America Not Seeing 20/20 On the Subject of Working Moms

When Elizabeth Vargas stepped down from anchoring "World News Tonight" to host 20/20, ABC got grief. What kind of message did she send to working moms?
I happened to be at home last Friday night. Like that’s surprising! Anyhoo… I flipped on this “20/20″ story. Elizabeth Vargas had returned from maternity leave from having her second child. Apparently ABC got a lot of grief when Mama Vargas stepped down from her co-anchor chair of “World News Tonight” with the upcoming arrival of her second son. Women’s organizations protested ABC and said that it sent the wrong message to working moms. “Pregnant again?!? That’s it Vargas, it’s co-anchoring 20/20 for you. Now scat!” Vargas says making the decision to step down from co-anchor of WNT was her choice–and the right one at that. “20/20” gives her much more flexibility to be a better parent than WNT would allow.

I say, good for her. Why do some people in this country have to criticize her? It’s a hard decision every working mom has to make. Strive for further success from a challenging career? Or step off the corporate ladder for a bit to be a better devoted parent? In the industry I work (and I’m sure in many others) the people who get ahead are the ones who work long hours. They wear, “I worked all weekend” like it’s a badge of honor. It makes the ones who leave at 5, but perform the same quality of work look like slackers. Not that I think I’m a slacker. I work hard; I put my time in. Hell, I’ve worked a weekend or two. But I’m not focused on getting ahead in my career at this time in my life. Really, ever since I’ve been in the working world my priority has been my family.

In way, I think I was lucky to get pregnant with my son when I did. I was 25, I’d only been married for a year, and I had just started a career at a small ad agency. After Jonah was born, we figured we might as well continue kiddy production, so Zoe was born just a couple of years after. By that time I had made the switch to a different, much larger agency. But I was still a measly copywriter. I never was promoted. I never stepped up a rung on the corporate ladder. I continued to do my job well, giving100-percent during normal business hours. As I did my thing, I watched as many of my childless peers work long, stressful hours and get rewarded for it. They’d get promoted. And sure, for working as hard as they did their promotions were well-deserved. But then the expectation was set. Those individuals could always be counted on to give more than 100-percent. They gave 130-percent. Then what happened? Some of the 130-percenters got pregnant. The 130 started to slip down to giving 100. Soon they felt the pressure of looking like a slacker. Welcome to my world, ladies. It must be hard to step-off the ladder when you worked so hard to get up. But you know what? It’s much easier to balance from the ground.

For Vargas, I can imagine she felt the same way. She had a great opportunity with WNT. A chance she had probably worked very hard to achieve. Stepping down to a less-demanding position probably made her feel like a slacker, too.

I should mention something else that was very eye-opening about this story. I was shocked to find out that out of 168 countries surveyed in the world only four countries offer no national maternity-leave program. United States being one of the four along with Lesotho, Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea.

The subject of “Can Working Moms Have It All?” has started a very heated debate on the ABC News message boards. It actually makes me sick when you read through all the bickering. Especially the comments that tell us working moms to leave the country if we’re not happy. And this is coming from a woman! Ugh. Don’t get me started. Don’t even get me started.


10 thoughts on “America Not Seeing 20/20 On the Subject of Working Moms

  1. Way to use images and links in your post, Cara! You’re raising the bar already on our blog.

    Seriously, though, I, too, was amazed (and horrified) that the U.S. is one of only four countries with no national maternity-leave program. I knew we needed one, but I didn’t realize just how universal such programs are. A major “superpower” such as the U.S. has no excuse for not offering such a program. Let’s email Nancy Pelosi and ask her to make this one of her priorities in the next two years!

  2. Here’s the letter I just wrote:

    Dear Ms. Pelosi,

    Congratulations on being selected as the new leader of the House Majority. As a woman, I am proud that you are leading the party and showing that a woman (and mother) can do it!

    As you begin tackling so many major issues that need to be addressed in the months and years ahead, I hope you’ll consider the need for a national maternity-leave program. I was horrified to learn last week (while watching 20/20 with Elizabeth Vargas) that the U.S. is one of only four countries in the world that DON’T offer such a program. (For your reference, the other countries are Lesotho, Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea.)

