The Endless Proving of the Working Mother

By: LUMO Leaders

- Publish On: August 13, 2021

Ever find yourself having a conversation on repeat? Lately many of my conversations with my mom friends and clients revolve around how they’re preparing to re-enter the workforce. Each conversation is slightly different, but they all have a basic family resemblance of concern:

“How do I explain my ‘time off’ or demonstrate new skills to justify the break in my career?”

And every time I have this conversation it sets off a cacophony of indignant percussion bombs in my cranium, lit by the charge of womens’ assumption that they are never enough. Forced from their jobs during a once-in-a-lifetime crisis, these women feel compelled to explain their absence to would-be employers.

Being a life and leadership coach for mothers and partner at LUMO, a company that addresses the inherent obstacles faced by working mothers and the companies that employ them, I certainly have an educated perspective to offer them. But in these moments, I find myself FURIOUS. Not with them, but with a society that has groomed them to feel they must always prove their worth.

Their concerns echo the expectation that women need to hustle, perform, and demonstrate their value. That whatever herculean tasks were accomplished yesterday, no matter the domestic dragons slayed, micro and macro victories achieved, the dawn of a new day brings with it a fresh scorecard on which they should rate themselves.

Maybe it’s naive, but I can’t believe that, even after all that mothers have been through since March of 2020, this societal presumption still (STILL!) exists!


So many women, who may have left positions of paid employment, never stopped working. They pivoted. Hard. They took on myriad new positions on the sequestered pandemic homefront, giving up familial, societal, and hired support structures like childcare and school, elder care, and took on all domestic chores to become lone rangers surrounded by an ever-shifting barrage of problems to solve. All while maintaining a safety bubble and assuring their families stayed healthy, fed, and sane.

Any suggestion they have something to prove to employers to explain their absence during a global pandemic that destroyed all social support structures, makes me want to pour gasoline over my head and light myself afire, burning in effigy to represent the raging fires of doubt and judgement that live inside the minds of modern mothers as they consider how to reinsert themselves into their careers.

Of course the last thing these women need is for me to engulf them in my fury. (Anger management, as we say in coaching is an “in-house” job.) They need support and self-confidence, not more reasons to be angry.

So here is what I tell them:

“During the Covid sequestration you were developing an infinite number of new skills!”

Here are just a handful:

Improvisation, innovation, resilience, recreation, re-creation, project management, cross-generational communication, creative problem-solving, information technology, unlocking a new super-human level of multitasking heretofore unseen in the history of civilized society, managing emotions, uncomfortable and often legitimately frightening conversations, trauma processing, outreach, managing limited resources, choreography (I mean, TikTok, right?)…

This is what these women need to slap on their resumes! They already have the management, leadership, and organizational skills they need to thrive in the workforce, and those abilities only got stronger during their time away.

If pressed to pinpoint new skills for them to adopt, here are some they’d benefit from leaning into: authenticity, courage, self-trust, and a willingness to enter into difficult conversations. Let go of the need for perfection. Let go of how you think it “should” be. “Shoulds,” I am convinced, are the patriarchal gremlins that erode women’s boundaries and eat their soul. I await the science to support this theory.

Mothers, dare to get off the B.S. “work-life balance” teeter-totter and ask for what you want and need to humanely integrate your career with your homelife.

As far as drafting beguiling resumes is concerned, moms need to own their power and name their most impactful skills and contributions. Humbleness is so pre-pandemic. It’s time for working mothers to have a full 360-degree look at their skill sets, including those that they developed at home juggling childcare and homeschool, budget tightening, and remote EVERYTHING.

I also encourage these women to connect with their smartest, toughest, closest friend — the one who reminds them of the badass they are, even when they forget — to take a look at their CV and make sure it truly represents what they bring to “the room where it happens.” Being able to brag on one’s own assets is a must. If you need support getting there, take advantage of the mentors who have stepped up to help as part of Meghan Markle and the Archewell Foundation’s #40×40 initiativeLUMO’s team has committed to donating forty 40-minute coaching sessions to women returning to the workforce. Take us up on our offer or share it with a friend.

There is nothing Covid mothers haven’t done. They have breastfed on Zoom, while turning pages in a picture book for their toddler, while keeping an eye on their phone timer to make sure they don’t burn dinner, while awaiting results from their partner’s Covid test, while advance disaster planning for how they will reconfigure the flow and function of their home if they need to create a quarantine situation. All while trying to not upset the precarious balance of it all.

The pandemic made it clear to everyone that even in the best of times, moms are under-supported. So if anything, moms need to be braver about taking the risk to ask for what they need to excel, without fear of retribution. To get into partnership with their employers to create it. Because smart employers will listen.

Oh, and, for any employers, HR folk, or management personnel who have wandered into this piece and have stuck around — assuming you don’t have whiplash from the thrashings of my fury over gender inequity — I have a few words of completely unsolicited advice for you:

Recognize how moms leveled up over the past 18 months. Honor them for it. Just as moms need to see the strength and power in themselves, you, as the gatekeepers, need to see that too.

And unlock the gate.

LUMO Leaders

LUMO is full of the most passionate people in the parental leave movement. We believe developing a company's most important asset – its people — is key to unlocking success. And you know what? We’ve learned this because we’ve lived it. With a combined 50-plus years of expert experience in employee retention, working parent development, and DEI training, our collective of LUMO Leaders have the tools, insight, and fervor for helping organizations cultivate inclusive culture.

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