Category Archives: Family-Friendly Policies at Work

The “Chore Wars” and the “Second Shift”

Another busy week here at WM – so I am re-posting something I wrote last summer – because I notice a lot of traffic still coming to my site from this article and well – the topic is still relevant to all of us: the second shift, the roles of dads, and more. So please – read on and comment!


I eagerly purchased the August 8 Time Magazine issue with Ruth Davis Konigsberg’s cover story “Chore Wars.” I was ready to hear the news, I was excited for her insights into new research. I read it and was irritated and disappointed because there seemed to be so much opportunity for a new discussion, one focused on the increasing role of fathers at home, the struggles fathers face with balancing work and family but instead it was clouded by the same old woe-is-me of the second shift facing moms and boring old attempts at stoking the fire in the mommy wars debate.

Over the past two weeks, I struggled with which direction to take my reaction to her article because there is so much to say. In the end, I’ve decided that the more productive thing is for me to point out what, from my perspective in my experience as a full-time working mom, she missed. I also want to point out where, from my perspective, as an at-home mom (who also works but what sort of “label” is there for a mom who can wear whatever she wants, is home with her kids, but crams work in when they nap and at night?) – where she really confused me in her argument and analysis of new data.

Can you relate?

Issue #1: Working Moms & Time Spent with Children

First, in case you haven’t read the piece, the allure of the title is meant to enlighten you on new research that basically invalidates this notion of the “second shift” for working moms because new research shows that fathers are doing much more around the house and fathers feel much more pressure to get home and engage in their kids lives. Personally, I really can’t stand it when researchers give us precise time breakouts – in this instance we learn that working women are doing 1hr. 10 min. a day of “child care” and men are now doing an average of 53 min., almost 3x the amount they did in 1965. My first question is this: Since when do we refer to being with our children as “child care”? And secondly – really – who does this apply too? If someone had told me when I was working full-time that I spent 1 hr and 10 min a day with my kid, I would have smacked them in the face because I clocked every minute I spent with my kids and every minute mattered to me – it mattered so much that I raced around like a fool to every other part of my daily life – just to be sure I got as many minutes as possible with my young daughter. And also, my kid woke at 5:30am, so I well surpassed that hour before I even left for work. So can we stop with the minute-by-minute break down people?

Secondly, the author skims over the fact that time diaries don’t account for the stress women feel when managing a family and keeping the schedule a float and to me – that’s where much of the story is when you are talking about full-time working moms and time. Just keeping the family schedule takes an extraordinary amount of time and organization, whether you go to an office all day or stay home, and the stress of managing it and keeping things running smoothly is something that in my experience, usually the moms handle.  And as much as we bitch, most of us handle it because we are control freaks and the idea of letting it go to our husbands makes us recoil. Whether we admit it or not. Also, when I was working full-time, I might have complained about how time-consuming it was but also, it kept me very involved in the day-to-day, something I needed to quell my own issues with being gone.

Back to the “chore wars” concept, I think that this piece was not meant to pit women against men, however, and really no good comes out of that. This notion of accounting for time spent and tracking inequities only perpetuates anger and resentment among couples with young children because it’s completely unrealistic to think that the responsibilities that come with raising young children can be divided equally. It also doesn’t account for the fact that often times, especially when sick, little kids just want their moms. So it’s mom who is going to leave work, call pediatrician, fill prescriptions and launder the vomited sheets. And make no mistake, mom is exhausted but mom loves to be needed. Even if she’s bitching at her husband along the way. That’s parenthood – so the media’s constant interest in perpetuating the concept of fair division of labor is unnecessary and unproductive. It ain’t ever gonna be equal or fair, people, not when we’re talking about young kids. It’s just damn hard work.

Issue #2: Working Moms & Free-Time

To me – the real story when she was focusing strictly on working  moms and time – is on free-time. She skims right over what was, for me, the biggest struggle and most exhausting part of working full-time and having young kids. She notes that research shows the quality of free-time for working moms has worsened: “women have less opportunity to relax in a way that recharges their batteries.” Umm…could there be a bigger understatement? Here’s where I think there is an important distinction when you talk about the lives of women working in an office all day long and women who stay home with their kids, whether they work-at-home or whether their full-time job is tending to the kids (which, let’s not forget, is an ENORMOUS full-time job). When you work full-time, unless you have the luxury of having a nanny who not only keeps your house clean when you are gone and does your kid’s laundry, but also runs all your errands, buys your groceries and preps your meals (which most people don’t have), then this leaves you the weekend to get lots of work done to keep the house going. But the weekend is also when you get that quality uninterrupted time to spend with your kids that you crave from being gone all week – which means if you’re anything like I was – you usually spend afternoon nap time racing around like a maniac getting everything done – which means you have little-to-no time that is just for you. And everyone needs some quality time just for themselves. So again, it was disappointing to me that in this area – which is so critical and so exhausting for working moms – this topic was just sort of glossed over so we could instead evaluate how many minutes we spend with our children compared to at-home  moms.

Speaking of those pesky at-home moms, I actually do belive that at-home moms have a greater chance to find free time on the weekends than working moms because they NEED time AWAY from their children -and it’s good to let the husbands have some alone quality time with the kids – so the at-home moms can – and do – head out on weekends by themselves to decompress and recharge their batteries.

Issue #3: The Inevitable Pitting of Working Moms Against At-Home Moms

So again, this piece on chore wars and the division of labor between spouses ended up adding fuel to the mommy wars with this ridiculous time diary research stating that “The group that has benefited the most from women entering the work force is, ironically, stay-at-home mothers, whose husbands are doing more child care…Among married couples with children under 6, Bianchi’s analysis shows non-employed mothers spend only 10 more hours a week on child care than moms with full-time jobs.”

Ok. What?

First of all, again, why does she keep referring to raising our own kids as child care?? Isn’t that called parenting? And secondly, I conducted a totally scientific research study by revisiting my past self as a full-time working mom and spent some time with her vs. my current self who is home full-time and I can tell you this: I spend WAY more time with my kids than 10 hours a week more than my past self did. Where do they get this crap and can we get some context? Specifically because she is talking about families with children under the age of 6, as is the case in my house, so these kids aren’t in kindergarten all day. So unless she found a group of women who stay home full-time and send their children away to daycare most of the day while they toil around and eat bon bons at home, then how is it possible to state at-home moms basically spend a little more than an hour more a day with their kids than full-time working moms? (Could I get that for like a week, though?) This actually really pissed me off because it feeds into this antiquated cultural notion that at-home moms don’t do anything and are “bored.”

My other issue is she skims over the fact that working moms pass off housework duties, thereby lessening their burden at home, but doesn’t account for how at-home moms are exhausted just from maintaining that aspect of a household. When I worked full-time, I always came home to a clean house. If your kids are in daycare all day, they aren’t home tearing up the house. If they are home with a nanny, her job is to make sure the house is clean when you walk in the door. When you are home all day with your kids, you’ve cleaned up 5x by 10am. That’s work in my book. Anyhow, I digress. My point – this “chore wars” piece was more about working moms vs. at-home moms than it was about the wonderful news that  most of us already knew – which is that men are more engaged and involved at home now than they used to be.  

Issue #4: The “Slacker Dad Myth”

So this disgruntled house-work dad is a thing of the past now, eh?

In the end, what Konigsberg’s piece did which was productive, from my perspective, is shed light on new research showing that working fathers feel more pressure to balance family with their careers and yet the workplace makes fewer accommodations for fathers than for mothers. I wish that she had spent some more time focusing on how many employers offer paid paternity leave and how many fathers actually use that paternity leave. One friend noted that though her husband’s firm offered something astronomical like 6 weeks of paid paternity leave, it was “career suicide” to actually use it.

The Wired Momma Conclusion

So – that was my long-winded way of reaching these three conclusions after reading the “chore wars”:

1. Working moms deserve more time to themselves and I’m not sure how they’re going to get it unless their employers offer them more flexibility and the moms use some of that extra flexible time to decompress instead of with their young kids.

2. In my right mind, I can’t see how in the world at-home moms spend only 10 hours  more a week with their kids and why do we even keep talking about it? What purpose does it serve beyond feeding the notion that at-home moms are bored and mindless keepers of children?

3. Dads are doing more – but women are setting themselves up for a world of disappointment when they are pregnant if they actually think there will be a fair and equal division of labor – just buck it up – have an involved husband and realize parenting young kids is more work than you can believe until you are doing it.

Did you read the article? What do you think?

Final WM Conclusion – “Like” the Wired Momma Facebook page so you don’t miss out!

Juggling Moms – is there a Shangri-La to work and life?

The law does not mandate work-life balance,” nor does it “require companies to ignore and stop valuing ultimate dedication, however unhealthy that may be for family life,” said Judge Preska this summer regarding the Bloomberg discrimination against pregnant and working mothers case.

“There’s no such thing as work-life balance,” Mr. Welch told the Society for Human Resource Management’s Conference a few years ago. “There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences.”

“Once you get off the escalator, you don’t get back on,” said my investor relations professor in graduate school, to a room filled with 20-something women who were eager to achieve career success and planned on eventually having children. We all looked nervously at each other after hearing what this woman, a wildly successfully IR PR professional for a Fortune 500 company, a Northwestern University graduate school professor and mother, had to say to us so very bluntly. Could she be right, we all worried?

Each of these statements are harsh, unforgiving, blunt and brutal. But are they wrong? Among the world of Type A, educated, successful, intelligent women, in this eternal quest for “balance” and “juggling” – are we creating expectations that just aren’t realistic?

Please tell me that this isn't what I look like handling my life

Balance implies equal parts, right? Juggling, well aside from the fact that creepy circus clowns are the only people who actually juggle, isn’t the idea of juggling meant to be fun? You’ve mastered a sport, you are having fun, you are showing off your talents. Do any of these things sound remotely like what it is like to have a career and a family?

Not in my experience.

Welch might hail from an 80s-era business philosophy of good-old boys and face-time in the office, things that we are slowly chipping away at with time and technology but is his statement actually antiquated and incorrect? I don’t think so. We individually decided to have children knowing that it would change our lives forever and dramatically. And from my almost 6 years in, the biggest consequence is not the lack of sleep, the unwanted lines appearing on my face, the amount of time I’ve spent cleaning hynies or even having to say that word, or wasted hours watching the same “Backyardigans” episode on repeat. The biggest consequence is the fundamental change in my career.

But I don’t view it as a permanent one or that I’ve been victimized in the work place. I actually disagree with my grad school professor that once you get off the escalator you can’t get back on. But it would be naive for me to think I’d get back on in the same spot and continue on the same path. The thing is, if I wanted that, I wouldn’t have stepped off.

Ultimately, we can “mommy track” ourselves and have more time to see our kids after school, take them to playdates, get them to the doctors when they are sick, volunteer in class and all these other things that happen during the business day. What I don’t understand is why this is viewed as a bad thing instead of the reality of choosing to create more time for our kids, to the detriment of our career.

Or, we can remain on the upward trajectory of high-achieving business success, the kind that shatters glass ceilings. And in making that choice, we know that someone else will spend more time raising our children than we are. But that is our decision. I guess what I’m saying is I don’t disagree with Welch and I don’t disagree with Judge Preska. Ask someone without children how they feel about working parents getting promoted above them if the working parent spends fewer hours in the office, travels less, and comes in late more?  Those people don’t care about our reasons because we decided to have the family.

Doesn't she look confident and in charge?

The good news is I think that we don’t need to be making final and ultimate decisions right now. I think the work place has evolved into an arena where you can stay in the game, take on less, but in time, ramp back up. I think that instead of spending our time on this eternal quest for the shangri-la of motherhood, the ultimate in work-life balance, we need to do what we talked about a few weeks ago -see the whole picture – see that there are ebbs and flows to life and own our decisions, be proud of them, and be at peace with the consequences of them. So may of us have periods of work intensity but perhaps it can follow with a period that is more family focused, we can get promoted but then maybe we want to remain at that level for longer than our pre-children selves imagined we would. We can try to stay home, realize we don’t like it, and return to work with more vigor and dedication than we had before but with a peace of mind that we are proud of this decision because we’ve tried the other way. We step off the escalator and let our future selves worry about how and when we get back on, knowing the financial implications this brings to our household.

I firmly believe that what makes you “supermom” is owning your decision, recognizing the consequences and accepting the reality that you can’t give it all to both. “Balance” is for the birds, as my mom would say. Own it, be realistic about the consequences, realize life constantly changes and be proud of it.

What do you think? Is there such thing as work-life balance? Can you be wildly successful at work and also have “enough” time with your kids? Do you think you can step off the elevator and get back on?

Breastfeeding DC Cop & Nursing Rights at Work: Hypocrisy Abounds in DC

OK – first – I have summer brain drain from July 4 weekend and also was out-of-town – so I haven’t been following this story super carefully. I read it with great interest late last week online and then am now today seeing this piece in the Washington Examiner. For those of you who are also, like me, on summer time,  let me catch you up. Apparently a DC police officer is being penalized because she is a nursing mother and the police department is unwilling to provide her with body armour that is suitable for her body because she is nursing, but will not authorize her to work at a desk job, therefore she must take leave without pay.

She must take leave without pay because she used up all her sick leave to take maternity leave for her second delivery.

Now – again – remember that I haven’t followed this story carefully – I do not know if there is more to this story (like about this specific police officer) and for quite some time, I’ve respected and thought very highly of DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier – so something feels like it doesn’t add up to me – but then again, I am not an investigative journalist – so I leave the rest of the story to someone else.

