by Vicki Larson
I was a relatively new divorcee when I started working at Company A. The full-time work was a welcome diversion from the emotionally hellish time I had just gone through, but it was the first time I’d worked full time as a mom.
I know it would be an adjustment for my two boys and for me; I just didn’t realize in what ways it might impact a lot of other things as well.
“Anna,” one of my co-workers, was a single mom by choice, and every day it seemed that her household was experiencing some sort of drama that often had her miss days or have to leave early. When her children got sick, she often brought them into the office. I began hearing grumblings from management, saw how some of my co-workers reacted — non-parent as well as men whose wives either stayed at home or worked part time — and made a vow. I would not talk too much about my own kids, then age 11 and 14, while at work and would forget about taking days off to drive on field trips and volunteer at the snack bar.
So, of course, that’s exactly when my own household started experiencing drama. My older son, then a high school freshman, began making bad choices and started struggling in school — a typical post-divorce scenario. My after-school phone calls to him became increasing frequent and noticeably louder, filled with frustration from trying to control something that I really couldn’t from behind my workplace desk. Then there were the phone calls to his dad, who shares 50 percent custody. Now, the people around me at work were looking at me the same way they looked at “Anna.”
I didn’t know whom I was angrier at: my kid, my co-workers and bosses, or me for being an imperfect parent.
I began to wonder how companies look at us single moms — whether we’re single from divorce or widowhood or by choice, a growing phenomenon. We make up 18 percent of the workforce, so there are a lot of us with whom to deal.
Then, I stumbled upon a new word — maternal profiling, employment discrimination against a woman who has, or will have, children — along with a host of studies indicating that mothers are less likely to be hired than non-mothers with equal resumes and job experiences, that they are paid less and are given fewer opportunities for advancement than other
workers. Although single dads face similar issues, there are far fewer dads with sole custody, and far fewer fathers by choice.
It’s true that I make less than my male co-workers, but can I blame that on my being a divorced mom of two teenagers? It’s hard to know for sure. And is my need to sometimes leave work early because of my kids looked at differently than a non-parent who has to take care of a sick dog or an elderly parent? Again, there’s no way to know.
Thankfully, my older son has gotten his act together and is thriving as is my younger son, despite being in the throes of puberty. My single motherhood workplace drama has ended — for now.
Still, I tend not to talk about them at work too much except to those who ask — and, then, always in glowing terms. Come to think of it, that’s not such a bad thing.
Vicki Larson has been a longtime journalist, editor, copy editor and freelance writer for numerous magazines, newspapers and Web site. A divorced mother of two teenagers, she is the lifestyles editor of the Marin Independent Journal and Here magazine, and has an essay in "Knowing Pains: Women on Love, Sex and Work in Our 40s," (WingSpan, 2009) a fundraiser for breast cancer.