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It's 2021. Why are we still making moms draw firm lines between their family lives and professional lives?

By Zara Hanawalt
April 08, 2021
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This pandemic has changed so much about our lives, including the way we view the intersection of family and career. Parents have had no choice but to tear down the careful walls they've erected between their responsibilities at home and their responsibilities at work. This makes life pretty darn difficult for parents, and we can't underestimate the damage it could do. But at the same time, there's an important cultural shift that's happening here, one that gives parents the long-awaited freedom to actually acknowledge their families while they're at work. See: The normalization of unexpected pop-ups from our toddlers while we take Zoom calls.

An image of a child's drawing on a colorful background.
Credit: Getty Images (1).

But a recent Reddit post reveals just how badly we still need both institutional and cultural change. In the post, a 27-year-old mom asks if she's in the wrong for keeping photos of her children in her office. Sounds completely harmless, right? Well, the mom's office mate, a 50-something male, doesn't think so.

"On my side of the office I have pictures of my kids (6M, 4M, 4M, 3M, 1F) on the wall and some drawings that they gave me a few weeks ago (they're constantly drawing so I renew them every week) I also have a family picture on my desk, and most of our clients like the pictures and drawings because they find it funny," the mom writes. "And on his side there's nothing but his framed diploma, and a small clock on his desk, he doesn't have a single picture of his family or anything personal, and I respect that because it's his decision, but lately he started to tell me that he wants me to remove some pictures and drawings because having that in the office makes the place look less professional."

Aside from being sort of a head-scratcher (decorating your work space with photos or mementos is not exactly a novel thing), this move is just another example of how we expect mothers to act like they don't have kids once they walk into their workspace. That's why we're applauding this mom for not giving in to her co-worker's request.

"I told him that I wouldn't remove them because those are drawings that my kids give me with all their love and that in the company policy there's nothing that says that you can't have personal things in your office. So he got mad and told me that my part of the office looks like a circus," the mom writes. "He told me that it costs me nothing to remove all those drawings and put them on my refrigerator or somewhere in my house, that I'm acting like a kid and that I don't remove them just because I want to annoy him."

Ridiculous. But sadly, another co-worker agreed that the original poster should remove the pictures and drawings. Ultimately, the mom spoke with her husband about the dilemma, and he told her to stand her ground — and commenters on this post agree.

"We as a society have moved on from 50s-something males deciding what is or isn't professional on behalf of their 20s-something female colleagues," one writes, to which another user replies: "I will be 56 in a few days. I can't even imagine getting so worked up about kids drawings that I would tell my co-worker to take them down. Seriously, doesn't he have work to do? If he doesn't want to see the drawings then move the work stuff to the other side of the desk. This is weird."

And another comment hits the proverbial nail on the head.

"I have a public-facing office where a professional image is important. I have several nice picture frames that hold a rotating set of my kids' artwork. It is meaningful for me. It looks polished. I've even had a visitor comment on my modern art collecting, without looking closely enough to see it was scribbled crayon on construction paper" a Reddit user writes. "If the complaint is about professionalism, this addresses it. But I have a feeling the coworker's complaint is more about sexism and expectations about separation of work and family."

Bingo.

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