happen to everyone. I had to leave work early unexpectedly this year because two of my dogs were attacked and I had to make a trip to the emergency vet. My boss and coworkers understood, that said, if I wanted to take off with no notice for something (like a spring concert for some of my parenting co-workers) its rude to not give notice you’ll be gone. I think that’s all the comment is saying. Its not bashing all parents for everything.

              1. Zillah*

                FWIW, I’m not a parent and I read the comment similarly to Bend & Snap (though I thought it was a little more assertive than they did).

                I agree that it’s a problem to take off with no notice for something like a spring concert – but I’m a little confused about why that’s being so linearly related to being a parent. It’s a problem no matter who does it, whatever their reason is – and many, many people who aren’t parents do it, too. To me, it’s kind of like dragging generational stereotypes into work issues – I just don’t feel like there’s a place for it.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Can we cool this conversation down a notch? People are starting to get cranky and there’s no need for it. Please don’t be rude or snarky to others here! Thank you.

        2. Snarkus Aurelius*

          But the problem, at least in this case, is that you risk briefs not getting written and filed with the courts on time and you risk losing major business. Its even worse when everyone else has their own stuff to do.

          My sister’s complaint was that she had no idea what was done so far and no sense of when this attorney would be back to work or if this person would be working later. They’d be just gone.

          1. Bend & Snap*

            Then that’s a management issue. She needs to set clear expectations of what employees need to do in order to leave early, how to communicate when/if they’ll be working and how often to check in.

            1. fposte*

              Mmm, it’s a both sides issue. The employee needs to take some responsibility for ensuring that her departure is reasonable and coverage is workable.

              1. Bend & Snap*

                True, but if it’s an ongoing problem with a bunch of employees–management needs to speak up.

              2. PurpleMonkeyDishwasher*

                This.

                There’s a world of difference between “I have to go pick up Suzy from daycare because she’s projectile vomiting and co-parent is at an off-site meeting today, I’ll be out of the office for the rest of the day but I expect to be available by email/phone by around 4:30pm after taking Suzy to the walk-in clinic and picking up her meds. There’s filing deadline in the Teapots matter tomorrow by 5pm, I don’t anticipate any trouble meeting that deadline, I’ll have the final draft to you by 8am tomorrow morning,” which, as an attorney, would be a perfectly acceptable way to handle an unexpected need to leave the office, and “I have to go pick up Suzy, she’s sick, I’ll be out for the rest of the day,” which leaves every scrambling to figure out what’s going on with the Teapots filing, and potentially making the client angry because of the confusion/lack of communication so close to an important deadline.

                1. LisaS*

                  Plus, not all jobs can be done from home/at midnight/in the morning before the rest of the office shows up. I’m a classroom instructor, and in several of the places I’ve worked, if I was not physically present no teaching was happening. This is one of those issues it can be impossible to fully resolve…

                2. PurpleMonkeyDishwasher*

                  But Lisa, even in the classroom context, this can be handled better than “I need to leave, sorry, bye.” Something like “Principal, I need to go pick up Suzy because she’s sick, please let whoever is covering my class know there are videos/hand-outs/whatever for the students to work on in my absence in my top right desk drawer, the kids are working on fractions this week” would probably go over a lot better than just jetting out the door. To me, the point isn’t “you must do all of your work when there’s a sick kid” so much as “if you need to leave the office for any reason – including a sick kid – you must clearly communicate what’s going to happen to your work in your absence.”

                  I think what’s rubbing people the wrong way is that many people have had the experience of watching a colleague just walk out the door with minimal explanation thinking “sick kid” excuses what is basically unprofessional behavior (leaving work without notice and without leaving any kind of status update/instructions on open projects behind).

                3. Bend & Snap*

                  Yes, true. I don’t just peace out without any detail and I don’t know anyone who does.

                  My kid was in the hospital last week and my boss got updates when I got them, including status reports on pressing projects and my likely timeline for returning to work.

                  I did not email him and ask him for permission to take off…

                4. Snarkus Aurelius*

                  All this. While it might seem minor, I prefer to be asked instead of having work dumped in my lap. When there’s no asking, that means there’s an assumption that I don’t have anything better to do. Not true.

                  In the end, ill do what needs to be done, but dropping things on me last minute with the expectation I’ll just do it will get you nowhere with me.

                5. Bend & Snap*

                  I’m just not going to ask if it’s okay to leave to take care of my family when there’s an acute need. Asking you to cover the work–sure. For permission–no.

        3. Zillah*

          Yeah, I agree. I think it’s important to try to minimize the impact of that as much as possible, but I feel like a lot of the frustration people without kids can feel toward people with kids comes from a very understandable place (e.g., someone getting more promotions/raises/better vacation time because they’re a parent), it can also extend in unfair and inappropriate ways. It’s healthy for everyone to have priorities outside of work – the idea that one’s children shouldn’t be near or at the top of that list is a little ridiculous.

          That’s not to say that your work shouldn’t be held to the same standards because you’re a parent, but I do think there’s something to be said for providing people with a little more flexibility to reach those standards. That’s particularly true since in most of the world, including the United States, women are responsible for a disproportionate share of childcare, and failing to offer any accommodations has a distinct and societal-wide effect on women’s ability to advance in their careers. (And, when people complain about parents in the workplace, it’s worth noting that they’re frequently referring to mothers – I hear far fewer complaints about fathers, even though it’s often because they’re not providing equivalent amounts of childcare.)

          If there’s something wrong with how a parent is juggling their career and family, it’s important to talk to either them or your manager about it, just as you would someone with health issues or who is caring for an elderly parent or whatever other disruption there is.

          1. Treena Kravm*

            Interesting, because for me in my experiences, I’m mostly complaining about fathers. Moms in general are the ones that are super organized and on top of everything, but Dads are the ones who will forget to mention that their kid’s spring concert is at 3pm until it’s time to leave at 2:30. Oh and oops I guess I’ll be missing a meeting, Ok bye! They’re also the ones that will more frequently just use “You know how it is–kids” as an all-encompassing excuse. It’s because they are men, I don’t think they’ve suffered enough backlash yet to understand that’s not a good enough excuse.

        4. INTP*

          Someone who doesn’t have a backup for frequent occurrences, like a sick child, should probably not accept a job as someone who is independently responsible for time-sensitive work. Leaving work to care for your child doesn’t make you a universally bad employee. It might, however, make you a poor fit for positions where deadlines are constantly tight and your leaving work early means that someone else will be up all night finishing your work. Different jobs have different demands for availability and attendance and if you have to or choose to be out frequently, it’s your responsibility to try to find positions where this can be accommodated (preferably not by your coworkers losing their nights and weekends). And if you have no choice, do what you can to mitigate the impact like keeping good documentation, leaving detailed instructions, and working from home as much as possible. The people being complained about in Snarkus’ post were doing none of those things.

      2. Laurel Gray*

        A sad reality is that when you get that call about your child being sick, you don’t know what to expect and since you are the first contact before the emergency names and numbers, they contact you first. I have left work only to get to a child that was running a fever “off and on” – EXCUSE ME? He just woke up from a nap in a room with the heat on 74 and his head was hot and sweaty. Or a runny nose – in a classroom where it was one big psychedelic wet booger experience among 15 kiddies, again EXCUSE ME? Talk about a waste of my time, a waste of leaving early. It sucks, but I can tell you first hand, when u get the call that your kid is sick, even with “back ups” it can still feel like it falls on you. Anyway, I am lucky I do have a great work life balance with my employer and while my work is unique to me, a sick day means a very busy and productive day when I return.

        1. hildi*

          Your description of those situations is utterly hilarious!! “one big psychedelic wet booger experience ” – I will never look at my toddler’s classroom the same way again. So funny…….

        2. Rowan*

          And on the flip side, the one time I told the school that I wouldn’t come and pick her up, she sounded fine and I’d be there at 2.45 as normal I had to take her to Accident and Emergency to get the gravel removed from her head. You can’t judge the urgency of a situation from a phone call, unfortunately.

