Talking About Your Kids at Work

talking about kids at workMoms: do you ever feel judged — or at least subject to coworker eye-rolling — for talking about your kids at work? Do you avoid talking about being a mom for that reason, or maybe because your definition of “professionalism” includes limiting discussion of your family life at the office? I’ve been thinking about this lately because, since launching the CorporetteMoms site, whenever someone on Corporette brings up a parenting-related topic (which you are still welcome to do on either site), it leads to at least one comment along these lines:

“I HAVE AN IDEA: WHY DON’T YOU USE THE ‘MOM’ BLOG SO THE REST OF US DON’T HAVE TO LOOK AT THIS CRAP?”

This particularly harsh comment has been made not just once, but twice (someone knows how to use Ctrl-C!). The first time was in response to a question about pursuing a new job while visibly pregnant, and the second to a request for resources for working moms with a new baby. While I don’t make a habit of deleting comments, that one is now in the trash.

Now, as things go, Internet commenters can be, er, opinionated  and the person (or, at least, the IP address) that posted this “crap” question appears to have anger issues, based on other comments she’s made… but if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years it’s this: if one person has the balls to say it (or write it in an Internet forum), many more are thinking it. So this hostility to mom-ness, to two totally legitimate questions for a career advice blog, struck me as something worth discussing.

After I started thinking about it, a few memories came to me from my years in Big Law. Some superiors rolled their eyes when someone pointed out (yet again) that she or he couldn’t do something (like stay late at the last minute) because of parenting activities, and an older mentor told me that, if/when I had kids and if/when I needed to stay home with them on a sick day  “always tell the boss that YOU’RE the one who’s sick  never the kids.” (Here’s similar advice from the WSJ to be vague about when you need personal time for kid-related reasons, and a working mom’s rant in Elle a few years ago about professional women who “blather on about their children in the workplace.”)

So, let’s discuss:

  • Do you avoid talking at work about this huge part of your life  your kid(s) or your plans to have them, your family unit, and household issues?
  • When chatting with a colleague who does not have kids, do you focus on non-kid things like, say, a Katy Perry concert
  • Do you only squelch that part of you when talking to younger colleagues, or colleagues who are not parents? 
  • Do your answers here differ if you’re talking to a man (if he’s a father, even a young father)? 
  • Does your definition of “professionalism” mean that you don’t talk about any personal matters, including family life, with your colleagues?  

There are no right answers here, obviously, but I thought it would be an interesting discussion... Ladies, what do you think?

(Pictured: Pictures of my kids on my desk, originally uploaded to Flickr by trenttsd).

Comments

  1. Hmm, I’m a new mom, and I don’t think I’ve made a conscious effort to avoid talking about my baby, but I don’t think I’m doing it all that much either. My immediate supervisor and teammates are all child-free, so there isn’t that shared experience that would spur conversation about kids.

    On the other hand, there is someone who has an office near me who always wants to stop in my office and chit-chat about kids/pregnancy for what seems like forever. It’s annoying to me because I have work to do and because I like to think about things other than my kid every now and then. But I think I would be just as annoyed if someone wanted to talk about, say, weddings all the time, so this isn’t kid specific.

  2. Mrs. Jones says:

    I don’t avoid talking about my child at work. I do try to focus on non-kid things when talking to a coworker (or friend outside work) who doesn’t have kids. I discuss my personal life much more with friends outside work than I do with coworkers. I have a couple of friends that can ONLY talk about their kids, and I often find it boring and annoying.

  3. I’ve actually found that what people choose to share with me about their family/personal life has changed since I got pregnant. In my own conversations, I tend to focus more on addressing the challenges my working spouse and I have juggling two careers and a kiddo vs. talking about what my kid does. I think it’s the juggle between professional and personal life that we all have to deal with – it’s not any different than the single woman down the hall who chooses to spend 20+ hours a week training for triathlons.

