The Struggle is Real: New Mothers Open Up About Why the Juggle is Even Harder in Hotel Management

Experts agree, that “having it all is not possible.” Motherhood is messy and further complicated by demands placed on women by society, the workplace, and our own expectations of family life. A new book, Pay Up, by women’s rights activist Reshma Saujani, says women have been fed “‘The Big Lie,’ which boils down to this: It makes no difference how much we lean into our careers or “whether we partner up with ‘one of the good ones,’ because we participate in a workforce and live in a society that do not make ‘having it all’ actually possible.”

new mom anxiety

The good news: research suggests that girls raised in homes with working mothers are more likely to grow up to have successful careers, and sons of working mothers spent more time as adults caring for family members. Win-win! The challenge of being a working mom, while important and personally fulfilling, is really hard as studies show working moms shoulder a disproportionate amount of household admin and chores.


While Covid-19 restrictions prompted an exodus of mothers from the U.S. labor force, we know that women’s advancement in the workforce matters; companies with more women executives are more likely to outperform those with fewer senior women. Reshma goes on to say, that the pandemic has offered the opportunity of a lifetime to try and make systemic changes that will help women in the workforce and at home.


In an even newer book, Ambitious Like a Mother: Why Prioritizing Your Career Is Good for Your Kids, author Lara Bazelon argues, “Feminism today must be about more than these structural changes. We have to redefine what it means to be a good mother. The truth is that motherhood is beautiful…but it can also be a mess. It’s important to be honest about this.”

“Feminism today must be about more than these structural changes. We have to redefine what it means to be a good mother. The truth is that motherhood is beautiful…but it can also be a mess. It’s important to be honest about this.”

Hospitality, by nature an in-person business, adds a layer of complexity to the motherhood juggle, already fraught with anxiety and guilt, especially for new moms. To provide greater insight, hertelier reached out to a panel of new mothers with children under the age of six, in a range of roles from GM to sales from a variety of hotel companies, for an honest conversation about how they’re feeling, and their tips for how the industry should move ahead.


Ready Or Not: The Return to Work


The first challenge is coming back to work after having a baby. Depending on where you live, maternity timings leave can vary, as does the rate of pay. The moms we spoke with had maternity leave that ranged from 84 days in Mexico to up to 12 months in the UK, which “completed freaked out my bosses in America,” said Karen*, the GM of a luxury hotel in Edinburgh who had just returned after five months with her second child. In the US, the standard is around 10 weeks to three months.


Whenever you come back, it’s never enough, especially if you’re nursing, “I’m still breastfeeding,” said Christy, who runs sales for a new luxury property in London. “I’ve only been back three weeks, but it feels like six months. My job is full-on and my milk is dying down, which breaks my heart. For me, it’s really important to breastfeed my child.” Karen, the GM, gave up breastfeeding before returning to work because she knew it would be too stressful. Maria, who works in the real estate end of hospitality, was able to breastfeed for up to 13 months thanks to working from home during the pandemic. “Juggling breastfeeding, being on a call or pumping, this was always the hardest part.”


Rachel, also in hotel sales, in a lesbian relationship but didn’t give birth herself commented, “regardless of how long the maternity leave, one of the things I've observed is the guilt you feel in order to come back. If you’re an ambitious woman professionally, the longer you are out the more that the business moves forward without you.”


“I was gone for 10 months,” said Christy, “and I definitely felt like I missed a lot, but on the other hand, I was with my child. You not only have the mom guilt, but you also have the career guilt. I’m career-oriented, I want to keep hustling and moving up, but you feel split in both ways.”

“I was gone for 10 months,” said Christy, “and I definitely felt like I missed a lot, but on the other hand, I was with my child. You not only have the mom guilt, but you also have the career guilt. I’m career-oriented, I want to keep hustling and moving up, but you feel split in both ways.”