          1. blackcat*

            As a teacher I once was in the office when a parent was being called for *a badly broken arm.* Kid seemed to be handling the pain very well, despite his misshapen arm. Parent said the kid sounded “fine” on the phone, so they’d wait until the end of the day to pick him up. Apparently, when dad showed up, he was FURIOUS that we hadn’t sent his kid to the hospital–in an ambulance, sending one of our staff (who? why should one of us have to leave our responsibilities?). When someone said that they said on the phone “Your son has a compound fracture of his left arm–what would like us to do?” The dad said just didn’t process the “compound” part. Apparently we should have said, “his forearm appears to make a 15 degree turn.” Unless it’s truly ambulance worthy (and we had a nurse determine that), it was up to the parents’ judgement. And sometimes kids, knowing their parents’ can’t leave work, will downplay injuries to their parents.

            (Kid was fine, though. He actually enjoyed hanging out in the office and playing games on his phone for three straight hours–something his parents did not allow for more than 10 minutes at a time. I told him my story of breaking my arm–a minor fracture–at school as a kid and staying the rest of the day. I knew neither parent could come get me, so I toughed it out. And I was fine, too. The best part was I took the bus to get to my *dentist* appointment at the end of the school day, meeting my mom there. The dentist was completely flustered by my cavalier response to what was then a quite swollen arm.)

      3. Working Parent*

        Ugh. Right before I came back from maternity leave I read ‘Lean In’… and then I forced my husband to read parts of it as well before sending it to my younger sister to read.

        I wish that moms in general, and working moms in particular, didn’t feel the obligation to be the first and last to provide ’emergency care’ for their kids. My husband and I share equally in the taking-care-of-sick-toddler responsiblities when they arise, and plan to do the same for when our daughter is older and in school, etc.

    7. Kyrielle*

      Is that actually significantly worse than being asked to pick up anyone else’s slack when they’re doing similar things? I had a co-worker once who exhibited many of those behaviors – he was barely out of college, had no kids nor any elderly parents or other relatives he was caring for. I still found it irritating when it was clearly a pattern rather than a one-off.

      It’s true that many of us underestimate the impact that having kids will have on our lives and schedules, but it also is possible to juggle that with getting work done and being respectful of our coworkers’ time (including if we underestimated it – that’s not their problem, after all). I would argue that a parent who left the workforce for a while and is now coming back is likely to do *better* in this regard, actually – they’ve had a while to master the parenting thing and learn how having a kid can disrupt your life, and how to address that, without having that learning curve on company time.

      And it’s possible to be a slacker with or without kids.

      1. Bob Alou*

        I did not say it wasn’t.

        As long as OP is not one of these parents, I’m sure she’ll be fine. However, it’s something no one in her office is likely to pipe up and mention to her if it starts to happen, so better I be the bad guy here.

        1. fposte*

          You initially used the word “constantly”–how often does somebody have to leave work for it to be “constantly”?

          1. Bob Alou*

            I suppose the “constantly” would apply to all of it combined. I doubt I could put a number to it, but if the overall impact on others is noticeable, it’s probably too much.

    8. Guy Incognito*

      That’s a very negative view to take, what you say it’s not true of all parents and the fact they are parents isn’t the issue, it’s that they are thoughtless inconsiderate jerks, with weak management that allows certain members of the team to dump on others.

      I work closely with a woman who has two small children, to suggest her professionalism and commitment to work is lacking is really offensive, she is an absolute rock star, and due for a pretty big promotion any time now)

      She does a great job and I’ve never felt put out or dumped on by the small consideration and needs to balance working and parenting. Sure her schedule is fairly fixed and she can’t stay late because most nights because of child care pickup but she’ll be in earlier than me or get some work done the evening after the boys are in bed.

      I get my share of consideration too, I’ve missed anything from an hour to a whole day from work! all without using any PTO for the following reasons:

      Medical appointments
      Picking up a birthday present for my mom
      Meeting a friend (from out of town) for a long lunch
      Picking up a parcel from the post office before it shut
      Getting foreign currency for a vacation
      Forgetting I was due back to work after a vacation
      Catching a train for a concert
      Sleeping off numerous hangovers
      Helping my buddy move house

      My boss sets the culture and attitude in the team, he lets us have very flexible sechdules as long as the business is happy with the support they get.

      Parents aren’t at fault for taking a stand for a work life balance.

    9. JC*

      I am childfree by choice, and I am confused every time I see a post like this on AAM. I’ve never had the experience in the workplace of having to pick up the slack for parents. Maybe I’m lucky or it has to do with the kind of work I do or whatever, but I have to wonder: is it really that common?

      If anything, as someone without as many outside demands on my time as a parent, I’m happy that I have the ability to put in extra hours or travel more than some of my colleagues (which my employer does not *force* me to do, btw), because it makes me look better to my employer.

      1. Melissa*

        I am childless as of now, and I always have the same wonder. I work with lots of people with children and my work involves a lot of collaborative, team-based work, and I’ve never really noticed a difference between the people with children and the people without them.

        But I also have to say that I do not mind occasionally picking up the slack or working late so that my colleagues can go see their kids’ play or award ceremony or whatever. Yes, I have important leisure time needs too, but mine are far more flexible and can be done whenever precisely because I don’t have kids.

        1. De (Germany)*

          ” Yes, I have important leisure time needs too, but mine are far more flexible and can be done whenever precisely because I don’t have kids.”

          Exactly. And I get comp time anyway, so when I work more to cover someone I can leave earlier to watch Netflix or go to the cinema another day ;)

        2. NoPantsFridays*

          Yes, although let’s differentiate between leisure activities and non-optional after-hours activities, such as a second job or substantial religious commitments. This isn’t an issue at my current workplace, thankfully, but I’d be really pissed if a parent’s kid’s “ceremony or whatever” were deemed worthy of attending, while my second job were deemed unworthy. If my workplace pulled that kind of stuff (and again, they don’t), I’d be looking for a new job stat.

      2. De (Germany)*

        Same here. Though one coworker annoyed me with loud telephone calls to her (teenage) son a lot.

        Then again, I work in a male-dominated workplace and a lot of my coworkers with kids seem to just let their wives deal with their kids…

      3. ReanaZ*

        Same here. In fact, I find may parent coworkers are generally great about clearly outlining their boundaries, what they can and can’t reasonably due, and do everything they can to not allow their parenting demands to overwhelm their work needs–probably to a fault to combat jackasses who judge parents for ever needing to have a bit of flexibility to provide for the other dependent human beings in their care.

        I’ve very little patience for people demanding me to pick up their slack, having to stay late for issues not of my own making, and for employers who don’t think my leisure time is valid. But pretty much none of this comes from parents. And when it rarely does–well, there’s ANOTHER HUMAN BEING whose needs also matter.

        And yeah, that’s why I think parenting deserves a bit more flexibility than pets or hobbies you love… it’s not about the employee, it’s about the dependent tiny human. That said, I think caregivers of older people and people with disability/illness deserve the same consideration.)

    10. Student*

      As a childfree individual, there’s nothing that irritates me more than people who don’t feel they ought to be supportive of their colleagues whenever reasonably possible.

      This is what makes society go round and separates us out from, say, ants and cats. Try offering an olive branch first, even though sometimes other people will break it in your face. After they break the olive branch, by letting down your work team or taking advantage of people or whatever, then you can respond however you need to in order to protect yourself. But if we stop offering the olive branch first, we will never get an olive branch in return when we need it – and we will all need an olive branch from someone else one day, in one way or another.

  8. 42*

    Yes, you’ll be fine. I reentered the workforce recently after a 10-year hiatus. I was able to slip easily back into “professional mode”. You can wear both hats. Just try not to fall into the trap of oversharing with your coworkers, at least not until you get a good sense of the company culture and whether a lot of kid stories would be welcome.

    Good luck to you!

  9. Celeste*

    I think you will be fine. There is so much to learn in the first few weeks, from the policies, to the job tasks, and the coworkers’ names, roles, etc….I think it will give you enough questions to ask that you won’t feel like you have to fill in with talk about the kids. I’m not sure if you’re returning to an old line of work or trying something new, but I think if you stick to work topics it will be fine. I agree with the others who have said that your experiences with child raising will be helpful to you with handling all that’s going on. I feel like mothers are the gods of triage, so I know you’ll be good at sizing up what needs to happen and make it so. Congratulations on finding a new position on your own terms!!!!!

