Remember in pre-pandemic times, when you snuck out of work early so that you could catch your kid’s holiday show at school? And how about last week, when you plowed your child with M&Ms and Paw Patrol so that she would stay quiet for your Zoom meeting? Different times, same issue—parents are going to great lengths to hide evidence of their children at work. And this is seriously problematic—for parents, for kids and even for the companies themselves. Lorna Borenstein, workplace well-being expert and author of the new book, It’s Personal: The Business Case for Caring, argues that we need to start “parenting loudly.” And honestly? She’s right.
What does “parenting loudly” mean?
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 Borenstein. “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?”
Why is it important that moms parent loudly?
“Mothers in particular often feel ashamed of talking about the fact that they are parents,” reveals Borenstein. “They feel it will undermine their credibility, and in fact, they’re not wrong: A recent study from Bright Horizons showed that 41 percent of organizations view moms as less devoted, and 72 precent of both working moms and dads agree that women are penalized in their careers for starting families, while men are not.” Well, that’s… disappointing. The only way that things will change, argues Borenstein, is if mothers start parenting loudly and encouraging each other to do the same.
Interestingly, that same study revealed that the vast majority (85 percent) of those surveyed agree that being a mother helps women prepare for the challenges they will face as business leaders, and 84 percent believe having mothers in leadership roles will make a business more successful. And other studies confirm that moms are indeed more productive at work than their childless peers. (Because if you can referee a fight between siblings, make packed lunches and get those squirmy humans dressed and out the door all before most people have even made their morning coffee, you know a thing or two about multi-tasking and time management.)
What does parenting loudly look like?
Thanks to the past year of lockdowns, it’s been damn near impossible for parents to hide their daily parenting struggles. (File under your conference call being interrupted by a toddler asking for more milk.) “When this happens, our first instinct might be to be embarrassed and apologetic. Parenting loudly means suppressing those feelings of embarrassment and instead embracing the messy life of being a working parent, openly acknowledging that your children are nearby and that they need something from you,” Borenstein tells us. “Another way would be to talk honestly with colleagues or employees about the difficulties of virtual schooling while working from home.” Or being honest about the reasons you have to cancel a meeting—say because you have a sick child at home who needs to be cared for. Whatever the situation, openness and transparency is key.
How can senior leaders encourage parenting loudly at work?
“It’s especially important for men and women in senior leadership positions to parent loudly at work, because it sets the tone for the entire organization, giving others the green light to be open and honest about the struggles that come from being a working parent,” says Borenstein. Senior leaders should be leading by example, which gives permission to others to parent loudly. They can also encourage parenting loudly at work by making accommodations so that it’s easier for working parents to succeed (think: flexible work schedules, the ability to work from home when needed, childcare stipends, etc.).
What’s in it for the company?
If an organization hasn’t embraced parenting loudly, and senior leaders don’t take an interest in the personal needs of their employees, then they risk losing employees to other companies that better support their whole life. And this can be highly costly for employers—the cost to replace an employee is anywhere from 33 percent to as much as two times their annual salary when you take into account the costs of lost productivity, filling the vacant position, onboarding and orientation. “As I mentioned earlier, there are plenty of stats that show how working parents, and mothers in particular, make for great employees, so it’s really beneficial to employers to do what it takes to make them happy. That means creating a psychologically safe work environment where they feel like they can parent loudly and be their authentic selves.”
Hear, here. Now excuse us, we’re signing off to go deal with a hangry toddler.