Are You an Office Mom?

Office Mom: Valid Management Style, or Career Suicide? | CorporetteOffice Mom: Valid Management Style, or Career Suicide? | CorporetteHere’s a fun question for you: are you the office mom*?  I’ve read that being the office mom tends to hurt your career because people see you as, well, the MOM instead of the professional you are. So here’s the Q: do you agree that being the “office mom” is a bad thing — or is it just another management style? Are you the office mom, or do you work with one?  Is it more appropriate (or effective) in some office cultures, and less in others? 

For my $.02, I have always been totally guilty of this — long before I became a mom. I never baked cookies or cupcakes for people, BUT: I like to be prepared, and I generally remember the birthdays and other fun stuff (with a little help to remember personal details).  So I used to carry with me (and keep in my desk) all sorts of stuff — Shout Wipes! Bandaids! Tissues! Spare chargers! Fans! Sweaters! Coworkers always came to me when they needed something.  In some ways this was a plus — I’m definitely an introvert, and I’m sure I sometimes come off as cold if I’m focused on other stuff (thank you, resting bitchface!) — so this was my own little way of being friendly and approachable. I suppose I subscribe to the idea in the WSJ article — office mom as management style.

I’m curious, ladies — what do you think?

Pictured: Pink cupcake – meeting leftovers, originally uploaded to Flickr by Alpha.

* If you don’t have a subscription to the WSJ, just Google the headline and you’ll get access to the full article. :D

For professional women, there's a serious risk of becoming "the office mom" -- the person everyone runs to if they need a bandaid or Advil; the person they expect to do "office housework" such as stocking the kitchen, arranging meetings, and other thankless tasks. How do you avoid becoming an office mom? Corporette readers pondered the question...



  1. You are distinguishing between the Office Mom (bakes cookies, is the one whose office everyone comes to for crying sessions) and the Office Girl Scout (always prepared!). I’m the Office Girl Scout, not an office mom. I am very sensitive to being the office mom in male-dominated industries I’ve worked in (finance, banking, trading, law)…sometimes I think that Lois Frankel of Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office is full of it, but this is one of the times I think she nailed it. In a less casual office that’s male-dominated, being the Office Mom is a career hindrance. Being the Office Girl Scout is not, in my experience.

    • Love this distinction. I’m definitely the Office Girl Scout. I do participate in office social events and will help plan and set up, but don’t take them on as my own responsibility unless it’s an event for one of my work BFFs (I’ve planned two baby showers for guys I worked with very closely).

    • christineispink :

      +1 for loving this distinction as well. I thought I was the office mom but I am TOTALLY the office girl scout! extra phone charger? I got one. lotion? scented or unscented? bc I have both. boss needs to use my whole tide pen b/c he spilled coffee on his tie before a big meeting? I’ve got it covered!

      • To be *really* prepared, you’d have a selection of men’s ties already in your drawer… ;)

  2. I don’t bake or bring any food to work for co-workers unless it is a potluck or it is something every one takes turns to do (monthly birthday celebrations). I don’t have any other supplies too. We have our admin for that and a supply cabinet which has some necessities like advil, tylenol , aspirin, band aids etc. People directly go to admin if they need something or if it is a new person asking me, I will lead the person to the admin.

    In our office, no one brings home made/ store bought edible stuff regularly. Sometimes people bring left over birthday cakes which is totally fine. I think baking stuff regularly and getting that to work doesn’t do any favour career wise. To be frank, it almost looks like you are not good enough at work, so you are doing all these tricks to hide your shortcomings. The other impression is you are trying to impress your higher ups . There is no wrong in trying to impress upper management but it shouldn’t be by bringing cupcakes and cookies to work. I actively avoid getting too close with people who bring these stuff because I have been badly burned once. The person who would invite us for dinner/get goodies to work regularly expected me to do whatever she asked because I have had dinner at her place a couple of times and ate the cookies that she had baked. I totally understand there may be few people who do this just because they feel like doing so and don’t expect anything back. I just stated what I feel and what I have experienced.

