Getting Real

My Honest Email Signature About Being A Working Mom Went Viral

As a working mom with four kids in a country with a broken childcare system, it clearly struck a nerve.

Originally Published: 
My Honest Email Signature About Being A Working Mom Went Viral

Last week, I was checking my email after my four kids went to bed. While I realize this isn’t good for my mental health, it’s also a necessity most days. Sick kids, appointments, school assemblies, and a looming summer break mean that my 40-hour work week as a journalist is rarely tucked neatly into a traditional schedule. Instead, my tasks and deadlines feel like an octopus weaving its tentacles into every corner of my day. This particular evening, I received a snippy email from a client who was frustrated that I had not replied to their — non-urgent — email in 18 hours. Something inside me snapped a little. Fueled by a late afternoon coffee and a growing stress level, I decided to alter my email signature to reflect the reality of my life as a working mother in America.

“Please note I may be slower to respond to email in the months of June, July, and August due to the United States' inability to provide affordable childcare for working mothers.”

Feeling pleased with myself, I chuckled as I slammed my laptop shut for the evening and grabbed Red, White, and Royal Blue and rolled myself into my backyard hammock.

I went about the next workday with my sassy new signature, though in the light of day I wondered if I should delete it. Was it professional? Would I lose clients over my honesty? Did I sound whiny?

And yet, as I sent in drafts, reached out to interviewees, and even sent emails to sign my kids up for summer activities, I began to get responses to my signature. Mothers felt seen. “I am totally stealing this!” “Oh, yes, this is so true. The price of camps is killing us.” “We are the only developed country that is like this.”

Buoyed by the camaraderie I had found amongst my email contacts, I decided to post a screenshot of my signature on Twitter and Instagram. If the few folks I had interacted with felt so encouraged, I might as well share it with a broader audience. I quickly became inundated with messages of encouragement and support. Moms from across the country began to send me their own email signatures — professors, journalists, software engineers. They were being honest about the fact that their time also belongs to their kids this summer.

As sometimes happens on the internet, photos of my signature began to pop up on social media accounts across the web and news stations began to reach out to me for interviews. Ironically, I had to decline a few of those due to my lack of childcare. At first I joked with everyone, downplaying the impact my words had on my fellow mothers. I brushed it off by saying, “Oh, it was just a silly thing I typed in a fit of pique, and I guess it struck a nerve.”

The truth is, though, while I may have jotted off this signature in a moment, it’s inspired by my decades of work in the early childhood and parenting fields. Prior to my journalism career I was a preschool teacher, a county caseworker, and a developmental specialist. I heard parents lament the cost of daycare while I struggled to pay my own bills on $9.50 an hour. I waitressed at night to cover my bills. Parents couldn’t afford to pay enough for the center to pay us enough.

I helped under-resourced mothers in Pennsylvania apply for subsidized child care and shook my head in frustration at the entire process. With too-few spots available, mothers needed a job to apply for one. Once they applied for the spot, they had to wait for an opening. By that time, they often had lost the job they had originally needed the childcare for. It is a broken system.

We’ve also scrimped and saved ourselves for childcare. I’ve worked nights as a therapist while my husband worked days (also as a therapist), leaving us too talked out and burned out to even talk when we finally crashed at 11 p.m. I left a full-time job I loved because daycare cost 70% of my take-home pay. I’ve freelanced and worked staff writer jobs, made possible only by understanding editors who are fighting the same uphill battle and offer grace when the sh*t hits the fan during school breaks.

The U.S. falls far behind other developed countries in this area, despite the positive benefits linked to quality affordable childcare. It’s estimated that improved childcare and parental leave could increase the GDP by over $1 trillion dollars, as well as add more people to the workforce in a nation facing labor shortages. It seems like a no-brainer to me and every woman I talked to, but seems impossible for the federal government to follow through on.

My signature will remain the same this summer. I will work in fits and starts. I will resist checking my email at the pool most days. I will remind myself continually that I am a capable mother and professional functioning in a broken system. If a client thinks it’s not professional, I’ve decided I do not want to write for them. I will vote and advocate for a stronger social safety net in this nation with whatever platform I’ve been given. And I will smile every time I receive an email with a similarly honest signature. Solidarity, moms.

Meg St-Esprit, M. Ed. is a journalist and essayist based in Pittsburgh, PA. She’s a mom to four kids via adoption as well as a twin mom. She loves to write about parenting, education, trends, and the general hilarity of raising little people.

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