Mother's Day Chorus: Give Us Flexibility!

Along with the rosy-hued Mother's Day ads for flowers, chocolate and spa packages, Sunday's holiday prompted the media to fill up on Mother's Day editorials and high-profile public statements from reporters, politicians, and mothers about parents' and kids' needs. The most common theme -- hallelujah -- was the need for flexibility from employers.

Some articles worth checking out:

The San Francisco Chronicle profiles four working moms in the Bay Area who show that despite the hype, most moms are not "opting out" of the workforce. Instead, they're finding creative, flexible solutions to juggle kids and work. The four are Blair Christie, 34, vice president of investor relations at Cisco Systems, whose husband reduced his work hours to be at home in the afternoons with their daughters, ages 3 years and 8 months; NaNoshka Johnson, 43, who found that owning her own business gives her the flexibility to work from home in the mornings and leave the office early to pick up her 7-year-old son from after-school care; Fatemeh Mizbani, 42, a teacher who relies on a parents' network and a supportive employer; and Nubia Martinez, 31, a home care aide who takes advantage of nearby family and her children's growing independence, at the ages of 12 and 13, to work long shifts she couldn't manage when her kids were younger.

Washington Post business writer Amy Joyce's excellent Life at Work column on Sunday uses the story of a single mother raising two developmentally disabled sons to demonstrate how much parenthood has changed in America -- and how little the structure of the work environment has kept pace. Join Amy from 11 a.m. to noon on Tuesday to discuss your life at work and this article. Dads are encouraged to send Amy their wish lists for change as well, at

Another intelligent piece in Sunday's Outlook section of the Post is The Family as Firing Offense by the always incisive Ruth Marcus. She cites many cases of prejudice against mothers, especially mid-to-lower income moms, from a recent report by the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California at Hastings, "One Sick Child Away From Being Fired: When Opting Out is Not an Option," including a bus driver, police officer and packer who were fired for responding to child-related emergencies.

"Even if these examples are extreme, it's clear that corporate willingness to design flexible workplaces has been far greater in the executive offices than on the factory floor. According to studies cited in the report, flexible schedules are available for nearly two-thirds of workers who earn more than $71,000 annually -- but for less than a third of those with incomes under $28,000. Over half of working-class employees are not permitted to take time off to care for sick children," Marcus writes, noting that she's one of the lucky few who can work from home (she wrote the article at her kitchen table).

Also worth checking out is a month-long online Mothers at Work campaign hosted by non-partisan, non-denominational Mothers & More: the Network for Sequencing Moms. Topics for May include social and economic penalties for motherhood, combining parenting and paid employment and the paid and unpaid value of parenting. "A Mother at Work is Always at Work whether she's with her kids or not, whether she's an at-home mom or in the paid workplace," reads the overview. Guests include Ann Crittendon, Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Caitlin Flanagan, Joan Blades and yours truly.

I'm thrilled to see Mother's Day used for such good purpose and so much ink devoted to work and parenting advocacy. (Is this a first, or am I just more attuned to it this year?) Mother's Day gives us all a good excuse to speak out and start a debate that should continue throughout the year. Let's hope actions follow all these words.

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  May 15, 2006; 6:00 AM ET  | Category:  Flexibility
Previous: Friday Free-For-All -- Your Worst Moments As a Mom | Next: We've Raised A 'Me' Generation

Add On Balance to Your Site
Keep up with the latest installments of On Balance with an easy-to-use widget. It's simple to add to your Web site, and it will update every time there's a new entry to On Balance.
Get This Widget >>


Please email us to report offensive comments.

I moved and changed jobs last November. Where I previously worked, my job was relatively flexible. I couldn't work at home, due to certain, secret computer programs that had to be used, but I could flex time up to an hour a day (not that I did very often). When we moved, I was shocked to learn that they don't have flex time here. (Lesson learned, ASK the question). But as the staff that was on board when I started here starts retiring, I see a shift starting in the organization. In the few months I've been here, we have had 4 or 5 mid-level people leave or retire. As they get replaced by younger people, the flexibility I was used to in my old employer is coming back to me. I work in a professional/white collar environment so flexibility should be a very workable goal.

Posted by: KS | May 15, 2006 8:13 AM

I thought the most telling article this weekend was on the opinion page by Jody Hehman about the lack of flexibility available for people who don't make as much money as the folks who can comment on this column. Under the guise of evenhandedness a lot of people can be fired for taking care of their kids in an emergency.

