A few weeks ago, I took a much-needed weekend away with some fellow moms and almost immediately, the talk turned to work. My friends had either re-entered the workforce after having kids or never left at all, and as the only one who worked from home, I realized how far removed I was from the office space mentality. It’s been nine years since I left my job in publishing and it dawned on me that I am technological-roadkill.

I looked at these women with new respect. With senior positions in finance, marketing, and sales, they were fierce explorers in a terrifying jungle of millennials, adapting to the speed of change in the office while balancing the demands of family.

I felt a stab of panic. Is this what it was like for the mammals who survived the meteor and the ice ages? Are working mothers nothing more than crocodiles, ancient creatures risen from Paleozoic swamps to wander the Quaternary period alongside creatures with earbuds who can’t be bothered to explain that the fax machine died with the woolly mammoth?

Here’s what I know: mothers who leave work to raise their young and then return to the fray are evolution in action. It is not an exaggeration to say that when women take time off to mother, the business world changes dramatically. Continents separate, apes stand up, fire is made, the wheel is invented. The rate of change is not generational, it is annual. Each fiscal year brings a new office landscape, those wacky hominids evolving anew.

[What will it take for this mom to get back to work?]

Consumed with raising my own two babies and trying to establish an at-home-writing space in the midst of packing lunch boxes and using crayons, I was blind to the realities of what my fellow mothers faced upon returning to company offices. And unless you are one of these amazing creatures, you are blind too.

Here are the top five truths of today’s workplace:


Everything is electronic. From here on out, you’re going to scan, email and send attachments. Do you remember binders of papers? And not enough file cabinets to put these binders? And making countless photo copies for countless meetings? According to one friend, her empty file cabinets are now used to store her shoes. And don’t ask the recent college grads how to operate the dusty fax machine. They don’t know how to use it and it is obviously there for decoration or when civilization ends.


People have become electronic too. Why meet with the L.A. office in person when you can see their pores (and their presentations) up close on your computer screen! Apparently, it’s all about the webinars (note: do not share your homescreen with the class). I get why companies do them – they’re a great cost saver, and employees can pretend to listen to them while they get their real work done.


According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, the average attention span for people in 2015 is 8.25 seconds. Here’s the kicker: the average attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds. Goldfish have greater attention spans than we do. I’ll wait for that to sink in. If you worked in the office a decade ago, like me, our attention span was 12 seconds, not much better, but at least it was longer than a goldfish. Today’s is an attention-deficit workspace. Employees are checking emails, checking their cell phones, pretending to listen to webinars, surfing the web, and, according to three of my friends, trying to keep track of “50 million acronyms” – because OMG who has the attention span to use complete words?


When you return to work, just put your headphones on and shut up already. One mom remembers returning to the world of finance after having her kids and working next to two accountants who didn’t say a word to anyone for eight hours. Also? Get used to people five feet away instant chatting with you. This happens for three reasons: (1) they are listening to music (2) nobody actually speaks anymore and (3) NO ONE USES THE TELEPHONE. Like the fax machine, the telephone is there for decorative purposes, unless you’re in sales, where I have to believe that the phone still wields the greater power of persuasion, second only to the ancient practice of clinching the deal in person. True, there might be a conference call or, if you’re kind of important, your assistant will connect a call to you (probably from your mom), but mainly, today’s office is silent. Which is isolating, but for moms leaving the high decibels of home life, could be heaven.


Brace yourself: when you return to work in your 40s, you are considered old. Look, I’m only telling you what the interns are thinking, okay? The title hierarchy is gone. The young folk in your office might not value the position you’ve worked so hard for or your years of experience, intelligence, and creativity, but the good news is that your boss does and that’s why you were hired.

Mothers who take time off to raise their children and re-enter the work force are not dinosaurs. Dinosaurs are defined by extinction and these women are survivors. Take your earbuds out, people. That’s the sound of moms driving the world economy and then driving to their kid’s soccer practice. It is not Survival of the Tech-est.

It is adaptation.

Tarja Parssinen is a writer, performer, and mom to two young boys in the Bay Area. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook and her humor blog, The Flying Chalupa.

Join On Parenting on Facebook for more essays, news and advice. You can sign up here for our e-newsletter and can find us at washingtonpost.com/onparenting.

You might also be interested in: 

Why I quit my job after two months

What will it take for this mom to get back to work?

My income barely covers daycare, but I won’t stop working

Netflix and parental leave: A PR move today, the norm tomorrow?