A Relationship Survival Guide (for working moms and their employers)


There’s a saying that goes, “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes…” This is never more true than for a working mom. Whether there’s reason to worry or not, you constantly think about other people’s perceptions when the demands of parenthood come calling; when you have to leave at precisely 5:00 because your daycare closes at 6:00, or when you have to take a day off because your child is sick. And it’s true – you can have the most understanding manager but unless they’ve experienced the balancing act between being a (primary) caregiver and a career, they just won’t fully understand it. I say this because I’ve been on both sides of the fence. I’ve managed working moms throughout my career, and I have to admit that while I was sympathetic to their challenges, I just couldn’t fully grasp how difficult it is to do both jobs well. It wasn’t until I became a mom myself that I came to realize how much of a struggle the entire dynamic can be.

So, having been on both sides, here are some “relationship” tips for the working mom and employer/manager:


MANAGER: How many times have you heard someone say, “Well, if you have no other choice…”? (Well, duh – I have no other choice because my kid is sick). You’re dealing with adults – your staff understands that work needs to be done; laying on the guilt trip when they really don’t have another choice doesn’t help the situation. Let them set their own priorities and if they are responsible employees, they WILL get their work done. If they don’t, then a different (performance-related) discussion needs to occur.

STAFF: Don’t take advantage of your employer. This means that if you’re working at home, you’re truly working at home. If you’re only half productive at home, then think about taking a half personal day. Whatever you do, make sure the job gets done. You may have to do your work afterhours or find a backup who can cover for you. If you cannot get your work done, then have an open, honest discussion with your manager. Whatever you do, don’t just leave your manager and your team hanging.


MANAGER: In line with treating your team like adults, be sure to set expectations up front. Communicate deadlines and identify what items are non-negotiable (board meetings, quarterly reports, etc.). Let your team know how you prefer deliverables to be executed, and be sure they know how you prefer to be communicated with (and how much). Don’t make your team guess what you’re thinking  – that just causes people to work inefficiently and ineffectively.

STAFF: When my twins were born, I made it clear that my normal daily hours are 8:30 until about 5:30, but that I can ALWAYS log back on or come back into the office after the kids go to bed. I also made it clear that there’s flexibility in that schedule as long as I know far enough in advance to make appropriate arrangements. When I’m out of the office, my team knows that they can call me with emergencies, and they always know the best way to reach me (home phone, cellphone, email). Additionally, because clear expectations have been set for me by my team, I know how work within them.


MANAGER: Loyalty breeds loyalty. Supporting your staff, being loyal to them, and defending them will result in employees who feel loyal to you, and who will do what it takes to ensure everyone’s success. Enough said.

STAFF: I once had a manager whose motto was: “I have your back as long as you have mine.” I always made sure that my manager looked good and was prepared; I always ensured that my manager had everything he needed in order to feel confident, and he was a great supporter of mine. If you have your manager’s back, they will, in turn, have yours when it really counts (like bonus time, if that applies to you).


MANAGER: One of my pet peeves is when someone calls their team, “Minions” or says something to the effect of, “You just do what I tell you to do and let me worry about the rest.” Your team will feel more accountability and ownership in their jobs if they feel respected and like an integral component of the team. Help them to understand the bigger picture so that they understand how they’re making a difference. Treating them like they don’t need to know about something simply because they are more junior to you may make them care less about the task at hand.

STAFF: You may not like your manager, or you may not agree with him/her, but you should be respectful; particularly around other coworkers. Be careful whom you bitch about your manager to, because this can (any may eventually) come back to bite you in the butt. No good can come out of being disrespectful.


MANAGER: I once had an employee who seemed to be a “problem.” She frequently came in late, left early and would disappear at lunchtime for hours at a time. She was tired, distracted and ineffective; her work suffered, and the other team members had to pick up her slack. I confronted her and asked her to be open with me – it was then that she told me that she was having medical issues with her infant son. Once we had that out in the open, we were able to work out a reduced work schedule that worked for her and for the rest of the team. Eventually, she chose be home with her child, but in the meantime, we were able to handle it in a fair and open manner.

STAFF: During my last midyear appraisal, I asked my manager how he felt about my particular “working mom” situation (schedule, arrangements, etc.). Conversations like this are constructive because it tells you (in other people’s eyes) what works and what doesn’t work, and enables you to form an action plan for addressing the things that don’t work.

6 comments on “A Relationship Survival Guide (for working moms and their employers)”

  1. This is a great post Vivian. Being in HR I see when this process breaks down on both sides way to many times. You give realistic and common sense tips that anyone can use if they are committed to making the manager/employee relationship work. Thanks for this! I wish I could post it on my company’s intranet site! I’ll be passing it along.

  2. Vivian, this was great. I am fortunate to work with a team that is respective of our working mothers and that can create a pretty amazing culture. Thanks!

  3. So true. I’m really lucky that I have supportive adminstrators. My boss makes it clear that if you do your work and do it well then the times you have to leave work to focus on your family will be a non-issue. It is definitely a two-way street of support and respect.

  4. Love your perspective from both sides! I am so incredibly lucky to have a boss that GETS IT. He is so understanding regarding sick kids and mornings that just go off the rails and cause you to run a few minutes late. It’s totally priceless to have that kind of support. (This is not to say that I don’t still feel really guilty calling out or leaving early though.) But it’s a heck of a lot less painless when you know he’s going to say something like, “family first, Tara. Do what you need to do.”

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