By Leah Smiley
My best friend called me today and shared that her husband was filing for divorce. One of the key issues was her inability to work consistently, which placed the family in a precarious financial position. My friend is not unemployed– for the last fifteen years, she has worked as a nurse with one of the largest healthcare systems in New Jersey. The problem is that her husband refuses to watch the children while she works 12 hour shifts. Over the years, this has proved to be an exacerbating problem—challenging her to become creative in finding childcare to say the least. More recently, she began calling out of work in lieu of hustling to find child care. I use the word “hustle” because her husband would commit to watching the kids, but then renege at the last minute.
In my opinion, there are several solutions to this problem:
- The obvious answer: force her husband to watch the kids. After all, they are HIS kids.
- The not-so-easy answer: train managers to be aware of behavior changes in otherwise faithful and hardworking employees. Is the employee calling out a lot of days? Coming into work late? Missing deadlines? Recent changes in an employee’s normal behavior could indicate that the supervisor needs to step in and offer solutions. Of course, in this situation, my friend has been written up and suspended several times for such uncharacteristic behavior; but that is the easy way out for supervisors. While an employee may not feel comfortable sharing embarrassing stories such as, “my husband refuses to watch the kids while he’s sitting home doing absolutely nothing”, the manager’s people skills should kick in and say, “Hey, I know you may be going through something that you may not want to share with me; but here is a list of resources that you can use to help you cope. I expect that you will use these resources to become the great worker that I know you can be.”
- The easy answer: Sometimes providing support for working mothers can be as simple as forming partnerships with daycare providers, organizing employee resource groups for working mothers, and offering employee assistance programs. These options are free or low-cost and can go a long way in retaining high-quality employees.
Being a mother at work is never easy, especially when small or school-aged children are involved. For the most part, these women work hard before and after work, while striving to give their all AT work. Additionally, childcare is expensive. A mother with two toddlers may pay $1,000 – $1,500 a month for daycare. And finally, almost everything about motherhood is unpredictable. One has virtually no control over whether a child gets sick or hurt. When you factor in the “guilt” that some mothers feel for missing important functions due to work, and the dirty looks that women get for talking about kids too much or rushing off to handle family issues, it can be very hard to be a mother at work.
Help mothers out, and offer some easy and not-so-easy solutions to common problems. If you’re not sure about what you can do, form a focus group and ask mothers what they need to be more productive.
By the way, I’m not discriminating against fathers at work, but I’ll address them on another day!