    • I am a little like this, b/c I am the one that is ALWAY’s asked to get cookes and cake’s from the Bakeries at Grand Central, OR at Crumb’s, tho Crumb’s may be not as good now that they are in bankrupcy. But people ask where Ellen is with the cake and cookie’s so I am the Mom that way at least. I need to be a REAL mom soon, and that mean’s finding a guy to marry me and have sex so that I can have children soon. Where is my prince? All I have found are whiny loser’s who are interested in the sex, but NOT the marrage. FOOEY! Can any one in the HIVE tell me how to guarantee a HUSBAND? FOOEY!

    • hoola hoopa :

      “The person who would invite us for dinner/get goodies to work regularly expected me to do whatever she asked because I have had dinner at her place a couple of times and ate the cookies that she had baked.”

      Yuck. That would turn me off the whole idea, too.

  3. I am definitely not an office mom, but my office is right across the hall from one. She is a fifty year old woman, not on the upper management/partner track, but she is well respected in the office because she is very hard working, very smart, and very capable. That said, she also really enjoys baking and doing kind and nurturing things that brighten the days of the rest of us. So, I don’t think being an office mom HAS to be a bad thing. When it is used to distract from a lack of competence, then it’s a problem. When it is in addition to a baseline level of being well-respected and competent, then I think it can be great.

    • Agreed. We have a very similar office mom. She not only rocks at her job, but she is the go-to person because she’s so approachable and nurturing. It’s pretty helpful on the client retention side of things too.

    • hoola hoopa :

      That’s in line with my experience as well.

      In my experience there’s also a huge difference between (a) someone who enjoys baking but doesn’t want to eat two dozen cookies or a cake by themselves and so just leaves things in the breakroom from time to time and (b) the person who walks around the office with a plate telling everyone that they made cookies! Have one! They are delicious! Isn’t it great to have *someone* around here who brings something into share with their great coworkers!?

      Also, I’ve worked with “Office Dads” (is this an term that people actually use?) Just to point out that it’s not necessarily women who fill these roles.

      Honestly, maybe because I’ve only worked in large offices, but I don’t understand the supply thing. There’s always been a storage closet or person whose actual job it is to provide those sorts of things.

      • Yessssss to Office Dads! I worked for a great boss early on in my career, but his one downfall was that he was the Office Dad. It was OK for me at the time (early 20’s) but would drive me bananas now. FWIW, we’re still close and he’s very much a mentor for me — but we don’t work together anymore, which is A Very Good Thing.

        • Meg Murry :

          Yes, I definitely worked for someone that was an “Office Dad” boss to me. As in, when I screwed up and had to go tell him, it felt an awful lot like when I had to call my dad and confess I backed his car into a post – like I really let him down personally, and he was going to be disappointed in me.

          I’ve also been put in the unfortunate circumstance of having to train someone who wanted to “Office Dad” me – he was my father’s age, exactly (they even played high school football against each other) and he had daughters my age. He had obviously been in the workplace for a while, but in a parallel industry, so I had to give him the hands on “this is how we do this procedure here” training. And he wasn’t a great employee (didn’t really listen to anyone that was trying to teach him how we did things, and bluffed his way into a position over his head), but he especially had a hard time taking direction from me, and liked to pick on me in a Creepy Uncle sort of way. Not fun.

      • Anon Worker Bee :

        +1 We have a lot of single people in our company and many of them (both men and women) like to bake and often bring in extras they can’t eat. We also see a lot of surplus Halloween/Christmas/Easter candy. I have never seen anyone walking around pushing food on others or making a big deal about bringing something in. Also we are a small-ish company (< 100 employees) but we have a supply closet and someone who stocks it so I don't understand the supply thing either…

  4. Even if you’re more of a Girl Scout, I think sometimes it becomes unclear when you’re enabling others to avoid work that is rightly theirs. A recent Ask A Manager question got me thinking about this (Topic #1, link to follow). I think her answer, which is basically “just be helpful,” is right, but so are all the commenters on the post who argue that it’s not a fair position to be in.

    • Link:

    • Wildkitten :

      I’m the office Girl Scout – I have things like shout wipes, band-aids, tampons, in my cabinet. But those are all personal items I like to have on hand and am happy to share – it’s not like it’s someone else’s job to have band aids and I’m doing it for them. And since we’re all adults my stuff gets used infrequently enough that I don’t mind having to buy new shout wipes like, once a year. I’m also known for having things like, highlighters in every color, so it’s not just “mom” stuff.

      But I would never bake for my office.

