A. Even the most dedicated working mom can become defensive when coworkers start messing with her schedule. B.C. (Before Children), your workplace might have seemed more relaxed, and there was no reason to rush out each evening. But once there are kids to get home to, it's hard not to resent anyone who steals your time with them. Remember, though, that the occasional schmoozefest around the conference table is necessary -- to help you bond with coworkers and to solidify you as a team player. This should at least help you tolerate the chatting as well as their obliviousness to your circumstances.
But tolerance won't get you home any earlier. Have a talk with your boss. Forget about critiquing the general wisdom of meetings after 5:00 -- if most of your coworkers are fine with it, you're not going to overthrow the majority. And don't appeal to your boss's emotional side, even if she's a working mom too -- it's not in her job description to consider your child's dinnertime. Stick to the facts: You can make special arrangements to stay late a few days a month for planned meetings or established deadlines. Otherwise, you'll need to leave on time to get home or pick up your kids.
Assure your boss that you'll have a colleague give you the notes from impromptu post-workday meetings the next morning. And, if she seems responsive, you can try suggesting lunchtime meetings as an alternative that's more conducive to everyone's work schedule.
No matter what understanding you come to, however, there will invariably be times when a 4:00 meeting runs way over, and you'll have to decide how to exit gracefully. You're probably afraid that this will make you prey to mommy tracking. But your life is on a different path now -- your priorities have changed. And that's okay. Life experience is valuable in and out of the office, and smart bosses know that good parents can also be good workers.