This Mother's Day Week, Here's What Many Mothers Really Want
It's Mother's Day week in the US and many other countries. Each year, this is celebrated with much fanfare and enthusiasm; cards, flowers, chocolates, and restaurant and spa deals can be seen sprawling our feeds. I admit that some well-intentioned cards make me increasingly uneasy, especially those that celebrate moms as efficient multitaskers who know it all or messages that champion them as superheroes: "Super Wife," "Super Mom," and "Super Professional" etc. You may ask why — well, frankly, because it reeks of pressure, and it's exhausting to live up to and keep up with these badges of honors that society has benevolently handed out to us.
Spare time can be elusive for moms as they struggle to manage their never-ending to-do lists and choreograph their life down to the minute. Research shows that working moms are mainly more "time-poor" and time-starved than working dads, given their demanding schedules and constant pressure to maximize time, exacerbated by the desire to do things perfectly.
Our social conditioning and carefully defined gender roles play a role in this, too, as it establishes a woman's role in society and the nature of her responsibilities. Usually, there is an implicit expectation for a mom to manage specific commitments more than the dad needs to or is required to do. In some cultures, the social taboo is more pronounced, but the need to multitask constantly and its connection to time poverty is a global phenomenon. Experts argue that although women cannot avoid some household chores, they are too mired in obligatory domestic duties, making them miserable, which is terrible for their psyches, relationships, and physical health.
The small break moms might expect from their so-called "downtime" isn't a break as the laundry, rubbish, mail, pets and small children never stop needing their attention. As I highlight in my first book, Her Way To The Top, it's not only about multitasking; on any given day, moms are expected to run a "multitrack mind" as well, rapidly switching between a wide range of tasks across various roles.
So on this Mother's Day week, moms want not just a single day of pampering and quick-fix solutions but a long-term partnership that extends beyond one-day celebrations.
Here are ways in which you can genuinely celebrate Mother's Day meaningfully at home and work.
Share the workload at home.
I received an email from my son's school letter today, which had put a call out to dads to volunteer as class reps and the need to model a more gender-balanced family structure for our boys, especially in an all-boys prep school. The principal highlighted that given that most parents have demanding jobs, we have to be very careful about any underlying message we send to our pupils about how our gender may affect our societal roles. I found it very encouraging to see a school head eager to explore creative solutions with the PA, to see how we can encourage more fathers to be involved in this part of PA life. More of this please?
I write about this in Her Allies; some say it is the long, hard hours of thankless, unnoticed grunt work that create the foundation of intimacy. Nurturing involves unheralded tasks, like holding someone when they are sick, doing the laundry, ironing, and washing dishes. As a man, if you profess to be an ally at work but don't share the same enthusiasm at home, then you have what Good Guys call "ally dissonance." This occurs when there is a conflict between what you say and what you do, especially in private when no one is watching.
Unfortunately, family-friendly workplace reforms are often regarded as women's issues. More accurately, these are parents' issues. The US Census Bureau considers a mother to be the designated parent, even if both parents are present in the home. When a mother is caring for her children, it is called "parenting," but when a father takes care of children, it is called "child arrangement." UK public policy also reinforces that the mother is a child's primary caregiver. Child benefits are paid to mothers, while "babysitting" is still widely used for men when they assume childcare responsibilities. It is also seen how men who take leave for the birth of a child or care for a sick parent are perceived as less committed.
As author Josh Levs explores in his book All In (cited in Scientific American in an essay by Daniel Barron), men have been fired, demoted, or lost job opportunities for taking paternity leave or seeking a flexible schedule because of stigmas against men as caregivers. So, even when paid paternity leave is available, men often feel they can't take it. Joeli Brearley is the author of Pregnant Then Screwed: The Truth about the Motherhood Penalty. In an interview with The Guardian, she shared how she knows of one father on paternity leave who would receive emails from his boss that started, "Hello, nanny."
As pointed out at the beginning of the article, women worldwide are suffering from time poverty. In a survey I conducted for my first book, many women, irrespective of where they lived, confessed that managing time was the primary challenge holding them back in their careers. The time has now come for men to step in, publicly claim fatherhood, and share their pursuit of the elusive work/life balance.