  5. Need to Improve :

    I suggest we eliminate this term (“office mom”) from our vocabulary. It’s offensive.

    • Diana Barry :

      This term also rubs me the wrong way. It plays up an implied dualism between the term “office” and the term “mom” – like if you are a mom of course you don’t work in an office! Or something.

    • hoola hoopa :

      I made a similar comment above. I’ve worked with men who fill the same roles. I’ve never heard “Office Mom,” and I don’t think I’m a fan. But I also don’t like “Office Wife” and “Office Husband.”

      • +1 a million to disliking “Office Spouse” terminology. You either have a close friendship at work (hooray for friendships!) or you have a borderline-inappropriate relationship with someone you work with, and the latter is automatically where my mind is going to go if I hear the term “Office Spouse”.

        • WorkingMom :

          I have a friend who refers to his secretary as his “work wife.” He’s not a scumbag, just has a completely inappropriate sense of humor. But yeah, that phrase (or versions of it) completely disgust me. If my husband ever said he had a “work wife” I don’t know what I would do. (He never would, because he would be just as disgusted as I am by the concept.)

          I have the heebie-jeebies now.

        • + a millionnnnnnnnnnnnn to this, especially “borderline inappropriate relationship.” I have close friends at work and people I care about, but they’re not my office mom, or dad, or brother, or anything. It’s important to know where that line is and that sometimes you can be too close with a colleague/friend.

      • Wildkitten :

        Yup. I’ve had different “work best friends” in my various offices and some were male some female. The office spouse thing implies you cant have friends of the oppos!te gender unless there’s something shady going on.

    • I don’t see how it’s offensive to be honest. It implies you’re trying to take care of people in the office.

      • Offensive? No. Something I’d never ever, ever want to be associated with? Yes.

      • Need to Improve :

        exactly. both men and women take care of people. women don’t have to do it by baking and giving them wipes. take the gender out of the term.

    • Need to Improve :

      It is a gendered term used to describe something that should not be gendered. The non-offensive version is office parent.

  6. Ugh, I’m kind of forced into the mom role — not in the fun way — because I have a report who is incapable of functioning like an adult human being and I’m not allowed to fire him for Reasons. I’m sick of having to direct him in basic self-care (no, adults do not eat badly expired mystery foods) and listen to him complain about his owies.

    On a different note, I’ve had an older lady contractor who came in with tons of treats right off the bat — pastries, donuts, home-baked cookies — who also turned out to have very bad boundaries about the appropriate use of work resources. It really did come off as “I brought in [x], so I get to take [y]”. I know that’s worked out for her in the past, but it set our exec staff against her pretty quickly.

    • Anonymous :

      Why on earth are you giving yourself responsibility for his feeding? Let him eat it and get sick. Ditto listening to him complain about owies. Bry-Bry I’m busy and don’t have time to listen to this. Pls get back to work.

  7. At one office, we had an office manager who was an office mom. The position itself was thankless and often had her between a rock and a hard place. By being an office mom, she turned everyone there into her ally and defender when HQ came calling. So, in a supporting position, being an office mom is a very savvy way to build a power base.

    Should lawyers or those in a non-support position be an office mom or girl scout? No. For these people, there is more reward in being a mentor, being someone who will help others think through a problem or take on last minute projects.

    • hoola hoopa :

      “So, in a supporting position, being an office mom is a very savvy way to build a power base.”

      I agree. This is something I associate with supporting roles, but again maybe it’s because I’ve always worked for larger offices. I’m thinking about friends in firms with 3-4 people and no designated support positions and can imagine it being different.

    • Wildkitten :

      Hmm. I will have to think about this. And perhaps decrease my hoarding of helpful supplies…

  8. I have a “work mom” which I think is different from an “office mom”. I had one at my internship during college when I was at a big corporation where I didn’t really fit in with the work culture. She was the only one that gave a damn about me. Not in an overbearing motherly way but she happened to have kids my age that went to my university so we were just able to connect on that level. At my current job, I also have a work mom and its a similar situation with her kids being my age and going to my college.

    • I don’t know if I would call this a work mom, but rather a mentor.

    • I agree it’s not necessarily a mentor, but rather than a mom, I think of my first secretary as an “aunt” type. For example, she got me flowers when I passed the bar, and a card for my birthday during my first year, which made the transition from school to firm life much nicer because at least someone cared about more than my billables.

