03 abril 2014

Working mothers: jugglers extraordinaire

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working mothers juggling

I have been a professional working woman for two decades, but I am a relative new working mother. From the beginning of my journey into parenthood, I embarked on the quest for a manageable balance between professional and family lives. Indeed, it has been a juggling act.  But, what I have come to understand is the truly epidemic nature of the fatigue and stress that far too many working mothers can face.

Certainly, many working mothers are overwhelmed. Brigid Schulte’s book introduces the idea of time confetti, the innumerable snippets of time we cut out throughout the day in an attempt to meet as many demands. For many, these snippets continue into the night, so not only do many working women have a second shift, but also a night shift.

It is apparent to me that this overwhelm can be mitigated in almost direct proportion to the level of support a working mother can find in the different spheres of her life:

straddling-two-worlds_babyAT HOME: Women continue to devote approximately twice as much time as men to domestic tasks, a ratio that has not changed over decades despite women’s increasing education and workforce participation. A survey indicates that Latin American full time employed women still do 80% of domestic and family work.

Across Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), many initiatives have been launched to promote greater co-responsibility in child rearing and family work, most of them linked to early childhood development and legislating paternal responsibility. Promising approaches include new models of paternity being promoted among men, as well as the education of boys and girls from early ages to share in household responsibilities.

straddling-two-worlds_computerAT WORK: Support in the work place begins with meaningful maternity, paternity and adoption leave, and accommodations during pregnancy and lactation. Amazingly, the US continues to be one of only 5 countries in the world that does not require any days of paid maternity leave.

In the LAC region, the new IDB database Familias Trabajadoras y Cuidado Infantil confirms important progress. Chile has the most generous of leave polices: 18 weeks with full pay in case of birth or adoption, and one hour daily for lactation up to the child’s second year.

A recent study on women’s leadership in the banking sector in Latin America found that working women’s number one request is to have more flexibility, and that organizations that allow for remote offices and telecommuting from home are becoming increasing popular among not just women, but men as well.

However, studies have found that the dominant model in the business world is one in which leadership is synonymous with unfailing availability and total geographic mobility, that women are penalized in performance models, and that flexible arrangements are seen as a barrier for career advancement.

straddling-two-worlds_telephoneIN OUR COMMUNITY: Ironically, while facing challenges at work and at home, some working mothers are surprised to find tensions rather than support in some circles of parents.  Mom vs Mom is the battle between working and non-working moms over who is a better parent.

That said, I am still convinced that parents can be each other’s greatest supporters, as mentors in the workplace, confidants, sources of referrals, and emergency child care. And there seems to be a growing supply of working mother coaching programs and support groups, such as Working mama or Lean In circles, like the one in Mexico.

Working mothers are a vital force in our societies and economies. So we are not only talking about exhausted moms here, but also about potentially under-utilizing the capabilities of millions of women. Indeed, family-friendly benefits and flexible work cultures are good for families and for any competitive strategy focused on attracting, retaining and promoting the best talent.

Have you seen any changes in your country or workplace that are supporting working mothers in new ways?

3 Responses

  1. Elizabeth

    Thank you so much for this article and feeding the conversation of women mothers in the workplace. I feel so fortunate to grow up in a generation where this dialogue is taking place and women and men are asking tough questions about gender roles. While the juggling act can be exhausting at times, I also see it as a sign of how far women have come. I find it liberating being able to take on so many fulfilling roles in my life at the same time. Coming off a three day weekend home with my son, I found the time in the house with him incredibly special yet I did no juggling – just focused on him and domestic tasks – and to be honest, I found that energy and creativity needed to keep him entertained more tiring and stressful. It wasn’t many generations ago, that this one the only option for women. The fact that I got to put on a suit and go into work on Monday while he was able to attend a quality daycare caused me to pause and give thanks. In some ways I believe I and other working mothers I know thrive on the juggling act and believe it allows us to be more focused and productive mothers and professionals. I also realize that many mothers, especially ones in low-income families or as heads of single-parent households, have it much harder than me and that more support is needed. Needless, I congratulate you on furthering the conversation and hope that while we continue to blaze our trail we can also celebrate the freedom and empowerment that being a working mother affords.

    1. Anne-Marie Urban

      Thank you so much for your reflections! I am hoping to write a short series on this topic, and you have reinforced for me how helpful it will be to also offer a perspective on the incredible positives. I love spending quality time with my son – it nourishes me incredibly – and I also really like to come to work and make a contribution (although I would indeed welcome more acceptance of realistic boundaries around the work demands). Cheers to you!

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