Showing up – the working parent dilemma

I know I haven’t written in a few weeks, and I apologize to the five of you who read this blog. Well, maybe slightly more than five people read it, but it’s not like I have thousands begging for my new content, so I figured I could get away with it.   The main reason I haven’t written is that I started a new job about a month ago and it’s been pretty busy.

I made a move from the agency side to the ad tech side in my field, which is social media.  This may sound like jargon to some of you, but the main point of me calling out this transition is that I just left a thousand person company that’s been in business 25+ years for an established but still relatively small startup that has just under 150 people and has been around for 7 years.  It was founded by college students, so the founders are also a good ten years younger than me.  This could have been a risk as a mom to go to a company that is small and young in both business and median age but so far it has been really great.

The company has a flexible working policy, which includes unlimited vacation days and no mandatory work hours, although a good amount of the people work on a schedule that fairly closely matches standard office hours. The policy is extremely helpful as a mom because to be part of a family with two working parents pretty much requires flexibility.  Although I am extremely busy so far every day and doing some work at night (which is pretty similar to my other jobs) I have been able to work from home already a few times. I’ve also managed to leave most days around 5:15, which means that I actually get home before Julia is asleep (she’s in bed already, but I get to chat with her for a few minutes, which is awesome).

This past Friday I worked from home so we could attend an event at Julia’s Kindergarten. It was an end of the year “Family Appreciation Day” held by her class.  It was adorable, the kids dressed up and performed a few songs and dances for us and I almost cried from cuteness.  But it was at 1:50 pm. It’s hard enough to go in to work late when there are events in the morning, But a 1:50 start time means that at best you’re getting a half day at work.  Let’s not forget that we work in the city and her school is in our home town in the suburbs.  I worked from home in the morning, but Brian had to take a 12:37 train to get back for it.

And this is just one of the events going on at the end of the year.  Thursday they had a field trip, which we didn’t volunteer for to be a chaperone, just like I didn’t volunteer for the last field trip a few weeks ago. Next week is a Flag Day performance (at 9:30 in the morning, which effectively means if I go I won’t be able to get to work until about noon with my commute if I go).  Then I just found out there is Field Day on the same day as Flag Day, if I wanted to go back to the school three hours later to watch that. And if I wanted to send my nanny in my place, too bad, because the school doesn’t allow siblings to attend so she wouldn’t be able to bring Luca. Then there’s the last day of school.  I figured unlike the first day of school, I wouldn’t stay home for it, until I found out that her kindergarten class parents have arranged for a pool party after school.  Unfortunately the last day of school pool party is the same week as Camp Orientation night which I am already leaving work early to attend, so I don’t think I can make both.

Then there’s first day of camp, which starts the Monday after school ends, and which I have to go to because our new nanny has never been there before and I want to make sure she has the process down.  And yes, I have a nanny.  And parents and in-laws who help out once a week each.  We’ve got something approximating a village working to raise our kids and we still can’t do it all.

How is a two parent working family supposed to manage all this?  I think this is a particularly challenging situation for families who commute longer distances like we do.  An event at school becomes not just the 30 or 60 minutes for the actual event, but then at least an hour and half past that – other than morning and evening rush hour, the trains around here only go into/from the city once every 30 minutes.  Then it’s a forty plus minute train ride (no expresses outside of rush hours) and then the subway trip to the office.  If I worked fifteen minutes away like some of the moms do, I’d only miss an hour or two at work at most.  But that’s assuming they have flexible schedules like I do, which is not entirely likely.  There are plenty of people who’d have to use up half or a whole of one of their few precious vacation days to attend these events.  And if they are one of the moms who only has an after school sitter and not a nanny like we do, that also means that the bulk of the rest of their vacation days are used for school breaks.

I know that traditionally women used to stay home, and that certainly there are plenty of stay at home moms still around. But it’s been at least 30-40 years that women have by and large been a major part of the work force, and I don’t understand how businesses (and schools) have not evolved to the needs of working parents (including dads).  There are certainly some great steps forward  – paternity leave policies that didn’t exist in the past, and more work from home flexibility for many workers because of computers and the internet.  But I feel like there is still a fundamentally flawed system yet not one that there feels like there’s an obvious answer to.

I can think of a few things that would help out on both sides.  Free wifi on commuter trains like the metro north where we live could help parents going into work late/leaving early score an extra 30-60 minutes of work while they commute.  More schools could have early drop off programs because if parents are regularly getting into work later than their counterparts, it doesn’t make it so easy to leave early.  Schools could offer affordable paid school vacation alternatives, like rec programs that would make it easier for parents to use days off for special events at school and not just because their kid has a winter break.  Businesses could offer a certain amount of “life event” days.  One of my former companies had these but they were limited to things like moving, bereavement or honeymoons.  Add in the option for 2-3 kid days a year would give a little relief.

