Updated: May 25, 2021
The mom tax. There is probably a more official and scholarly name, but I haven’t heard it and haven’t been able to find anything official on it, so, for today, I have adopted the name my sister has affectionately given the tax we working women pay to have children.
Kate Bell Satuala is a senior manager at a real estate investment company
What is the mom tax? It’s working full-time (or part-time), pushing through difficult pregnancies, infertility treatments, failed adoptions and hospitalizations. It’s trying to find childcare that you feel comfortable with, losing it and searching over and over again. It’s figuring out how much money you can spend to take care of your child while balancing your own income ratios. It’s coming home after work and cleaning your house, playing with your kid and trying to figure out meals. All this, while being expected to show up to work with a positive attitude, uphold all job responsibilities, lead and set an example at work without showing too much, if any, of what is going on in your personal life. Life events happen to everyone. With speaking about this tax, I’m not trying to discount that people experience death, family crises, divorce and chronic illness. These things happen and they’re incredibly difficult to work through. The other thing to note is: partners, spouses and support systems. “It takes a village to raise a child.” Every parent knows how true that statement is. I’m incredibly grateful for my patient, spouse and co-parent who takes on equal and more shares in our home, in addition to our families, childcare and friends that support and help our family. But, even with these angelic resources, the mom tax is real. The mom tax is a constant payment we mom’s give every day. I had a baby 20 months ago. I can tell you that I thought I understood what joy was, not happiness, joy, and then I had a child. She is joy. She is hardship and sacrifice and selfless love. She is my baby. She is part of who I am even though her attributes are very much her own. There is no joy I have experienced like being a mom. And it comes with a tax. Today, specifically, I will talk about the professional tax. When I got pregnant with my first-born, I had just reached the title, salary and leadership role I had been working for since starting my career. I was already pregnant when I got promoted. I was happy but knew it wouldn’t last. I had longed to be a mom since being a little girl. I lost my mom when I was 11 and I knew any sacrifice to be there for my children would be worth it. For me to do that, I knew in today’s American society, that meant my role would have to change so I could be there for my baby. I worked through my pregnancy, pushed myself through the stress of a new role at an S&P 500 company, carrying a child, anticipating and preparing to be a parent. At about 37 weeks I started to measure small. They thought my baby had stopped growing. I left work crying often because of the stress in addition to hormones. Sure enough, my baby came a week early. I went into labor after having an emotional breakdown about not being able to do it all. I knew it was stress induced. It made me mad and sad. On my way to the hospital, I was getting calls on my cell phone from people at the office. It wasn’t over, but I had checked out. I gave everything I could and that was all I could do. I had to let go. I felt irresponsible and frustrated. The mom tax. While on maternity (which is an invaluable and critical benefit for all parents and children, of which I am grateful) I thought about work. I looked at emails, put together a couple PPTs and applied for other jobs out of fear. In tandem, I was breastfeeding, my body was healing, and I was doing everything in my power to avoid that all-too-scary post-partum while trying to keep a tiny human alive, fed and happy. When I came back to work, as expected, I took a step down. For me, I decided that I wanted to spend more time at home than the office, which meant dropping to 3/4 time to maintain benefits but losing responsibilities and title. I am fortunate to have a manager and to work for a company that would allow me to do that. I know many, many women who have not been given that option. Which, for the record, is wrong. A valuable employee who is shown loyalty, will give back what they are given. The issue of an expected 40-hour week whether you can do your job in that time or not, is another issue entirely. Over the last 20 months, I’ve struggled. Shift in identity at home and work. That’s something that is going to happen no matter what. But the idea of “the mom tax” continually arises and creates resentment and sometimes anger towards peers and male counterparts. Could I have done my old job in 3/4 time? Should years of experience, relationships and understanding of a team and company count in compensation and even title? I know many of my male counterparts, and perhaps many of my female counterparts don’t think so. But nonetheless, something to think about. Becoming pregnant with my second, I assumed would be easier than the first. After all, I’ve already experienced it, taken the step down and set expectations at work that being a mom is my priority. But, with severe nausea, chronic throwing up, and an almost two-year old at home who I love and can hardly give attention to because of illness, it’s hard to keep focus on work and give it my all. I can’t give anything my all. The mom tax remains. I recently found myself apologizing to my boss for missing a day of work, not because of her attitude, but my own guilt for my pregnancy taking away from being able to work one-day in my role. This is the mom tax, and working women need to recognize it and abate it where possible. You do not need to apologize for growing humanity and selflessly giving of yourself. And if anyone or anything makes you feel that way, chalk it up to the mom tax. Recognize it, name it and find a way to lessen the amount you pay, which sometimes means a career shift. Being a working mom is non-stop. And it’s a personal decision. Why pay the mom tax? Work brings fulfillment, challenges and adult conversations that help me abate anxiety and fulfill personal goals. Why be a mom? It is joy, challenging, brings new life, ideas and change on this Earth. It’s doing something far greater than just yourself. For all you working moms, your tax may be different than mine, but I’m here for you and I hope we can all support, champion and help each other to reduce the mom tax for ourselves and each other.