Parenting and the progressive workplace, pt. 1
“Pray, don’t find fault with the man that limps,
Or stumbles along the road.
Unless you have worn the moccasins he wears,
Or stumbled beneath the same load.”
May T. Lathrap wrote that poem, “Walk a Mile in His Moccasins” in 1895 that admonishes us to be mindful not to judge another until we have experienced what they have gone through. It is where we get the popular saying that we should walk a mile in someone’s moccasins to understand how it feels.
Parenting and work
I always thought I was a compassionate and empathetic person. I would listen to the cries of working moms and dads and figured I understood what they had to deal with, until I put on their moccasins and started walking the road with the load of a single caretaker of an infant.
I had no idea of the gamut of emotions, responsibilities and needs working parents have. Here are just a few:
Leaving a young baby in the care of another, whether a trusted loved one, friend or caretaker, especially for extended hours, is hard, no matter how old the child is. As a former teacher, I can now understand why parents want the best for their children’s education and environment. Firstly, school fees are not cheap. And even if the child is getting a “free” education, nothing is free. There are still the expenses of uniforms, shoes, supplies, meals, activities, exam fees and other things that may pop up during the school year. I don’t care how loving the caretaker; nothing beats doing it yourself. And when you can’t, it feels bad. You feel like you are letting the child down and that the child won’t know you as well as they could have if you were around them more.
Meeting the needs of a child and a job and the rest of life’s responsibilities is, at the very least, demanding. There were days I thought I would crack, and as a result, I began to shed responsibilities like snake skin. I never thought I would say no to requests to speak or sing, but I did — and I do. Whatever I do now has to fit into the time I have around a baby’s schedule, how much energy I will have to do it, and if it is really that important for me to do it, knowing how much or little time I may have already had with the baby.
Getting just a few hours of broken sleep and then being expected to perform at optimum levels of productivity is tough, not to mention that she is only a baby so I had to help her find her rhythm, just as I had to find mine. She doesn’t understand that I have to go to work while she gets to sleep in. All she knows is when her tummy is empty, when her diapers are full and if she is sleeping or awake.
Fear about money,
absences and job loss
I always said if I was a parent that I would be a stay-at-home mom. I think I only had that desire because my mom stayed home when I was born and I liked the structure and routine of that. Everything was on a schedule, and my mom was always around. I liked that and wanted that for my children. I realize now that it is a very realistic dream and, in fact, even if I couldn’t stay at home, I would want to stay at home for at least the first year or two of my child’s life, for both of us to get adjusted and for me to be the primary influence in her life. Today, I don’t have that luxury. This baby needs my income to have a happy life. While she is super important, keeping my work responsibilities is important, too, so that her daily needs are met.
Need for time off
So the unthinkable happened: the baby got really sick and I had to take her to the clinic. I’m still on probation at my job and a friend was a bit harsh with me and said, “Look, I don’t like how that baby sounds. You need to get her to the doctor right away. Don’t wait until you are off on Saturday.” This was Wednesday. Sure enough, the doctor was very alarmed at her breathing and said if she didn’t respond to the treatment in the clinic, I would have to take her to the hospital. Of course what was supposed to be a lunch time check-up, turned into a four hour emotional roller coaster for me and my baby. I attempted to go back to work, but my nerves were fried and my emotions were all over the place. I had no real support so I had to dig deep and deal with things myself. My mind was unfocused and I couldn’t return to work that day.
I have a friend who left a job because she felt left out of her child’s life. His dad was the one doing the pick-ups and drop-offs, attending parent-teacher conferences, school activities and meetings. She felt like she was an observer of her child’s life and had to decide between advancing her career, satisfying employer demands and actively participating with intention and attention in her child’s life. What if her employer had allowed her some flexibility in her schedule to be able to come in early and leave early so she could be a part of an activity related to her child? What if she could have taken that day off without it being a spoken or unspoken issue? She probably would have stayed on the job.
The role of the workplace in parenting
I marvel daily at how mothers and fathers do this work and parenting thing day in and day out. I must admit they make it look easy, but it’s not. I’ve learned quickly that it takes a village to raise a child. Parents need a lot of help when parenting, whether as new parents or ones who are growing with their children through all the stages of their young lives.
What is the role of the workplace in this village? The employment legislation and workplace policies with regard to leave and reasonable accommodations for parents — both mother and father — must reflect both the needs of the parents and the needs of the organization. Believe it or not, people are not machines or just names in a database. These real parenting issues can have a tremendous effect on productivity and retention. In Part Two I will reveal some of the best practices that other countries are doing to assist parents at work.
• Simmone L. Bowe, MSc, SPHRi, is a seasoned human resource and organization development consultant & trainer, speaker, author, and mentor who focuses on helping business owners, leaders and professionals diagnose their people and performance problems and implement strategic solutions. For comments, queries and bookings, email email@example.com.