I have missed countless class parties, basketball games, and parent meetings. But while I was on maternity leave I found myself at quite a few basketball games on Monday afternoons. During that time, I was surrounded by other parents: stay-at-home moms, "investor" dads, and of course the coaches. The coaches were almost all professional men. As the game progressed, dad after dad walked into the gym. I asked my husband, "Wait, how can he be here?" "And him, how come he's not at work?"
My husband turned to me and said, "Simple. He's the coach."
I suppose men have traditionally played the role of "coach," and that's why it's an acceptable excuse for leaving work early. I'm thrilled that my male colleagues and friends are doing drop-off and pick-up as well as volunteering for coaching posts. But I don't think many of my working-mom friends would volunteer to coach a sports team if it meant having to leave work by 3 pm every Monday. This isn't to say that we couldn't - but why don't we? There seems to be a self-enforced double standard.
In my case, I worry about being taken less seriously in the workplace. I fear that if I left work early, my colleagues would conclude that I am more dedicated to my children's extracurricular activities than to my job. And of course I can't help but consider that a visible commitment like coaching could come at the cost of my next promotion. Is there an unspoken code for working women - that leaving work to attend to your kids' activities translates to "not so serious about work"?
Some of my fears have been reinforced in subtle ways. When I was pregnant with twins, I was often asked by co-workers, friends, and neighbors, how I'd be handling childcare. I'm pretty certain that my husband didn't receive these questions at all - which is ironic, because he was part of the answer!
I am ashamed to admit that on occasion I've found myself resenting the fathers at work who split early to take their kids to swim lessons, or those who cancel meetings at the last minute because of a daughter's dance recital. How should I weigh my own sacrifices against theirs? Most people admire involved dads: "He's great at work AND involved with his kids lives." Some days, I feel like my male colleagues can have it all.
I know that the answer is for everyone, men and women, to prioritize family and work equally. I hope we get there. I still feel restricted by the stigma (real or imagined) of being a family-oriented woman in the workplace. I suspect it will last until women are paid equally and hold as many high-ranking positions as men. In the meantime, I want to practice being better about letting things go, putting my kids first, and leaving the office early from time to time to participate in activities that are meaningful to them.