Parents are skilled managers with extensive experience meeting extreme demands under pressure. They are responsible for creating and overseeing budgets, disciplinary policies, safety protocols, health-care procedures, educational assessments and real estate portfolios. They also tend to be deeply passionate about their jobs.
Sounds like a great resume, no?
Well, no. For the most part, the job of raising children competes with office-based work. Many of us downplay or avoid the subject of child-rearing when we’re interviewing or otherwise trying to curry professional favor.
Now comes Michele Bachmann. In trying to win the highest office in the land, she’s redefining the relationship between work and family. On the campaign trail she makes the case that her parenting experience makes her more qualified to be president.
The Post’s Melinda Henneberger last week wrote this about Bachmann:
“In an interview between Iowa campaign events, she says that what she offers voters above all, in drawing on her experience as a parent, is the ability ‘to know when to say no, and that’s tremendously applicable’ in a country that she says must be forced to stop ‘overindulging.’ ”
Henneberger went on:
“Child-rearing experts tell us that what kids really crave are boundaries, the refusal to cave. And despite all evidence to the contrary, the conservative congresswoman is running on the proposition that good boundaries (and maybe a timeout) are what voters want, too.”
This is a radical departure from the way many of us — parents and non-parents — think. Work life and home life are not usually treated as intertwined and relevant to one another. They’re treated as separate entities, ones that so conflict they need to be balanced against one another.
The last time I worked full-time in an office, I tried to avoid talking about my home life. I kept the adored baby photos on my desk and a few handy anecdotes, but otherwise made the assumption that I’d be seen as more professional if I left the parenting commentary at home.
It did occur to me that my time away from the office, which included overseeing “employees,” meeting deadlines, scheduling, working with a partner and managing myriad unexpected crisis, had direct relevance to my job as a producer. But I had no intention of mentioning that to my boss.
Quite a few parents — both men and women — find themselves at some point trying to figure how to explain the caregiving “gaps” in their resumes. What if they didn’t ignore or avoid or disguise the time away from the office? What if they highlighted it?
It would, of course, not look like: “Between 2008 and 2011, I completed several projects, including potty-training and letter recognition.”
But it could look like: “With three children and limited resources, I became especially skilled at prioritizing. I know that will be crucial in this position.”
Right now, in most professions, that might not get a parent too far. “Um, yes,” a hiring manager might say, “but do you have any direct experience in this field?”
But is Bachmann onto something? The question she raises, to me, isn’t so much if her own mothering experience makes her a better presidential candidate. (There are far too many other issues involved regarding this particular candidate and this particular job.) It is: Should parenting be considered professional experience?
If parenting can make us better qualified for outside-the-home jobs, should we begin to capitalize on that?