As an ally, you can lighten your partner's workload by sharing household chores that allow her to carve out pockets of breathing room. As a parent, and especially a senior leader actively participating in your children's lives, doctor appointments, parent-teacher meetings, class representation, homework, exam prep, and other engagements, proactively demonstrate that these tasks are not just a mother's responsibility alone.
Do not shy away from taking parental leave to support your partner and divide responsibilities that women traditionally fulfill. COVID-19 has led to a newfound domestic partnership at home in many households, which can be maintained even after normalcy resumes. Of course, leaning in to support your partner does not mean adjourning your career but being an active ally for your partner at home.
[Related: COVID-19: A Gender-Biased Pandemic]
Improve parental leave benefits at work.
Managing home responsibilities has traditionally been a woman's job; thus, there is an expectation that career women will flex their schedule and realign commitments because that is what society dictates. Introducing non-transferable rights that enable both parents to take leave in the first year of their child's birth is a vital gender equality measure that improves father-child relationships.
In Sweden, for example, state policies encourage men to take parental leave and be part of their children's first months. Before the creation of "Daddy Days," fewer than 20% of Swedish men took any parental leave at all. Today, more than 90% take advantage of this dedicated family time. Finland's government also announced plans to give all parents the same parental leave to encourage fathers to spend more time with their children.
Men need to demand parental leave, policies need to promote and support it, and the culture of our organizations needs to shift so that men taking a break is the new norm. Only when men share housework and childcare will women be able to balance work and family and truly have it all. As it seems to me, this is the promise of gender mainstreaming.
In 2009, the UK granted paternity leave for the first time. Unfortunately, the data indicates men are not taking advantage of the new policy because employers do not pay paternity leave at a rate that compensates men for the loss of their (generally) higher salary. Thus, the financial loss is a practical consideration that can often outweigh the desire for family time off, especially for a new father who often bears responsibility as the "breadwinner."
We also need to accommodate mothers who would instead take more time off. They should not feel pressure to return to work to avoid being penalized. The pandemic has disproportionately shifted the burden of home chores back onto women, leaving them exhausted and anxious. That burden was incredibly cumbersome for single parents who could not turn to outside help during quarantine or lockdown.
Moreover, women are also more likely to be single parents than men are. A 2020 report by TrustRadius revealed that women in tech are more likely to be laid-off or furloughed than men and nearly one and a half times as likely to feel a more significant childcare burden due to COVID-19. 14% of women are considering quitting their jobs because of the pandemic's family demands. Deciding to leave the workforce can have long term financial ramifications for women who are already lagging in pay, pension, and health insurance.
As an ally, you can set an example by taking parental leave yourself and championing others who do. Leading with empathy and focusing on employees' mental and physical wellbeing can go a long way toward influencing an individual's decision to take time off or work through critical family milestones. Mentoring and sponsoring women can also help them make optimal decisions for their situations.
I don't discourage giving cards or flowers. I quite enjoy them myself, but the drive for gender quality necessitates that we do much more than just that. To truly celebrate motherhood, the gift of the equal partnership will be far more valuable and meaningful for the mother and how we shape her role in society.
Hira Ali is an author, writer, speaker, and executive coach focused on women’s and ethnic leadership development. She is the Founder of Advancing Your Potential and International Women Empowerment Events and Co-Founder of Career Excel and The Grey Area. Contact her on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, or Facebook. In 2019, she released her first book entitled Her Way to the Top: A Guide to Smashing the Glass Ceiling. Her second companion book — Her Allies: A Practical Toolkit to Help Men Lead through Advocacy — invites men to join the gender equality movement and is out now.
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Advancing Your Potential
Hira Ali is a Leadership Trainer, Motivational Speaker, Writer, Executive Career Coach & Licensed NLP Practitioner. She is the founder of Advancing Your Potential and Revitalize & Rise. Over the past decade she has had the privilege of training & coaching hundreds of people belonging to various professions, cadres, ethnicities and across a wide range of industries with a 98% above average rating review. From teachers to students, from corporates to police officials, from business owners to students,... Continue Reading
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