    In the meantime, I have yet to figure out my response to the older gentlemen who, in good faith, try to relate to me about how difficult their family had it when both they and their wife worked when their kids were first born. 90% of those conversations end up with them saying “so my wife decided to stay home and still does so even though the oldest is in college, blah blah blah.” I sure appreciate the effort to relate to what I’m trying to do, but sorry guys, not even close.

    • Shay-La says:

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s had this experience–being compared to a previously working mom who now stays at home. There’s nothing wrong or right about either path. But I feel like screaming, “You know that’s not the path I’m on, right? RIGHT?!” Because… it’s not. And, I honestly don’t feel like there is any good way to respond to these comments, because it’s his wife, and there usually isn’t time for the “staying at home is a fine choice but it’s not my choice” discussion.

  4. Chronic Overthinker says:

    I am lucky to work in a small office that values family time. Everyone (with the exception of me) has multiple children. The partners frequently leave the office early, or come in late because of family activities and allow the associates to use their discretion regarding adjusting their work schedule to accommodate doctors appointments, soccer practice, etc.

    Everyone talks about their children and their children’s activities. I do remember feeling odd when I first began to work here, because everyone had children and everyone always talked about them. That being said, I think the office values having a life outside of work. Every Monday, people spend at least a half hour catching up with each other (asking about the weekend, etc.) and when someone returns to the office from vacation, everyone wants to hear all about it.

  5. Lizochka says:

    Wow, that commenter was a real jerk. What a shame we can’t be more supportive of each other. I don’t blame you for deleting the comment and for having it rattle around in your head enough to dedicate a post to it.

    I don’t think I overdo it on the mom stuff at work, but I also have a very child friendly supervisor and general office environment. I feel very fortunate about that, but it makes me wonder if any of my colleagues see that as an annoying part of working here!

  6. anonmama says:

    I have been saddened to see this type of comment popping up on the regularcorpore**e website. Motherhood is something that many, many professional women experience or want/plan to experience, so it doesn’t make any sense to “otherize” it and push it out of the conversation. As far as my work experience, I don’t talk about my child a TON, but I don’t hesitate to mention that my child is doing xyz. I have found myself over-working on some days that I have worked from home, or not mentioning that a doctor’s appointment is for my child rather than myself (letting others infer what they will), so I guess I do have some self-consciousness in regards to this.

  7. Spirograph says:

    For me, it definitely depends on the audience. When I first came back from maternity leave, I worked for a single-no-kids boss and managed a team of exclusively single-no-kids people. People would ask about my baby to be polite, but if I gave an answer longer than “he’s great!” their eyes would start to glaze over, so I became very conscious to avoid talking about him. I also tried extra hard to follow up by asking something about that person’s pet/hobby/upcoming vacation/whatever. I completely understand now why parents get annoyed when someone responds to a story about kids with “I know, my dog does the same thing!…” but I always hated the vibe I got from some parents that nothing in my childless life could be as important as their child is to them (although I understand that mentality, too, now), and really didn’t want to be one of those people.

    I now work with mostly married-with-kids types, and talking about children, childcare, family logistics, etc is a great equalizer and way to make friends. In some ways it’s a lot easier, but in some ways I miss being able to leave home at home the way I leave work at work. The point about sick days is an interesting one, though. Without even thinking about it, I was always purposely vague at my old office about who was sick or who a doctor appt was for. My son had a fever for a couple days recently, and I just told my new office “it’s my turn to stay home with fever baby, see you tomorrow” and got a bunch of commiseration e-mails from coworkers. Total culture change.

    • hoola hoopa says:

      This exactly. Among many parents in my family-friendly office, it’s actually considered a bit of an affront if you DON’T discuss your kids – but I stick to other topics with coworkers without kids.

      It doesn’t matter whether it’s a man or woman. My parenting/children conversations are completely driven by whether or not the person I’m talking to has kids. In my office, fathers are just as involved in discussions and activities (ie, company family picnic kids game planning) as mothers.

