Is “Working Mother” A Paradox?

Mothers are not desirable employees it seems.

I write this based on three consecutive job interviews wherein the first question I was asked was “Are you a mother?”

It didn’t stop there.

“How old are your kids?”

“They’re small.” I replied, trying to avoid the issue.

“How old?”

“Are they in school yet?”

“How will you be able to work full-time?”

“Who will pick them up?”

“Do you have an arrangement for someone to look after them when they get sick?”

Was this any of their business? How was it relevant to my ability to carry out the position? My mind raced, and I tried desperately to formulate an assertive, yet diplomatic response.  “That’s not really relevant. I will manage.”

Should I mention that their questions were illegal?

Albeit dubious, my interviewers moved past my parenting duties to ask pertinent, standard job-interview questions.

But my heart sank. My master’s degree, 15 years of experience and hard-earned professional achievements had just evaporated. I was a mother, full stop. Several days later, I am still flabbergasted and reeling from this experience.

People used to tell me that I shouldn’t wear my wedding ring to job interviews. Could I hide my children? Was “mother” written across my forehead? Eventually they would find out, true, and I’m not ashamed of my two kids or of being a mother. I have a lot to offer as a professional, though that seems to be secondary to my motherhood, based on my recent interviews.

Needless to say, potential employers wouldn’t have asked my husband those questions, even though we share the responsibilities of child-rearing equally.

Being a working mother in Israel is a challenge, to say the least. Nearly six years into parenthood, I understand that career-minded mothers can’t have it all. We can work and we can have children, but we can’t give 100% to either or else the other will suffer. The high cost of living here compounded with low salaries means that in most families both parents must work.

So, my friends and peers and I spend our lives trying to balance our professional aspirations with giving the best we can to our children. It’s a constant struggle.

I don’t deny that I would prefer a job where I could work from home when my kids are sick and where I could leave early a few times a week to pick up my kids from tsaharon.

I just wish this issue would come after the professional questions, once the employer sees that I am capable, that I will keep my end of the deal. Moreover, what was lost on my interviewers is that most working mothers like myself are especially efficient, versatile and resourceful because we have to be.

Motherhood shouldn’t be a concern to potential employers. Working mothers may need some extra flexibility but we’ll manage. We always do, and that may make us especially qualified for the job.

About the Author
Born in Canada and living in Israel since 2003, Melanie Takefman writes about life in Israel, herstory and cross-cultural identity. She is currently working on a book about women and migration.
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