This Mother’s Day marks the second celebration of the most amazing and life-altering event in my life: becoming a mother. From conception to pregnancy to delivery to rearing, motherhood is amazing. Children bring out of us amazing and unrealized love. A 64 year-old mother and co-worker said it to me best: “I bet you never thought you could love someone so much.”
I also never thought my life would change so much. I’m not just talking about the insomnia and a larger shoe size, but my way of thinking and living has changed completely. A vice president recently asked me where I see myself in five to 10 years and, before I could craft the perfect answer to secure my next career move, I responded, “Being a good mom is my priority. I’m not willing to sacrifice that for the C-suite.”
Before becoming a mother, I never thought I would make a statement like that. I was the driven, career woman breaking the glass ceiling, climbing the ladder of success and paving the way for others to follow. Though I thought it was admirable, I didn’t fully understand why women gave up or took detours from corporate success to stay home and care for children. I was puzzled when I heard of mothers crying the entire first day they enrolled their child in daycare.
Then came Gabrielle. Guess what happened to me after my first visit to a daycare center we were considering to care for our daughter! Let’s just say the center director called later that day to comfort me. I even postponed my anticipated return to work several times. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to work anymore; I just didn’t want to leave my baby in someone else’s care for 45+ hours per week. Almost instantly, my priorities changed. I talked with my supervisor about flexible office hours and working from home some each week, and it was granted. I’m fortunate to work for an organization that makes motherhood a priority.
Unfortunately, most working mothers are not employed by organizations that do the same. According to the US Department of Labor, only eight percent of workers have paid family leave to care for newborns and other family members. The Multistate Working Families Consortium sites that the US is one of only four countries worldwide that do not guarantee paid leave and/or a substantial birth payment for parents to care for their newborn babies. Fifty-two percent of private sector employees are entitled to paid sick days and 30 percent are entitled to stay home with pay when a child is sick. These policies persist even as more mothers are now in the workforce.
Today, just 30 percent of families with children have a stay-at-home parent, down from 70 percent in 1960. Seventy-one percent of mothers are in the workforce. With workplace policies that don’t make motherhood a priority, many mothers feel they have to choose between being a good mother and being a good employee. According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2007, mothers who work full-time are harder on themselves when rating their parenting on a scale from zero to 10. Only 21 percent of working mothers say full-time work is the ideal situation for them. Sixty percent say part-time work would be their ideal and another 19 percent say they would prefer not working at all outside of the home.