Parenting and Professionalism

There are 168 hours in each week. As a work-outside-the-home mama, I fit a lot into those hours. Work, grocery shopping, laundry, chores, errands, the rare workout, and the even more rare stretch of sleep that lasts longer than 3 hours at a time.  I do lots of other things during those hours, but I mother through all of them.

There are approximately 50 hours of the week that I entrust our wonderful daycare with the care of my precious child so that I can go to work. Each morning, I fill his backpack with diapers, wipes, spare clothes, and a “lovey” before I pack my own work bag and lunch. I drop him off to eat, play, read, nap, and learn while I head to my day of emails, meetings, negotiations, researching, writing, conference calls and collaborating.

My work days are fast paced, and it seems that I end each day with a race against the clock to accomplish everything I need to. My office is filled with high heels, suit jackets, rules, regulations and sharp edges.

Parenting and ProfessionalismMy job is not a place for children. That doesn’t stop me from being a mom.

My son and I may not spend our week days together, but I am still his mom. I anxiously await the picture messages that his teacher sends throughout the day. I use my lunch break to run and grab diapers and wipes. While waiting for my next meeting, I send questions to his pediatrician about the best way to handle the common cold in a one-year-old. And occasionally, I answer that call that all working parents dread. “This is Miss Teacher at Your Daycare. Your son is sick.”

The first time it happened, I went to my female boss. All of my bosses have children, but I felt more comfortable going to another mom. Why? I was worried about the hassle I might get. The hassle I’d experienced in other jobs. If I asked to finish the work day at home, I might be met with resistance. Because working from home is not the same as being at work. If I asked to bring him in, I might be met with resistance. Because kids don’t belong in the work place. I recoiled at the idea of having to blur the lines between work and parenting. I felt as though I was about to ask for some sort of special favor. The whole thing seemed so unprofessional.

When my boss laughed at me for all my worries, I breathed a small sigh of relief. “You’re not being unprofessional. You’re being a parent. And parents have to get stuff done.”

Still, I wondered how my coworkers would react to a rambunctious toddler wandering the halls.  More resistance?

No! They offered to watch my little one while I went into a conference call. They brought him snacks while I made a phone call. They showed him YouTube videos of baby animals while we brainstormed together. They taught him how to fist bump. (A note to my coworkers: I likely don’t say it enough, but that’s because I’m not sure I can truly say it adequately. Thank you.)

Each of the parents in my office have taken a turn bringing their own munchkin in the office or working from home. Babysitters fall through. Kids get sick. Spouses travel for work. Grandparents have doctors appointments. It isn’t a regular occurrence. Maybe monthly? But it happens. And when it does, there isn’t a person in our office who isn’t willing to share their granola or cover a call. That includes those folks that don’t have young kids. Because an office that supports parents is an office that supports all workers. Sick. Double-booked. Bereaved.

Inevitably, we have to blur the lines of parenting and professionalism because we never cease to be parents throughout our professional career. We’ve spent so much time defining professionalism based on male standards, when men are often expected to only parent when in the presence of their children. When women are expected to shoulder the lion’s share. Even though fathers work, too. Even though fathers need flexibility, too.

These days, some workplaces are experiencing societal push back after banning flexibility, while others are making radical changes to better support families by keeping them together. Regardless of where a workplace falls on the parent-support-spectrum, the issue has been front and center as we’ve debated issues like adequate and paid maternity leave and the “real” reason mothers leave the workforce. We’re having to redefine professionalism, not because the plight of the working parent has changed, but because we’re continuously becoming more self-aware. More vocal. More connected.

I still don’t think that my office is the appropriate place to have a baby.  It is not easy to write a brief while simultaneously thwarting my toddler’s attempts to stuff Cheerios in my file cabinet. But, when I have to, I can negotiate over the phone while dancing with my sick baby strapped to my back. I can review documents from my bed, while my sick son snores next to me. And having the flexibility to do so, on those rare occasions when I have to, isn’t unprofessional.  It is parenting professional.

I think it makes me a harder worker. More productive. Happier. And, dare I say, prouder of what I can accomplish. Determined to do more. I’m not better at my job because I’m a parent, but I am better at both when I don’t have to choose between one or the other. I’m better at both when I’m supported in doing both.

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