Success or Failure?

I read and heard in a few places recently that mothers are consistently hired less frequently, and when they are, they are paid less, than their non-parenting counterparts.  When I heard that I was outraged.  It’s bad enough that women aren’t paid the same as men for doing the same job, but to add to it that mothers aren’t paid as much as non-mothers and my interpretation was that mothers are the least valued employee on the planet.

While this may very well be true, this week it suddenly occurred to me that from the standpoint of an employer, this reasoning makes good business sense.  And the fact that it was logical made me even madder, simply because there is absolutely nothing I or anyone else can do about it.

Here’s what happened:

On Tuesday evening I started feeling under the weather.  On Wednesday morning I went to work in sweats, packing a suitcase with a blanket and pillow in case I needed to lay down and rest on my 15-minute break.  I worked in my office, but kept the door closed and locked, and didn’t answer my phone (mostly because I was losing my voice and getting a cough).  For all intents and purposes, as I told my boss who works across the hall, I wasn’t there.

Before she left for lunch my boss stopped by to mention something to me, and when she saw me she told me I looked terrible and that I should just go home.  I explained that I agreed I probably shouldn’t be at work, but that I couldn’t afford to take the time off.  She looked at me pitifully and urged me to change my mind.

Husband brought me soup and vitamin-C-stocked juice for lunch, and after eating it I felt much better; I’d been freezing in my office and the soup warmed me up nicely.  Within minutes, though, I felt my energy seeping away.  Most of it was gone anyway, trying to fight whatever bug it was that got in my system, and another large chunk of it was trying to keep me warm, but now whatever energy I had left was working away at digesting my lunch.  And I suddenly very much agreed with my boss.

I spent the next day on the couch at home, unable to even lift a fork to my mouth to feed myself, and shivering under two very heavy, warm blankets in a room that was pushing 76 degrees.  I couldn’t stay awake for more than about 20 minutes at a time, and at one point as I lay perfectly still, listening to the TV show my husband was watching, I started feeling like I was falling behind time.  I can’t explain it, but it felt weird.

After missing a day of work, I woke up to find my daughter had gotten whatever it was I had just gotten rid of.  Joy.  Since I can more easily work from home (when Little Miss is sleeping, that is), Husband went to work and I stayed home with her, while still coughing up a lung every 10 minutes or so.

All this after missing two days of work just a few weeks ago when both Husband and Little Miss got sick at the same time and I needed to stay home and take care of both of them.  And yes, we paid for daycare in spite of all of this “staying home sick” junk.  The joy of business, right?

It was yesterday when the truth hit me.  I was truly the worst possible choice for an employer choosing between me and an equally qualified single woman without kids.  It’s obvious that a mother is going to miss many hours of work in order to take care of her child(ren), and perhaps even her sick husband if the need arises.  Weird daycare  or school schedules (training days, paid vacation, teacher’s in-service, etc.) mean more shuffling of work hours to drive the kid(s) to an alternate location for the day or simply staying home to take care of them.  This means frightening inefficiency for an employer and his (most likely his, though it’s possible a woman without children could be at the top) company.  This means hours of work left undone or forgotten or delayed.  This means unexpected days of an empty desk when a crisis might occur.  This means huge amounts of risk for the organization.  And risk is probably the scariest word for a business.

I interpret this truth to mean that most businesses don’t really care much for family ties.  Family means deficit for a company, and that is unacceptable to a business that is determined to succeed.  Therefore, this means family = failure.

And to me, that is unacceptable.

A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook that it was impossible for a married person to have a super career.  She of course received dozens of responses, most arguing against her statement.  She, of course, has a point.  A single person has no one to focus on but him- or herself, and that most likely means unwavering loyalty to an employer, since a job, in today’s society, defines who one is, and how well one does at one’s job determines whether one is considered a success or a failure.

This revelation left me somewhat depressed, wishing there was a way to change the way the world worked so that mothers could be amazingly successful career women, too.  But since that’s not going to happen anytime in, well, anyone’s lifetime, I’ll settle myself in doing the best I can at both, knowing that I’m only as big of a success as I work my hardest to be.

And to me, that…is more than acceptable.

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