  10. HubbyPerspective*

    My wife returned to part-time work a year and a half after our daughter was born. She was getting restless being home full-time and says part-time has been great for her, realizing this may transition to full-time in the future or stick with this for a time. We have the flexibility to go either way at her comfort. It does mean more responsibility from both husband and wife to ensure the house duties get done (cooking, cleaning, spending time with kids, spending time with each other). Don’t forget the fun in there either – an abrupt transition can cause balance issues so do your best to anticipate what the balance can upset. Use your values as a guide – if you feel like you’re violating some mom/wife/friend code of ethics, encourage a conversation early to steer things in a better direction. It can be a tough transition but worth it as well in many ways. Good luck in this new role!

    1. Jen*

      +1 on the splitting house-duties. You probably don’t realize anymore exactly how much you do in a day! Make sure everyone else in the house is on-board with stepping up and doing more, and don’t be shy about outsourcing some of the more onerous tasks!

      1. C Average*

        To tag on to this, you may need to relax your at-home standards, too.

        I remember the exact day I decided to stop caring whether there was clutter on the kitchen counter. It was life-changing! Sometimes there are shoes in the entryway. Sometimes there are leaves in the driveway. Sometimes there are chicken nuggets for dinner. “I am not my mom,” I frequently have to remind myself. “She did not spend 10 hours a day away from the house. I can’t meet her housekeeping standards without hiring someone to help.”

        And that’s OK.

        1. Adam*

          Agreed. There is something to be said for having a home that looks “lived in” as opposed to a June Cleaver Domestic Museum. And as we all know keeping it in that state longer than half an hour is a downright miracle. I’m a single guy with no pets or kids and even when I go on my occasional day long cleaning crusades there’s usually a pile of something or other on the kitchen table the next day.

          I figure so long as the important things are clean (bathroom and kitchen mainly) the rest can survive with a little disarray so long as it’s not nuts.

        2. AMG*

          So is finding a good housekeeper if you can. Out original plan for childcare fell through and even though we have had to cut back in many areas, we hired a full-time nanny/housekeeper. It is a huge help. She genuinely cares about my kids, helps with homeworks, feeds them and is there when they are sick. I have some mommy guilt over it, but I make a point of reconnecting with them on weekends. I know it’s not what you are asking, OP, but even if you get help cleaning the bathrooms 1x a month, it can take a lot of pressure off of you and your husband. Just an aside from my personal experience.

        3. Working Parent*

          Amen to all this! My mom (who was actually a working mom all through my childhood) came out the other day and said that she wishes she had hired a cleaning service when we were young, because she’ll never get that time (or all the extra stress it caused) back. Our house is clean, but most definitely not tidy most of the time…

      2. Zillah*

        Yep – totally agree. I personally think that especially in this sort of situation, it’s worth keeping a chore board – not even necessarily assigning chores, just writing down chores as you do them so how much you’re doing doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.

  11. Future Analyst*

    I just started work again (in Dec.) after nearly a year at home, and the best advice I can give is to act the same way you would going into a new job after leaving another. Don’t make excuses for not knowing everything– you’re new, and there’s a learning curve for any new employee, regardless of where they came from. Don’t blame anything on having “mom brain”– simply take note of how things are done there, and make that your new standard. This is crucial: if you blame everything on being a mom, that’s how you’ll be pegged. Instead, focus on not apologizing, and just learning as much as possible as quickly as possible.

    And yes, as Ashley says above, make sure you have contingency plans. My husband has been with his company for three years, so he has much more flexibility to take a sick day when our kiddo isn’t doing well. It’s been crucial to know that I don’t have to worry about dropping work while I’m brand new, and it’s given me the ability to focus on learning about the new environment quickly.

    1. long time reader first time poster*

      Excellent advice.

      I will add that it’s important to make sure your partner (who I presume has been working all along) understands that childcare (pickup/dropoff/emergency stuff/school plays/packing lunches/field trips/you name it) should be an equal burden, since you are both working. Don’t fall into the trap of being the only partner responsible for juggling school schedules, getting homework done, etc. because it was your role as a stay at home parent. Both of you are working now, so both of you need to carry your weight on that front. And if your partner has an established role, it makes sense that your partner should shoulder more of the last minute things while you are getting established.

      1. BRR*

        I think this is very important. Because it was your job doesn’t mean it is still your job. And future analyst makes think of how at a new job you might not have the flexibility to deal with emergencies or even events. I know we have to wait three months before using a vacation day.

    2. Meg Murry*

      And to that point – talk to your husband about who should be getting the calls about sick kids, and then notify the school if in the past they were always to call your cell phone first, and now they need to call your husband first and you only if they can’t reach him. We have some friends who have actually put this triage onto their retired mother (grandmother to the children). Grandma gets the call from school, and asks the questions like “is he running a fever? How high? Does he HAVE to go home this minute or is this an FYI?” and then makes the rounds of calls or texts to dad’s cell phone, mom’s cell phone, mom’s office phone, dad’s office phone etc.

      1. Future Analyst*

        I really like this idea– having someone else do a clear assessment of the situation before anyone is called in to school. Seems like it cuts down on a lot of unnecessary panic/leaving work.

  12. Observer*

    A couple of thoughts.

    Firstly, don’t be apologetic about being a mom or having taken off for child-raising. Shut down snark and negative comments from people who make assumptions about (or don’t like) the idea of taking time out / being a mom. It’s even ok to take a reasonable amount of time to deal with childcare issues as needed. On the other hand, don’t play into to the stereotypes. We all have personal lives, and the mom stuff doesn’t automatically take precedence over the non-mom stuff. If people need to cover for your emergencies, for instance, you need to find a way to reciprocate whether it’s for emergencies or planned time. Don’t assume things about people without kids (just as you don’t want them to assume about you.) And don’t be “all kid, all the time.” You probably want to avoid taking on the role of office Mom if it turns out that everyone really is younger than you, but I would be surprised if that the case.

    Which brings to “mom brain.” That’s only a potential issue if you decide to be “all mom, all the time”. Bringing the experience of being a full time SAHM into the workplace (or anything else) is a good thing, as long as you don’t insist on looking at the world through the lens of dealing with a bunch of young kids, their schooling and their social life. (It’s a lot easier if you have never developed helicopter tendencies, or fallen into the fallacy that need to make sure that everything your kid experiences has an optimal outcome.)

  13. TotesMaGoats*

    I’d say try to look at is as a career change instead of re-entering the job market. All the rules for a career change would still apply but it takes the parent aspect out of it. And that aspect really shouldn’t matter. I think changing how you interpret going back to work will help with how you interact on the job.

    1. TotesMaGoats*

      And I want to add to make sure that you and your spouse do equal duty when the kidlet requires a sick day at home, if you can work that logistically.

      Thankfully, my husband works a stone’s throw from me, so when I got the call yesterday afternoon that our son had a fever and needed to be picked up, I called my husband and said, basically, it’s your turn. I had stuff going on at work that I couldn’t drop or do from home with a clingy, feverish kid. He did. It can’t all be on you as the mom but that’s more marriage advice than job advice.

      1. No to Stella and Dot*

        I’m so glad you pointed this out. I’ve noticed among my friends w/children, it’s always the mother who is responsible for sick days, snow days, etc. Granted, I don’t know if that’s what they and their spouses could have agreed on (it very well could be), but it just seems to fall a lot on the mother.

        These are the same friends that say their husbands are “babysitting” when taking care of their children, which is a huge pet peeze of mine.

        1. TotesMaGoats*

          Yeah, my husband doesn’t “babysit”, he parents. That’s a big one for me too. I made a big point before and after our kidlet was born to go out by myself. I had friends who wouldn’t leave their child home with their husband. That’s just horrible. Plus, it made it so much easier for me to leave him at day care and go back to work.

          1. Revanche*

            Seriously! I nearly threw a balled up napkin at the child prep class teacher at our community center who was talking about how to deal with pregnancy and telling us to rely on the other moms we met in that class in case your partner can’t “babysit”. PARDON? If someone was half responsible for the creation of this child, that someone is a parent. And taking care of the kid you are responsible for is PARENTING. Huge pet peeve.
            I don’t understand people who choose refuse to trust their own partner with their kid …

        2. Zillah*

          These are the same friends that say their husbands are “babysitting” when taking care of their children, which is a huge pet peeze of mine.

          Ughhhh. Me too.

  14. Lola*

    If you’re concerned about running out of non-work topics to talk about with your new colleagues, turn to that old Dale Carnegie standby: show genuine interest in them. Ask questions about their backgrounds, previous experiences, fun things they like to do in their free time, weekend and travel plans. Good luck!

