I want to make you think – possibly to even think differently for some of you — about all the things parents bring to the world of work. It’s a tough gig at times bringing up tiny humans, and for lots of parents it’s done alongside holding down a job or running their own business.
Before I became a parent I was naive to what it would actually mean. Having been the eldest of four girls and with a plethora of cousins all my junior, I’d seen a colourful spectrum of parenting approaches and how lifestyles changed once kids became part of the landscape. My mum, who is a fiercely independent woman and lifelong, dedicated nurse, tried managing the imbalance between employment and family life in many different ways: Full time working when I was six weeks old; taking additional jobs when she was the only parent financially responsible for me and my sisters, to spells of time not being employed outside the home at all when she had children in her later years. Essentially, I’ve been bred from stock that believes women absolutely have their own choice to find work that works, no matter what the home situation.
What employers say
I’ve heard the concerns of employers about their new parent workers: They’re going to be unable to commit; they’ve got to leave to pick up from childcare, or my favourite, “No they definitely won’t want to do an overnight trip. They won’t want to be away from their kids.” It’s not everybody I realise, but there’s a culture out there that is quite chilling to witness — writing people off because they’ve children. I don’t like it. I don’t agree with it. But I get it. If you perceive that the best work comes from someone who has no commitments outside of work, if you think people are peak performers from sitting at a desk for 14 hours a day, then I get it.
Except, I don’t think that’s the case is it? I think we’d struggle to find anybody who has nothing going on outside of work – it might not be kids but it could be caring for a relative, a pet, a hobby, exercise. The list is endless.
Mothers bear the brunt
Let me be blunt – the restrictions on career are largely felt by mothers. They tend to be the ones staying at home bringing up baby and taking time away from work, and although shared parental leave is generating more conversation and pockets of change, we’ve got a long way to go. When you come back to work you come with baggage – your employer will think it and you will feel it.
Can I paint you a different image of the working mother though? I think you could be missing a few unique gifts she can bring you post-birth:
Multi-tasking. If you want multiple projects running at the same time while liaising with third-party providers and remembering that you need to sort the agenda for the next team meeting, you can ask a mother. A mother who has a child at home takes on the domestic load, doing most of the housework while figuring out what activities she can do with a six month old, or planning around routine changes for a toddler and putting in school applications, and getting it all done. That’s multi-tasking like you won’t experience in the office..
Negotiations. When you’re in public and your toddler won’t move another step until they’re provided with the raisins they’ve apparently got a sudden craving for, you’ve got a magnitude of negotiation tactics up your sleeve. You name it a parent will have tried it. Bargaining, delaying, distraction or just scooping up the infant and reminding them who is the decision-maker. Just ask a mother.
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Planning. Worlds colliding and teams across the business trying to land some activity on the same day? Can you say “logistical nightmare?” Tell a mother what the end game is and she’ll get you there. She’s got lots of experience planning out a day that features getting the child out for fresh air, packing changing bags, factoring in naps and eating time and planning alternatives for when the toddler gets bored – a mother can do your activity planning with delicate force.
Fresh perspective. There’s nothing like time away from a business to help you think differently. Toddlers have a knack for asking all those “why” questions about things that have been on our periphery for a lifetime without us wondering about them. It’s infectious how mothers notice what others don’t.
Simplicity. Got a mega complicated piece of work that needs explaining? You’ve got a resource of parents who everyday explain the world to their young children. It can’t get complicated; you have to go with the basics. Grown-ups are just tall children – sometimes they ache for simplicity and a parent can sort that for you.
I write this on International Women’s Day, when the world is being flooded with #PressForProgress. Not every woman is a mother, but for those that are that hashtag will carry an additional significance. Progress that after having a baby, employers and the world in general, see that they’ve had a child not a lobotomy. Next time you’re recruiting, returning a mum after her maternity leave or career break or reviewing a flexible working request, please think about all the amazing skills they can bring. Oh, and that parent you think doesn’t want an overnight trip away? — leave the logistical worries to them because a trip away is probably exactly what they’re craving.