As for Karen the GM, “there is no option for me to work from home, I have to be on the property. So, I try to have lots of chats with my older son about why mummy has to be out all the time, which is even harder now as I was home more during the pandemic.” Before taking her GM job––when she only had one son, she announced to her boss that two days a week she would be home from 6 - 8 pm to put him to bed. “My boss thought it was a joke, and actually laughed, but I have stuck to it religiously, and it is the one thing that keeps me a bit sane, that I know I can do that on those nights.” All her supervisors are in America, so she can work after putting her kids to bed, which actually is preferable with the time difference. “I have to be really strict with myself, them, and my boys to manage everyone’s expectations. It’s hard and heartbreaking when I have to explain to my son in the morning that I won’t see him until the next day.”

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Sickness and Other Emergencies


The ladies all laughed when Rachel shared a story of driving her slightly feverish two-year-old to daycare with the windows open to cool her off on a day neither she nor her partner could be off work, “we joke about it now, but we felt terribly guilty at the time.” This was even harder during the pandemic, where “every little cough might keep your child out of daycare for 7 or 14 days,” said Maria. “When you’re in jobs like we have with meetings and commitments, you can’t just be saying at the drop of a hat ‘I’m not available,” added Rachel. “I’ve never felt it is a good idea to make motherhood obvious. Frankly, it is the reason I didn’t carry a baby and why my wife did.” Rachel’s wife works in finance, and they felt her job was more supportive to new mothers than hospitality.


Karen’s husband also works in hospitality running restaurants, so she relies heavily on childcare. “We juggle nursery and a nanny because I do have to work some late nights as a GM. If one piece of the childcare puzzle falls out of place, it gets really nerve-wracking. My nanny actually gave notice yesterday, so I have a month to find someone new and I have to do that because I can’t manage without a nanny. My husband is a wonderful father, but it wouldn’t even occur to him to change his work schedule.”


Maria said her big challenge is that her job requires a lot of travel, “It was the part of my job that I loved the most, but now it gives me the most anxiety of having to leave my two babies behind.”


mom and baby

No Matter Your Job: Women are in Charge at Home


With her partner, Rachel noted that they divide and balance the childcare and household chores evenly––this is not the case for any of the other moms. “My husband is amazing, but I’m on the tube doing my Amazon grocery list, planning activities for school breaks, and dressing my son up for Book Day. I’m constantly writing lists because my mom-brain needs help,” said Christy.


“You just have to be really organized and you also have to let some things go,” continued Karen. “I’m normally really house proud…before kids, I always had fresh flowers in the house and food in the fridge for making dinner parties for friends. I used to like to run to the local butcher and veg shop, but now I just order food online, otherwise I’ll never be at home with the kids. I had to teach myself quite quickly about what I am prepared to give up. I still want to see my friends, so instead of me cooking they come over for takeaways.”


“Wow, I’m so impressed with all you take on,” said Rachel, “I don’t think I could manage if my wife and I didn’t split the responsibilities. Women are incredible multi-taskers.”


Maria added, “the expectation from a man and woman is very different. If it were up to my husband, he would be fine to have a nanny taking care of the kids. As a mom you want to be there, to play with them, and be part of how they are raised, so we overthink everything and that guilt makes us want to be more present. I see Instagram and I think, ‘ooh I want to do those fun activities.’ I never get around to it, which makes me feel more guilty, but I want to,” lamented Maria.


Men are also able to switch off. “My husband lays down and he’s able to go to sleep all night, the kids could be screaming in the other room and he’s snoring,” adds Maria, “meanwhile, if they make the tiniest sound, I wake up. This is why my husband says I haven’t slept in two years. Men are wired differently.”


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Workplace Support: What is that?


Sadly, with a telling pause, none of the women could think of anything their workplaces were doing to offer meaningful help. The women agree, “we don’t want to ask for help, but some bosses are better at offering up the ability to leave early or work from home.”


“Flexibility is key,” said Maria, who works in real estate. “Coincidentally, my boss was pregnant around the same time I was, so she was really understanding if I needed to go to the doctor or whatever. She also allowed me to go to visit my family during the pandemic, which gave me the support to keep working. She trusted me, she knows I am going to get it done even if it is at two in the morning. That was her policy as my boss, not necessarily the company policy.”


