General Life

{Working Mothers: Leveling the Playing Field}

I should start by saying that what I’m about to express is my own opinion. Please take it for exactly what it is, an opinion. You can disagree with me, agree with me, or have no thought about it at all. But, I just wanted to be clear, that this is my own opinion, based on my own experiences, and the fact that I don’t have children. So, here goes…

Recently at work, and in my personal life, we’ve been discussing the role of women both at home and in the workplace. Now, please keep in mind I don’t have any children. So I honestly have no idea what it’s like to be a working mother. But I do work with mothers, my sisters are working mothers, my neighbors are, and my own mother worked when we were children. So I do have quite a bit of exposure to working moms.

There’s been a lot of talk both in the news and around the difficulties that working mothers face in the workplace and how to help alleviate some of the stresses they face. I think the first problem is that as a society we’ve made virtually impossible, from an economic standpoint for mothers, who would prefer not to go back to work after giving birth, to stay at home. Living in Northern Virginia, it is nearly impossible for dual-income families to make that switch to a single-income family without seriously suffering. Now I use the term “suffer” lightly, but it is definitely not a situation in which most families would want to put themselves.

The real problem is in the workplace. We treat working mothers as if they are like me – come in earlier, work later, and work weekends. But working mothers aren’t like me. They have to drop children off at a certain time in the morning and pick them up by a certain time or face additional charges. They have to direct their attention to their children no matter if it’s Monday or Saturday, so they can’t sit in front of their computer all day on the weekend. They use their sick days to stay home with their sick children. They don’t get as much sleep as me, have as much free cash as I do, and they certainly aren’t able to grab drinks with the “good ole boys” on a Tuesday at 6pm.

See, I think it’s time we leveled the playing field for working mothers. No, I’m not saying we make special concessions because they made a decision to procreate. No, YEA I AM SAYING THAT. They are only reason this population continues to grow. And by the way, it’s currently dwindling. We’re waiting later to have children because we’re putting our careers first. Then by the time we have children our workplace has become so accustomed to the way we work, that they can’t fathom the once perpetual overachiever needing to leave the office at 4:45 to pick up her children. Sure, have a baby, come back 6 weeks later, and sit through our one-hour meeting after getting 3 hours of sleep for the 10th night in a row. I don’t see why that would be a problem, do you?

Do I have a one-size fits all solution? No. Do I have suggestions? Of course!

Offer paid maternity leave. I’m talking full-scale maternity leave. Not 6 weeks of short-term disability. 3 – 4 months (12 – 16 weeks) of paid maternity leave. No mother I have spoken to was ready to come back to work at 6 weeks. They were still doing night-time feedings, no one was sleeping through the night, they were barely recovered from birth, and definitely weren’t in the right mindset to discuss long-term financial goals for our organization. Give them the time they need with their new child. Don’t force them to leave their brand new baby at daycare, it’s just cruel.

Make it easier to transition back into the workplace. Let new mothers work part-time (at PT pay) for a set period to ease back into work force. It provides the ability to get schedules back on track, accommodates late night feedings, and maybe a nap or two for exhausted new mothers. And heck, if that PT schedule works out for both the employer and the mother, why not keep it up? With the new healthcare laws that have passed, people won’t be forced to find full-time employment just to have their medical bills covered (which is a strong reason most working mothers go back immediately). If a PT situation is working for both, go with it. We’ve become so opposed to part-time schedules and I really don’t understand why. The employer still receives the benefit of their trusted employee, and the employee still has a place in workforce.

Offer paternal leave. Ever heard of it? I know it’s like a unicorn! But it truly does exist. There are some awesome companies (like mine) that offer paternal leave. It can be used within the first 6 months of the birth of the child. It isn’t, of course (and shouldn’t be), as long as maternity leave, but it is a great opportunity for men to bond with their children and help share some of the responsibility that comes with bringing a child into this world.

Don’t assume working mothers are back to their A-game the day they walk in the doors after having a child. They are doing more work than you and I could ever imagine. Raising children is a very difficult job in itself. Mothers who raise their children and hold a career are pretty phenomenal in my eyes. I’m not saying handle them with kid gloves, I’m just saying realize they may not be the same woman they were the day left on maternity leave. Talk to them, find out how they are doing, set real expectations and goals for their return.

Remember, a woman brought each and every one of us into this world. They are phenomenal creatures who shouldn’t be forced to choose between their children and their careers. There should be guidance, help, something. It just seems they are kind of alone in this, and I don’t want them to be and neither should you. So what can we do? How do we fix it? What do YOU think?

