Parenthood in the Workplace

Sunday’s NYT style section ran a really important piece on President Obama and how he doesn’t miss his daughter’s recitals, parent teacher conferences or any important events. As someone who spent my full-time working-motherhood career essentially doing my best to hide the fact that I was a parent, I loved reading this article.

My initial reaction to the piece was totally bratty – I thought – well shit, if the leader of the free world can make time to attend band recitals (is it me or has “American Pie” forever made band a dirty thing?) or parent-teacher conferences, then no parent can honestly be too busy or too important to miss these things. But it’s way more complicated than that – and the story did touch on that. Being that he is the President, Obama can do whatever the hell he wants – and the rest of us – well, we probably don’t have that kind of authority. The majority of working parents answer to someone and that someone might not be thrilled with an 11am band recital (ha ha – band camp).

Though I am home full-time now, I’m still pretty scarred from my experience working full-time and being a mom. Granted I know much of the experience has to do with where you work and who you work for – and it’s safe to say having been the only working mom in a senior level position – I was not in a family friendly environment. My experience was – everyone knew I had a baby and that was fine – it was nice to have pictures of her in my office – but beyond that – don’t mention it. Get to work, do your job, but if there’s a drama with the nanny or a sick kid or an unexpected anything – as well, life seems to be when you have kids, it’s certainly not a reason to miss a meeting. And please…..don’t tell us about it.

The thing is – do I necessarily think this is a bad thing? Not necessarily. You don’t need to have kids to have shit happen to you outside the office and I know this is a common complaint among people who don’t have children – they don’t get special exceptions, why should I? And I worked for someone who didn’t have children and wasn’t ever going to have children.

Would I have remained in the workforce if I’d been in a warmer environment? One that was more flexible and accommodating – probably.

So then should employers be more flexible towards working parents? Do parents deserve special exceptions because they do have greater responsibilities beyond the office?

And is the President paving the way?  Unlike me, who used to try to sneak in side doors to hide just how late I was, Obama is completely out of the closet regarding his parenthood responsibilities. Will his priorities help force more changes in American business culture towards families?

The other important part of this article, in my all-important view, was the discussion of fatherhood and working.  Apparently the President’s priorities are representative of a generational shift in how fathers view their role. I, for one, don’t see it. My dad worked like a crazy person but the  man was at every painful band recital, he coached girls basketball (and yes, we usually were shooting for the wrong basket in 6th grade…he was most likely thinking “I left work for this shit?”), and I’m sure I hoped he would miss most parent-teacher conferences. So – I’m not sure whether my dad was an anomaly but I recall seeing my friends dads out there right along with him. So is this a convenient generational shift for the media or is it real? Cause I wouldn’t have married a man who doesn’t consider these things just as important as I do. Would you? I’m thinking there are probably some fathers who are still very involved and others who are less-so – just like in generations past.

Moving on, the piece cites a survey conducted by the Families and Work Institute. The survey reveals that men, more than women, feel caught between parenthood and working, revealing that 59% of men feel a work-life conflict.


Ummm…….was this survey conducted in renown family friendly France where all the women were off on a year-long maternity leave when they participated?

Cause there’s no way this survey was conducted here in the States. I’m not challenging that 60% of fathers feel a work-life pull. What I’m actually LAUGHING about is that working fathers feel this pull more so than working moms.

Am I alone here people?

One Response to Parenthood in the Workplace
  1. Amy@UWM
    February 21, 2010 | 2:56 pm

    Good post. Thanks for pointing to the NYT article. Sadly most parents don’t enjoy family-friendly workplaces. Fortunately, my work environment is and I’ve been able to hang on to my career with my fingernails. Truth is, most men don’t feel the work-life pull here as they do in France because most are not tasked with child-rearing responsibilities as women are. If more men were responsible for showing up to parent-teacher conferences, dropping off the dry-cleaning, doing the grocery shopping or getting poster-board for the science projects, more would feel that tug and the workplace would be a very different place.

    Should non-parents feel resentful about parents getting “special” consideration? It’s a good question and I can understand how they would feel that way. You can argue that parents are paying a service to our country by cultivating the next generation of our country, while non-parents are not. But the better solution might be workplaces that were more accommodating to family obligations in general — meaning caring for all close family members and not just kids — so that work-life policies benefited everyone.

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