Posted by: Chet | May 15, 2006 12:53 PM

I am so sick of people advocating more flexiable policies and tax breaks for parents. It was your choice to have them. Childless people always pick up the bill for parents whether it's through taxes or work.

Posted by: Childless and Angry | May 15, 2006 1:17 PM

"I am so sick of people advocating more flexiable policies and tax breaks for parents. It was your choice to have them. Childless people always pick up the bill for parents whether it's through taxes or work."

I am so sick of angry people like you. No one picks up the slack for me and I pay a lot of taxes.

Posted by: scarry | May 15, 2006 1:21 PM

Another article, somewhat related to today's topic (link below): A new study shows that married mothers who work are healthier than mothers who don't. Thought people on this blog might find it interesting. (I work from home so don't know what this says about me.)

Posted by: Ingrid | May 15, 2006 1:28 PM

I'm all for flexible workplaces and time off for parents if that also means that my workplace will grant me a 6-week leave of absence so that I can travel. I think that companies should grant childless or older workers (those whose children have left the home) equal opportunity to take leave w/o pay every 2-3 years. That would be a trult flexible workplace.

Posted by: Tanger | May 15, 2006 1:35 PM

I work from home part time too, it must be becasue I have a child. (haha) I mean it couldn't possibly be becasue I worked hard and earned the benefit. Anyway, I wonder how they did the anaylsis on people who stay home vs. people who work?

Posted by: scarry | May 15, 2006 1:42 PM

Here we go again. Here are a few facts:

Having a baby requires short term disability in order to heal.

You also can take short term disability if you smoke to much weed and require hospitalization or have a medical problem.

You like me and anyone else who has a baby, needs to care for a family member, or adopts a child, can take FMLA.

If you want to take time off to travel the world, your employer, not the peopel on this board is the one you should be asking. You taking unpaid leave to travel has nothing to do with a woman taking short term disability to give birth to a child.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 15, 2006 2:27 PM

I thought the article by Ruth Marcus raised interesting issues which have been alluded to by others on this board. There are certain jobs that you cannot do from home and cannot be done whenever you feel like it. I am not sure what the solution is because someone still has to drive the bus on its scheduled time. And if someone calls in sick, then someone else will have to be called in to cover the emergency. On other hand, people in these jobs are usually the ones with the least amount of negotiating power.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 15, 2006 2:35 PM

Flexibility should be available to all employees, not just parents, and studies show that flexibility increases employee productivity overall, even for childless workers. I think employers are afraid of granting freedom that may be abused or lead to some kind of loss of control. It is always alarming to try something new, especially in a workforce, but it is being done successfully across the country.

What I don't understand is all the fuming at moms by childless employees. Are moms just an easy target for your resentment? Why don't you get angry at employers who withhold flexibility from you, or who don't sufficiently reward you for "picking up the slack"? Why don't you do something at your company to make the situation more equitable?

Venting at moms is not productive and it's not fair. It reminds me of those people on airplanes who get irrationally angry at a baby crying during take-off. Have a heart! You were a child once, and needed someone to come get you from school when you got sick, etc. And these children whose parents are leaving to care for them will one day be the adults who contribute to our social security, the doctors and nurses who care for us in our old age, the police forces who keep us safe, and the politicians and law makers affecting the country in myriad ways. Aren't we a society -- or are we just a bunch of individuals who have to look out only for ourselves?

Posted by: Leslie Morgan Steiner | May 15, 2006 2:38 PM

I'm not sure why childless people would fight AGAINST companies providing their workers more flexibility. If a company allows flexiblity, wouldn't it be available to all employees? You can't have one policy for parents and another for childless. So more flexibility in the workplace would help everyone, not just parents. I know a few people who didn't have children yet who lobbied for flexible work schedules -- one was in a community play and needed to leave early for rehearsals, one was a Big Brother, and one was in the Olympics. I agree Childless needs to take his/her anger to his/her employer, not this blog...

Posted by: FS Mom | May 15, 2006 2:44 PM

the railing against folks with children is pretty short sighted, it will be your generation of kids that take care (or don't) of you in the future. I know that day will never come, but eventually it does. Each generation has an obligation to care for each preceeding and succeeding generation.

Posted by: chet | May 15, 2006 3:03 PM

I'm with Scarry, Leslie, and others who have responded to Childless and Angry.

