Care and Feeding

“Where’s the Baby?”

Everyone likes to ask me, a working mom, about who’s watching my child. Can I live?

Photo collage of a professionally dressed woman with her hand on her chin, thinking, in front of a computer monitor with a baby picture as the desktop wallpaper.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by panic_attack/iStock/Getty Images Plus and olesiabilkei/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Slate Plus members get more Care and Feeding from Jamilah Lemieux every week.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a thirtysomething working woman with a 16-month-old son. I find that I am asked quite regularly “Who is watching your child?” while I’m at work. I highly doubt this question is asked of men returning to work after family leave. What is a good response to point out how sexist this question is? I want to say “The kennel charges me a weekly rate” and leave it at that.

—Why Don’t You Ask the Father?

Dear WDYAtF,

For nearly seven years, few words have triggered me like “Where’s the baby?”—a question that is almost never asked of my ex-partner. Despite telling anyone who will listen that my kid has a dad and spends 50 percent of her time with said person, I can’t go a week without someone asking where she is. “Where’s the baby?” is the last thing you want to hear when you are on your third drink at a party at 12 a.m., running errands at Target, or hopping on a bike at spin class. (OK, I don’t take spin class, but I bet that would really piss me off.) For people to raise this absurd question in the workplace, however, is even more infuriating and inappropriate.

I love your retort about the kennel. My go-to has often been to act as if I just had my kid with me and to begin frantically searching for her as if she were a lost set of keys. However, both of us would do better to address the sexist and invasive nature of the question, which is something you can do easily and politely. You can take the thoughtful route and allow your noisy colleague to figure things out on their own …

“Certainly, I would not have been able to return to work had I not been able to make adequate arrangements for my child’s care, and we were lucky to find a great nanny/sitter/day care center. However, I have to share with you that I’ve been hit with this question many times since I got back into the office, but my little one’s dad said no one has inquired at all. Why do you think that is?”

… or you can be straight to the point without offering any details about what your kid is actually doing while you work to care for her: “I find it strange that so many folks have inquired about this. Most women return to work after having children, as did her father, who hasn’t been asked this at all.”

Either way, I think it’s important that we start speaking up, out, and often about the subtle ways that women are still treated as second-class citizens, and this is one of those times where it wouldn’t cause much trouble to do so. Good luck and congrats on both the baby and finding child care—or a really permissive kennel owner.

—Jamilah