  8. Bessa says:

    As an associate, I used to try not to draw extra attention to my kids and not talk about them too much. Now, as a partner, I have pictures of my kids on my walls instead of my diplomas. I have their artwork around. And I truly find others (both with and without kids) enjoying hearing a *short* funny story about them from time to time. It’s part of who I am, and I’m proud of it. Having kids makes my life more relate-able – and makes me relate better to jurors.

    I don’t like the idea that, as a woman, you shouldn’t have pics of or art by your kids in your office. My thought is, “I’ve proven myself. I can do a lot – and be a mom and lawyer. I don’t have to hide that I’m a mom to be [considered] a good lawyer.”

  9. mascot says:

    I’m fortunate to work in a family-friendly firm. Most people have kids, most have working spouses, and everyone has lives. It’s a very social place and people generally talk about their lives outside of the office. It’s common culture here to have pictures of the family, dogs, artwork, etc. in the office. More than a couple of people have large, professionally done portraits of their kids/family hanging on the wall. While I abstain from making my child the central topic of conversation, I do talk about him when appropriate. I also feel some responsibility to model what it looks like (good and bad) to be a working parent to the younger associates.

  10. I can understand getting annoyed when parents gush and gush about go into TMI (i.e. body fluids) about their new babies. On the whole I think discussing kids at work is pretty normal, at least in my government office. Almost all of the attorneys have kids and I try to remember the names or at least the gender and number of my colleagues’ kids so that I can make polite conversation by asking how they are, how old they are now, etc. I think the hostility on your other blog about parenting questions is not indicative of professional workplaces. It’s just the rantings of a bitter few. If the comments on this blog stay on the more mature side that will be a good thing! I have been reading Corpor**** for years and am very excited about this blog. The timing couldn’t have been better for me as I am five and a half months pregnant with my first child.

    • Non-Mom says:

      As a long-time reader of Corpor***, I think that in general there has been an increase in rude comments and even verbal attacks that goes beyond parenting topics. Yes, there have been several comments saying “take that over to the Moms s!te” but you have to remember that Kat made a Very.Big.Deal about the new s!te and I think it was natural for readers to assume most/all parenting questions would move to the new s!te.

      I agree that the comment was rude and mean-spirited but I have seen far more objectionable and verbally-abusive comments posted on the regular s!te which have been ignored by Kat/Kate. I am not sure why it is allowable to state “HANDLE slept her way to the top” but it’s not OK to say “this belongs on the Moms s!te. I don’t want to see this [email protected]”. Many long-time readers have stated they are no longer following the blog because of these attacks and many more are just silently walking away.

  11. Meg Murry says:

    I know at one office I worked at we did not have an official limit on how many sick days we took (it was up to the manager’s discression as to what was too much and in need of a performance plan), but technically our managers we supposed to only give us sick days for ourselves and we were supposed to use vacation/personal days to stay home with sick family members. My boss was a kind person and thought the rule was stupid, but I was pretty much the only woman there with kids (it was an office heavy with men with SAHMs). She told me to simply say I was taking a sick day and she wouldn’t ask any further. Most of the time in my son’s first year though, he would be up all night with a croup-y cough, but technically not too sick for daycare, so he would go to daycare or my husband would take a half day, and I would take a sick day to sleep – because if I didn’t I would be next to useless at the office, a danger to fellow drivers on the road and probably sick for real in the next day or two, with something that would take a lot longer than a day to shake off.
    As a warning to anyone who hasn’t been there yet – bank as much sick leave/PTO for the first year your kid is in daycare/preschool/public school – they will bring home EVERY germ that is going around. It gets better after that first year, at least slightly, but the first year is awful.

  12. Lobbyist says:

    I work in a small office and I am the boss, so FWIW, yes I talk about my kids. That’s really all I”ve got going on besides work and I think talking about them humanizes me. I keep it brief and funny (I hope) and I also ask/listen to colleague’s out-of-work interests that are not child-related. I think moms get annoying(to non parents especially) if that’s all they talk about or if they assume every one is as interested in Junior’s exploits as they are. But I find kids are a great networking tool also — in my profession — politics– I’ve bonded with other parents over our kids similar interests. Also, school, soccer, and swim have also provided fertile networking opportunities.