Male bosses can also be understanding, but they have different expectations. Christy says, “my boss is a working father and he’s a great dad. But let's be honest, the gender roles are different. His involvement with his kids is nothing like mine, I’m responsible for so much more at home.”


Impromptu Networking is Not Possible


Often, the extras are what is most challenging. In Christy’s case, when executives from corporate were in last-minute, “my boss wanted me to stay, which would have been a great chance for me to shine in front of top management, but I can’t get my nanny to stay at the last minute,” acknowledging the missed opportunity. “Sometimes I’m just too tired and know if I go out on a Tuesday, then I won’t last the rest of the week because my daughter still isn’t sleeping through the night.”


Younger women who aspire to Christy’s level look at her with awe, “I worry I’m scaring them. They see me pumping in the office, coming in early, or staying late and then running home. I’m honest with them, parenting is not for everyone, it’s really hard, and that’s why you don’t see many working mothers at our level.”


Karen is in an unusual situation where she is the only senior manager in her hotel who is in a relationship with a family. “We have a young team here and I am the old mummy. A lot of the working relationships are built later in the evening here–going out for drinks and dinners and I can’t always do that because I need notice.” When people ask her why there aren’t more women in hospitality, her response is, “it’s a really tricky industry if you are trying to juggle home life, the expectations for hours are just different than other businesses. We are here for our clients and often they want to see you in the evenings. I’m not sure what any company can do for me unless they want to run a nursery in the hotel.”


Shift in Socializing is Starting


Maria has started to see a shift in real estate, “I’ve noticed more networking at lunches or breakfasts, men want to be at home with their kids too. The norm is still mostly drinks or dinners, this is an area where companies could do more to encourage the shift.”



Much More Can Be Done


It would seem hospitality, which has long been providing childcare for guests, could come up with solutions for working mothers. “For line level and F&B employees it’s even harder, they often don’t get the shift schedules very far in advance. We need to get better at that, and also to think more creatively. Why don’t hotels in a city try to band together to offer some sort of childcare, even if just for emergencies?” offered Rachel. “Why is it the expectation that if I need to entertain clients as a salesperson in the evening that my day just gets longer, why doesn’t my day also start later? This kind of change needs to come from the top.”


“I can come in late,” says Karen the GM, “and I do that now versus other times in my career. I have breakfast and take my kids to school and then come to work. Our hotel is a later business. Several departments in my hotel can work from home now, we’ve learned from the pandemic it works, but I can’t have my concierge or receptionist working from home. They have to be guest-facing. Working from home is great, but it is a very small minority in hospitality that can have that luxury.”


There are some jobs––chefs and duty managers––that are on a 4-day on, 3-day off schedule but those are long days.


Can society and government help?


This is really challenging. “A lot of what we are dealing with is the complexity of childcare, anxiety, and guilt,” says Karen. “No government is able to help with that. Women have been told they can have it all, but I am wondering if that is the case.”


Maria feels governmental changes to maternity leave and the availability of daycare for pre-school daycare would help. “When we are looking at women in operations or earlier in their careers, it just doesn't make financial sense to pay for childcare.”


Normalizing paternity leave would also help women, “it’s allowed in the U.K. but rarely taken,” notes Karen.


“Best practices I love are coming from other industries,” adds Rachel, “helping women with training to get back into the workforce if they decided to stay home with their kids for four or five years. I’ve heard of great confidence-building programs for women that help them overcome the fears of coming back.”


“Vouchers for daycare or any financial support the government can give to help with childcare is welcome,” says Christy.

No real change is possible until working mothers stop trying to be all things to all people—perfect at work, perfect as partners, and perfect as mothers, with each role kept entirely separate. Rather than hermetically sealing motherhood off from workplace struggles and triumphs, women should embrace the seepage between their worlds.

“No real change is possible until working mothers stop trying to be all things to all people—perfect at work, perfect as partners, and perfect as mothers, with each role kept entirely separate. Rather than hermetically sealing motherhood off from workplace struggles and triumphs, women should embrace the seepage between their worlds,” says the author Lara Bazelon, which maybe is the most sensible first step…


* names and hotels have been changed for anonymity