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Climbing the Ladder with a Kid in Tow

Tips from an Independent Mom

In a world where success is narrowly defined by linear "milestones" like getting married, having kids, buying a house, and getting a promotion, it's easy to become fixated on climbing the ladder… be it in the corporate world or elsewhere.

But if you're a parent – especially a single (a.k.a independent) parent – climbing the ladder isn't as simple as putting one foot in front of the other.


You have serious responsibilities to juggle, and the idea that you need to make constant forward progress – in your career and at home – can be overwhelming.

That's why we invited Aja Y. Martinez, Assistant Professor of Writing and Rhetoric at Syracuse University, to give working parents – particularly independent moms – some advice on navigating the corporate jungle gym in this Chat & Learn.

Aja's research and work as a teacher-scholar aim to increase access, retention, and participation of diverse groups in higher education.

As an independent mother herself, Aja has navigated the competitive world of academia and career-climbing while raising her daughter. She's seen first-hand how academia and the corporate world fail to support working parents, often portraying parenthood and career success as mutually exclusive.

Navigating work and parenting is hard but not impossible. While support for parents in the workplace isn't abundant, it's safe to say children most definitely are not career killers.

Although there are systemic shifts that need to happen in order for working, independent parents to get the support they need, Aja suggests three things you can start doing now to successfully climb the ladder – at work and at home.

1. Be Wise When Revealing Your Independent Parent Status

Being an Independent Parent is not something that can be hidden or swept under the carpet. It's a way of life. When it comes to the interview process, many independent mothers hesitate to reveal their status as it can be very precarious and sometimes borderline dangerous to share.

Why dangerous? Because across the board, there is an assumption that you aren't capable of doing great work because you're burdened with caring for a child on your own.

So what's the protocol in interviews?

Research and protect your yourself.

"If the company or the program is outward and open about parental inclusion during the interview process, then you can assume it's safe to talk about it. But if you haven't discovered any information online or through the company's testimonials about parental inclusion, you can safely assume that the company is not so supportive. Default to that until you know better."

2. Don't Hold Yourself To Impossible Standards

There is an impossible standard that Independent Mothers are being asked to live up to in our society, and especially in the workplace.

How can you meet the expectation of delivering 110% of yourself to your 1st job, motherhood, and 110% of yourself to your work? How are you supposed to give more than 200% of yourself day in and day out?

"It's impossible. We have to start thinking about where these impossible standards come from and who made them up? Was it women? Did women make this up for ourselves? Because I think any person who mothers knows it's a balancing act all the time and you're not always going to do it perfectly.

I recommend reading, Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience by Adrian Rich. She talks about the guilt, where it comes from, and who and how we should link it; not to ourselves in our bodies, but to the structure that forms it and enforces it in a lot of ways - which she says is patriarchal. "

How do you recommend dealing with feelings of guilt about making sacrifices in one area in order to excel in another?

"Unfortunately, the guilt is normal. Know that you are not alone and begin asking where that guilt comes from. But for some that's good to hear because it's just like, it's not just you, you're not alone in this. I don't think I've met a parent yet, especially, someone who identifies as a mother who doesn't have intense guilt and self doubt and questioning of, did I do the right thing? Is this a good thing for my family, for my parents, for my children or my household?"

3. Embrace Your Independent Status By Building Your Community

If institutions aren't advocating for you to thrive as an independent parent, find resource groups or mentors that will support your growth. Invisibility in the workforce can lead to a lack of structural support for independent moms, especially when it comes to things like parental leave. Connecting with people who have similar lifestyles and experiences is one way to be loud enough and visible enough so that the institution can't ignore you.

How would you recommend working or independent networks go about building support networks?

"Since we're usually so isolated, opening a working parents network helps us to stabilize. It takes time and effort, but this kind of a shared understanding of background will work in your favor. Having people over for food and fellowship means you'll get to know each other's families. Later, when it comes time for institutional advocacy, you'll go to bat for each other. And then of course, it's our job to lift up our hands and make it easier for the independent mothers who are waiting in line."

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Looking for a company that understands the kind of support parents need? Here are some of our partner companies that are transparent about their childcare benefits.

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