After Mia was born, my 17 months old daughter, I had one year maternity leave but decided that I wanted to take some extra time off work and resigned from the job I had at the time – it just seemed like the natural thing to do, because other than wanting to spend some more time with Mia, later I also wanted to find a new professional challenge.
So now I am getting back to the tedious process of looking for a new fulfilling job and all that this process entails. I am being picky because I feel that whatever I go to do next better be worth my time away from my daughter. Things were looking good, some interviews here and there, though nothing concrete. Then came an unpleasant interview, where I was asked four questions relating to my ability to manage being a mom and a professional. I never thought I would be intimidated by such questions which actually to me felt unnecessary, self-explanatory, not to mention bordering on illegal. The questions where along the lines of, ‘this role requires that on occasion you work late, would you be able to do that with small child?”, ‘your child is quite young, how will you cope with leaving her?’ and a couple of other similar questions.
During the interview I did not hesitate answering, I expected that some employers may want to know a little about that aspect, though found it odd that there were more than one or two questions. In hindsight, I should have said something that would not give him (yes, it was a male interviewer) the chance to further prove my private life. But I must admit after the interview I was filled with insecurities and doubts, not about whether I could work and manage my work and home life balance, but by the thought that being a mom would put me at a disadvantage in the eyes of employers.
Having worked in the human rights field I am well aware of all types of discrimination against women and specifically we often hear about discrimination against women in the labour market, especially around all matters to do with reproduction – i.e. men being hired in favour of women because the women are of child bearing age, women cast aside from promotions because she just got married and therefore might fall pregnant, and the list of assumptions goes on and on- but it was weird to feel that maybe I was the subject of discrimination, at least that is what I perceived.
As I friend of mine rightly pointed out, being a mom gives us an added edge, we become great ‘multi-taskers’ and become extra efficient at work simply because we need to finish on time to be able to tend to our other responsibilities at home. I don’t deny that I won’t go through my own separation anxiety when I eventually go back to work or that it might take a little bit of time for me to adjust to the change, but in taking the decision to go back to work I am already preparing myself for this process and do resent that my professional ability is questioned because I am a mother, the role I am most proud of.
Next time I am asked anything about being a mother all I would say is this – ‘I have the support system I need to cope with the demands on this role’, and say nothing more and nothing less. Also, I think I had the best teacher I could possibly have on being a working mother and that is my mom. As a single working mother she took her five daughters travelling around the world whilst she carried out humanitarian work. When we left my country my little sister was just 3 and my eldest sister was 13, so I bet if she could do it I am sure I can too!!
Paty is a Dominican/Peruvian mom who lives in London with her Norwegian husband and 17 month old daughter, Mia.