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Why is it so hard for younger mothers at work?

Integrating work and children is hard no matter your age, but what happens if you have children earlier than most? According to a study of 196 moms by Ginamarie Ligon-Scott, assistant professor in Villanova’s psychology department, most women work for about five years before becoming pregnant — but there was a sharp contrast in this between non-salaried and salaried women.

The average age of the first baby for non-salaried women was 27, but for salaried women, it was 31!

Young motherhood comes along a different implication for salaried women who become moms in between 25 to 35 years old: as indicated by a study from the Census Bureau in November and referenced in this infamous New York Times article, you’ll be less likely to close the gender pay gap with your male peers.

You may be in a job that doesn’t have the flexibility to accommodate children.

Some entry-level salaried positions are dependent on work as it’s assigned or surfaces. That means that hours can be unpredictable. Unpredictable working hours are not ideal for working parents that have set childcare availability. If you have a spouse that can help, that’s great, but if you’re both young parents — you may be in the same boat. And that’s a hard one to steer.

You may be working for someone who doesn’t have children yet.

This situation itself shouldn’t be an issue if your boss is a great manager and understands how to manage different employees with different needs. However, it can be an issue — I’ve seen it myself in specific workplaces. A lack of understanding or sensitivity to the needs of pregnant and nursing women can manifest and leave some young mothers feeling uncomfortable or even pressured to work through situations that they would prefer not to. Jealousy can be a factor, for both managers and team members who may long to be parents themselves but the time hasn’t come.

Co-workers or seniors may feel you didn’t put in your time or that it’s not your turn.

This one is tough. There are many women corporate leaders and role models out there, but very few that had any children before the age of 30. If you have a child before you turn 30 (or even really, from what I can tell, 32) years old, you may face an unexpected type of discrimination — one that comes from other women who may have chosen to wait because they want to advance their careers.

Your peers are at a very different life stage than you.

This means that they can work differently than you, and dependent on where you work — this may or may not be a disadvantage. Offices that start and end early tend to be more favorable to working parents who look forward to spending evenings with their families, and need to pick up their children by the dreaded six o’clock hour. But if you work in an office where everyone rolls in at 10 or 10:30 am, and you need to be out of there by 4:30 pm every day, it’s hard to face the reality that your 8:30 am arrival isn’t as valued as staying until 6 or 7 p.m.. Sadly, even many women have admitted they have the impression that working mothers are less committed to their jobs. The younger you are when you become a mother, the sooner you’ll experience this prejudice.

Your manager may be a parent or have just become one.

And guess what? Their experiences and stories are going to shape the workgroup conversation more than yours will. For example, it felt weird to me that my manager would talk about their children’s Halloween costumes during a staff meeting but never ask us about our children’s costumes. It’s also strange to give upward advice to your manager; it can create an awkward situation if you try to give parenting advice or tips to your manager. Maybe the worst part is when your manager starts putting hard boundaries in place to accommodate their family needs, it makes it harder for you to get your work done because you have boundaries too. Boundary viability (and I HIGHLY advocate having a set of boundaries) is usually set by the highest ranking or most critical team member to a project.

So what if you are a young mother in the workplace? What can you do?

Don’t feel like you didn’t wait your turn.

Having a child is a personal choice, and no one should make you feel like you can or cannot have one at a specific time. In fact, many senior women wish that they did have a baby sooner in life. Anne-Marie Slaughter brought up in her latest book that she advocates for women to have children younger than she did, even if it conflicts with some of the most career-building years.

Be sensitive to the fact that most of your peers, or maybe even your manager, aren’t at your life stage.

This advice may hurt, I know. But try your best not to overemphasize your status as a mother within your workgroup. It’s hard to get other people who aren’t there yet to understand what it takes to have kids and work.

If your manager is a new parent, let them lead the conversation when it comes to talking about kids.

I know this advice hurts too, but it will make you feel more comfortable in the long run. And it may help keep the focus on your work instead of the fact that you are a parent, too.

Seek out and work for organizations that have many parents as employees.

These organizations (hopefully) will have cultures that lend to the sort of flexibility that parents seek.

Try to become the boss before you have your first, even if you’re young.

Each has its pros and cons, but sometimes, being a member of management affords you certain flexibilities that being an individual contributor does not — like being the decision maker on a project, so your schedule can take precedent. You’re also more likely to have parents for your peer set, and they can be a great support system even if they are older than you.

Being a young mother at work is tough, but remember — you’re in good company. I had my first child and 29 and second child at 32 and I have personal experiences with the challenges I shared here. I hope sharing my story and this advice will help other young mothers, and soon-to-be young mothers, in the workplace.

Originally posted on my previous blog, Have Kids, Will Work.

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About me

At work, I create startup education, programs, and curriculum to help entrepreneurs grow and scale their businesses while engaging global founder communities. At home, my husband and I have two wonderful children. I love music and am a cellist (formally trained for 14 years) who is learning to play again after an 18-year hiatus. Travel, meeting new people, writing, and spending time with my family makes me happy.

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