I can still remember the embarrassment I felt the time a young co-worker walked past my cubicle early one morning and paused to say, “Do I spy ‘the snack that smiles back’ in your bag? Wow, you really are a mum.” In my usual rush to get out the door and drop my son at daycare before heading into the office, his snack must have landed in the wrong bag — because, sure enough, there was a sandwich bag full of Goldfish crackers practically spilling out of my purse.
I laughed, shoved those crackers deeper into my bag, and quickly changed the subject to something work-related, eager to take the attention off the fact that I did, indeed, have a Goldfish-loving toddler at home.
Those early years of parenthood were hard. My husband and I lived 3,200 km away from family and our son was sick a lot. There were endless ear infections, allergies, specialists, minor surgeries, and one really awful chest x-ray — not to mention all the usual germs kids pass around daycare. We were forever weighing who had the more important meeting and who could sneak out early to pick him up when, once again, daycare called to say he had a fever. But there’s nothing professional about a sick baby, so as much as I could, I kept my role as a mum separate from my role as a (then) public relations manager.
This is what parents — especially mothers — do all too often: We hide evidence of the way our children impact our daily lives out of a (valid) fear that it somehow undermines our credibility, or indicates we’re less productive or dedicated to our careers. While my husband had no concerns about openly sharing our struggles and his need for flexibility at work with his female manager (who also happened to be a single mother), I did not feel the same comfort in sharing it with my male boss, who’d never had children.
But if we continue to hide the way our parenting and our professional lives collide, we perpetuate the stereotype of the frazzled, distracted mum and we ignore all the ways being a parent can actually make us better at our jobs. These kids, who can provide unpredictable inconveniences, also push us to become ever-better organisers, multitaskers, project managers, and communicators.
That’s why, as Alexia Dellner writes for PureWow, we need to “parent loudly” at work:
Put simply, parenting loudly is the act of not hiding the fact that you’re a parent from colleagues, employees or supervisors. “It means not being ashamed of having children to take care of, and in fact being proud of the ways in which being a parent makes you better at your job,” says [Lorna] Borenstein, [workplace well-being expert and author of the new book, It’s Personal: The Business Case for Caring]. “It means talking openly about your children, how they impact your life — both the negative and the positive — and taking interest in other parents who have this shared experience.”
In other words, the next time you’re late to a work meeting, rather than blaming your Wi-Fi or your commute, be honest about the fact that your 7-year-old needed help logging in to her breakout session or finding her school supplies. Or let’s say that a colleague puts a 5 p.m. meeting on your calendar, parenting loudly would be saying “I’m sorry, but I have to make my kid’s dinner at that time — can you meet earlier?”
To some degree, we’ve had no choice but to parent louder at work during the pandemic, particularly for the many of us who are working from home beside children who are learning from home. Kids are popping up in Zoom calls and making their presence known whether we like it or not. But as they go back into the classroom and we eventually go back into the office, we need to keep parenting loudly. Our kids are not evaporating from existence just because they’re no longer interrupting our meetings. They still impact our daily schedules, and we are still growing because of them.
Managers and workplace leaders who are parents, in particular, need to parent even louder, because a boss who talks about their kids or who announces they’re heading out early to catch the spring concert sets the tone for everyone else to feel comfortable doing the same. And those who aren’t parents can encourage people on their teams to parent louder by checking in with them from time to time to ask about their children.
Being someone who writes about parenting for a living makes it easier for me to parent loudly at work these days. It’s my literal job to identify the pain points parents feel in their day-to-day lives and to try to offer solutions. But I make it a point to share more with my co-workers than just my parenting experience as it translates to article ideas. I tell them funny things my kid says. I tell them when I’ll be offline because I’ve got to pick him up from school, or because I need to take him to a doctor’s appointment, or even when I’m taking a break because he’s having a tough day and needs some one-on-one time. I don’t allow any of these things to derail the productivity of my day; I simply acknowledge they exist, deal with them, and then get back to work.
Besides, he’s not all I talk about — they also know about the neighbours who yell a lot, the busted water heater, and the dog who chews things to tiny bits. Parents and non-parents alike have to juggle challenges, interruptions, and health crises. Doing so doesn’t make us less dedicated or more unproductive or less professional — and neither does parenthood.