June 25, 2006
The guilt-free working mom
Special to The Seattle Times
JOHN LOK / THE SEATTLE TIMES
These days, it's rare to find an article on motherhood and work that doesn't pit the stay-at-home mom against the working mom, or claim that one or the other is in better physical shape or a better breast-feeder or deserves a higher salary.
But considering 72 percent of U.S. mothers participate in the workforce — a majority of them because they can't afford not to work — these arguments seem a bit moot.
A more valuable conversation focuses on how stretched-to-the-max mothers (and kids) profit by flexible work hours, part-time jobs and telecommuting, say the authors of "The Motherhood Manifesto: What America's Moms Want — And What to Do About It" (Nation Books, paper, $14.95).
• A majority of working women consider job flexibility more important than compensation.
• Workers with flexible jobs are more committed to them and often more productive, which leads to lower employee turnover.
• Almost three-quarters of working adults say they have no control over their work schedule.
• 81% of part-time workers don't have health insurance.
• 163 countries give women paid leave with the birth of a child. America is not among them.
Source: "The Motherhood Manifesto: What America's Moms Want — And What to Do About It," by Joan Blades and Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner
"Flexible work options are beneficial for moms, all who have moms, and anyone who is juggling multiple responsibilities," including those who care for siblings, elders or domestic partners, says co-author Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner.
Where are these prized flex jobs? Some are in Fortune 100 companies, others in mom-and-pop enterprises. Many exist in the high-tech, nonprofit, health or creative and professional-service sectors.
We asked five Seattle-area moms to tell us their stories of how flextime helped them balance their lives:
Ann Wolken of Seattle, 34, full-time graphic-designer
Telecommuting means no more rushing from the University of Washington to pick up her two preschoolers from daycare or cramming her share of the housework into evenings.
"It allows me to get the laundry done, get some shopping done, to have dinner prepared," says Wolken.
Her husband, a self-employed graphic designer, takes advantage of his own flex schedule to split home-front duties with Wolken, including spending Fridays with the kids, saving daycare costs.
Wolken negotiated her arrangement as a "test case" after 18 months on the job. Without all the office meetings and interruptions, Wolken can plow through far more work at home. If she has to run a quick errand, she'll make up the time in the evening. And if co-workers need to reach her, she's "always available within a half an hour or an hour."
Raquel Stewart of Tacoma, 37, housecleaner
"The flexibility is the reason why I wanted to be an entrepreneur," says Stewart, who credits the autonomy of her work cleaning homes with helping her raise a now-teenage daughter on her own. "I was home to make dinner. I was able to take my daughter to school."
Advice and templates for negotiating flex jobs: www.workoptions.com
Get business training at Seattle SCORE: www.seattlescore.org
See individual health-insurance options: www.ahirc.org
Join an online community for family-friendly policies: www.momsrising.org
More resources: www.seattletimes.com/genderf
She also brought her teen to after-school and weekend jobs so the two could spend more time together and her daughter could learn the value of self-employment.
Stewart works as an independent contractor for Elaine's American Maid, an agency that subcontracts to struggling women. Besides paying its contractors what Stewart calls a "better-than-average wage," the agency encourages flextime and teaches entrepreneurship.
As her daughter nears adulthood, Stewart is using newfound "me time" to expand her client base and write a book.
Lesley Ernst of Seattle, 37, massage-therapist
She started her practice to make more money and control her own schedule: Ernst works four days a week from 1 to 8 p.m. at a studio she rents in Fremont, spending mornings home with her 3-year-old.
Ernst's husband, a carpenter, wraps up his day at a construction company by 3:30, then goes on dad duty. When both parents are at work, their daughter goes to an in-home day-care center (and once a week to an aunt's).
"[Going to work] allows me to have my brain stimulated in an adult capacity, and that's really important to me," Ernst says. "For me, it's a really nice combination."
Kim Rush of Seattle, 42, production-studio director at a creative agency serving the high-tech sector
"If I had a full-time job," says the mother of two, who works 30 hours a week, "with my commute to Bellevue, I wouldn't see my kids before school."
Rush, who's worked at Filter/Talent one year, spends five hours in the office Mondays through Thursdays and works an hour at home evenings. Fridays Rush telecommutes or works in her company's Seattle office. A full-benefits package is part of the deal.
Her home-based tech-developer husband and a part-time nanny hold down the fort while she's at the office. Besides saving her from the afternoon crawl on Highway 520, her abbreviated work schedule gives her precious extra time with her preschoolers before dinner.
"I basically want to be home when the kids wake up from their afternoon naps," she says, explaining that her brother's unexpected death just before her second child was born "gave me some perspective about how important time with family is."
Sarah Shira of Seattle, 30, real-estate agent
Shira, a former dotcom-production coordinator, sees real estate as a way to spend more time with her 5-year-old son and allay her single-mom's fear that "you can be replaced at any time" if your kid is sick one time too many. She can take three straight weekdays off during lulls in her schedule or ask a colleague to fill in if her son's ill.
On the flip side, agents are on call 24/7, and weekends are usually earmarked for client appointments and open houses. This makes for a lot of calls to baby-sitters.
"You have to be able to be flexible and say, 'I may take the next day off with my child and be at the park, but today I'm working a double,' " Shira says.
- career profile (164)
- cool jobs (68)
- education and training (61)
- entry level (70)
- etiquette (107)
- events (71)
- featured (415)
- finding your passion (95)
- health care (73)
- interviewing (88)
- job fairs (61)
- management (89)
- market trends (92)
- networking (274)
- resumes (102)
- salary (85)
- social media (91)
- technology (113)
- unemployment (55)
- work/life balance (91)