I knew it on day two.
Most of my career as a writer and editor put me in an office, including when I had my daughter three and a half years ago. I went back to work when she was 10 weeks old, but I had some flexibility. I worked at home with her on Fridays until she turned 1, and I wasn’t punished for missing work here or there due to doctor trips for this bug or that infection.
On the second day of my new job, details began to emerge about what the workday looked like. Every minute at the office had to be accommodated for and entered into a timekeeping system, and a trip to the doctor had to be taken as paid time off. These rules had not been communicated during the interview process, and I failed to ask them. I was leaving my house at 7 a.m. and returning at 5 p.m., when I would see my daughter for the first time. Those rigid requirements simply weren’t going to work for me or my husband, who has similar work demands.
In March, PowerToFly President Katharine Zaleski wrote a piece for Fortune magazine in which she apologized to all the mothers she worked with before she became a mother herself. In it, she made a number of confessions, like this one: “I scheduled last minute meetings at 4:30 pm all of the time. It didn’t dawn on me that parents might need to pick up their kids at daycare. I was obsessed with the idea of showing my commitment to the job by staying in the office ‘late’ even though I wouldn’t start working until 10:30 am while parents would come in at 8:30 am.” She also admits she didn’t say anything when a female colleague wanted to fire another woman before she got pregnant. “For mothers in the workplace, it’s death by a thousand cuts—and sometimes it’s other women holding the knives,” Zaleski writes.
As a nation, our policies don’t support working parents. Consider this: The United States is the only developed nation that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave. The United Kingdom guarantees 39 weeks of paid leave for moms, by comparison. The federal government guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid leave for new parents under the Family and Medical Leave Act, but it does not make any stipulations for paid leave, and this only counts if you have been with the company for a year and your company has 50 or more employees.
Few employers take generous steps to make the lives of their working parents easier, despite research that shows they will gain irreplaceable loyalty. Some offer paid maternity leave through long-term disability insurance, though not at 100 percent of salary. Others have parental leave policies in place, but only a few come close to the benefits guaranteed in other countries. More progressive companies, especially those in the highly competitive tech industry, have instituted more generous maternity leave policies. Google gives new moms 18 weeks of paid leave. New moms get four months of paid leave at Facebook — so do dads.
The increasing number of telecommuting policies and work-from-home options are at least making the daily life of working parents more manageable. I was lucky. I contacted my former employer when I knew my new job wasn’t working out, and they needed help in a fast-growing content marketing division. They brought me back on—working from home. Other people aren’t as fortunate. They start new jobs because they need the income, only to find out that the work policies don’t support a healthy work-life balance.
I am committed to both my career and my family, and I want my daughter to know she won’t have to choose one or the other someday. Our lawmakers talk a lot about wanting to prepare the next generation of Americans with the tools they need to succeed and lead. To do so, they need to start by supporting the people who have the most influence on them: their parents.
Libby Hoppe is a writer, editor and digital content director living in the Chicago area with her husband and daughter. You can find her on Twitter @libbyhoppe.
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