Editorial: Working Mothers

Treating Working Mothers Differently
by Steve Gladis

In my life, I have been a jerk—regrettably, on more than one occasion. Just ask my wife. Fortunately, I have learned a lot. Indeed, the great gift of aging is wisdom.

In one of my many states of “jerkdom,” I believed that in the workplace everyone should be treated equally, including working mothers. That sounds like a great democratic notion, however impossible and wrong-headed. Many critics of such special accommodations are often men—like me years ago—and woman without children, both of whom share once tragic flaw: They have NO idea what it means to be a working mother. Personally, I did not appreciate what it took to work full time and raise a family. In my era, one partner worked and the other stayed home to raise the children—usually, but not always, the wife.

However, when I had a close-up-and-personal look at what my two grown daughters, both with young boys,  have to do just to get out of the house in the morning to get to work, I was stunned. It’s like having two full-time jobs, not one: Your “work” job and your child-rearing job. And in many cases you also run the family business—the household—a third job. It’s a wonder more working mothers don’t just quit all their jobs and head off to Tahiti to escape.

If propagating the species is one of humankind’s primary responsibilities, we have to make special accommodations for working mothers. It’s simple: No new babies, no future for the world. We accommodate the workplace for all sorts of reasons: Injuries as well as both physical mental disabilities. Surely, mothers don’t have a disability; rather, they just have the most important of all jobs—raising children.

So, how do you teach people who want equality in the workplace that raising kids requires the help of the village? I’ve heard of a great experiment that high school kids are put through to teach them about having children. Each of them is asked to bring in a five-pound sack of flour to class. For one month, they must take it everywhere with them or ask someone to take it, while they go to the bathroom or go out on a date! It doesn’t take long to get the big picture: Raising a bag of flower—that doesn’t get sick, doesn’t cry, and doesn’t need to be changed, rocked, taken to expensive daycare, fed, bathed, put to bed or be worried about—is still an enormous amount of work.

So, the next time some very-hard-working mother has to take her child to the doctor or stay home for an extra half-hour to help her child get over a nightmare—just ask yourself: How much do I care about the human race?

Steve Gladis, Ph.D. is the father of two working mothers, Jess and Kim, the CEO of Steve Gladis Leadership and the author of 16 books on leadership and communication.