Today is Mothers Day


On Mothers Day, is it just my early ’60s-’70s upbringing that makes me think of a very traditional mom?  You know, cooking, hugging, putting on bandages, meeting the bus, cleaning (and making us clean), gardening, and taking grandma to the doctors.  Of course, most moms are still doing that. But 4 of every 5 women with kids 6 to 17 years old are also holding down paid jobs, and nearly 7 in 10 moms with kids under 6 have paid jobs.  In short, nearly every mom is holding down at least two jobs.

Maybe the best thing we can give is not yesterday’s flowers, jewelry, and scented soaps, but today’s flexible work arrangements.  The not-so-new reality is that (the old) Mary Tyler Moore is not sitting at home waiting for Dick Van Dyke to come home for din-din.  Nor is she the (also pretty old now) Mary Tyler Moore staying late for Lou Grant. Instead, she’s doing the job and running out to care for her kids and/or aging parents. We need to make it work for our moms, aunts, sisters, and daughters.

The business case for flexibility has been consistently documented:  If  as employers we want productivity and loyalty and commitment, we’d do well to offer trust and flexibility.  And if as a society we want healthy children, we’d do well to offer trust and flexibility.  Yet, according to last year’s White House report less than 1/3 of full-time workers have access to flexibility, and only 39% of part-time workers have access to flexible work hours.  So, what could you do to make your moms’ lives saner AND make sure the work they do is excellent? Create the norms for flexibility and encourage that they use them.*

Here’s one other huge gift you can give to moms:  Make it clear that flexible work arrangements are not just a women’s issue. Ask, encourage, support your dads to consider leave time. Many of them would love it, and many times their roles have changed at home, too.  And consider this: if in your shop you have great women doing awesome work, who’s supposed to be supporting their kids when they’re working overtime for you? Hopefully, there’s an employer who says to your female worker’s husband, “Sure man; your wife’s in trial, you should head home. Send me an email tonight when you’ve put the kids to bed.”   Male leaders:  Model flexible behavior yourself. Let men know there’s no penalty for changing when they do their work, as long as they do their work.

To anyone with a clock-punching, old fashioned notion of productivity this may sound crazy.  But a great manager who’s already focused on results and doesn’t micromanage can easily make the move to flex. And a great manager who can candidly discuss issues and drive for win-win solutions has some big wins ahead.

Why not think about whether you can help someone be both a much better parent and a more focused worker, so they as well as you can

Lead with your best self.


* There are lots of great organizations and websites to help.  For great research, check out the Families and Work Institute. For a readable introduction – including how to approach your boss about flexibility – and other links check out the Boston College Center for Work and Families.

  • Being the child of a single working mother in the mid-1970’s sensitized me to the need for flexibility. My mother’s boss was unusually flexible for the time, and it made a difference as to whether I could participate in sports, etc.

    Now I’m the leader of a large group, and I get to ‘pay it back’ by doing just what you describe here. I ask that the work be done correctly and by the due date. The employees get to take it from there. Need to get to your daughter’s ballgame, son’s guitar lessons, etc? No problem, just say bye on the way out.

    The result — we have exceptional quality, a high level of output, and we don’t miss deadlines. Bottom line, people respond when you trust and care for them.

  • Yes, working moms struggle with countless expectations, too much to do in too little time, and the fact that they receive little of the support or recognition they want and deserve.

    In the February 14 edition of The New Yorker, Tina Fey writes: What is the rudest question you can ask a woman?

    “How old are you?” “What do you weigh?” No, the worst question is: “How do you juggle it all?”

    “The topic of working moms is a tap-dance recital in a minefield. How do you juggle it all?” people constantly ask me, with an accusatory look in their eyes. ‘You’re screwing it all up, aren’t you?’ their eyes say. My standard answer is that I have the same struggles as any working parent but with the good fortune to be working at my dream job.”

    Watch for a new book to appear shortly smoothing life’s path for working moms, entitled: “When doing it all won’t do: A self-coaching guide for career women.”

  • I hope that all the lawyers who practice in my courtroom know that my #1 rule is “Families Come First”. It’s a rule I inherited from my mentor judge, David Peterson. One of the requirements of the rule is that if mom has to be a bit late for court because a kid is sick, if dad has to leave early from a hearing because his daughter has an important soccer game, then they get no static from the judge. Life is short, and the time we have at home with our kids is even shorter.

    • Judge,
      I think it’s very cool that you and your predecessor have this rule. Would it be fair to say that there was (and still is?) and imperious kind of judge whose court was his kingdom and whose rules were unflinching?

  • Dan, Great Tribute.
    The best part for me was the old clock punching concept of productivity. I work for somone who wants to go back to that concept with employees who are exemmpt under the Fair Labor Standards Act. And my work group has women who are professionals and mothers.

    Some people still live in the dark ages but the challenges women face today to raise a family and work are daunting.

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