  13. I don’t have kids yet, but my work place is definitely decently family friendly. It’s totally normal for my coworkers (both men and women) to say that they’ll have to call in to the early meeting (as opposed to come in) because they have to take care of their kids, or that they can’t stay late because of their kids, and even to occasionally work from home because their kid is sick. When I told a friend of mine (who is a Mom) the last one, she was shocked that my coworker felt ok stating that she was out with a sick kid, and not sick herself, because in her experience it’s better for her to lie and say that she’s the one who’s sick. I’ve even had a coworker say that he was out taking care of his sick kids AND wife. I wish all work places were like that: if you do good work, you should be able to take off when needed for family matters without having to lie about it. (on that note, I also have a coworker who’s recently been announcing to everyone that she’s like 2 weeks pregnant, although since she’ll have to rotate out of her current job function during her pregnancy anyways I guess people would have figured it out then)

  14. Shay-La says:

    For those in offices that are generally accepting of kid talk, do you ever have the opposite problem–that is ALL people want to talk to you about? I don’t know if I’m extra sensitive because I’m pregnant, so it’s the “easy” thing for people to talk to me about. I dread having conversations because they always begin with “How’s it going momma?” or “How are you feeling?” or “You look like you’re ready to pop! any daaaaaay now!” To be fair, I’m 38 weeks pregnant, but, I’m still here working, I have other things to discuss.

    • That was my absolute least favorite thing about being pregnant. I hated the trite, repetitive small talk everyone in the world seemed to want to have with me.

    • Spirograph says:

      So many times this, and this is the #1 reason I have not “announced” I’m pregnant at work yet. I met up with some single, childless friends for happy hour a couple weeks ago and explained why I was cutting myself off after one beer… A couple girls asked me whether I “enjoy” being pregnant, and my answer was something along the lines of your comment. Physically, it’s OK until the last couple weeks – I’m never “glowy” but I’m not uncomfortable, either. But it is just SO annoying to have that conversation 500x per day, and to feel so conspicuous wherever I go. They were shocked that not all women like to talk about their pregnancy constantly. (I also hate maternity clothes. So basically I hate all the trappings of pregnancy, but not the actual pregnancy itself. haha)

      • Shay-La says:

        Co-sign: “So basically I hate all the trappings of pregnancy, but not the actual pregnancy itself. “

    • hoola hoopa says:

      Yep!

      It’s the absolute worst when you’re pregnant. I strongly dislike discussing what I view as my personal medical information with coworkers, but the questions turn to the baby once they are born and that’s a much more welcome subject. So hang in there!

    • Muppet says:

      Yea, I also agree with this. I’m not currently pregnant, but I still get questions from my boss “how’s the baby?” etc. — and what really annoys me is that he never asks this to my male coworkers. He doesn’t ask them how their kids are. But as far as social chit-chat goes, that’s all he ever asks me about. Grrr.

      • Shay-La says:

        OMG. 1,000 this too. I don’t mind kid talk at work as long as it’s equal opportunity. But, when I’m targeted for kid talk and other coworkers are not (male or female) it’s worse than pregnant talk. (This is my second pregnancy)

  15. Marie says:

    I’m currently heavily pregnant with my first child, and working in Big Law (in subsaharan Africa, but from what I’ve read, Big Law is pretty similar everywhere). The trend I’ve noticed is this:

    Men talk, or don’t talk, about their kids depending on their personality. I work for two male partners, and the one is always talking about his family and his weekend, and the other is strictly business. Women talk, or don’t talk, about their kids depending on how safe they feel in the present company. I know a number of women who don’t talk at all about their families on the basis that they might be judged for it. I know several more who talk about their kids, but only to other moms or if directly asked.

