Here's to the working mums

There have been plenty of things I have been judged for as a woman.

Playing rugby union, travelling in third world countries alone, lifting heavy weights at the gym, ‘still’ being single at 30, the list goes on. But today was the lowest I felt in a really long time because of a gender role comment.

I am writing this article because, at the time, I was so taken aback that I failed to justify my lifestyle choices to someone expressing theirs, but more importantly, because I shouldn’t have had to.

I returned to work part-time three months after giving birth to my beautiful daughter Salote. It wasn’t a choice I made because I am ‘career driven’ or because I am a feminist. It wasn’t because my workplace threatened to give my job away or because I was worried about missing out on an opportunity — I did it because I was the sole bread winner in my family.

My husband was on a visa that meant he couldn’t work, as much as he would have loved to, and the only income we had at the time was mine. 

So when someone said to me in a meeting recently that it was ‘ambitious’ for me to return to work so soon. It hurt. 

I would have loved the luxury of being like the majority of mums in my mothers group who are busy ‘doing coffee’ and play dates most days. Instead I'm just thankful to be connected to some great women in my neighbourhood.

While I reassured them that I have an amazing supportive network of friends and family who came from next door (literally) and from overseas to help raise our daughter, they dug deeper and brought up that that ‘babies need their mummies, especially while you are breastfeeding’. 

I was crushed.

This person had no idea about the times I had been up pumping milk in the middle of the night or in the car between client meetings, to ensure that my baby was exclusively breast milk fed until 6 months. Or that I worked the hours while she slept so I could get home earlier to see her.

It shouldn’t have mattered. Everyone's circumstances are different and it’s not ok to make assumptions about the decisions mothers have to make. Perhaps we all have a some stage, I know I definitely have.

The most disappointing part of all this wasn’t that the comments were made, it was that they were made by a mum herself. A working mum. Someone I look up to. 

Disappointed and deflated I came back to the office and shared this with my team. If you know anything about the company I work for, you will understand why everyone stopped what they were doing to offer condolences and reassurance. Describing how I felt almost brought me to tears.

Why? Because I knew they understood what I felt.

My workplace supports women, we support mothers, and fathers, we support families, and we do everything we can to ensure everyone has the time to show their kids that they love them.

You see, I’m the fortunate one, I have a great job that I love, a husband that supports me and an amazing employer who created a permanent part-time role for me to come back to whenever I was ready. I know for many this isn't the case.

I don’t hold it against this person for her comments, they are her views and she holds tight to them, for whatever reason. I'm sure they never were said with bad intentions.

As for me, I will do my best to never judge a working mum — they all have their reasons for returning to work, when and if they do. Instead I will do everything I can to ensure they feel supported, and that they know how to navigate comments such as these. 

Because there will always be people saying things that make us feel judged. Intentionally or not.

I hope one day my daughter has the opportunity to be a working mum too, and someone who proves that the choices I make for her now, helped her become a great leader.

One who supports the next generation of mums, but most importantly, someone who has empathy.

Lauren Vilitati