Work-Life Balance for Parents

I wish I had written this article about flexibility, time and work-life balance! 

I have been thinking about this issue so much, and wrote half a post on it, which I decided was not ready for the daylight.

Parents are both privileged and punished. It’s an incredibly complicated situation. At an old job, we use to “joke” that the only way I’d get to take a real break was if I had a baby, which is both funny and sad, and speaks to a work culture in which you are expected to give 150% all the time, unless you have a kid. A baby was the only valid reason/excuse to step back from the overwhelming burden of work, and manage your schedule more efficiently. In the arts and small nonprofits, there often isn’t a colleague to turn to, who can cover you when you leave. I once met a mom who proudly told me about bringing her newborn to the office a few days after giving birth, but I have also known women who were afraid they would be fired when their superiors found out they were pregnant. The pressure and “flexibility” of nonprofit work, where labor statutes and other laws protecting parents don’t always apply because of organizational size or freelance status, can be both good and bad influences. People don’t know their rights, and if they do, they feel can’t exercise them. But on the other hand, I know many, many parents who have taken leave and come back to work extremely successfully, who use flex-time, and who manage these situations extremely well.

The point is, the situation is far more complicated than I could ever write about without actually seeing some flex-time programs implemented, without interviewing mothers, fathers, bosses and colleagues, without some kind of systematic “non-gendered and non-parented” version of a flex-time program.

What I have observed has always been this bad combination of inconsistently implemented policies in work cultures that demand 10+ hour days (and weekend work). If you take me out for a beer, I’ll tell you these insane stories, but they are not fit for the internet. Especially not on a Sunday morning.

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2 comments
  1. A.M.B. said:

    Anyone who jokes that having a baby is a “break” clearly has never had a child! I get the joke, though. I represent women in employment discrimination cases, and I can tell you that parents very rarely get special treatment in terms of accommodations. The “special treatment” they receive is termination, denied promotions, and low pay (family responsibilities discrimination). It’s true that any employer with a parent-focused flex-time policy will mean that non-parents will have to pick up slack, and I can see how unfair that is. I completely agree that no flex-time policy should be gendered (which would probably violate Title VII, state, and local anti-discrimination laws) or solely parent-focused. One basic place to start is to amend the Family Medical Leave Act to apply to a broader range of “family members,” such as siblings, so that employees can take unpaid leave to care for relatives other than a spouse, parent, or child. As you say, the most important change must take place in corporate culture: no one should be working 70 hours a week, especially when being in the office (often without subsidized child care) isn’t necessary in the internet/computer age for many jobs.

    • I completely agree, it was not a funny joke. It was the product of a very skewed vision of what parenting and work-life balance should be.

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