The XX Factor

Mothers: Don’t Lie To Your Employers When You Do Kid Things During the Day

A toddler receives a vaccine.

Photo by Adek Berry/AFP/Getty Images

Unlike Lauren Sandler and other annoyed feminists, I felt immediately relieved after reading Anne-Marie Slaughter’s story, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.” It seems to me Slaughter is not so much blaming feminism as she is the American workplace that is so painfully slow to adjust to the flood of women in the workforce. Her point is, it’s not so important what women say or do or encourage other women to do because until workplaces accept that those same people they are asking to stay until 8 p.m. every night are also the ones putting children to bed, it’s irrelevant; the hours just won’t add up.

I interviewed Slaughter for the Atlantic video that runs with the story. I was 10 minutes late to the shooting because, exactly like Slaughter describes at the start of the story, I’d been called into school by my son’s teacher. (No, the teachers don’t call my husband.) But did I tell anyone that? Of course not. I didn’t even tell Slaughter. I work at a women’s site for God’s sake, and I still only tell the truth about half the time when I have to take off time for a midday recorder performance or a field trip. My husband routinely sends officewide e-mail that say something along the lines of: “Out of pocket in the a.m. Kids doc appt.” I would never do that. A vague mention of “appointment” or “meeting” or something like that but not kid’s doctor!

But that’s one habit I’ve changed after reading Slaughter’s story. I try now to be honest about what I have to do during the day. I try to be honest with female and male colleagues. I’ve also done another thing Slaughter suggests—when I am speaking on a panel, I ask to have listed among my accomplishments “mother of three children.” After so many decades of mothers working, maybe it’s time to end the collective American fiction that toddlers take themselves to the doctor or that they  get sick only on weekends.

My favorite part of the article is when Slaughter compares the way an employer might view different kinds of outside-work activities.

An employer has two equally talented and productive employees. One trains for and runs marathons when he is not working. The other takes care of two children. What assumptions is the employer likely to make about the marathon runner? That he gets up in the dark every day and logs an hour or two running before even coming into the office, or drives himself to get out there even after a long day. That he is ferociously disciplined and willing to push himself through distraction, exhaustion, and days when nothing seems to go right in the service of a goal far in the distance. That he must manage his time exceptionally well to squeeze all of that in.

Be honest: Do you think the employer makes those same assumptions about the parent? Even though she likely rises in the dark hours before she needs to be at work, organizes her children’s day, makes breakfast, packs lunch, gets them off to school, figures out shopping and other errands even if she is lucky enough to have a housekeeper—and does much the same work at the end of the day

Hear hear. Fellow mothers, who among us has not parsed our day into tightly packed increments, rushing from work thing to kid thing and patching it all together with little white lies (I lie to the teachers, too, a little). The least we can do is, as Slaughter advises, be honest.