Happy Mother’s Day to You! Yes, Even You.
This blog post is inspired by Mother’s Day. BUT IT’S NOT JUST FOR MOTHERS.
This blog post is built on a foundation of deep respect for the daily norms of parenting that are nothing short of heroic. We hope to show our respect not with kudos, BUT WITH COLD, HARD FACTS.
The fact is that parents, especially mothers, are struggling in the workplace.
A study by Census Bureau researchers found that between two years before the birth of a couple’s first child and a year after, the earnings gap between opposite-sex spouses doubles. The gap continues to grow until that child reaches age 10. Though it narrows after that, it never disappears completely. This is referred to as the “Motherhood Penalty.”
About a dozen years ago, I sat in the office of my nonprofit job and played hookie to my entire task list. I was obsessing about how I was going to have a family. I made a BIG spreadsheet. Month by month, I projected my next decade. The columns tracked “if Baby #1 comes by this date, then Baby #2 could come by this date at the soonest”. On and on. In retrospect, it was a joke.
There are now three kids, the oldest one turning nine this month. For the last eight years I’ve been VISIONALITY’s Operations Manager in a part-time, work-from-home capacity. My current self would walk into the office of my OCD former self, throw the computer out the window and yell: “There is no plan!”
But those theatrics wouldn’t have worked. How could there be no plan? ‘These are real, human babies being planned for,’ I would have thought. ‘This is my career and the identity I treasure because of it. How could there be no plan?’
Let me be clear, today there was a plan that got my kids to school, and my work tasks done in three chunks of time (10:27am-12:28pm, then 2:52-5:29pm, and now 7:16pm-onoing). But the last decade’s childcare/professional career balance has been scrapped together with “plans” like:
- Work 20 hours a week until that becomes too much; then reduce to 5 hours a week when the babies are tiny; then ramp back up gradually to 12 hours a week
- Find childcare in the most unforeseen places: a neighbor who becomes a dear friend; a dear friend who essentially becomes a parenting coworker as you carpool together; a friend’s parent who has time and love for your child
- In your kids’ first years of preschool when you “pay to go to work”; you will instead pay to build your kids’ immune systems and end up at home with sick kids for literally weeks on end… and still have to work at night when they go to bed
- When your third is born and your role in team meetings is non-negotiable, you will bring your baby to the office and nurse him through your updates
- When a pandemic hits and you find yourself running virtual school for a kindergartener and second grader while the little one plays cars on the floor around you all, you will still show up to team meetings and learn how to be comfortable not apologizing for the background noise and snack breaks
I couldn’t have taught myself how to put together these plans. And I certainly can’t teach them to you. All I can say is this:
May you be so lucky to have – or be able to create – a place where you can show up to work as a parent without apologizing for it.
And also, screw luck. We have to make our own way. Our system is so broken in such paralyzing ways: childcare, the shift away from multi-generational families living under the same roof (or even in the same city, in my case), the lack of progress in breaking down gender roles at home and at work.
And yet, there are ways we can push towards change on a daily basis. For me it all seems to center around what we choose to say… and not say. If we are brave enough, we can harness the power of our own words.
Did we say “mom”, when we could have said “parent”? Because the faster we recognize that everyone must participate in the solution, the better. #momlife seems innocent enough, but if we mothers want to lay claim to the burdens of parenting, then I believe we will remain disproportionately burdened by parenting.
Did we ask our boss and teammates if it would be okay to flex our hours or join that occasional meeting with a new baby? Or did we stay silent?
As my boss Emily will tell you, making accommodations to support working parents pays multitudes in employee recruitment and retention. Through many awkward, uncomfortable, emotional, and eventually ho-hum, conversations, Emily and I have continued to carve out an employment relationship that has been mutually beneficial for over eight years. Stay tuned, because she’ll be sharing a list of nine workplace norms VISIONALITY has implemented as my career, my children and this company have grown alongside each other. I’ll be honest, I often have to remind myself that I’m worth it. Nine parenting policies at this organization just for me? But, of course, it’s not just for me. It’s to break this destructive belief that employees aren’t worth as much when they become parents. It’s for my teammates and their future families. It’s to be model for our local community, our industry, and workplaces as a whole. Most simply put, it’s the human thing to do.