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Serena Williams is being penalized for taking maternity leave—just like so many other moms returning to work

As Serena Williams returns to tournament courts following pregnancy and maternity leave, she is finding herself in much the same position as millions of women who face the "motherhood penalty." The fact that someone who is among the greatest athletes of all time is still subject to this says more about society-wide challenges for working mothers than it does about Williams actual performance—and it's time we address that.


Where Williams, as a new mother returning from leave, stands in the world of professional tennis was made clear by the French Tennis Federation: When ranking for the upcoming French Open, the federation did not give Williams a seed. This puts her at a huge disadvantage for the tournament, which is her formal return to the courts after welcoming daughter Olympia with husband Alexis Ohanian in September.

In other words, by taking time off for pregnancy, childbirth and the recovery from life-threatening complications she experienced, Williams dropped a full 453 spots in the eyes of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA).

This isn't just a vanity metric, either: By going into the tournament unseeded, Williams will face higher-ranked opponents much earlier, which makes it that much more challenging to climb back to the top.

Although we don't doubt Williams is ready for the challenge, this is unfortunately representative of the situation that thousands of lower-profile working mothers find themselves in on a yearly basis. According to a 2007 study published in the American Journal of Sociology, working mothers are penalized in the form of "lower perceived competence and commitment, higher professional expectations, lower likelihood of hiring and promotion, and lower recommended salaries."

Specifically, when it comes to promotions, moms who have gone on maternity leave are 8.2 times less likely to be recommended for promotions than other women in their office. Many moms returning to employment also find their workplaces to be much less hospitable—with one report from Great Britain's Equality and Human Rights Commission finding 11% of mothers are forced out of their jobs by outright dismissal or such poor treatment they felt they had no choice.

With decades of potential working years ahead of most mothers, these effects snowball. According to the National Women's Law Center, even moms who just take a short maternity leave make $0.71 per every dollar that a dad in the same position earns.

The pay penalty is less likely to impact Williams than most moms, but the effects of her virtual demotion are still significant—and send an unfortunate message: By treating Williams' leave as a 14-month vacation, tennis officials are essentially discouraging women from making their own family plans, taking time to bond with their babies and giving themselves space to properly recover.

The outcry over Williams going unseeded at the French Open has been loud and swift, leading the WTA to reportedly consider rule changes that would protect highly ranked players from losing their seeding due to maternity leave. Her situation is also pushing the conversation about the motherhood penalty into the spotlight—and all we have to say is that it's about time.

Hopefully, this could help change things for those of us who aren't great athletes, but are trying to be great working mamas.

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My village lives far away—but my Target baby registry helped them support me from afar

Virtual support was the next best thing to in-person hugs

They say you shouldn't make too many major life transitions at once. But when I was becoming a mama for the first time nearly five years ago, my husband and I also moved to a new town where we didn't know a soul, bought our first house and changed jobs.

To put it mildly, we didn't heed that advice. Luckily, our family and friends still made it feel like such a magical time for us by supporting our every move (literal and otherwise) from afar. They showered us with love through a virtual baby shower (expectant parents nowadays can relate!) featuring the unwrapping of gifts they were able to ship straight to me from my Target registry.

Here's one piece of advice I did take: I registered at Target so I could take advantage of the retailer's benefits for registrants, which include a welcome kit valued over $100, a universal registry function and more. Fast-forward a few years and Target has made the registration perks even better for expectant parents: As of August 2020, they've added a Year of Exclusive Deals, which gives users who also sign up for Target Circle a full year of savings after baby is born on all those new mama essentials, from formula to diapers and beyond.

Honestly, even without the significant perks of a free welcome kit with more than $100 in coupons, additional 15% off coupons to complete the registry and a full year of free returns, registering at Target wasn't a hard sell for me: Even though the experience of shopping for baby items was new, shopping with Target felt like returning home to me… and the comfort of that was such a gift.

And of course, Target's registry plays a vital role right now, as expectant parents everywhere are being forced to cancel in-person baby showers and navigate early parenthood without the help of a hands-on village. A registry like this represents a safe way for communities to come through for new parents. If you're anything like me (or any of the other mamas here at Motherly), you certainly have emotional ties and fond memories associated with Target.

What to register for at Target was also an easy talking point as I began to connect with moms in my new community. I will always remember going on a registry-building spree with my next door neighbor, who had young children of her own. As we walked the aisles of Target back in 2015, she suggested items to add… and we laid the foundation for what has since become one of my most cherished friendships.

Even as I made connections in my new hometown, I was nervous that expecting my first baby wouldn't feel as special as if I were near family and friends. But my loved ones exceeded all expectations by adding the most thoughtful notes to gifts. They hosted a beautiful virtual baby shower and even encouraged me to keep the registry going after my baby made his debut and new needs arose.

In the years since, "community" has taken on a wonderfully complex new meaning for me… and, in these times of social distancing, for the rest of the world. I've come to cherish my newfound friends in our local community alongside those long-time friends who are scattered around the county and my virtual mama friends.

