Social isolation is an experience shared by many working mothers. (Getty Images)
Mildly Inappropriate Mommy tackles social isolation …
It could have been a scene straight out of a high school movie: The popular kids talking about their plans for the night within earshot of the lonely social misfit, who, of course, isn't invited.
If it were an actual movie, the solution would have been simple: Get little Ms. No Friends a glam makeover to help her fit in or, if the film is the after-school-special variety, have her take a part in an extracurricular activity that brings her both friends and self-esteem. Paging Selena Gomez - have I got a role for you!
Unfortunately, this was not a Hollywood movie. This was a scene out of my work life, where the cool kids were my childless co-workers planning happy hour drinks and the social misfit was played by, ahem, yours truly.
I later got reassurance from another working-mom colleague: It's not you, she said. It's just that they know you wouldn't be able to go, so that's why they didn't invite you.
The same thing, she said, had happened to her.
Apparently, this kind of socially-isolating experience is shared by a lot of working mothers.
Working moms have a "tendency to put their heads down and do the work," Carol Evans, the president of Working Mother Media, told me. They want to get their work done in a timely fashion, she said, because "they want to get home to their kids for dinner."
Evans said that while this makes us the world's most efficient employees, it also seriously cuts into the time we spend chatting around the water cooler - and that's bad not just for our social lives but for our careers. If you're not socializing, chances are you're not networking and making the types of connections, including mentoring relationships, that could help you get ahead, she said.
"If you're not visible in the company, then people don't know you'd be someone they'd like to push - to say, 'This person's a real asset to the company, so let's make sure they get ahead,'" Evans said.
Here's what Evans recommends for would-be outcasts like me:
* Don't be afraid to talk about your kids at work. Don't overdo it, of course, by trashing your children or bragging incessantly… but don't hide the fact that you have kids either. That way, if you have to rush home because little Timmy broke his arm, "people know who Timmy is and they care … they've made a connection to your personal life."
* Make some pit stops. On your way to the ladies room? Going home for the night? On your way, stop by people's desk to say hello or goodbye. "Don't ever slink out of your office … be your social self that is inside of you."
* Make new work friends. So you and your childless co-workers just don't connect like you used to. Get to know those in the office who do have kids, or maybe even join a group organized just for folks like you.
"If there is a parenting or women's organization or any kind of employee group you feel could work for you, join that organization right away. … People who have kids are a powerful group. If you can get in with that group, you can meet like-minded people who can help you solve problems," Evans said.
(There's a caveat here: A former human resources executive revealed to "20/20? recently that some companies use "work-life" balance programs as a way to identify less dedicated employees, so it might be best to make sure that people already in such programs aren't suffering consequences before you try them for yourself.)
Evans said that if you're feeling good about your work social situation, you'll be more productive.
"Everybody gets more done and is more effective when feeling positive. Part of creating a positive version of you is to have those human touch points and human connections at the job," she said.
I think her advice may apply to working fathers too, although one working dad I spoke to had a pretty practical outlook on the situation. This 41-year-old father of two, also a media professional, said he was offended at first when his after-work drinks invitations stopped coming. He, too, was rushing home to his kids.
Now, he doesn't really mind so much.
"If you ask me what my preference is at this point - if I want to go out for drinks with my colleague or take my son riding his bicycle in the park, I'm going to take my son riding his bicycle in the park," he said. "Your priorities change."
"I may have hurt (my career) a little bit," he added, "but I don't regret the time I've had with the kids."
Well said, my friend. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to casually stop by the desks of some cool kids co-workers … and then, of course, race home.
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