Escaping the ‘Invincible Mom’ Trap
I thought successfully juggling parenthood and my career meant never showing vulnerability
In one of my first interactions with the chair of my department, he mentioned that if I ever needed to, I could bring my kids to work with me. He’d had young kids when he started his job, he told me, and he knew firsthand that between sick days and snow days, kids were bound to show up in your office at some point. I wasn’t supposed to be invincible.
His comment wasn’t delivered like a bombshell, but it felt like one. During my time as a graduate student, I had literally hidden my kids from my workplace environment. I didn’t ever share my pregnancy news with my colleagues; instead, I just waited for my growing belly to lead people to their own conclusions. Even after my children were born, I was careful not to bring them up in conversation or take them with me to events, sensing that acknowledging the demands of parenthood would, in some of my colleagues’ eyes, somehow make me a less committed academic.
The year my son was born, I was reminded in my year-end review that I still needed to be publishing at the same rate as my peers, despite going back to work five weeks after my son was born because my institution provided no maternity leave for graduate students at the time. When I was on the job market, I felt a new anxiety every time I sent an email noting that I needed a break to pump while I was interviewing.
The place I now work for, fortunately, was more than happy to make these accommodations. But requesting them in the first place was a sharp reminder of the limitations children can put on a mother’s career. Studies have shown that men are often rewarded for having kids, but that the same process can slow or stall women’s career trajectories — instead of being promoted, they find themselves on the so-called mommy track, earning less after taking time off to raise their children.
So once I became a mom, I quickly absorbed the expectation that if I wanted to succeed professionally, I needed to present an air of infallibility — to manage both my ambitions and my family, without seeming like a mom during the time I spent at work. Since my stipend barely covered our mortgage, let alone childcare, I would care for…