    Mothers are a huge and important part of our national workforce. We should be providing them with the resources they need to have and raise children, while still contributing their talents and efforts to our economy. Please look into this issue and find a way for the federal government to help all working mothers in the U.S.

    Thank you for your consideration, and good luck with your new role!

  3. I find it’s often women who work against helping other women when it comes to flexibility in the workplace, etc. And the bickering between working moms and stay-at-homes makes me weary. Not everybody can afford to stay home and not everybody wants to. Conversely, I don’t think stay-at-home moms get *half* the recognition they deserve for doing a very, very demanding job.

  4. Just this morning, I was listening to Q102 (Why? Don’t ask me!), and they had this debate over working v. stay-at-home moms. I guess on Grey’s Anatomy last night, they touched upon this issue? I don’t know, because I don’t watch the show.

    But anyway, while some women who called in supported both sides, there were some disheartening comments made. Probably similiar to those on the ABC message boards. Why can’t we all get along? We’re all in it together!

  5. WOW-i loved this blog post. And it’s because i’m from the other side. Giving 130%, getting promoted, but totally burnt out and facing motherhood not knowing how i can continue. While I never viewed anyone who left at 5 as a slacker, I can understand that some might and that scares me too – especially when i’ve set the expectation that i’ll work long hours or “do whatever it takes”. Any advice on how to get off the cycle? Cause i’m 6 months pregant, exhausted, and can’t keep doing this. More importantly, can’t see doing this with my baby and no light at the end of the tunnel. P.S. thanks for sending me this blog. This has been on my mind a ton lately and I’m trying to weigh all my topions.

  6. I think its just about setting new expectations for yourself and your co-workers. A lot of it has to do with the mentality of the work place. The old way of thinking is that the people who get in earlier and stay later are more loyal employees. Together, I think we can change–and are changing this way of thinking. And it’s about learning to let go of the guilt ourselves. Don’t feel like you have to prove your worth with the number of hours you worked. Set new boundaries on your time at the job. Prehaps someone else can offer more advice…

  7. Great blog, guys! I’ve loved reading and have much respect for you hard-workin’ mommas!

    For Jodi, I agree with Cara in terms of setting expectations. Sounds easy, but I think it will be one of the toughest challenges you’ll ever face. Mostly because you’ll have to set your own expectations. Expect things to slip. Expect details to be missed. Expect that colleagues and clients will expect you to give the same amount of attention you’ve always given. And when you don’t, expect them to be mad.

    Not easy for an ambitious Type A, 130-percenter. I should know. I couldn’t handle the shift in expectations, and it left me burnt out and bitter.

    I feel fortunate to be able to stay at home. But don’t think thls leaves me without guilt over leaving my career and feeling like I’ve given up on working moms. The workplace needs the talents of smart women. And if the decision is right for you, take Cara’s advice and start the change.

    Oh, and “getting off the cycle” is easy. The day your baby is born, there is no longer a cycle. Your world shifts, and how you adjust is up to you.

  8. Carline01 says:

    This is in response to Jodi's comment. I have so been there! My son is now 7 months old and I went back to work after 11 weeks. Before my son I, too, was a 130% worker. All my performance reviews sited me as 'doing whatever it takes to get the job done'. I prided myself on it! Then….my little boy was born. My world did shift. I had prepared my supervisor that I would be cutting back to a normal 40 hour week BEFORE I left on maternity leave though. Still, it was a hard adjustment coming back to work. The guilt over leaving my precious angel nearly crippled me for weeks. Especially since he hated the bottles and wanted to nurse and would sometimes drink as little as 4-5 ounces all day. That's a story for another day though. In the end I had to make the conscious decision to drop my expectations in my career right now. I know in the coming years as we add another baby to our family I will remain stagnant in terms of promotions. For the first time in my like I don't care about that. All that matters is my family. Take some pressure off yourself and talk to your boss if you can. Let him/her know that you will not be able to work the long hours after the baby is born. Hopefully your boss will be as understanding as mine (who is male by the way). Coworkers have been VERY supportive. I block my calendar off after 5 and they respect that cut off. I give 100% to my job during working hours but rush out that door at 5pm to get my baby boy and I refuse to feel guilty about that!

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