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?