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Because All Mothers Work

Do you know a mother who doesn’t work? I mean, really? I am wondering when we drew this horrible line in the sand between those of us who make sacrifices to provide/supplement our families and those of us who make sacrifices to stay home? I am a stay at home mother with four young children. I also run a small business out of my home that I work on mostly at night and during naps. I have a calling or two in my ward. I am part of a large extended family. I am part of various communities. I work pretty much all of the time. I bet whether you’re CEO of a large corporation or CEO of your household, you do too.

I write about balance. In the context of integrating work and life and workplace reform. As I watch women making up more than half of the American workforce (and similar statistical thresholds are being crossed throughout the world), I see the change needed to make the paid workforce a more financially productive but also socially responsible place to be. I regularly agitate for organizational and political reform through my personal blog and some advocacy groups. Some in the LDS community might see those efforts misplaced and as detrimental to the counsel we have to raise and nurture our children. I believe the absolute opposite is true.

From an economic and quality of life stand point, organizations need to empower their employees, to trust them, to stop clock watching and measuring ‘face time’ and focus on results. Imagine opening the floodgates of possibility for flexible hours, part-time schedules, for men and women, that still allow some kind of meaningful career path. How does this fit in with the sacred mission of a Mormon woman of faith?

Because I believe mothers should have the opportunity to be home with their children as much as physically possible. And I believe fathers deserve that chance too. For too many workers across the world, the choice is all or nothing. At least 40 hours a week plus commute time away from their families. If only my husband worked that little. Here on the East Coast a 40 hour work week is practically flextime. Most part-time work offered is typically low paid and low skilled. It’s all important work, but if you have more to offer, and you have to be away from your family anyway to put food on the table, shouldn’t there be more flexible options connected to your qualifications and experience? For those of us mothering full time, at great financial and sometimes intellectual sacrifice, the thought of meaningful flexible work that doesn’t fully remove us from our families would be an ideal solution.

In this recession, which has men losing their jobs at a much greater rate then women, more women are supporting their families for a season. Or supplementing at the very least to put food on the table and make rent or the mortgage. The LDS community is sadly, not that far behind overall statistics for divorce, death, and unemployment. We must be prepared if and when the call comes. My dream is to make sure that the thinking of corporate world enables us to dip in and out of careers and professions in a true flow. Young children? Be at home as much as possible, ideally full-time. Older children? A schedule that allows school pick up and afternoon/evening focus on your family. Elder care? Another season where focused at home care might be needed. A husband out of work? Important skills that are critically needed? Marriage ended, heaven forbid? Get back in that workforce at the highest level of pay you possibly can manage, working the fewest hours for the greatest reward – not because you are lazy or want a free ride, but because you are smart, efficient and highly productive. You can help generate a profitable, effective organization. But you’ve got babies to get home to, where it all really matters.

For most LDS women who are working, it’s not about the vacations and new clothes and cable access and more house than you can afford. Those days are ending as people start paying their bills, and the counsel of our prophets for generations sits boldly against the backdrop of a decade of fiscal irresponsibility. In the meantime, those of us who can be home with our kids need to be very careful of judging our sisters in the paid workforce.

There are key, sacred roles for providing and nurturing. But the details of how and when and who does what at what precise time have to be up to each family in counsel with each other and with the Lord.

What has your family’s experience been? And how has the Lord helped you find the right path at different seasons? What advice would you give to a mother getting back into the workforce right now?

{ 7 comments… add one }
  • facethemusic February 19, 2010, 12:18 pm

    Well said, Chrysula.
    As you stated, many mothers who work, HAVE to work. Reality is reality. Single mothers, divorced mothers, wives whose husbands have lost jobs or don’t make enough to cover basic bills and needs. Many work simply because they can since all the kids are in school and it supplements a tight budget so that the family isn’t always just barely getting by– or, even just because they enjoy it! If the kids are all in school anyway, then what’s the harm? I know several women who are able to get their kids on the bus, and are home before the kids — so the kids never even know she was gone. I DO know those who work simply because they feel it’s their “right” and that the prophetic counsel to be home with children is given by old men who just don’t get it.
    But especially in the last few years– and certainly in the years to come, more and more sisters will have to work.
    Elder L. Tom Perry came for a Regional conference awhile back. He also met seperately with all the stake and ward priesthood leadership, and since my husband was in the Bishopric, he was in attendance.
    Elder Perry said the number one concern over the next several years of the First Presidency and Twelve apostles was going to be the weflare and financial needs of the members because an anticipated continuance of a worsening economy, job loss and living beyond our means. So we can assume then, that even more women will need to enter the workforce. And if church leaders expect that the economy will only worsen, then heck– if a sisters kids are in all in school, giving them time to work outside the home– even if it’s just part-time so their home when kids are heading out the door, and heading back in– then it could supply the ‘extra’ money to be stashed away in savings for when that rainy day DOES come.

  • Chrysula February 19, 2010, 2:13 pm

    Thanks facethemusic, I think we are seeing greater understanding and softening. Families are stretched so very thin and living paycheck to paycheck, year after year is incredibly draining. At some point you just have to say, I can’t anymore. I can’t live with that kind of stress and worry hanging over us all the time. I have to contribute. Let alone all the emergency scenarios of husband’s job loss or worse.