The only thing I have to add is that it's a somewhat absurd position to argue that because it is a choice to have children, parents have no right to policies that benefit their families. While children are a choice, they are also what perpetuates our society, including our culture, our democracy, and our economy. If you don't want kids, great. But, as the cheesy song says: the children are our future, meaning yours and mine, and they need care and education. To not recognize that is only to shoot ourselves in our collective foot.

Posted by: Megan | May 15, 2006 3:07 PM

Myself and childless people are angry Leslie because you get extra tax breaks, our money goes your child's education and some of you have the nerve to advocate for government funded day care ect. If you cannot afford them and/or cannot handle the responsbilities, then don't have them.

Posted by: Childless and Angry | May 15, 2006 3:46 PM

To the childless and the person who wants a paid 6 week travel vacation:

What is wrong with you?! I honestly cannot understand why the United States (along with Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and Lesotho--such esteemed coutries in our company) are the only countries that do not have paid maternity leave. Doesn't that tell you something!? Having (or adopting) a baby and going on maternity leave is not like getting a cool vacation. Mothers need time to bond with their children. When you have surgery in a hospital, you need to stay there and recover, no? Well, when you have a baby, you should be entitled to PAID MATERNITY LEAVE. I don't know why this is so hard for people to accept. My friends in Europe in Canada are shocked at our policies. Just b/c I chose to have a child does not mean that I am not entitled to care for it. Don't you see that society benefits as a whole when this is offered?

Posted by: Anonymous | May 15, 2006 3:52 PM

I don't think Childless and Angry's comments reflect the feelings of most childless people. I am childless and NOT angry, thank you.

Posted by: Childless and Happy | May 15, 2006 3:56 PM

No, I don't see the benefits to society as whole, because I don't see any benefits in my paycheck. Childless and unmarried people are completly ripped off by taxes. I don't buy into that collective bs, I am not a socialist.

Posted by: Childless and Angry | May 15, 2006 4:06 PM

Employers are not donors. If you're not at work, or you can't cover, then--surprise!!--you're worth less. And it doesn't matter how much YOU THINK you're orth. It matters how much THEY THINK you're worth.

How about this:

BEFORE you start a job, think about how much YOU would be willing to give up to get flexibility. $1000? $5000? (hint: if it's "zero", you're in bad shape).

Set that as a bottom limit. Then bargain with your employer to get what you need.

Posted by: Sailorman | May 15, 2006 4:07 PM

To Childless and angry:
Thank you for clarifying. I now understand that you are materialistic and only care about money. Unfortunately for you, our country was founded by (and continues to be governed by), married people with children. Therefore, taxes will continue to benefit that majority of people. If you don't like it, then why don't you move somewhere else?

Posted by: Anonymous | May 15, 2006 4:11 PM

Hmmmm, I have an idea, Childless and Angry. Why don't you and all your childless friends go start your own society, where you won't have to support any of our children now, and see where you end up when you all get too old or sick to work and yet still need to eat and have homes and medical care. I'll be interested to see how it turns out.

Posted by: Megan | May 15, 2006 4:23 PM

Actually, having children is natural...not having children is often a choice (except for obvious biological challenges)

I'm not sure if Childless and Angry is angry because she is childless or childless and angry at other parents for having to "pick up the bill". Regardless of her reproductive choice, it sounds like she needs to get...

Posted by: Anonymous | May 15, 2006 4:41 PM

Leslie says "Aren't we a society -- or are we just a bunch of individuals who have to look out only for ourselves?"

Correct answer: B) just a bunch of individuals who have to look out only for ourselves.

Posted by: Registered Voter | May 15, 2006 4:51 PM

Childless and Angry,
Don't shoot yourself in the foot. I don't know your personal situation but I would suspect that someone who is childless is exactly the type of person who might need to depend on social services(aka, "other people picking up the bill" as you put it) when you get older and possibly have no one to support you. Once again, I don't know your personal situation.

Posted by: LC | May 15, 2006 4:51 PM

I am sorry that "childless and angry" feels shortshrifted by people with children because of all of the tax breaks and flexibility we have or need which to be perfectly honest don't really add up to a whole heck of a lot from a financial standpoint. From a financial point, I envy someone like you who doesn't have to pay $50 a month for diapers, $80 a month for formula, $1000 a month for child care, money to purchase clothes and food for my children, pay for college for them, etc etc. My husband and I will probably pay $300,000 per child over the next 15-20 years. We own used cars, take trips to very mundane places and pinch our pennies to give our children a decent life. But I wouldn't trade it for anything. Coming home to a smiling 3 year old who says I love you mommy or having my 7 year old tell me everything about whales and dinosaurs and talks to me about what he learned in school is reward enough for me. So, think about all of that extra money you have because you don't have children. And, I don't think you should judge people for wanting (or needing) to be able to balance their lives -- don't blame us for having children. I'm sure you need balance in your life too.

