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When you can’t just say no

I read a syndicated post on BlogHer today that has just kind of stuck in my head all afternoon. It discusses working moms who are chasing that elusive thing called “Work-life balance.”

The author of that post tells a couple of anecdotes about women who chose, or were perhaps forced to choose, work over life. Then she tells an anecdote about a time she informed her employers that an upcoming meeting needed to be scheduled so that it didn’t interfere with her ability to attend a performance at her children’s school. In her case, they pushed, she pushed back, and the meeting was scheduled at a time that didn’t conflict with her children’s performance.

The author posits that women in the workforce have the choice to say “no” when career obligations interfere with family obligations. And that they should. While simultaneously trying to climb their ladder to the top.

I know (or assume) that the author’s intent wasn’t to belittle or ignore those women who simply do not have this sort of leverage. I believe she understands that this is not an easy thing to accomplish. But she seems to be in a position of power within her organization, so when she pushes, it also seems that people listen.

But what about when they don’t listen to the rest of us?

What about when women can’t say “No”? Not because they don’t WANT to say “No,” but because saying “No” means saying “Sorry, I can’t help put food on the table.”

What about when saying “no” gets her passed over for the promotion she was in line for? Or the bonus?

What about when saying “no” means “you no longer work here”?

The truth is some of us are completely expendable in our jobs. Many, MANY of us, work in positions where we can be replaced almost as soon as we’re terminated.

Those of us who are fortunate enough to make it to the top of our respective ladders (as “the top” is different for all of us depending upon career choice) have a little–sometimes a lot–of room to say “Nope. Sorry. Can’t make that meeting. So have it without me or reschedule it.”

Those of us who are in the middle? Or on the bottom? We don’t get that luxury.

I don’t get that luxury and I’m a professional with two degrees. And I’m a damn good teacher to boot.

But if I start saying “No, I can’t do that extracurricular because I have a family and that takes too much time away from them,” or “No, I can’t do Open House on Tuesday nights because Tuesday nights are karate nights,” or “No, I can’t be here to teach my students because there’s a program at my son’s school at the exact same time and I need to be there instead,” they are going to let me know in no uncertain terms that I may be good, but I can be replaced.

With someone straight out of college who will work for less and do even more because perhaps she doesn’t have children yet or maybe isn’t even married.

So far, I’ve only encountered the first of the above mentioned scenarios. And I didn’t say no because I couldn’t afford to. I took Joshua to band camp with me when he was 4 months old because being a sponsor for Color Guard saved my job. And now that I’m not doing Color Guard anymore, I’ve got basketball cheer and yearbook to help keep me employed.

And the other two scenarios are coming down the pipes.

Eventually, there will be a conflict with an activity Joshua does and my job. Or there will be a program that is happening at his school at a time when I can’t get a substitute to go. And I don’t know what I’ll do when those moments arrive.

I like to think I’ll make it work, but what if I can’t?

Someone gets let down. There is almost no other way.

I know that there are other professions where women can be away from the office for an hour or two and catch up when they get back. But there are far more women working jobs where they can’t. Telling them they have a choice when the choice is seeing a school play or feeding and clothing their child is a cruel thing to tell them.

I don’t say any of this to minimize the importance of being there for our kids for their moments in the spotlight. Or when they need us to tuck them in at night instead of Daddy, if Daddy is even in the picture.

Those things are important. Maybe more important than our jobs sometimes.

But we don’t live in a world where it’s easy for women to “just say no” to their employers and feel any sort of security in doing so.

So what are we going to DO about that?

Because at some point it’s not enough to say “Tell your employer ‘no’ and stand your ground!” if we’re not thinking about the reality of the situation.

All jobs are not created equal and we’re not all working the same jobs. What works for one of us will likely not work for all of us.

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Good Reads From Other Working Mommas - Liberating Working Moms

Thursday 28th of July 2011

[...] Super, Just Mom: Miranda discusses When You Just Can’t Say No to your job, even if it means taking your 4 month old ot band camp because you are the Color Guard [...]


Thursday 7th of July 2011

I am very lucky to have a flexible employer that allows me to work from home and be flexible with my hours. But I still have to work the hours and when the powers that be schedule outside my hours, I don't necessarily have the pull to make them change to fit my schedule. And I definitely suffer promotion-wise, etc by being part-time and not able to do overtime. So you are right that you can say "no" but not everyone will get the response "Sure, OK, no problem, we can change for you". You may get a much more unpleasant response.

Mrs. Jen B

Thursday 7th of July 2011

Well said and so, so true. How many people, as you pointed out, know that in today's economy their employer could be just looking for a reason to replace them with someone who can work for less money? Yes, I've been employed by the same company for over 7 years and I feel a certain level of job security in that no one knows how to do what I do as efficiently as I do it. But many other people here felt the same way before they were laid off when the economy went south. And guess what? Everyone else scrambled to make things work in their absence, and life went on. I know I'm just as expendable as the next person.


Wednesday 6th of July 2011

I love this post and I love the discussion happening with it.

When I was working before kids, I cared to do the best job I could. Then, I had kids and somehow even though I had to keep my job, I wasn't invested. When the doctors got mad because their records were in the wrong spot, I didn't care or take offense. I just simply moved them and commented on how ridiculous that was. I stopped caring as much. It wasn't that I didn't do my job well. I did and I enjoyed it while I was there. But I didn't really care about it.

And I had to keep my job because I made the most money and had the benefits for the family. So there was a lot of pressure in that. And that's where I focused my negative energy. Not saying that was right, either!

Nothing is simple. Being a mom is being a mom whether you are working or not. As long as you and your children have open communication--they have the freedom to be real about their emotions with you and you are a safe place for them to come--I think that's the most important thing!


Thursday 7th of July 2011

I totally know what you mean. Totally. I love my students and I love my job and in some ways becoming a mom made me a better teacher. But in others? It hasn't helped...

I'm open and honest with my students when I am having a rough day/week or need more time on an assignment. I talk about my life. I let them tell me about theirs. When they think I'm slacking, they tell me. Most of the time they're nice about it. One day, I'll be this open with Joshua because I DO think that this kind of communication of emotions is important.

Thanks for stopping by!


Wednesday 6th of July 2011

p.s. Congrats on the feature. When you're famous will you still talk to me? ;)


Thursday 7th of July 2011

Psha. Yes. :)

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