Expensive Employers, It’s Time We Acknowledge Parenting as Work
A few years ago I published a children’s picture book, My Mom Has Two Jobs, which celebrates working mothers. On each side, children share their appreciation for everything their mothers do in both their professional and parenting roles. Rather than portraying these roles as contradicting one another, it highlights the synergies between our professional jobs and our parenting jobs that actually make us more effective in both areas.
Although working mothers like to find themselves in the narrative of the book and often tell me their confirmation through the message, the title of the book initially raised some skeptical eyebrows. Some children’s book publishers have been careful about calling motherhood a “job” and calling parenthood “work”. But for me, that concept was central to the purpose of the book.
Recognizing motherhood as a profession does not devalue mothers, and recognizing parenthood as work does not degrade parenthood. On the contrary, there are many advantages to calling parenting for what it is: incredibly challenging, highly skilled, and hugely impactful work. This recognition is crucial in promoting gender equality by breaking down gender stereotypes and promoting work-family integration for all parents.
I was excited to see two growing social movements, both of which highlight the benefits of recognizing parenting as work. These movements come from opposite directions, but they both have the same goal of gender equality. In a post-pandemic world where women dig their way out of the first “you cession” in history, this goal is more important than ever.
The first movement is mainly led by women and directed from our homes to the office. Its aim is for employers to recognize and value the skills that women bring with them from their experience as mothers in the workplace. This movement helps employers realize that motherhood is not a problematic void on the resume. In reality, motherhood is a phenomenal training ground for leaders. Raising children and running a family fosters exceptional project management, multitasking, budgeting, negotiation, collaboration, and empathy – all of these are critical skills for effective leaders in the workplace.
HeyMama is leading these efforts with its Motherhood On The Resume (MOTR) campaign, encouraging women to explicitly translate their motherhood skills into leadership skills on their résumés. They seek to break through cultural biases against mothers in the workplace, validate mothers’ unpaid work, and de-stigmatize career breaks for caring responsibilities. Appreciating the skills mothers bring to their careers “not in spite of being parents, but precisely because of that” will promote equality for women in the workplace and promote more women to leadership positions for which they are so well equipped.
The second sentence is mostly led by men and directed from the office to our home. Her goal is to encourage men to become equal parents by applying their skills to their fatherhood role in the workplace. Research shows that many men want to be more dedicated fathers, but often feel they lack the necessary experience and expertise. Many men also fear negative professional stigmatization by taking parental leave, looking for flexibility in the workplace and visibly prioritizing their family life. These concerns create barriers for men who want to escape restrictive norms and achieve a healthier integration of work and family. They also secure women’s status as second-class workers as long as women continue to do most of the care duties at home.
Fathering Together is breaking down these barriers by helping men realize that their professional leadership skills are also parental skills. With the “More Than A Neck Tie” initiative, Fathering Together shows that “workplace skills” such as project management, strategic planning, flexibility, creativity and innovation are the same skills that enable fathers to become parents with equal rights and partners at home.
Stewart Friedman and Alyssa Westring wrote a practical guide to this movement in their new book Parents Who Lead. As experts in the integration of work and family, the authors encourage reluctant fathers to understand that “raising children is a leadership challenge”. The ability to inspire and mobilize a team to achieve meaningful goals is not only a critical trait of successful leaders in the workplace, but a key to effective parenting. When men make this connection, they can approach fatherhood with greater confidence and commitment by applying their workplace leadership skills to their parenting role.
Let’s get one thing straight: parenting is work. It’s love work, of course, but it’s still work. And it’s important to call it what it is. By explicitly accepting this reality, women receive appropriate recognition for the skills they bring to their professional role as mothers. Men are empowered to become more committed fathers and equal parents. Employers will reap the economic benefits of having more gender equitable workplaces. And our children will grow into a world that is a little less constrained by conventional gender roles and expectations.
I think the title of my children’s book got it right. Working parents do indeed have “two jobs” – and we are all better off with that.
Michelle A. Travis is a mother of two teenage daughters and the author of My Mom Has Two Jobs, a children’s picture book celebrating working mothers. She is also a professor of law at the University of San Francisco School of Law, where she is co-director of the Labor Law and Justice program. Her latest book, Dads For Daughters, * is a guide to engaging men as advocates of gender equality. Follow Michelle on LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter.