Before I even get started, I feel the need to preface this by mentioning how scary it is for me to “out” myself as a parent in so public a professional forum as LinkedIn. As a founder of a career consulting agency, I am well aware that the common advice for job-seekers is to remove all traces of motherhood from things like resumes or LinkedIn profiles, even when the experience might be relevant (like successfully managing a large parenting group or fundraising experience for a school).
I have personally experienced the mood of an interview go from hot to cold in an instant when I let slip that I had a kid. Sometimes after hours of interviewing, when the CEO of a company asks you what you like to do in your spare time, you want to answer honestly.
“I don’t see how it would work to have a 4-year old and work at a startup” was the curt reply to my disclosure of a child sandwiched between all of the other more acceptable weekend practices like yoga and hiking. In retrospect, I wish I had pointed out that my son was in daycare during the week, so I didn’t see why it was an issue. Instead I was dumbfounded into silence. Another time, again at the final stage after multiple rounds of interviewing when I haphazardly showed my cards, I was asked why I “would even want to work when I had a 10-month old at home?” After each of those experiences, I went no further in the interview process. And so, I learned my lesson. (Worth mentioning: My husband recently accepted a new position, proudly talking about his family during the interviews with no apparent repercussions.)
The decision on whether to work outside the home after having kids is not an easy one for many. Actually, for many parents—due to financial constraints or otherwise—they don’t have the luxury of choice. For those of us that do have that choice to make, it can be a complex decision, not to mention a constantly moving target. Many times I have witnessed a decision that seemed so clear-cut before the baby is born, become no longer so black-and-white several months later. Or perhaps, the decision you make works at first, but a change in the position or in your child makes the original solution no longer work a few years down the road.
I love being a parent, and I love to work. Through trial and error, I have found that neither extreme of the full-time working or full-time “staying at home” spectrum works for me. When I was working a grueling corporate job, by the time Friday rolled around, I felt actual pain in my heart from so many cumulative hours being away from my son. I have also had periods when I wasn’t working, and I felt overwhelmingly isolated being a full-time parent. I found the lack of structure and professional interaction difficult.
Why does it seem like the options presented to 2-parent households are that either both parents work jobs consisting of too many hours (with most or all of one of the parent’s salary going to childcare), or that one works full-time, and the other not at all? It is 2015, and we cannot come up with a few more options? I know they are out there, but they are rare. I took at job with American Express a few years ago, ecstatic upon learning that many Directors and VPs worked four-day weeks for 80% pay. At last, a job where I could have a schedule that fit my life and still be considered for promotions. Unfortunately, when I inquired about joining the program myself, I was told that it had been discontinued except for the colleagues who were lucky enough to have been “grandfathered” in.
What is it about the 40 hour work week that we find so sacred? We accept as truth that a normal full-time job should be five days per week. As if every job out there can be accomplished on some kind equivalent time table, ignoring, for example, the technological advancements that have made so many industries more efficient over the last century.
One of the American Express executives who had participated in the aforementioned program for years confessed to me that she was convinced she could do any job just as well working four days a week instead of five. And although I am focusing here on the advantages for parents, generating additional work scenarios with less hours would certainly benefit people without children as well. There are many equally valid reasons one might choose to have a flexible schedule — to pursue outside passions, go back to school or to help take care of ailing parents being a few.
Right now I work for myself, commuting to the city one day a week to work out of a co-working space. Most days I can meet my oldest son when he gets off the bus, and I love that. There also have been, and continue to be, many struggles.
My hope is to find unique ways we can support each other, wherever we fall on the work/parenting continuum. I am so tired of articles pitting so called working and stay-at-home parents against each other, as if we are not all doing the best we possibly can with the resources we have available. I have to believe that I am not alone in wanting to create some additional options for mothers and fathers that, like me, fall more into the gray area.
I am heartened by articles like this one, which describes creative solutions to combat the high price of child-care, and this story about how Google is actually saving money and retaining more of its female employees after increasing parental leave to five months This is a start, but we can all contribute to the momentum. If you run a business, or are in the position to create programs with increased flexibility, please start to experiment with them. Offer them to men and women, parents and non-parents alike. If you are an employee and would like to try out a new schedule, start by asking your manager if you could have one afternoon off a week and see if your productivity is affected. I did this and my manager was surprisingly supportive. But start now. Speak up, and see what happens.