  15. Allison*

    So I’m in my mid 20’s with no kids, and I have a boss and quite a few superiors who have kids, plus a couple people on my team who are older although most of my team is child-free. I honestly don’t mind hearing about people’s kids, and I’m relatively sympathetic if someone is running late or needs to reschedule a meeting due to family stuff – lord knows we’ve all been the cause of it at some point! BUT, I would be super irritated if:

    A) ANY of my co-workers gave me crap about not having kids yet. No one does, I think in this day and age no one does expect you to have kids at 25, but if someone did tell me my biological clock as ticking and I needed to “get on it” if I wanted kids, I’d be super pissed.

    or

    B) Someone made paternalistic/materialistic comments about personal habits, like what I ate at work or how much sleep I’m getting (or not getting . . .), and then justified the overly personal comment with “I’m a mom, I know these things.”

    1. Pam*

      to add on to B) never start a sentence “As a mom…” unless someone is asking your opinion on mom things.

    2. Amethyst*

      A) +1 The day at work that I was told that I would really enjoy being pregnant was a very annoying day.

    3. BRR*

      I feel like these aren’t even mom things. These popped up when we did nosy coworker thing. My unscientific opinion is people don’t start hounding you about having children until you’re married (don’t know if you are). With my friends it basically started at their wedding. Like congratulations when are you going to start a family.

    4. AmyNYC*

      My sister just posted photos from her wedding (she got married in October), and some random friend of my dad’s comments “next stop, grandkids!” Slow your roll, internet stranger!

  16. H*

    Don’t try to mother your younger coworkers. I don’t mind conversations about kids, pictures of kids, the fact that kids are an awesome part of your life, but I am not your kid. This isn’t a thing all or even most working moms do, but I feel like there’s one in every office and I hate having someone micromanaging whether or not I should put a coat on to run to my car or not. And make conversations about kids about your kids, don’t go on an on about what a younger, childless coworker should do “when they have children” (though I get that more from grandmothers…). But honestly, those are the only things I can think of that are “mom at work” and they aren’t universal. I’ve never been a manager, but there’s nothing I can pinpoint that really differentiates “new mom returning to field” and “generic new employee.”

    1. some1*

      YES! I see this more working with moms who actually do or could have kids my age but, yeah…just because you’re a mom doesn’t mean you’re *my* mom. If I want advice or help I will ask you for it.

      1. HR Generalist*

        +1

        Although once my manager told my coworker and I that we had to step outside so the group could have an in-camera meeting (fair, we weren’t entitled to hear the info) and I said we were going to get coffee and would just wander back around the time. She instinctively said, “okay, do you have money?”

        It got a good laugh (from me included – she’s around 65 and I’m under 25) but it really reflected our friendly relationship. Also telling of her character, as we make decidedly less and she always picks up the tab for lunches/outings for my coworker and I. Anyway, a little bit of mom-ing ain’t so bad.

        1. Revanche*

          Hah that’s a funny reflex. I wouldn’t mind that at all :)

          I DID mind a male coworker asking our group if we had to pee. We’re NOT your kids.

        2. Cath in Canada*

          LOL!

          On one trip home a few years ago, I decided to go and meet up with some friends at a bar in town. My mum asked “do you have your money in a safe place?” I was like, “mum, I’m 33…” I guess old habits die hard!

        3. Wonderlander*

          Haha I love this! I have a wonderful, capable, reliable, and smart co-worker who happens to be a mom to two teenage boys. For a few months last winter my car had a slow leak in one of the tires and I would have to fill it up every two weeks or so. For a while, my super-amazing co-worker would remind me on my way out each day to “Check your tire!” It was always said with genuine concern. One time I retorted with, “Okay, Mom!” and we both burst into laughter. I told her I didnt mind the mom-ing at all – and I dont. It was actually a great reminder each day ;) She’s ~20 years my senior but we have a very friendly and professional relationship. Basically, not everyone minds the mom-ing all the time!

        4. Chinook*

          “Also telling of her character, as we make decidedly less and she always picks up the tab for lunches/outings for my coworker and I. Anyway, a little bit of mom-ing ain’t so bad.”

          I have “mothered” coworkers, fellow choir members and even our parish priest and I don’t have any children. Usually it revolves around them not being around from here and me lecturing them about going outside in -25 without gloves and a hat or shivering in an office while wearing a parka (because you only warm up inside once you take the jacket out). (The number one response to this “scolding” is “I’m Philipino and I forgot.” ) I openly admit to it while I am doing it but I see it as a health and safety issue first.

        5. blackcat*

          Yes, I experienced a bit of parenting from my coworkers who were 25-40 years my senior and had kids my age or older. They also were good mentors, and I think it part of why it didn’t bother me is that I knew they respected me as a professional.

          That said, I would have found it weird coming from a coworker who was 10 years older and had a 5 year old. But none of those coworkers ever did it.

    2. Kyrielle*

      lol! Yep. For what it’s worth, there’s not _quite_ one in every office: we don’t have one right now. But we did when I was younger, and oh man she meant well, and oh man I had to grit my teeth. A lot.

  17. Emme*

    I probably fit the description of one of your younger coworkers that you might be worried about. I don’t mind hearing stories about your kids-actually, I quite enjoy learning about my coworkers to see them as whole people and not work robots. What grinds my gears is when people return to the workplace after an extended absence and expect to have the same authority as they do at home- i.e. you’re used to being the person in charge at home and now you have a hard time adjusting when you’re not the person in charge at work. Its often subtle at first, but I find it shows up after a while in group projects or other joint tasks when multiple people are required to come up with joint decisions.

  18. Bend & Snap*

    One really good piece of advice I got from a friend is that you’ll rarely if ever feel like you’re doing a good job being a mom and being at work at the same time.

    Sometimes I’m killing it at work and I feel like a crappy mom.

    Sometimes I feel like mom of the year and like I can’t catch up at work.

    You just have to roll through and find a way to take care of yourself at the same time. Currently my hair and nails are done, my work stuff is nailed down and my house looks like Toys R Us exploded in my living room.

    Also when I travel, I try not to plan anything in the evenings if possible, so that I can put sweet sweet sleep on the agenda.

    1. long time reader first time poster*

      OMG there is NOTHING BETTER than a hotel room on a road trip with nobody in it but you and HBO and ten hours of uninterrupted sleep on the agenda. Bliss.

        1. NinaK*

          yep, same here. all that sleep free of “mmmmooooooommmmmm, my blanket fell off the bed!!!” at 2am.

    2. TheLazyB*

      My DS is 3.5 and I had my first night away from him just before Christmas. I was so looking forward to uninterrupted sleep.
      Turns out I was horribly lonely the second I arrived in my hotel room, and can’t sleep without getting kicked every few minutes.
      Oh well!!

  19. Ash (the other one)*

    Really interesting question and one I will be following. This is not something I’ve had experience with yet (and actually I am starting to think about how having kids is going to affect my work life since we just started TTC), but I think that as much as you can, treat work the same way you did before you had kids. I say as much as you can since you have new responsibilities now if your child gets sick, etc. Just as, I’ll point out, you get new responsibilities when you get married or become partnered, too. People will understand that those things happen occasionally, but I would try to make sure they are as rare as possible and you have plenty of contingency plans when child care and the like fall through…

  20. Nerd Girl*

    I went back to work after 5 years of staying home. It was easier than you would think to transition back to work. For me, it was wonderful NOT to talk about my kids. I loved having adult conversations whether the topic was TPS reports or who caught last nights episode of the Bachelor. I liked reconnecting with the person I was away from my kids.
    I have no advice other than to enjoy it. Enjoy the adult conversation. Enjoy the uninterupted bathroom time. ENJOY!

  21. long time reader first time poster*

    I’ll address the younger colleagues thing, because I think it’s important. Before I had kids, I was often the youngest person on the team at work. When I came back after a stay-at-home hiatus, that all changed — not only was I not the youngest, I was often the oldest. That’s because while my career stagnated, younger workers moved up. Now even my managers are younger than I am! That was a big adjustment for me, and one I struggled with for a while.

    One thing that really helped me feel like I fit in with my younger colleagues was socializing after work. Instead of jetting out the door every day at 5:00 for daycare pickup, I made sure that on SOME days I could hang out later and go out for a drink or whatever. It’s hard to recall all the free time I had for socializing before I had kids… but my younger colleagues have it, and that’s where a lot of the bonding takes place. My colleagues appreciate that I’m not strictly business all the time, and I have to say I appreciate getting to go out to eat at places that didn’t hand me crayons when I sat down at the table!