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10 thoughts on “{Working Mothers: Leveling the Playing Field}”

  1. Great post! My husband and I work for the same company and we’ve had a great transition. I got 8 weeks of fully paid parental leave in addition to the 8 weeks (C-section) of short-term disability. I used my PTO for several additional weeks and was out for 5 months total after our daughter was born. Then my husband took HIS 8 weeks. That’s right. He got the same amount of time off. I returned to work for two weeks at 50% (using PTO again), then the next two weeks at 75%, then I was back “full-time”. My husband took 8 weeks to care for Sydney, so we introduced her to daycare at 7 months.

    I’m fortunate in my role and my particular situation (returning to the same full-time client) that I can carve out my own hours, for the most part. I can get to work at 9 and leave at 4 and it’s up to me to get the work done during that time and at night after Sydney goes to sleep. It can’t last forever, though. I feel that I’m in a state of limbo with the flexibility and that I’ll need to fire all cylinders to progress in my career.

    There’s no easy answers, but awareness and flexibility are HUGE!

    1. Wow! How wonderful to have such flexibility from your client/company AND to offer parental leave that mimics the maternal leave. Very very cool! Agreed, there reaches a point where you have to make the decision to “fire all cylinders”, as you said, and what do working mothers do at that point? I’ll be interested to hear your plan moving forward and am very happy you had the smooth transition that you did. Thanks for sharing your story!! 🙂

  2. Many good thoughts here! It’s definitely tough to juggle kids and work. And, from a financial perspective, it’s almost laughable until they are in public school. You work to stay in the industry, not because you are clearing so much money above and beyond the cost of childcare. I’ve been very lucky – I got 13 weeks of maternity leave paid at 60%, plus my vacation time (about 18 weeks total, I think) and I was able to go back at 80% (I’m off on Fridays). I also was able to work from home two out of the four days that I was working. It’s a huge help not to have to commute. In addition, we get a small stipend that goes towards daycare. Really, it’s a dream situation. But, despite that, it still isn’t easy. When I am slammed at work, I pick up Palmer and then start the evening routine…I pick my work back up around 8:30 or 9 and sometimes work until 12 or 1 a.m. All worth it in the end though. 🙂

    1. Kim it sounds like your company has really worked with you to create a schedule/situation that works for you. I always like to hear that companies are a) generous with their maternity leave and b)willing to retain the talent after coming back into the workforce. I would agree that the plan is to keep working not because you are rolling in the dough, but just so that you don’t lose your competitive edge. It can’t be easy and I applaud you for being an awesome mother and employee. I can’t imagine late night working, coupled with an early riser (Palmer) can be easy. Virtual high-five momma!! 🙂

  3. Love this post! I agree with everything! I work in a mostly male environment and have to travel a lot. I feel like they don’t have sympathy when I have to step out of dinners real quick to call home and say goodnight to my kids or if I have to fly home a couple hours earlier than expected to pick my kids up from daycare. It’s a tough road and unfortunately I don’t think it’s going to get any easier for us. Especially with women like Marissa Mayer in the workforce.

    1. I would have to agree that mothers and fathers are very different. I work in the financial sector, so believe me, it’s a male-dominated workplace. Unfortunately for us, ladies like Marissa live a very different life than we do. However, I think there are many others, like Sheryl Sandberg, who truly do value their time with their families, make it priority, and make no apologies for what they do. 🙂

  4. Love the post as well 🙂 There is sort of a child care assistance in place. You can put money away, per tax, up to $5,000 per year, that you claim to reimburse your child care expenses. Its called dependent care. Certainly, $5,000 doesn’t cover an entire year of child care(it covers about 2.5 months for us) but hey, it’s something.

    I will say that as much as I love my girls, I am really happy to be back at work. There are definitely days where I’m exhausted and want to be home with my girls, but I really do enjoy being at work – full time even! Longer maternity leave would have been nice though…

  5. Love the post. My thoughts/additions:
    1. Maternity leave should begin a week or so before the due date so that the soon to be mom can rest and get in the baby mindset, free from the stresses of work.
    2. I love the what you said about going back part-time at first. I did that with my second and it made life so much easier. But if that isnt possible for companies, another option would be working from home a few days a week.
    3. Assistance with childcare. Offering pre-tax childcare benefit, etc.
    4. Offer full time employees the chance to work from home 2-3 days a week. (Same as 2). Moms really want to work from home!!!
    5. Offer flex scheduling. As long as mom is working their required hours in a week, let her choose when they are.

    Keep up the good work Megan!! LOVE your blog.

    xoxoxox

    1. Totally agree with each and every one of these Liz!

      – No reason maternity leave can’t start a week prior to the due date to give time for the arrival.
      – Being someone who works from home, I definitely agreeing offering that option would alleviate some of the stress of the morning/afternoon commute (hurrying to get out the door/hurrying to pick them up).
      – Flex scheduling is amazing for those companies that can allow such – it’s definitely something companies should look into further.
      – Childcare assistance, especially with the cost in Northern Virginia, would be extremely helpful!

      Thanks for the sweet words and for reading!!

      xoxo

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