Posted by: typical working mother | May 15, 2006 4:56 PM

Childless and RV, you all are on the wrong blog. Your blog is over here --->

Posted by: Anonymous | May 15, 2006 4:57 PM

Childless and angry,

My husband actually needed a whole lot of flexibility in his work schedule when his Dad was gravely ill. This happened pre-kid. His Dad was hospitalized for over 3 months and then needed lots of assistance upon release in his frail state. THe family did not have the money to hire lots of help so we all pitched in. Flexibility in the workplace is just that flexibility not a get out of work card. It means working odd hours and being able to make up time lost and guess what this type of situation improves productivity when done correctly. No one is asking for a hand out or to work less.

Posted by: Margaret | May 15, 2006 5:06 PM

The comments of Childless and Angry and Registered Voter fail to recognize the basic facts of civilized life. We are NOT simply a bunch of individuals who need only worry about ourselves.

Realistically, none of us knows at any given time what we will need from our society. Even if we are healthy and have no dependent children, we could, through no fault of our own, become disabled and fully dependent tomorrow. And, in such circumstances, those of us who don't have children would require even more from our fellow citizens than those who do.

We pay for airports even though we rarely fly; we pay for roads even if we take the Metro; we pay for the Metro even if we drive; we pay for education because it is better to live in a society where everyone has the opportunity to develop his or her skills and use them to the benefit of all.

Despite the high level of debt that physicians acquire in the course of their training, public funding is still needed to support that training. Should we impose the full cost of that training on the physicians? They are the ones whose livelihood will be most directly affected, but do we want to live in a world where people can only become physicians if they have, say, half a million dollars to pay for their training?

Of course, we must discuss what we want to pay for as a society and how to distribute social costs and benefits, but it is absurd to think that we are or can be self-sufficient. The returns on investment in the well-being of the next generation, including education, are so enormous for both those individuals and society that it is foolish not to support the people who are raising the next generation and to provide the best education for their children as we possibly can.

Posted by: THS | May 15, 2006 5:51 PM

i think that is what childless & angry misses; that flexiblity in the workplace like FMLA can be used by people to take care of not just those horrible nasty creatures known as children but as to take care of your parents.

Posted by: quark | May 15, 2006 5:56 PM

Well said, THS. What was it Hobbs said? "Life in the unregulated state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short," or something along those lines...

Posted by: Megan | May 15, 2006 6:00 PM

Thank you, Leslie, for your supportive comments. I'm childfree and not ranting about co-workers with children. I like kids, just decided not to have my own. All I said above was that I believe a truly flexible workplace -- one that we should ALL strive for -- would allow ANY employee to take 6 weeks UNPAID leave, and not just to take care of ill family members or welcome a new baby into the home. Neither situation is conducive to more productivity or "recharging one's batteries".

Not every year, of course, but every 2-3 years. In other words, about as often as my co-worker might have a baby.

Yes, I believe mothers should get a few weeks PAID maternity leave. But fathers are also allowed FMLA to be home with a new baby or adopted child (a woman doesn't need "time to heal" when she adopts a child) and fathers don't need "time to heal".

All I'm asking in the workplace revolution is that we all be treated in a way that allows us more than the 2-4 weeks per year earned vacation time.

There does seem to be a lot of anger toward mothers needing time off from work. I think because people have had bad experiences with having to take up the slack due to an absent new mom or mother of a sick child. Face it, I'll bet a majority of folks have at least once worked with a woman (or perhaps a man) who was constantly leaving the office due to problems with a child -- and it was very clear that it was just an excuse to leave the office. How to get this person out of the workplace? Talk to your manager or HR? HA! It's a lot easier to fire me for complaining about it than to fire the mother who might then sue for some sort of discrimination. And that's reality in today's office world.

Posted by: Tanger | May 15, 2006 6:02 PM

"No, I don't see the benefits to society as whole, because I don't see any benefits in my paycheck."