    Yes, that means you might not be there for bedtime every single night. But finding a balance between work life and personal life really helped me feel like I fit in, rather than being an outsider in my office.

    1. TotesMaGoats*

      I think it helps to look at the after hours socializing at networking and developing your career instead of going out for drinks. That way you’ll make time for it because it is important.

    2. Jax*

      This is excellent advice! I went back full-time at a younger office where I was the only mom. I put one framed 5×7 family picture on my desk and enjoyed getting lost in tales of dating woes, wedding decor, office backstories and scandals. It helped me fit into the office and make friends with my co-workers.

      I always said no to invites out for drinks on Friday because of that Mom Guilt that any minute I’m not working should be spent with the kids. The best decision I made was to arrange for H to pick up the kids so I could go, and it also led me to realize that stopping at Target on the way home for a mental health break before getting the kids didn’t make me a “bad mom”. It’s okay to take 20 minutes and get ready to switch gears for the night.

      1. amy*

        This! Make sure you schedule time when you’re not mum, not employee, just you. I used to love the odd lone coffee or shopping trip, it was like a sneaky escape and reminded me I have a personality outside those two very big, very encompassing things I was doing.

  22. C Average*

    If you do talk about your kid at work, please don’t talk about any of the following:

    –anything bathroom-related
    –descriptions of illnesses or injuries
    –details of psychological problems, learning challenges, etc.
    –anything obnoxiously braggy about the kid’s abilities and aptitudes
    –anything you wouldn’t have wanted your mother to say about you when you were a kid

    I’m constantly amazed by the mortifying and gross stories people tell about their kids.

    Here’s some stuff I like hearing about people’s kids:

    –funny stuff they say and do
    –unbraggy but interesting achievements in things like sports, music, academics, the arts, etc.
    –admirable things they do
    –milestones (notable birthdays, graduations, and other rites of passage)
    –fun things the kid and the parent do together (trips, classes, etc.)
    –cool things the parent is doing to be involved in the kid’s life (volunteering, etc.)
    –books and movies the kid enjoys, particularly if they’re vintage classics I’d recognize

    1. Allison*

      +1

      Funny stories are great. The wacky outfit your daughter tried to wear to school? By all means tell me, it’ll brighten my morning! But yeah, I don’t need to hear anything gross or super personal.

    2. some1*

      I’ve been working with parents since my first job in high school – for me the parents who talked about gross bathroom stuff were dads, not moms.

    3. KTM*

      +1 to refraining from bathroom related commentary. Thankfully it hasn’t been at work but my extended family that has kids talks so much about their babies’ pooping habits that I’ve started a drinking game for it at family functions.

    4. SevenSixOne*

      …and please keep it to 50 words or less whenever possible. “My kid did this funny/admirable/impressive/cute/whatever thing; one- or two-sentence elaboration, the end” is fine, but much more detail than that gets tedious pretty fast.

    5. fposte*

      And make sure you have non-kid topics of conversation as well. Parent-jacking (“Oh, I used to love TV, but we don’t watch TV since Fayden was born” in a TV conversation) doesn’t count.

      1. PurpleMonkeyDishwasher*

        Love the phrase “parent-jacking” and totally stealing it.

        It’s so uncomfortable, because what do you even say in response? “Sorry your baby interferes with TV time/reading the newspaper/whatever neutral-ish thing I was trying to make small talk about”? Or is that meant to steer the conversation back to kids, which I don’t have and don’t have anything to say about?

        1. Cath in Canada*

          I have a couple of friends, including one at work, to whom I’m comfortable responding to complaints about how they can’t do X because they have kids with something like “ohhhhhh, I’m so sorry that someone forced you to have kids, it’s all just so terrible!” But ONLY to those two or three friends who know me and my sense of humour and that I’m just kidding!

    6. Elizabeth*

      Yes yes yes on anything medical or bodily function related.

      I love hearing cute, funny, or even just mundane stories about my co-workers’ kids. Graphic details of your labor/delivery, your child’s potty training, or his/her bout with the flu? Less cool, for both me and the kid.

  23. soitgoes*

    I think a recurring theme here is that while you’d never judge a returning mother in lieu of nothing, we’ve all worked with a handful of new-ish moms who fell into really specific and predictable behavior patterns.

    I’d advise the OP to make sure that she’s really ready to return to work. She has experienced a natural and positive change in her life’s priorities, and I think a lot of “mom brain” issues are caused by women not properly timing their re-entry into the workforce. If you’re the sort of parent who’s going to want to leave early for every winter pageant and science fair, you’re not ready to go back to work. There is a level of commitment that’s expected, as well as a presumed backscaling on the importance of your home life, as you will no longer be home 100% of the working day.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Or you’re ready for part-time but not full time. If you want to be able to attend all major events, but your kiddos are in school, a 20-25 hour week might work fine, depending on when the events are likely to be vs. when the work is scheduled. But a 40-hour week will make that “being there” impossible.

    2. Corporate Attorney*

      Yes, this is critical. I’ve seen several former SAHMs try – and fail – to come back to work at my firm. Each time, it was because the new employee could not adjust to the fact that (barring emergencies or very special occasions), work comes first during work hours. For example, one of (now former) employees was a SAHM for seven years and was always disappearing to escort a field trip/go to the mid-term ballet recital/bake cookies with the scouts/etc. I’m happy to see parents leave early for the once-a-term class play and parents need to share sick-kid duty (to make it fair to both parents and their respective workplaces) but it needs to be an exceptional situation, not the rule. She stopped doing it, but then was clearly very resentful over not being able to do it and it was just really apparent that she wasn’t emotionally committed to being back at work.

  24. Mockingjay*

    A lot of commenters seem to be pointing out possible negatives, but I prefer to focus on the positives. You got to stay home with your little ones. Yay! You are re-entering the professional workforce. Yay!

    I stayed at home with my kids for 12 years before returning to work. I actually didn’t talk that much about my kids when I rejoined the workforce. I was assigned to a fascinating startup software project, and I took every opportunity to learn about it. (I am a technical writer, so I have worked on a lot of different things.) I asked my tech savvy colleagues for training in recent technology (I was software deficient). Amazing the things I can do with a database now!

    I also decided to use my “mom brain” as an asset and proof of my skills.
    • Can I run a meeting? Yup. I ran two scout troops.
    • Can I listen well and mediate? Yup. I refereed the play group and sibling squabbles. (Some days my diplomatic skills were worthy of United Nations diplomats.)
    • Can I manage the project schedule? Yup. Who do you think coordinated all those doctor appointments, school functions, and plumbing repairs?
    • Can I organize files? Of course. Look at my home office.

    And so.

    Good luck! You will have a fabulous time!

    1. some1*

      Yeah, I wouldn’t bring up the Scout meetings, etc. I get where you’re going, but if you said that to me I would think you were equating the meeting attendees with Girl Scouts.

      1. Mockingjay*

        No, I never brought it up. I just used it as a confidence builder internally. ‘I know I can do this, because I already have.’

      2. frankiegene*

        I disagree. I was a nanny for 7 years, and I use relevant skills from that job when I apply for other positions now. Scheduling play dates with a group of 5 other busy nannies, journaling food intake and daily activities, creating a stimulating environment for kids whose needs change as they grow, and navigating the delicate relationship with the parents of each child I cared for- those skills are not only relevant to that field. And I don’t think anyone would argue with me on that, but for some reason people don’t see it the same when you are the parent of the child being cared for.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Ah, but that was your job, and that makes all the difference. You were accountable to someone else for your performance, whereas parents generally aren’t. Plus, it’s sort of the difference between planning your own wedding (something many people do as part of regular life) and an event planner being paid to plan someone else’s wedding. The second is professional work that goes on a resume; the first is just part of life and doesn’t.

          1. AG*

            Agreed. I have seen a resume from someone who said in her most recent job, she was self-employed and kept the young children in the house safe. C’mon. That does not belong on a resume, that is just life. She should have said in her cover letter that she was coming back to work after taking some time for family, ready to come back to work full time, and left that entry off the resume.

