WORKING MOM: Playing 20 Questions

As moms, we face all kinds of odd and oftentimes personal questions/judgments from the moment we become pregnant. Should you be drinking regular coffee? You’re carrying like it’s a girl. Are you having twins? Then, we have the baby, and there are more questions. Questions we typically dodge for fear of judgment. Questions about whether you breastfed or bottle fed. Questions about whether you co-sleep or sleep trained. Questions about whether you pureed your own baby food or bought that stuff in a jar. From the moment our child is born, we are faced with hundreds of decisions a day that make us question our own judgment.

As a working woman, I also face all kinds of odd and oftentimes personal questions and comments. It’s nearly 2019, and we’re on the heels of a huge #metoo movement, yet just yesterday an older, male colleague told me that I was likely successful at winning an argument in court because of my “voluptuous appeal,” rather than because of my intellectual angle. I’m referred to as “sweetie” on a regular basis, typically by older, male, colleagues. Older, opposing attorneys often find it necessary to remind me of how long they’ve been practicing law, alluding to the fact that my decade of experience cannot possibly compare.

Frankly, I’m used to all of this. It’s not ok or acceptable, but I’m used to it. I’m confident in my work as a professional, and I am *confident* in my work as a parent. (Until you ask me about things like screen time, and then I will lie right to your face for fear of judgment). My confidence comes in waves, but I ride those waves to get me from one low point to another.

The questions that still shock me are those that come to me as a working mom(who is now pregnant with her second!). When I was pregnant with Brielle, I fielded all questions without thinking twice. I was naïve. Now, I’m clearly a seasoned veteran- and I’m wondering why anyone thinks it’s acceptable to pass judgment on anyone else’s decisions.

I am often asked when I will stop working. When I respond that I plan to work until I have the baby, I am often met with some form of shock, as if I am putting my child at danger by going about my normal routine. Everyone asks how much time I will take off. Irrespective of my answer, the person posing the question has a response and an opinion. “What will you do with your newborn if you go back to work?”; “Who is going to do all of your work during that time?”;“Do you really think you’ll go back?”. The last one is my favorite. When I explain to people that, yes, I do anticipate I will go back to work—full time (GASP!)—the floodgates open. Just yesterday a client asked me why I would possibly go back to work. I don’t know why I gave him the benefit of an actual response, but I explained that I like my job, I find my work fulfilling, and I am better as a mom with a full-time job than I would be as a SAHM (who, in my opinion, often has a way harder job). His subsequent question was “Do you need the money? This must be about money.” I didn’t bother to explain the economics to him, particularly as related to the somewhat prohibitive cost of childcare. Instead, I realized, that none of these answers were any of his business.

I found my way out of that conversation, and I’m riding on my wave of confidence—knowing that whatever my choices are—they are what is in the best interest of my family—and I’m taking that wave to get me through to the next (ridiculous) conversation. But you can bet that when I find myself belly-to-belly with another pregnant working mom, I’m not concerned about whether she’s leaving her job tomorrow or planning to deliver the baby at her office (ok, slight exaggeration—because, sterile surfaces matter!). I don’t care if she’s going to breastfeed or bottle feed. I don’t care if she wants to co-sleep or sleep train. It makes no difference to me if she is going back to work after 6 weeks, 6 months, or never at all. What’s important to me, is that this mom is content in her decisions, and doing what she believes is best for her family. After all, isn’t that what we’re all trying to do?

Ashley Vallillo Manzi lives in Hoboken with her husband, three year old daughter, and newborn son. She is a family law attorney with Ziegler Zemsky & Resnick. With focus on prenuptial agreements, divorce, alimony & child custody, Ashley sees her role as "helping someone arrive at a new beginning." On the weekends, Ashley and her family love to go out for brunch, playing in Church Square Park, or chasing the birds along Sinatra Drive. With lots of friends and family (her siblings live here too!) this family is always on the go.