Childless - society as a whole is more than just your (or all of our) paychecks. It's the entire infrastructure and the people running it - running it now, and the ones we'll need to do the work in 20 years. When you become a senior, wouldn't you have a rough time if all of us parents had not had any children and there isn't anyone to manage the nursing home you might need? We just all stop having kids and you get to be the last generation? How ludicrous.

As for tax breaks, I was able to shelter a whole lot more away, and reduce my income taxes, before the kids than after - lots more disposable income to put away here and there. I pay more in taxes now than I did before I was married, simply because I need the money in my take-home pay for a family v. single life (thus it's not being sheltered from taxes) .

Posted by: alexandria mom | May 15, 2006 6:06 PM

>Childless and unmarried people are completly ripped off by taxes.

Untrue. Unless the amount of taxes you pay covers your share of the cost of national defense, highway maintenance, public safety, public utilities, and all the other services the government provides, you're just as much of a freeloader as the parents you castigate.

Unless you're in a tiny fraction of an upper percent, it's extremely unlikely that you're covering all your costs.

Posted by: Lizzie | May 15, 2006 6:06 PM

FMLA and short term disability are not just benefits for some; they are benefits for all. we have had this discussion on this board before and frankly I'm tired of it.

I really don't care what people who don't have children think because my world at work doesn't affect them and their world doesn't affect me.

I like it much better when it's me, Megan, Western Single mom, and some of the other 'nice" posters who actually try to help each other out. Father of 4 isn't even that bad once you get to know him.

Posted by: scarry | May 15, 2006 6:35 PM

Thank you, Childless & Happy; Tanger; and THS. Really nice to hear from you -- so often it's the angriest voices that get heard the loudest. Appreciate your moderation.

And thank you the the anonymous poster with the Rush Limbaugh suggestion -- totally made me crack up.

Posted by: Leslie Morgan Steiner | May 15, 2006 8:02 PM

I've often thought that more workplaces should allow employees up to ten hours a year to do "volunteer work" or something like that. Those who don't have kids could get involved in an inner city school or a boys and girls club, an animal shelter or Habitat for Humanity or something for senior citizens. Perhaps if you have elderly parents in a long-term care facility you could help with a project there -- like gardening or something.

And those who do have kids could help at their children's schools or elsewhere.

I'm a SAHM and lately in addition to helping at my kid's school, I've taken to volunteering at another school in our area that's very working class and where most parents can't help because they work. They are ALL our children -- not just the ones at my kids' school.

As far as travelling or all the rest, I remember wondering why men at my last company were routinely granted 'sabbatical' to get an MBA, but there was no guarantee that your job would be held if you took a few years off to be with your family. By the way, most of the men who had their jobs held never returned to the company.

Posted by: Another Mom | May 16, 2006 7:23 AM

In caee some of our more esteemed mothers have forgotten, at the office you do not get paid for what you produce at home.

Posted by: Steve | May 16, 2006 9:31 AM

I never said you shouldn't have children just make sure you can afford them. Don't expect handouts or more flexibility just because you choose to have children.

Flexibility should be for everyone not for those who have kids. But you must realize that in certain fields-marketing, pr, law firms- flexibility is going to be hard to come by. You live and die by your clients and when someone has to leave unexpectedly, someone else has to pick up the slack.

Posted by: Childless and Angry | May 16, 2006 11:27 AM

To Steve,

Last time I checked, men have something to do with what we "produce" at home.
If you are married, do you make enough to support your family? If not, your wife does have to work to help with your famiy's financial needs, thus the need for flexibility. You can't just dump your children for 18 years.
In addition, have you ever had a baby? Its not like you can pop the baby out and be back to work after lunch. There is recovery time, which is considered disability -- most paid maternity leave in companies is covered by disability or sick leave. You would be entitled to this leave if you had other ailments as well. What if you had to have prostrate surgery and were out of work for 6 weeks and the company just said, gee we can't pay you for those 6 weeks. Its your fault for needing surgery.

I think most of us (it sounds like most of us are mid-40s and below) have no idea what things used to be like. In the 1950s, my mother tried to find a job when my father was in law school so that they had money coming in. She had to be the breadwinner for a while. She had trouble finding a job because she was a woman in her 20s and might just go out and have a baby. This situation didn't apply to men. Other friends of my mother's were fired when they got pregnant. That is the reason that we have the benefits and protections in place today. And, most families today do need two incomes to get by.

Posted by: typical working mother | May 16, 2006 11:40 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company