            1. Jeremy*

              I really like your response. I have been trying to account for my last year as a stay at home father and knew that a lot of times putting it on a resume might be inappropriate or come off as really cheesy. I had not even considered addressing it in the cover letter. That is a fantastic idea.

        2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

          I agree…that was your job, you were paid, and you had to meet certain standards.

          There are certainly skills to be gained from parenting, but there is a line….I once had a mom returning to the workforce respond to an interview question about dealing with interruptions by telling me about how her kids we’re always interrupting her while she was on the toilet. Unlike OP, she had obviously given no thought to making the transition.

  25. Ife*

    So most of the advice I’ve seen so far is about mom-at-work; but I want to offer some worker-at-home advice because that affects your mood and productivity at work too. The two big things that I am glad I learned quickly when I moved in with my boyfriend and became an “instant mom” were (1) the power of routine and (2) giving yourself extra time.

    Change is difficult for children. They need adjustment time to get used to a new routine. School just started again, and it took a week to get the stepdaughter back into her morning routine. But, now that she is back into it, things are smooth 90% of the time. Stepdaughter is 6; I would imagine this is extra important for younger children.

    Another important thing – you need buffer time in the morning in case something goes wrong (spilled breakfast, can’t find shoes, groggy from bad night of sleep, etc.). When I was working hourly, I planned to arrive at work 15 minutes early, and I probably arrived “late” but still on time about 25% of the time, because stuff happens.

  26. Cath in Canada*

    I think one thing to be careful of is potentially (and inadvertently) contributing to a parent/non-parent divide in the office.

    I used to sit in an area of an open-plan office where I was the only non-parent out of the five of us who shared the area. We’d talk about anything and everything, and yes that sometimes included the parents talking about their kids, but mixed in with other topics too (and I’d listen to the kid talk sometimes, contribute stories about my nieces and nephews sometimes, and ignore it sometimes). But then a sixth person came back from mat leave to sit in our area, and all of a sudden ALL the conversations were about kids, and in a way that excluded me when I hadn’t felt excluded before – all because the returning person kept starting those conversations, and starting them with things like “as a parent, don’t you find that…”.

    Luckily, once she’d been back for a few months she was able to diversify her topics and we all ended up getting on just fine, but for those few months I felt the presence of that parent/non-parent divide more keenly than at any time before or since.

    1. fposte*

      I once attended a horrible lunch where an ordinarily sane and understanding colleague rattled on about how you could never know love until you had a child (to a group including a colleague with fertility issues) and how horrible it was not to be employed (the lunch was a farewell to somebody being laid off). If it were anybody else, I’d wonder if she had been drunk.

      1. Cath in Canada*

        Ugh, of all the things people have said to me as a childfree-by-choice person, “you don’t know what love is until you have a child” annoys me the most. I’m sure it’s a different kind of love, and a very intense one, but it’s by no means the only kind; I love my husband, my parents, my sister, my friends, and my cats, all in very different ways. Essentially telling someone “you don’t know what love is” is just plain insulting.

        1. Future Analyst*

          Hearing stuff like this always makes me cringe. I like my kid, but I would never use him to insult someone else’s life, and I certainly don’t think people who don’t have kids are somehow worse off or enjoying their lives less than I am– we all have our own things that make us happy. And the idea that you don’t know what love is until you have a kid is totally bogus… not all people are cut out to be parents (or married, or pet owners, etc.), and it’s incredibly short-sighted to imply that people who choose not to have the exact same life as you are lesser in any way.

      2. MJ (Aotearoa/New Zealand)*

        how you could never know love until you had a child (to a group including a colleague with fertility issues)

        I’m generally a super pacifist, but holy Hanukkah balls, as someone with fertility issues, I would have smacked them.

      3. Anon for this*

        It’s also, I think, important to sometimes be very sensitive with these topics anyway. Last week, I had a coworker (who is also a friend) jokingly ask me when I was going to finally have a kid so I could join the conversation he was having with another coworker. Plus that other coworker talked a lot about his wife being pregnant again.

        I had a miscarriage on Christmas. As I said, he’s a friend and I am normally fine with that sort of teasing, but that day I only didn’t burst into tears because I had already had weeks to deal with what happened.

      4. Student*

        Those of us who weren’t exactly loved dearly as children also find this kind of prattle very insulting. Sure, I know my parents were pretty bad role models. But this kind of statement, it rubs salt into an old wound, and one that I don’t discuss randomly at work. Remember, half of all parents are below average, and a few are downright horrible. Giving birth doesn’t automatically confer a magical, loving bond for eternity.

  27. Betty*

    When I returned to work, I didn’t talk at length about my kids at all. If people asked about them, I’d offer up info. Eventually our work relationships have evolved to the point where we can share personal stories and anecdotes about our kids, pets, dates, tv shows, etc. I think the key is to sit back and observe the environment first. I’ve been in environments where the conversations are kid-heavy and others where kids never come up. Just try to be adaptable.

    1. Bend & Snap*

      I don’t talk about my kid at work unless people ask, or unless it’s someone I know is interested in the topic. I just don’t assume it’s something people want to discuss.

      Even as a parent I rarely want to talk about other peoples’ kids.

      1. Future Analyst*

        Ha, totally true. I don’t even want to talk about my kid some days– when I’m out with friends for a drink, I really don’t want to chat about my kiddo’s sleep schedule, etc. I want to have adult conversations that don’t *just* focus on the fact that I’m someone’s mom.

  28. HepHep*

    I must admit, many of the comments on this thread surprise me. I am a mother of two kids, a 7 year old and a 1.5 year old. At the ripe old age of 35, I’m the youngest person on my team (I work in a healthcare/software development company). I also work from home, full-time, in a company that is very geographically dispersed.

    My point is that I fall into several categories that seem to be hot button issues (I’m young, I’m a parent, and a remote worker, and while I’m at it lets not forget gender, since sometimes that works against me too. Summer’s Eve ad from yesterday anyone? I was just flabbergasted….I can’t believe that was an ad…but I digress).

    First, to the OP, congrats on your new job! My tip for re-entering the workforce is to make an effort to be self-aware, and realize everybody is different, whether they are parents or not. Juggling so many responsibilities can be challenging, and also can be very rewarding, in many ways. It’s also a teachable moment (maybe lots of them) for your kiddos to see their parents juggle the many facets and responsibilities of adulthood.

    I’m afraid I have to rant for a minute. I would NEVER, ever, ask permission if I needed to see to one of my kids. In my opinion, that shows weakness, and issue that women already have to sometimes overcome. My husband has never, ever, asked for permission to see to an errand that he needed to take care of, and he’s always been well respected in those moments. I saw a turning point in the way I was treated as well when I began taking care of what I absolutely have to take care of (my kids fall into this category) without apologizing for it. Here’s the catch, though, you have to kick ass at work to do this. And people have to know that about you.

    You also have to figure out what an essential category is, especially kid-wise. Would I like to go to on every field trip? That may be something to negotiate, schedule wise with my boss or colleagues, with an attitude of deference, given freely, politely, and wherever appropriate. But for a sick kid? No, I’m not asking permission to take my child to the doctor, or any such thing that remotely falls into the category of Things You Must Take Care of, and everybody has those things, whether you have kids or anything else in your life that requires you to sometimes be late or leave early or take an unscheduled day of PTO, etc.

    If you have a good work culture and team members, your reasonable or mature coworkers are not going to fuss about that kind of stuff. In my more than 10 years in tough, male dominated industries that I’ve worked in (defense contractor, software development), I’ve never been second guessed for my Things You Must Take Care of stuff, and most certainly not “aloud”.

    You do have to choose wisely and put in your hours, but hey, you’ve got to take care of business and have a work-life balance. Those two worlds do collide and you have to practice good life project management skills. Anyone who thinks those worlds should be kept completely from ever overlapping is being unrealistic. I greatly respect the time and skills of my colleagues without children and I think they’re entitled to the same work-life balance that I strive for, and I wouldn’t expect them to apologize for having their life intersect from time to time at inconvenient times. That’s life.
    Just like they don’t begrudge me for having children, and remaining in the workforce.

    My grandmother worked for 40 years and had 5 biological children and 3 stepchildren, and got up every morning to fix them a homemade (huge) breakfast before her workday started. She retired from that work at retirement age, and do you think her work life ever got complicated? Imagine if her coworkers gasped at her audacity to do the best she could to help provide. I’m sure they did, since this was the 1940s-60s.