    Working because we want to is a complex area. I had a big career and I do find it really hard to be home as much as I am. I know there are others who would be so happy to change places with me. I absolutely respect that. The grass is perhaps always greener? But I have found that keeping connected to my professional world on a small level is better for me and ultimately better for my kids. On the odd days I have to spend having meetings away from them, I get home energized, stimulated and so very happy to be with my crazy bunch. It’s a complex set of emotions. Our beloved leaders for the most part (who I don’t happen to classify as a bunch old men who don’t get it) have been surrounded by women who generally don’t feel quite so conflicted as many of us do. But their daughters and granddaughters are keeping them well informed of the shifts I bet. Now to make those hours when the kids are in school be meaningful and appropriately rewarded! And also to open the door for men to be more involved in their childrens’ lives . . . thanks for contributing.

  • Michelle D February 19, 2010, 9:29 pm

    Chrysula, it’s too late for me to be very coherent, but I just wanted to let you know that I agree with the direction of your thoughts, and appreciate your insights. Work is work, regardless of the place or time. It’s nice to be validated in regards to the challenging decisions we have to make in order to best benefit our families.

  • Chrysula February 20, 2010, 11:44 am

    Thanks Michelle D. You have a lot going on right now, so the fact that you even managed a comment at all means a lot to me!

    It’s funny, I had worried this post might be controversial for some, but I guess we are all further along than I’d thought, and that makes me SO happy and gratified. A recent debate over at Segullah on a friend’s post who happened to have a very full professional life because she’d put her husband through school and then just kept going, was stunning in the criticisms leveled at her. So I was prepared for the worst! Wonderful that here at Mormon Momma my sense is that our group tends to focus on the things that unite us, rather than divide.

    So now to talk about how to make it all flow, integrate, balance, whatever the word of choice is!

  • Alison Moore Smith February 21, 2010, 11:52 am

    I love posts like this. 🙂 Thanks so much, Chrysula.

    organizations need to empower their employees, to trust them, to stop clock watching and measuring ‘face time’ and focus on results.

    On this point as as en employer I totally disagree, at least as far as the social and political reform you mentioned. I don’t think employers “need” to do any of that. I think they “need” to offer the jobs (perks, circumstances, benefits) they are willing to pay for. If anyone accepts their offer, great. If people don’t want to accept their offer, the employee must adjust it to fit those they would like to hire. It’s an arms-length negotiation, not a mandate EITHER WAY.

    If flex-time, tele-commuting, part-time, in-house whatever (day care, gym, cafeteria), more benefits, less benefits with more straight take-home pay, business attire, casual attire, family leave, tons of vacation, no paid vacation, ____________, is best for the employer, they would be wise to offer it to the employee — and see if there are any takers. On the other hand, if those things don’t work, no employer should be forced to offer something that doesn’t work for the business. NO ONE IS REQUIRED TO WORK FOR ANY PARTICULAR COMPANY. If you don’t like what they offer, find a business that does offer it — or start your own that runs the way YOU want it to run.

    It’s all important work, but if you have more to offer, and you have to be away from your family anyway to put food on the table, shouldn’t there be more flexible options connected to your qualifications and experience?

    I don’t know what you mean by “should” and that is the rub.

    If you think this is the way business should be run, you are free to start a business that offers this. If it’s a feasible way to run a company and many are looking for such positions, people will clamor to work for you and other companies will jump on the bandwagon to compete for the best employees. If it’s not a feasible way to run a company and I can promise you one size does not fit all then you go out of business. (Unless you’re GM.)

    Often in such discussions, I find utopian thinking that comes more from an employee wish list than from anyone who’s actually run a company and hired employees. They are two very different things. 🙂

  • Chrysula February 22, 2010, 7:47 am

    OK, now we’re talking! :). Some background: I am not currently an employer. I have been in the past. I was raised in a self-employed small business family. I have several members of my extended family who are large-scale employers.

    Firstly I agree with your points. I am not asking for legislated flex time, part-time or anything of that nature. I am asking for the ability to ask for flexible options, offering a sound business case in the process, without fear of losing your job for even having asked the question. Australia recently passed legislation indicating that you can have the conversation without recrimination. But the employer does not have to agree if a proper business case cannot be established.

    There is a dysfunctionality in the way work is set up that exacerbates distrust and abuse on all sides. Self-fulfilling prophecy – you treat people like they are going to steal (your product, your office supplies, your time), then they often do. That’s not to say there aren’t abuses by employees, but there are plenty of abuses by employers too. Big stick mentality isn’t sustainable over the long term. “Teach them correct principles …” applies not just to our children …

    Fundamentally the greatest obstacle to a true flexible workplace in the USA at least, is two-fold:
    1. Health insurance. Why the option to disconnect this responsibility from employers isn’t on the table in the current round of reform is absolutely beyond me. It’s America’s number one obstacle to true workplace reform. We will never have real options for high level temporary, part-time and flexible options until heath insurance is no longer tied to employment. You shouldn’t have to be in that business.
    2. Entrenched attitudes of what it means to be “at work”. Trust, behaving and being treated like grown-ups who are well trained, well equipped and prepared to get the job done, performance being measured on results rather than face time. Wouldn’t your business benefit in a massive way if you were rewarding people based on output, performance, achievement, rather than how many hours they spent showing their face? Probably you already are, but you’re the exception to how business is done in this part of the world.

