A Working Mom’s Scream from the Frozen Middle

A Working Mom’s Scream from the Frozen Middle | Houston Moms Blog

I don’t have the answers. I know I misstepped along the way. I trusted a system where I work hard its simply rewarded. I thought people were as straightforward and transparent as I was. I was naïve to ignore the game perhaps. I was raised in a very Alpha male, authoritarian respecting household and asserting myself without too much or too little aggressiveness has been a tightrope. Maybe I’m just too nice. Whatever it is, I know it can’t be just me and if this resonates with you at all, I know your struggle.

Glass Cliff. Glass Ceiling. Sticky floor. Frozen Middle. Surely given today’s climate some or all of these terms are familiar. Maybe they are too familiar. Maybe you are just plain SICK of hearing about this. So that begs the question – how in 2018 is this still a thing? I’ll tell you… sometimes it happens and you don’t even realize it until it you look around and realize you are in it.

I’ve worked at my job 10 years now. Like most people, I have worked nearly all facets of the job over a decade– I’ve collaborated, created, committeed {that may not be a word but it should be}. I didn’t just “pay my dues.” I had a tough road at times, and I won’t lie, some dips here and there but…I’ve worked hard. I powered through a newborn on my own, a divorce story Lifetime would be proud of, and after-hours demands despite being a single mom with no family near.

I’m not a pushover. I have stood my ground when a male authority figure demanded I run my team the way he wanted and I refused for the best of the job, a move I was later highly rewarded and praised for. I found grace even when other women tore me down in the subtle subversive way women can when threatened. When decisions were being made over my head to not give me roles because “there’s so much on her plate maybe she can’t handle it” I went in fighting saying GIVE IT TO ME… and they did.

I played their game. I played my game. I won awards. I made highly public TV appearances. I lectured alongside experts in our field. I topped out our rankings. Simply, I was killing it.

Then a director position came up a year ago, and things became interesting. Nine years at the job and they give the director position I was told I NEEDED, HAD TO HAVE to move up in my career to a pregnant, single woman with no family around who was fresh out of training and only worked with us not even a year. I wasn’t hating – this just made no sense. I went to our administration completely baffled and heard nothing. No response. I wasn’t just upset for my own position but what were they doing to this kid? There is NO way she’d last a year – the team was in disarray, morale was low, budget cuts were happening. Our job is simply UNFORGIVING when it comes to sick kids. How did this make sense? I myself was prepared to have a very honest conversation about what it would take to get things back in line, what I would need for success, how this would affect my day to day and with my daughter so young if this made sense for me. No conversation had – simply handed it off to someone who was set up for failure. A glass cliff. I pulled her aside and said – “Are you sure? That first year, especially as a single mom it is tough! That job demands you always to be here.” I honestly think she smiled, patted my arm, and said she could handle it.

I went to the top boss. I sat down with him. I am not one to typically challenge authority but I was just baffled. How did this positioning make sense? What was my value here? How after so much time was my salary this much lower than EVERYONE’S? I made a list of the things I had done in the past 6 months, slid it over to him and demanded my value. I used words they hate :: Salary Compression. Lack of career development. Inequity. Director or not, I was going to demand my worth. I did it with a shake in my voice and the threat of tears as I LOVE my job and knew at this point for my daughter and my sake I might have to walk away playing this card. At first I was met with resistance, but then panic shone in his eyes as he saw my barely contained emotion. I meant it.

Agreements were made. Adjustments promised. Time demanded to meet my requests. “Okay, I’ll give it another year and we shall see.” Hands were shaken.

A year passed. I continued to work hard. I took on other roles. I found fulfillment and a new path I didn’t expect. Slight salary increments were being made, not quite as promised but getting there. The team floundered under our unseasoned director yet I tried to help and guide her. Things went south quickly – not even a year out she left the position. It didn’t please even the vainest parts of me because it just seemed they set her up to fail. I wondered how long it would be before they came crawling back to me steady the ship. I began to think of my “demands” list. Rest assured, more demands made the list this time.

They offered the position to my mentee. A person I trained as an intern and only one year on the job. They gave it to him. Administration actually took the time to talk to me this time – the guy in charge the decision maker, the one who I had defied about how to run my team explained it as such. The one who “develops” our careers. “You are just to valuable where you are for us to move you – and you have had such success with where I HAVE placed you that we need to keep you there for the good of the company. I also really need you to support the new position since everyone will be looking to you to set the culture.” The whole time I also heard the unsaid things “We tried single mom and that doesn’t work. I also don’t want to deal with you and I told you so.”

I was surprisingly calm. Despite this not being a conversation about me, I made it about me. “Do you even want to know what my career goals are? My goals are moving up and I will have an issue if this is a misstep in my development. My development matters and this is what I WANT to be doing in the next 5 years. And ‘my valuable role’ should be compensated as such. All those choices would be for the good of the company.” He agreed {mostly to keep me moving} they would and said he had nothing more to say. I left.

I was proud of myself but also angry. Frustrated. Even depressed for a few weeks. I stood my ground and said what I needed to say but it felt ineffective. Screaming in silence. Would I be just forever stuck doing what was deemed “valuable” and not getting anywhere? When I stumbled up on the term frozen middle… I just thought yes. That is me. And what will I do about it? The job I love. The hours that accommodate my schedule as a single mom. My pay, although comparatively low to my immediate colleagues, is pretty good compared to the national average. I thought, is this how it happens? We big picture it and don’t fight it because it’s just not worth it too? There’s no “perfect job” after all? But I’m still tortured. What am I teaching my daughter? What will I stand for?

Currently that decision making administrator has moved positions and I won’t interact with them. I’ve found allies that have sought me out upon hearing his account. Some allies that are the very few women that have made it up the ladder. Another potential position is being considered to be made for me – a new path. The top boss has stepped down and we are in a search – a new boss that could reset the ENTIRE administration. So for now I will wait and stay the course. Work hard. Be a good colleague. And maybe hope for change… maybe change that brings someone who can hear the scream from the frozen middle.


  1. I sympathize with what happened to you and for some parts I can relate as well. The most important thing right now is to find allies and mentors/sponsors who will hear you out and look for opportunities for you. It also doesn’t hurt to have a plan B. Might as well test the market and see how your skill sets are valued via recruiters and headhunters, which not only give you negotiation power but perspectives. Stay strong and good things will happen.


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