    I think we’d get a lot farther in society if we could support each other’s incredible and very different journeys, and not try to be a Monday morning quarterback on everybody’s life. I’ve grown the most when people show mercy and grace. Who on earth could thrive in an environment where their co-workers nit picked them to death about why their child care fell through? As if parents have the luxury of picking their disasters. Nobody does, and sometimes no amount of planning will circumvent that.

    And finally, I agree with whoever identified laziness, (or perhaps more simply, even just being a good measure of self-aware) not parenthood as the culprit in these instances where tone deafness occurs.

    1. Malissa*

      I think you’ve nailed it. As long as you kick ass and put in the effort at your job, nobody will care that much about when you come and go and why.
      This is why it’s so important to put your best effort in everyday. So that there is zero flack given on the occasion you have to call in because your child is sick or you’re stuck in Idaho because your Father-in-Law did no packing before you got there to move him.

    2. Jen RO*

      Not asking for permission would not work in my company. For your kids OR for your husband’s errands. If you were a new employee, it would probably lead to a stern talking-to. It’s not like someone would tell you “you have to finish your report before you see your kid who just fell and broke her arm”, but simply up and leaving would not be tolerated.

      1. AVP*

        Yeah, I was kind of surprised by that – on both the errands and the kids. Even my (male) boss will send a note letting us know that he has a sick kid for the day and checking in to see how it affects everyone else, and will stop by to apologize if he’s running out on a meeting because he has to pick his kid up from school early – I thought that was pretty normal and human of him.

        I guess if you’re a high-level rock-star, not having to bother with that is a perk to aspire to and to negotiate when you get hired?

        1. Donnie Turnbuckle*

          Hmmmm…..If I have to leave work for a sick kid or an emergency, I’m not asking permission. I won’t be indignant or stand-offish about it – I’ll let everyone know what’s going on, and tell them to call me if they need to, but I’ve got to go. I think that’s all that’s being said here.

          1. AVP*

            Hmm, now that I’m thinking about it, my company/industry is very freelancer-based which completely changes all of the equations (a lot of these positions are such that if you’re on a film shoot and you get called away, you literally have to have a back-up person to pick up your kid or you won’t have job the next day), so I’m probably just coming at it from that perspective and not one of a normal office environment.

        2. Kathryn T.*

          But there’s no “asking for permission” in what you mention above — he says “I have to go do this, does this leave anyone hanging, I apologize for the short notice, please let me know if you need anything from me.”

          That’s not saying “Excuse me, may I please be allowed to leave work to collect my puking child?” It’s just saying “So, heads up, this is happening, I recognize that it’s bad timing and I’m sorry.”

          1. AVP*

            I think I was more reacting to the “never apologize” part, which surprised me because oftentimes people do end up apologizing for leaving people hanging, or sticking them with something that makes them stay late, and that seems like a normal thing to do. But Hephep has cleared that up below in a way that makes sense.

      2. Zillah*

        I don’t think that’s an either/or thing, though. I think you can be considerate without asking permission – and to be honest, I’d prefer that, because asking permission to me is reserved to things where the person in genuinely okay with being denied permission. If your kid has broken her arm, you’re not going to be okay with being denied permission. You can give a quick update and ask how they’d like you to handle things without saying, “Can I do this?”

      3. HepHep*

        I would of course send a courtesy email, or whatever the protocol was, to give the appropriate head’s up (and so would my husband). I’m talking about something different entirely.

        If I need to take care of my kids for an hour, I”d absolutely tell my boss or whomever I need to (clients, colleagues, etc). If I have to reschedule a meeting due to some unforeseen circumstance, of course I’ll be diplomatic or apologize for the inconvenience. That’s the kind of self-awareness I’m advocating for.

        But if Bob is angry that I have children and he has to send my project file to Anne because little Joey got 4 stitches in his forehead this morning, and then Bob grumbles about my audacity to have children and be in the workforce and how inconsiderate I am to have been late to work, then yeah, Bob’s not getting an apology. Bob’s just being an ass. Will I rail Bob for that ? Probably not. Will I beg Bob’s forgiveness or worry about his tone deafness affecting my professionalism? No.

        Be self-aware, kick ass at work, be transparent (to the extent that it makes sense) about your whereabouts when things pop up, put in your time, and don’t worry about the naysayers…adventures in missing the point is often a chapter in everybody’s book of life…hopefully they grow out of that at some point. That’s where grace and mercy (being diplomatic) come in, like I was saying before.

      4. Zahra*

        Not asking isn’t the same as “My kid is sick, I need to go.” Followed by status update if work is on a tight deadline. If you have doctor’s appointments for kids “I’m going to be late/leave early/work from home on the 13th so I can go to a medical appointment (for my kid).” Followed by a reminder a day or two before the day off. I’m not asking, I’m telling. As far as I can, I know what the sensitive periods are in my week/month, so I try to schedule around that.

    3. Beebs*

      Excellent points! I think the key here is being aware and understanding balance. As HepHep put it, you have to decide what is essential and choose wisely. In general, regarding work/life balance (kids or not), you have to figure out what you want each side of that to look like and see if they fit together. Some professions are very demanding, require long hours, and don’t have a lot of flexibility – does that balance with the personal life you want? Do you have the resources to create that balance? Be aware of what your career demands, what you need to give to reach your professional goals, and what your personal life demands – it doesn’t always balance, so be wise and choose the options that will give you the balance you desire.

  29. Susan*

    I love hearing parents’ stories and seeing pictures of their kids (no kids myself), so I hope you have the equivalent of me in your office! Also, the moms I’ve worked with have been a big inspiration to me because I hope to be a working mom myself someday. I bet a lot of younger people in your office are in the same situation. I respect those moms not because they always handle the balance flawlessly or gracefully, but because they clearly enjoy their jobs and their kids and are putting energy into both.

    1. Melissa*

      Same and same! I really like kids, and genuinely like hearing people’s stories about their kids and actually take the time to admire how the working moms in my office keep it all together.

  30. RB*

    I did the same thing. 5 years off with my son, then went back into my career. I didn’t miss a beat. You won’t either. I found being a stay at home mom was far more challenging and harder work. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it, but once I got back into the adult work world it was more wonderful than I had expected. I missed the grown up interaction!

    Good advice about making sure your support network is in place. Hopefully, you’re going into a family friendly environment where the culture gets that having a life outside of the office can make for a better employee.

  31. Connie*

    Give yourself a big pat on the back for taking this risk; you will be more focused on your differences than anyone else. Ask questions and learn from/about your new co-workers. People find you ‘interesting’ when you ask them to talk about themselves. Go get ’em!

  32. Iro*

    As a 20-something without kids, I can say that most of my co-workers are 30 to 40 somethings with kids so you are more in the norm than you think!

  33. Sally Forth*

    Does anyone watch Nurse Jackie? She’d worked for years in the same hospital and nobody knew she had a husband and two kids. That’s taking it a little far! Aim for somewhere between that and talking baby talk on your phone.

  34. GOG11*

    I am not a parent so I don’t have any practical tips or advice, but I wanted to wish you luck! You’ll do awesomely!

  35. Rex*

    Not to start more mommy wars (see comments above), but I agree, that if you have been in a professional environment before, you shouldn’t expect having much trouble readjusting. In fact, you might find (as I did), that you return to work more disciplined about your time, better able to multitask, with greater focus when distractions are around, with more experience coordinating multiple people’s needs, managing difficult tempers, and with a greater general sense of purpose. I agree with other commenters: don’t blame any time you need getting up to speed on “mom brain,” at least outside your head. You will need some time to get to know the norms, just like in any new job. Make triple sure you are staying on top of your work and being responsible about handoffs if you do face a childcare emergency, but don’t apologize for doing what you have to do to take care of your child. Single people can have crises, too — their basement could flood, they could have a sick parent. It’s what we all have to do sometimes. Good luck! You can do this!

  36. LeighTX*

    Make sure you take time for yourself in the evenings and/or on weekends. There will be so much to do, stuff you used to do during the day but now can’t, that you could easily spend each evening and all weekend doing laundry/cleaning/cooking/running errands/driving kids all over creation. But you need to remember that your time off is YOUR TIME OFF and you deserve some rest. Let some things go undone, buy everyone a few extra pairs of undies so you don’t have to run the wash every single Saturday, and give yourself a break.

