When I started a new job last December, I debated when, or if, I would mention to my colleagues that I had an infant at home. After all, I would be working remotely, with a team spread all over the country. I could hide in my home office (coincidentally, just off my son’s nursery), do my job, and everything would be fine. Sure, there were other parents on my team, but I certainly wouldn’t want them to see me, an all-business engineering type, with an infant on her hip, hair in a messy bun, and a cold coffee in hand.
As an engineer in a male-dominated field, I learned early that there were parts of myself I needed to keep away from work if I wanted to be successful. Even after having my son and officially becoming a working mom, I thought the best way to build my career would be to keep work and family as separate as possible. Working remotely made this even easier. Or so I thought.
So, I just… never mentioned it. That is, until COVID-19 happened.
I had been in my new role for just about three months, working from home half the time and on the road for a few day trips each week. My son had just turned a year old and was going to daycare every day while my husband and I worked. All at once, my travel was canceled, daycare was closed, and I found myself negotiating a full schedule of conference calls and sharing weekday toddler-care duties with my husband, who was also working from home.
The juggling was tough. Our days revolved around who had conference calls when — a perfectly timed relay race of toddler handoffs throughout the day, then a game of email catchup each night. This wasn’t sustainable; I needed the help and support of my team.
It was time to come clean and reveal my “double life” as a working mom.
This pandemic has certainly blurred the lines between work and home life, but in doing this, it has made working parenthood so much more visible. The kids-in-the-background Zoom call moment is no longer a meme but a reality. We’ve all seen it, and it turns out it’s not the end of the world.
Seeing that my colleagues, customers, and even executives were going through similar challenges made me realize I had nothing to be afraid of. So I let it happen. On our weekly team call, we share photos of what we have been up to, and I shared a photo of me and my son playing in the back yard.
There I was — working mom. Two parts of me, finally in one place.
As I started to be more open about my role as a parent, I was surprised at how much my colleagues opened up. My manager and other members of my team were in similar situations with their young children. I quickly recognized the hesitation I had wasn’t because I was ashamed of being a mother — it was because of a fear that I would be treated differently.
After so many years of feeling like motherhood would hold me back from career success, it turns out I was the one telling myself it would. Even a full year after having my son, I was still struggling with my identity as a new mother AND a working professional in a new job.
It took a pandemic for me to realize it was OK to be both.