Now, as my friends' families grow, I'm so grateful that I can show them the same love and support I felt during my first pregnancy. I sing the praises of Target's baby registry—especially in light of the pandemic, since I know mamas can do everything from a distance thanks to Target's website and the added benefit of getting trusted reviews and helpful registry checklists.

And now that I'm on the gift-buying side of the equation, I've found new joy in picking thoughtful gifts for my friends. (Because goodness knows Target has something for everyone!)

For my friend who is a fellow runner, I teamed up with a few others to give the jogging stroller she had on her registry.

For my friend who is a bookworm, I helped her start her baby's library with a few books that are also well-loved in our home.

For other friends, I've bundled together complete "sets" with everything they need for bathing or feeding their children.

I know from my own experience that, yes, the registry purchases are so appreciated, but the thoughtfulness and the support they represent means even more. Because although my village may have been distant, the support they showed me was the next best thing to in-person hugs.

Start your own Target Baby Registry here to experience a Year of Benefits including a Year of Exclusive Deals through Target Circle to enjoy for a full year following your baby's arrival, a year of free returns, two 15% off completion coupons and a free welcome kit ($100 value).

This article was sponsored by Target. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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I never wanted to be a mom. It wasn't something I ever thought would happen until I fell madly in love with my husband—who knew very well he wanted children. While he was a natural at entertaining our nephews or our friends' kids, I would awkwardly try to interact with them, not really knowing what to say or do.

Our first pregnancy was a surprise, a much-wanted one but also a unicorn, "first try" kind of pregnancy. As my belly grew bigger, so did my insecurities. How do you even mom when you never saw motherhood in your future? I focused all my uncertainties on coming up with a plan for the delivery of my baby—which proved to be a terrible idea when my dreamed-of unmedicated vaginal birth turned into an emergency C-section. I couldn't even start motherhood the way I wanted, I thought. And that feeling happened again when I couldn't breastfeed and instead had to pump and bottle-feed. And once more, when all the stress from things not going my way turned into debilitating postpartum anxiety that left me not really enjoying my brand new baby.

As my baby grew, slowly so did my confidence that I could do this. When he would tumble to the ground while learning how to walk and only my hugs could calm him, I felt invincible. But on the nights he wouldn't sleep—whether because he was going through a regression, a leap, a teeth eruption or just a full moon—I would break down in tears to my husband telling him that he was a better parent than me.

Then I found out I was pregnant again, and that this time it was twins. I panicked. I really cannot do two babies at the same time. I kept repeating that to myself (and to my poor husband) at every single appointment we had because I was just terrified. He, of course, thought I could absolutely do it, and he got me through a very hard pregnancy.

When the twins were born at full term and just as big as singleton babies, I still felt inadequate, despite the monumental effort I had made to grow these healthy babies and go through a repeat C-section to make sure they were both okay. I still felt my skin crawl when they cried and thought, What if I can't calm them down? I still turned to my husband for diaper changes because I wasn't a good enough mom for twins.

My husband reminded me (and still does) that I am exactly what my babies need. That I am enough. A phrase that has now become my mantra, both in motherhood and beyond, because as my husband likes to say, I'm the queen of selling myself short on everything.

So when my babies start crying, I tell myself that I am enough to calm them down.

When my toddler has a tantrum, I remind myself that I am enough to get through to him.

When I go out with the three kids by myself and start sweating about everything that could go wrong (poop explosions times three), I remind myself that I am enough to handle it all, even with a little humor.


And then one day I found this bracelet. Initially, I thought how cheesy it'd be to wear a reminder like this on my wrist, but I bought it anyway because something about it was calling my name. I'm so glad I did because since day one I haven't stopped wearing it.

Every time I look down, there it is, shining back at me. I am enough.

I Am Enough bracelet 

SONTAKEY  I Am Enough Bracelet

May this Oath Bracelet be your reminder that you are perfect just the way you are. That you are enough for your children, you are enough for your friends & family, you are enough for everything that you do. You are enough, mama <3

$35

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Mom rage is real—and it's a sign that mothers' needs aren't being met

The truth is, anger—real, fist-clenching, heart-racing, uncontrollable anger—is so much more common among mothers than many of us think.

Maternal anger takes most women who experience it by surprise. I'm not this person, we say, after feeling a shocking swell of rage during one of those inevitable moments of frustration we all face as a parent.

I never thought I'd be "that mom" who yells at her family, we say, after snapping and yelling at our toddler.

I don't recognize myself when I feel like this—and I feel like this more than I want to, we say, when we realize that our anger isn't a temporary, one-time thing but an undercurrent in our day-to-day, an undeniable presence like a shadow.

The truth is, anger—real, fist-clenching, heart-racing, uncontrollable anger—is so much more common among mothers than many of us think. And it's time to talk about what "mom rage" is, where it comes from, and what we can do about it.

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