I understand that I speak from a place of privilege, and that I have more resources and financials at my disposal than many parents.  So if it’s this hard for me, I can imagine how much harder it is for parents with less flexibility, less financial resources and less family around.   But regardless of the scale of who has it worse, the main point is this – we fundamentally need to figure out ways to make thing easier for working parents to be there for their kids.  Any ideas?

The Cult of Motherhood

So, raise your hand if you participated in some Mother’s Day tea or other event at your child’s school this year. Adorable, right? I imagine these things are all pretty similar, so you probably had a morning much like mine. I showed up to a little breakfast of danishes and fruit and juice. (My toddler was thrilled because there is only one food group to a toddler: carbs). We all sat in a circle on the rug and the kids sang songs to us. You Are My Sunshine, Happy Mother’s Day to You! and my own personal favorite: MOTHERP. Oh, you don’t know MOTHERP? I didn’t either. Here goes:

M is for the Many things you gave me
O is for the Other things you gave me
T is for the Thousand things you gave me
H is for the Hundred things you gave me
E is for Everything you gave me
R is for the Rest of the things you gave me
P is for the Presents that you gave me
Put them all together and they spell MOTHERP!
(children dissolve into giggles)

The kids then went around and took turns saying “I love my mother because…” First up was Emme, who revealed “I love my mother because she lets me help her do laundry.” Right on, kid. You are welcome at my house anytime. Elliott offered up “I love my mother because she takes me to play basketball at the basketball court.” Hmmm, well…it’s actually Dad that does that, but OK. I’ll take it. I freeze when I’m put on the spot like that too. We were then presented with handmade gifts. Elliott’s class made necklaces. That’s a picture of the one he made me up there at the top of this post. I love it! Not made of macaroni, and thus pretty wearable in public. All in all, super heartwarming. File it in the memory bank to keep you warm when they become ungrateful teenagers, right?

And so here we are. Mother’s Day has passed, and school ends next week, and then summer vacation. Oh and somewhere there in the hazy heat of summer, Father’s Day happens, doesn’t it? Fathers don’t get invited to school for a breakfast in their honor. Father’s don’t get serenaded, and told why they are loved in front of a whole class of kids. (Fathers don’t get handmade necklaces, but they’re probably not too broken up about that.) In the midst of summer vacation, our dads are getting shafted, which is why I think we need to move Father’s Day up a bit (or have year-round school, but that’s an essay for another time).

Sure, you can have your own Father’s Day celebration at home and do all those things-make breakfast, sing songs, etc. But I think there is something to be said about preparing as a class and giving the idea that dads deserve praise too the reinforcement of a group celebration.

What I’m getting at is the abolishment of the Cult of Motherhood. Having a class party for moms and not dads enforces the idea of the Cult of Motherhood for our offspring’s impressionable minds. Yes, it’s super awesome to have a day and a celebration for the hard work I do as a mom. And yes, I think that even today moms still do in many circumstances more of that heavy lifting of parenthood for a variety of reasons. But dads are in the trenches too, and the more we send a message of equality to our kids, the more equal the future will become.

The Cult of Motherhood is killing us. You know what it is, even if you’ve never given it much thought until reading these lines. The Cult of Motherhood says that being a mother is the most important job a woman can do. The Cult of Motherhood degrades those that can’t have kids or don’t want to have kids. The Cult of Motherhood shames working moms, and lays guilt at all of our feet whenever we choose something for ourselves over our children. The Cult of Motherhood celebrates Pinterest Moms and perfect homemade birthday cakes, and highly-planned crafting afternoons that most of us won’t ever live up to. The Cult of Motherhood has got to go.

Every time you watch a movie where the dad is a bumbling idiot played for laughs, know the Cult of Motherhood is alive and well. Have you ever seen a woman out in the wild with a misbehaving child? Chances are the people around are wondering why SHE can’t get her child under control. See a man out with a child having a tantrum, and I’d place bets that people are thinking, “Aw. That poor dad sure is having a hard time!”

I watch competent dads every day. Dads that I am exposed to are not these bumbling sit-com fathers. They are killing it. And if they aren’t killing it, they are having the same struggles of parenthood that moms are. We can’t keep putting moms on on a pedestal and expect them to know everything, while we perpetuate the idea that fathers know nothing. Fathers know. Fathers parent, they don’t babysit. Let’s raise up the dads and tear down some pedestals and start leveling this playing field a bit.

Equality will only come from a shift in thinking that includes dads more, and singles out mothers less. We don’t need to fight for maternity leave, we need to fight for parental leave. Every parent deserves to bond with a new baby, and have time to adjust to the upheaval that brings to your life. And it needs to be encouraged that dads TAKE that paternity leave. Just to have it available and not use it does nothing. And Dads need a celebration all their own with a classroom full of kids singing to them.

So, let’s move Father’s Day up to the 2nd Sunday in April, and get some lyrics together for a new song called FATHERP. Get crackin’.