    When mandated sick leave and basic rights to vacation came into play in Australia and Europe, it didn’t suddenly stop being from being business owners or entrepreneurial. France, for all it’s mandated maximum work week (I am NOT a fan, but just saying) is nipping on the USA’s heels in terms of all per capita productivity measurements. The US is trending down (we’re still ahead so far) and everyone else is trending up in terms of productivity. All the legislation that American employers bitterly complain about isn’t fundamentally holding those economies back. Australia has one of the most vibrant economies in the world with mandated health insurance combined with a universal system, mandated sick leave, vacation time, a sophisticated temporary and part-time market place where maternity leave contracts can become career leverage for this willing to move around. The data suggests they have fared this recession substantially better than any other economy in the world.

    It’s a new paradigm. The companies that can adjust with the lives of their employees will safe millions in training costs, institutional knowledge and pure nimbleness in how they do business. The data is rich with the long term rewards of creating a respectful results based environment – it saves you money, it’s plain good business sense and it also happens to be the right thing to do.

  • Alison Moore Smith February 23, 2010, 2:12 am

    Posted By: ChrysulaOK, now we’re talking!

    :bigsmile:

    I am asking for the ability to ask for flexible options, offering a sound business case in the process, without fear of losing your job for even having asked the question. Australia recently passed legislation indicating that you can have the conversation without recrimination. But the employer does not have to agree if a proper business case cannot be established.

    Honestly, I don’t understand this at all. If you approach an employer and express the desire to change things, it MIGHT affect how you are seen in the business. (Of course that could be positive or negative.) How can you possibly legislate against impressions?

    But wait, that last phrase is different. It’s not about having “the conversation” but it seems to be mandating a change if a proper business case CAN be established. Whoa and holy cow.

    you treat people like they are going to steal (your product, your office supplies, your time), then they often do.

    Here’s the way I see it. You don’t like the way your employer treats you, LEAVE.

    We will never have real options for high level temporary, part-time and flexible options until heath insurance is no longer tied to employment. You shouldn’t have to be in that business.

    On this we completely agree. Insurance and employment should NOT be connected. There should be other risk pools, but (just like education monies, heh heh) the insurance should go with the person, not the job.

    Entrenched attitudes of what it means to be “at work”. Trust, behaving and being treated like grown-ups who are well trained, well equipped and prepared to get the job done, performance being measured on results rather than face time. Wouldn’t your business benefit in a massive way if you were rewarding people based on output, performance, achievement, rather than how many hours they spent showing their face? Probably you already are, but you’re the exception to how business is done in this part of the world.

    Personally, I don’t see this as a huge workplace issue. Who cares if someone has an “entrenched attitude.” Let them. And if someone wants to work in that environment, so be it. I don’t think results-based pay can be called equivalent to treating people like adults. Some jobs (cashier, waitress, usher, performer, pilot, teacher, etc.) simply DO require people to be at a particular place at a particular time in many (and sometimes all) circumstances. And most jobs aren’t so isolated that they can allow people to simply show up and work whenever they feel like it.

    Example: We had a bookkeeper who wanted to work from home so we sent her a computer and a way to remotely log in to the system, etc. So she took another job during the day and fit in our stuff at night. When Sam wanted/needed to address issues with her (once or twice a day), she wasn’t available. His only option was to call her at home after dinner.

    And that doesn’t address the fact that since taking over her duties about three years ago, I have averaged about five hours of work every week — while she billed us 20 — for the same work.

    “Entrenched” attitudes are often entrenched because they really work. If something works better from some companies, it will be to their advantage to innovate.

    Frankly, I don’t give a hoot about statistics with regard to productivity, satisfaction, health, stress, etc. What I care about is FREEDOM. I want to create the kind of company *I* want to create. I want others to do be able to work for me if they CHOOSE. I want anyone who thinks they have a better idea do be able to TRY to implement and then succeed or fail upon the merits of their idea.

    It’s a new paradigm. The companies that can adjust with the lives of their employees will safe millions in training costs, institutional knowledge and pure nimbleness in how they do business. The data is rich with the long term rewards of creating a respectful results based environment – it saves you money, it’s plain good business sense and it also happens to be the right thing to do.

    And it’s a beautiful paradigm to me — as long as it’s not mandated and legislated. If it’s utopia, then the companies that are saving millions and have fat and sassy employees should be excessively successful. They’ll have employees clamoring to work for them. They’ll be expanding all over the world. If it’s “good business” that means it’s a FEASIBLE business and it will flourish. If it’s good business, you don’t NEED to mandate it.

    As for whether it’s the “right thing to do,” we might disagree. I don’t see flex time or similar measures as a moral imperative.

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