May 9, 2012
For Mother's Day, honor mothers by changing the workplace
On Sunday, mothers around the country will be showered with flowers, gifts and pancakes by their appreciative children and families. I will be part of this national lovefest, and I will enjoy it as I do every year.
But I can't help thinking that one fervent wish I have harbored since I became a mother will not be fulfilled by a pot of tulips, a spa day or even the adoration of my loved ones.
I was reminded again of this unfulfilled mother's desire when I recently rejected a job offer.
The job was with an exciting, vibrant company, doing work that I felt comfortably qualified for but would have also challenged me and broadened my skill set. The more I learned about the position, the more convinced I became that the company would benefit from my expertise and that I would be effective and valuable in the job.
But I said no when the offer came. Reluctantly, I walked away from a great career opportunity and good compensation.
Why? Because of a lack of flexibility that would not work with my other role as a mother.
The problem facing working women in the U.S. that usually receives the most attention is the absence of paid leave. Though mothers in Washington state fare better than in other states, tens of millions of new mothers around the country have no access to paid leave after their child is born and minimal job protection under federal standards.
But there is a secondary and seemingly more taboo crisis gripping working parents, and mothers in particular: The dearth of family-friendly work options, such as part-time professional positions, job shares and flex-time solutions.
Without viable workplace solutions, I continue to struggle to reconcile my drive to participate fully in the workforce with my desire for time to raise my children. Without these solutions for parents, particularly of children elementary-school age and younger, there is no work/life balance.
I know from speaking to dozens of professional women that I am not alone in this struggle. In the past three months alone I have heard these lamentations:
"I have never turned down so much money in my life."
"Instead of working 30 hours a week I'm working 50, and those extra 20 hours come right from my kids."
"I want to advance my career, but I want to pick up my kids from school."
Many professional women and mothers have difficulty even speaking openly about the desire for flexible work solutions, because we do not want to be regarded as whiners or as problems. But this is a very real concern for a huge segment of the American workforce.
I've tried it all, including working full time, with the expensive childcare and hyper-coordination needed to pull it off; and staying at home full time with my children, where I enjoyed feeling for once like a 100 percent effective mother but was, frankly, bored, too.
As for many workers, self-employment has offered me many valuable benefits -- flexibility in schedule, the choice to ramp up or scale down the intensity of work during a given period, autonomy.
I miss out on some things, too: A physical team of work mates, the satisfaction of a joint project or goal, a company 401(k).
Of course, there are many reasons to work (financial necessity, personal satisfaction, the maintenance and advancement of one's career), and some parents have less luxury of choice than others.
There's a mental-health component, too. Mothers who work full- and part-time paid jobs report being less depressed than mothers who are home with their children.
Mothers who work part time as opposed to full time also have fewer work/family conflicts (a no-brainer), according to a study published in the December issue of the Journal of Family Psychology.
These statistics confirm my own experience, but I also dislike them -- or, rather, I dislike the need to cite them. I don't want to justify my reasons for how much I want or need to work, and in what style I would like to be able to work (any more than an attorney wants to explain over and over why he chose probate law over public defense).
I just want to pursue the kind of work I want to pursue. I want options beyond self-employment, so that I can be a valuable employee, an economic contributor, and a sane and engaged parent.
I want more companies to take advantage of the skills, energy and expertise of workers who also happen to be parents and offer a wider range of flexible positions, job shares and creative employment solutions.
I suppose, like so many mothers (and increasingly, thankfully, some fathers), I want it all. And while I am one of those people who still believes ideologically that a version of "all" is possible, I will not have found the solution by this Sunday holiday, my seventh as a mother.
Happy Mother's Day to all moms. I would love to hear your thoughts on the work/parenting paradigm.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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