    Also, my favorite piece of mom-advice regards packing lunches, that bane of my existence: when you get home from the store with bags of chips or boxes of cookies, take a few minutes right then to bag them up into ziploc baggies. It sounds small, but IMO it really streamlines the lunch-packing process and makes my own mornings a tiny bit less rushed. Good luck! You’re going to do great. :)

  37. Nanc*

    I don’t have kids but I remember when my mom returned to work way back when. If you haven’t already done so, take the time to communicate with your kids and spouse about what’s going to be The New Normal. Figure out what you can do to make the mornings easier from laying out clothes, getting school bags and work bags ready, and packing lunches the night before to changing what you fix for breakfast so it’s easier. Even the most spontaneous of folks like some routine and establishing that early on will help. You can always revisit it a month in to tweak it. As was mentioned up thread, you’ve had conversations and interactions about all kinds of stuff before you became a mom. The mom stuff is just one more topic that you have in your arsenal of chit chat–you figured out your audience before, you’ll do it again.

    Have a great time in the new job!

    1. Melissa*

      Yes, my mom went back to work when I was around 15 or 16 (and my younger siblings were 13-14 and 11-12). I’m sure it was easier than if we were single-digit ages, but she did have a conversation with us about how we would have to step up and take more responsibility because she was returning to work, and what things she expected from us. With me, as the oldest, she told me that she expected the most assistance. I personally was overjoyed because I’ve always been a bit bossy and was also really proud of my mom – that’s actually how I learned to cook, because after mom went back she would start dinner and ask me to finish it for her (she worked nights).

      And oh yeah, no more packed lunches unless we packed our own, lol. It helped that my mom had always taught us to be more or less self-sufficient.

  38. Jill*

    My personal rule is that I don’t launch into my cute-kid stories unless someone else asks me. Even then, tell your one cute story and then turn the attention to someone else. (And isn’t this just good conversational etiquette anyway, regardless of the topic?).

    I have two under 2 myself so I know how all-consuming kids can be. But make a point to remember that not everyone considers Having Kids to be the be-all, end-all. Make a note of who is a devoted pet lover, who is a happy grandparent, and any other topics that seem important to co-workers so when you’re all in a group swapping stories, you have a ready topic to inquire about with non-kid obsessed colleagues.

  39. Alis*

    As a working mother, my best advice is to put your childcare in place ASAP, well before you return. My kids were soooo sick being in a daycare, but since I started them several months before working, they got used to it. Get the routine in place, because it is worth the expense.

    1. Future Analyst*

      I completely second this. I put my kid in daycare a month and a half in advance of my starting work, and the first couple of weeks were still rough.

  40. Sarah*

    You’ll do fine I’m sure. Everyone is nervous starting a new job. I’m sure once you get into the swing of things and get to know your new co-workers conversation will come naturally and you may go all day without talking about your kids! Congrats on finding a job after 5 years. I’m going on almost 4 years of being a SAHM and have been searching for a job for almost a year. Doesn’t seem that too many companies are keen on hiring a SAHM for whatever reason. Can be quite soul crushing!

  41. Paula*

    I started back to work recently after 14 years out (and in stay at home sorts of jobs plus 11 courses to stay up to date on programming). It really wasn’t a big deal once I was back. Yes, I’m back at the level of a lot of 28-32 year olds…but they don’t mind a bit. I thought I would feel a bit embarrassed about my lengthy time as a mom. But really, I just feel proud and I’ve only gotten positive feedback from those who have asked (which isn’t many). And thanks to Alison’s site, it helped me craft a better cover letter and calmed a few interview nerves.

  42. Lady Sybil*

    I have two young children and was fortunate enough to take a year’s maternity leave each time. The first time I returned to work it was to a completely different role in the company and I had to learn the ropes at a different site. Since you are starting a new job (congratulations) there will be some sort of learning curve for you too. Try to breathe through that, it’s going to feel overwhelming at times, so you need to use whatever tools help you learn: take notes, review them, ask questions, observe, etc. I was really tired (so much newness is exhausting)and I found keeping a notebook helped me keep track of information. I still keep a notebook, I have a series of them – they go back for years. It’s old school but it works really well for me and I highly recommend it.

    Good luck, expect to feel overwhelmed at times, don’t let it freak you out. But have a plan – think about what tools you’ll use to stay organized. And then use them. All the best to you!

  43. back to work mom*

    Hey everyone, thanks for all the advice! I actually sent this email a while back and I’m a month into my new job. It’s going really well! I work in a start up on a low rung (you absolutely take what you can get after not working for 5 years!) and as I suspected, my coworkers at my level are all younger than I am and do not have kids. BUT most of my supervisors and people in different departments do have kids and there are plenty of family holiday cards taped up on the fridge. It’s actually been helpful to network with different departments. Everyone had been great though, I try not to talk about my kids any more than other people talk about their nights out partying. My partner had been working the entire time I was stating at home and the impetus for me finding a new job was that he lost his and is burnt out. So my childcare option is the absolute best one I could hope for and he finally gets to try his hand at staying at home like he’s wanted to all along. The kids have transitioned incredibly well, all considering and it felt really great to pay our rent for the first time in years on the first. Of course there have been hard moments when I miss having all day with my kids but it is extremely satisfying to be the breadwinner and show my daughter in particular how much potential she will have to make her own decisions about working (both my grandmother and mother were stay at home mom’s, even if they didn’t call it that!) Thanks again for all the advice and well wishes.

    1. La munieca*

      So glad you posted, OP! I was reading through the comments thinking of you and hoping we didn’t scare you. Glad to hear it was a fairly smooth transition!

    2. Melissa*

      Yay OP!

      As for your daughter – my mom went back to work when I was 15 or 16; she’d been a stay at home mom since I was born. I was incredibly proud of her and I really did learn a lot about working decisions and the work world from watching her and talking to her about her job. She really loves her field and we’ve talked about it a lot, and I’ve learned so much about managing a career and developing independence from her. So I bet your daughter feels/will feel the same way.

  44. In Your Shoes - 3 Years Ago*

    First, as a working mother, I find so many of these comments to be totally anti-family and working parent.

    As a mom who transitioned from stay at home mom to working mom three years ago, I understand how hard it can be having two full-time working parents.

    I have a job where my output is mostly communications, so working at home means I really can do stuff at home – it might not be during the hours of 8-5, but I always meet my deadlines. To me, I feel the unspoken “contract” with employers is that, “If you are flexible with me, I’ll be flexible with you.” So, yes, during the start of school, I may have to leave on several days for multiple meetings with my child’s school to discuss her learning disability and how to best help her. That might look like slacking, but if I get my work done on time, so who cares? Does it matter how many hours I spend in my designated seat? Shouldn’t the conversation be about results, not hours? With always-on technology and people who manage teams on another continent, for most professionals, isn’t this kind of a 20th century conversation?

    Related to the OP, I was concerned about coming back to corporate environment and needing flexibility. Before accepting the job, I had a conversation with my now manager about snow days, and all the other things that come up with kids and the fact that my husband travels a lot and I’m pretty much parent on duty. I set expectations, he accepted them, and so I feel no guilt as long as I’m delivering. I’m sure my co-workers who do not young children judge me, but I know when I am working into the night on a project because I have to deal with an unexpected snow day or a child who broke their arm, had surgery and was in the hospital for two days. Both of these situations happened to me in the last month. Yes, I came in late and missed work for these incidents. And I don’t feel one bit guilty because I deliver.

    1. MT*

      People who have really flexible jobs, forget that there are lots of jobs that have little to no flexibility.

      1. In Your Shoes - 3 Years Ago*

        That’s true. But I guess part of my comment is that, in this day and age, most people with professional jobs (who I’m guessing make up a great percentage of readership on AAM) *should* be able to to have flexibility in their jobs, regardless of their parental status.

  45. Sherri*

    To lighten things up, try watching “Mr. Mom” with Terri Garr and Michael Keaton. Carolyn (played by Terri Garr) is a Mom returning to the work force. There are few scenes where she does things like tidy up other people’s garbage at the conference table or starts cutting up someone’s meat. Don’t do those things. :)

    If it helps any, long before I became a mother I observed that the working mothers I worked with were the most productive and efficient employees. Maybe the didn’t work the longest hours, but you could count on them to get a ton of work done. I always had a very positive perception of working mothers.

    I wish you lots of luck!!!

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