    When women are pregnant, a common question from other women is “what are you going to do afterwards?” The assumption at associate-level is that they will leave as soon as they have worked off their paid maternity leave – and in the vast majority of cases, that’s what they do. At partner-level, they are entitled to go part-time, and pretty much all of them do. The partners talk a lot more about their kids than the associates, but they still hide their reduced hours from clients on the basis that they will be given less work if they are seen to be on the mommy track.

    Interestingly, some of the men hide their family commitments because they feel under scrutiny, too. When I told my strictly-business boss I wanted to go part time as an associate, he asked why. I told him that I’d seen the new moms in the office, and they look tired and guilty, and I don’t want that for my life. He said “you know, Marie, it’s not just the moms. I have two young sons, and I feel terrible coming home to find them asleep. Sometimes I take a long lunch just so I can drive them home from school and see them in the daylight. This job is hard on families.”

    • “Women talk, or don’t talk, about their kids depending on how safe they feel in the present company.”

      Well put and spot on.

      I work for myself, and I’m in Japan where working motherhood is a whole other story (in a nutshell: women who work don’t have kids; women with kids don’t work). I just don’t talk about my kids, period, because I don’t think most of my clients have the mental flexibility to see me as BOTH a competent professional AND a mother. They just don’t. It’s one or the other. Obviously I prefer clients to see me as a competent professional, so I don’t talk about my kids.

      Of course, when I was pregnant it was hard not to acknowledge that I have kids ;) I’m rarely on-site with clients, but I did work on-site with one while seven months pregnant. And…that client then decided unilaterally to ‘give’ me a maternity leave–i.e. use a different consultant for a few months after I gave birth. Without asking me what my plans were. Yeah, thanks guys. This is why I prefer that clients don’t know I have kids.

      The worst part of motherhood for me has been people trying to make decisions for me (“She’s got kids, so she wouldn’t be interested in this rush job,” “She’s pregnant, so she obviously wouldn’t be interested in this weekend seminar,” etc). So many opportunities not passed on to me, so much work assigned to someone else based on what other people think I might or might not be interested in. It drives me nuts, and this is why I try to keep kid talk out of my professional life as much as possible.

  16. I’m late to the party but this is still an interesting topic. My husband and I both work in the same small town we live in (a medium-sized metro area is about a half hour away). Because of the small town environment, I do believe kid-friendly conversation is more the norm here. I also work in an (older) child-focused organization, so kids aren’t taboo. I consider myself lucky though.

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  18. Anonymous says:

    It’s hard to listen to people talking about their kids when you can’t afford them at the moment, you aren’t succeeding at having them or your partner isn’t interested in having them. So.. I try and control my child talk knowing that not everyone is happy about their current situation. Personally, I would love to have another but we can’t afford it, husband isn’t interested and we took forever to even have one kid. So it’s not on the table and that sucks.

    Also, since having a kid in my male dominated profession, no one talks to me about anything except my kid. And that kind of sucks sometimes. Like, I would like to be included in discussion about non kid things.

  19. I’m a tax accountant at a large accounting firm, and I will return from maternity leave just in time for tax busy season. I had issues with one colleague while pregnant (third trimester) in the last busy season because I refused to pull all-nighters, and instead arrived (and left) much earlier than she did. While she was addressed by HR, I am still nervous about returning to work with a 3 month-old at home and setting boundaries that are specific to being a mom – breast pumping during the day and leaving early enough to spend bedtime with my son.

    I am a career-changer and new to public accounting. This will be only my 2nd busy season, so I have to “earn my stripes,” BUT keeping up milk supply when I work 14 hour days, 6 days a week, and am essentially on-call until the tax deadlines is a priority, along with sleep and being there for my infant. Those essentials will make me perform better at my job.

    I have no clue how to manage perceptions at work except to speak about it early and often. I get that most of my colleagues are much younger and childless, and probably can’t relate, but oh well, right?

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