Here’s what I know. We are a nation where hypocrisy ABOUNDS. We shove mommy guilt down the throats of new moms in the form of “breast is best” and all the reasons why the infants will suffer without their mother’s milk and yet we offer no federally mandated paid maternity leave to HELP new mothers exclusively breastfeed and provide for their families and then when nursing mothers return to work – we don’t offer them some place sanitary to nurse, somewhere private, and in many cases, even the time off needed to pump at work. And where does anyone talk about the huge hassle of lugging that pump to work, how much it weighs, how horrible it is to transport the  milk on say, the metro, or idling on beltway traffic, etc etc.  So again, we should exclusively  nurse our children, but how that is logistically possible when we have responsibilities at work, paychecks we need and bosses to answer to who couldn’t care less about leaking boobs and clogged ducts, isn’t anyone’s problem but the nursing mom’s problem?

So as this story plays out in the backyard of the Obama White House, I call to your attention my interview with an employment law expert from the EEOC, where she discusses the Affordable Care Act that Obama passed last year. The very law requiring employers (of a certain number of employees) to offer women a sanitary place to pump at work – that is NOT the bathroom. Noteworthy – this law applies mainly to hourly workers – but Obama did compel the government to do better, to be more resourceful, so are we doing that?

Government, which includes the DC Metropolitan Police Department by my last count, can a woman not return from maternity leave, still pump as needed, and do her job? As in get paid to do her job? Are we really so draconian that women are being penalized for the very thing they are being told they should do for the health and welfare of their newborn children? Really people?  This is the best we can do, the day after we celebrate our independence?

Update: A nurse-in has been organized for this Saturday July 9 from 10-12pm:

Metropolitan Police Headquarters
300 Indiana Avenue, NW
Washington, DC

The group will be gathering to show support for the breastfeeding police officers of the Metropolitan Police Department and to raise awareness of the Department’s lack of accommodation for them. Here’s the FB page link:!/event.php?eid=245764152117193

Is DC really the most “Family Friendly” city?

The Washington Post’s new On Parenting Blogger, Janice D’Arcy, scooped us earlier this week when she noted that Parenting Magazine’s July issue names DC as the most “family friendly” city in the nation.

At first my heart swelled with pride for my hometown (well, kind of my hometown. Does 15 years count?)

Then I patted myself on the back a few times for being smart enough to raise my kids here. I did a few victory laps, I relished the notion that my children will be cultural savant’s because of the plethora of museums at our disposal and the excellent public education system.

But then I thought about living here. You know – actually living here – and the reality of it – and there is so much that is wonderful about DC. But I think we’re remiss in not discussing one really important topic as we all swell with pride over raising our kids in this most “family friendly” town in the country.

Umm…family friendly? Really? If you’re sitting in an office right now, are you surrounded by family-friendly policies that encourage you to have a work-life balance, enable you to skip out at 2pm without a care in the world, to take your suddenly ill child the docs and then roll in late tomorrow because little Johnny has a year-end  play?

I didn’t think so.

So yes, I do think that DC is an amazing city and one with so many advantages for raising children over others – starting not just with our free museums and fabulous zoo but with our strong housing market and decent job market as compared to other cities. But where I think DC lacks desperately is in leading the way with family friendly work policies, ones that support both parents in needing flexibility. Policies that recognize that horrible beltway traffic coincides with projectile vomiting child coincides with work meeting at 4pm and something’s got to give and you can choose your kid’s needs over your place of employment and not be judged for doing so. And it being the capital city, I think the onus is on our government (including Senate and House offices) and the companies headquartered here (including all the trade associations) to really carve the path towards supporting family friendly policies – not just including them in the employee handbook – but actually actively supporting them, encouraging employees to partake in flexible work schedules – and realizing that working from home can – and does – actually mean you work at home and, in my experience, accomplish  more than you can at work with all the other disruptions.

And note – I don’t consider things like “back up childcare” and childcare reimbursement pre-tax policies as the kind of family-friendly policies I’m looking for – because those policies help me remain at work – they don’t help me see my kids.

So yes, Parenting Magazine, DC is a fabulous town for so many reasons (though I also question their kid friendly restaurant reasoning – either that or I am spending way too much time at local Mexican restaurants or Pizza joints) – and I am proud that we topped the list. But before we get ahead of ourselves, I ask you what you think ?

What’s your reaction to DC being named most family-friendly? Have you seen an improvement in work-life balance policies at your office? Are others participating in family-friendly programs or is it the kiss of death to be the only person who actively uses these policies?