I Am A Working Mom And My Harshest Critics Are Other Women

Working moms are often criticized harshly for their career and family choices, and unfortunately, the harshest critics are often other women.

When I met my future husband, I was a practicing Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialist climbing the ranks in academic medicine. We were both 38 years old, so once it was determined that we had found “the one”, we knew our timeline to marriage would be a short one because we wanted kids. As an OB/GYN and MFM, I knew my biological clock was entering the last few hours–a message he received loud and clear.

But Who Will Raise the Children? 

Shortly after we started dating, he wanted me to meet a couple whom he had been friends with for a long time. They lived in the city where a couple I knew was getting married. I was meeting them before I met his mother, so I knew they must be important to him.

Earlier in the day before us all meeting at dinner, my future husband and his friend had been skiing, so I am sure they discussed our new relationship and whatever else two men on a ski slope might discuss.

That night everything seemed to be going well until the conversation turned to the topic of having children {they did not have kids either}. The wife of the friend {who knew I was a physician} asked me if we wanted to have kids, to which I responded, “Yes.” Her next question was, “Are you going to continue working?” Again, I replied, “Yes.” This was quickly followed by, “So who is going to raise them?” Before I even had a chance to fully process what she had asked me, her husband piped up and said, “Ohhhh they are going to have a nanny!

Now, I am a Kentucky girl so a few years earlier with a little less domestication and a lot more bourbon and I would have had them both on the floor counting the number of pieces of gum stuck under the table. But I was in love and wanted to impress my future husband with my maturity and class, so I held my breath and said, “I think it is just as important for a child to see his or her mother passionate about and fulfilled by her career as it is for her to be at home. And, yes, we will have a nanny.

I won’t say here what was really going through my mind, but I am surprised I was able to speak as politely as I did. Needless to say, the dinner wrapped quickly and my future husband got an earful once we returned to the hotel.

Criticism and Outright Digs

Since becoming a mom, I have been subjected to even more criticism and outright digs.

A mom at preschool raved about my nanny by telling me she was a “great mother” to my twins. A coworker whom I had told my son was sick at home, said that moms should be at home with their kids when they are little and not working demanding jobs. Another mom, after meeting me for the first time at her child’s birthday party, said, “I’m surprised to see you here. I hear you work a lot. What are you, a resident or something??” I could go on and on….and on.

It’s a good thing I have that thick Kentucky skin because I can honestly say these comments do not hurt me. They disappoint me. They disappoint me because they come from my peers. They disappoint me because they wreak of insecurity and competition–a competition I did not ask for. They disappoint me because being a mom is hard enough without such a very personal decision for one’s family being viewed by many, even other women, as being wrong.

I definitely understand now why working moms are plagued with such guilt. How can we possibly feel supported when members of the very community we joined once we became mothers is criticizing and judging us? Especially for someone like me; an older woman who delayed childbearing for her career and went through multiple fertility treatments to finally become a mother. The last thing I need is for another woman to add to the guilt I already carry with me every day, even though I love my job and know I am doing good for other women and babies.

We Need Women to Birth Babies AND We Need Them in the Workforce

It is simply a matter of biology that women are the sex that bear children–it is what it is. But this world needs women in the work place AND it needs them at home raising children. We cannot penalize them for needing to do both. We shouldn’t pass judgment on the working mom who can’t make all the school events, birthday parties, and playdates. We shouldn’t make them feel as if they are less of a mother because they have a career that forces them to make certain sacrifices at home.

I readily admit that being a mom is the most difficult job I have ever had. I can be away from my family for up to 36 hours at a times and have missed many precious moments. But when I took the oath to be a doctor, I signed up to give of myself and my family for the sake of my patients—who are all women. Female physicians try to be the most for our families and patients, and sometimes our families get the short end of the stick. But that’s what doctors do because at the very core of every good doctor is an innate sense of altruism. Other women should support us instead of planting little seeds of doubt.

Women are oftentimes the hardest on each other, and this has to stop for the sake of our daughters AND sons.

I am certain that if the daughters of any of these women aspired to be the next Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Sheryl Sandberg, Serena Williams, or even a doctor, it would be blasted on social media that very same day by that very proud mother. We all know each of these women who pursued very demanding careers have all sacrificed a lot to get to where they are and likely continued to sacrifice once they became mothers. I am even convinced that some of the women who have judged or criticized me are the very same women who refuse to see a male OB/GYN. For whatever reason they want a female physician—a female who has children and who may not make it home in time for dinner or a soccer game because she is at work taking care of other women.

Progress Towards Equal Rights

When I think about what these women have said to me, I think about my daughter AND their daughters. In a day and time where women are finally seeing progress being made toward equalization of rights, I am pretty sure we all want our daughters to be able to do whatever they want in life. This means equal access to education, equal access to higher education and equal ability to climb the ranks in their respective careers. It simply means equality on all fronts. Does this equality end once our daughters decide to reproduce? Is the caveat that they can do anything boys can do as long as they take a step back or stay at home once they have a baby? 

I also think about our sons. What message is this sending to them?

When I said that I think it is just as important for a child to see his/her mother passionate about and fulfilled by her career as it is for her to be at home, I believed it then and I still believe it. I want my son and daughter to know that their mother truly cares about the health and well-being of other women and children. I want them to know that I accomplished amazing things in my career and made a difference. I want them to see that I came from very little and made the most of my situation through education and hard work. But most of all, I want them to be giving human beings who are willing to sacrifice of themselves for the sake of others–just like mommy does.

Working Mom or SAHM:: Own Your Choice

What I really want to say to the women who have tried to make me feel that I couldn’t have a career and be a good mom is this:: If you are a stay at home mom, or decided to work part-time, or put your career plans on hold for the sake of your family, own it. You do not have to defend or explain your decision to anyone, nor should you be criticized or judged. All mothers should be secure with their decision and make no apologies, but know that those of us who have remained in the work force AND are raising children are not doing it for selfish reasons. Most importantly, though, it is NOT a competition to see who is the better mother according to how much time she spends at home, at school events or on playdates. All women need support regardless of the way they have chosen to balance the career/parenting act.

They say it takes a village to raise a child and a tribe to get through motherhood. We need to be both for each other.


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Shannon M. Clark, MD is a Professor in Maternal-Fetal Medicine at UTMB-Galveston, TX where she is an educator, researcher and clinician. As an ACOG media expert, she contributes to multiple websites, news outlets and magazines regarding pregnancy-related topics. More recently, she has taken a special interest in fertility, pregnancy and motherhood after age 35, which according to age alone, is considered a high-risk pregnancy. She was inspired not only by the experiences of friends and patients, but also by her own personal experience of trying to start a family at the age of 40. Because of her personal and medical knowledge of the fertility and medical concerns surrounding pregnancy after age 35, she started Babies After 35 -a site dedicated to fertility, pregnancy and motherhood after age 35. Sharing her medical expertise and personal experiences, she has written for Huffington Post, Mind Body Green, The Washington Post and Glamour. Dr. Clark became a mother at age 42 to twins Remy Vaughn and Sydney Renée {September 2016} via IVF. She is a full-time working mother with a passion for world travel, writing, amateur photography and her first baby, a pit bull named Cru, who crossed the rainbow bridge 4/17/2018.


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