  9. I find this discussion fascinating. I work in an office with primarily other women (the ratio is about 10:1 female to male), so there are lots of “office moms”. It isn’t unusual at all to have home baked treats around, or as an incentive to come to an otherwise terrible meeting. Everyone has food stored around, so if you miss lunch or need a pick-me-up, you could just wander around and someone would offer you food. There are definitely people more invested in that role than others, but I don’t think anyone is taken more or less seriously for it because it is so integrated into the office culture.

  10. The only treats I bring in are left overs from a party, or Halloween candy that I MUST get rid of. Any food I have in my house that I don’t want, I leave in the work room and within minutes it is gone. Vultures!

  11. Wannabe Runner :

    Sometimes being the most prepared doesn’t have anything to do with baked goods.

    In my last job, I worked with a bunch of lawyers at my level and really not enough staff. I became the “resource” person. I had the phone lists for other offices we communicated with. I kept copies of sample motions and forms we had to use. I had fact sheets on common issues. Other lawyers would end up coming to me (instead of their busy supervisors, or their non-functional assistants) when they needed someone’s phone number.

    For me, and in this situation, it felt like I was everyone’s support person. I feel like they knew I was smart and organized, but no one realized I was actually a great lawyer too. Reading the NGDGTCO book really helped me change the way I interacted with my co-workers so they saw me as someone with leadership potential, rather than just a support for their own practice. I really wanted to be cooperative, but I kind of changed and became a little competitive because I realized the cooperation wasn’t getting me all that far.

    Here’s another story. Last week I emailed a colleague about an article he was writing. He asked me if I wanted to be a co-author. I declined, but mentioned some other people. He asked me for their contact info, even though I’d be looking them up in the same attorney directories that he has. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I gave him the info but made a kind of snarky remark that I wasn’t his assistant. (He currently works for a very small firm, so I’m not sure he has one.) He is my age, and has a working wife, so I think he’s just oblivious about the way he comes across sometimes. But it was kind of condescending and it felt sexist.

    • AnonForThis :

      In this circumstance, I’d tell him, “Sorry, I don’t know their information off the top of my head, but I imagine it’s in [directories.]”

    • I wouldn’t read too much (ie, gender assumptions) into the request for contact information – it’s completely normal to provide contact information for a referral.

  12. This discussion makes me think of this guy in my office who always has to make a big show about the food that he brings in. He always sends an email explaining what he brought, why he made it, and some other random commentary about it. People bring things in occasionally and either just leave it in the break room or send a short email saying “food in the fridge”. But he always makes such a big deal about it and it really bugs me!

    I should add that he is the type of person that is all about getting credit for things (even when not always deserved). So I feel like this is just one more thing he has to make sure everyone knows he did.

  13. Office Mom :

    I was thinking the other day about how time seems to creep up on us. One day, not so long ago, I was the youngest person in the office. I had an office mom (and actually an office dad now that I think about it). They were invaluable to me. All of the sudden, I went to work one day and realized that I was no longer the youngest person at work. In fact, I am almost the oldest person at work and am probably the office mom. I am the most senior woman at my company so hopefully I am more than the office mom and am a mentor to many of the younger workers (women and men) that I have recruited and hired over the years. But time has a way of passing us by.

  14. flip side :

    Our “office mom” isn’t so much a den mom as she is a passive aggressive guilt tripping “smother-in-law.” She is defensive, prone to rants and tantrums, nags, rolls her eyes and sing-songs “nobody told ME” when asked about upcoming hearings. She also gives unsolicited advice about child rearing and relationships (she is single with a failure to launch son). In this particular respect, I would suggest that she leave the “mom” part of “office mom” at home.

  15. office housekeeper? :

    I keep my mouth shut about things that I would otherwise bring up to my all-male colleagues to avoid being the “woman.” Like, (1) can’t we give our old binders to the bored receptionist every week to avoid throwing away a mass of $5 binders that were used once? (2) How much do we spend on office snacks? We’re all very health-conscious – can’t we subscribe to a healthier snack service rather than having Cheetos and gummy worms? (3) A million random maintenance issues about the office aesthetic.

    Sometimes I think I should speak up. But then I think better of it.

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