It’s time to move past the “mommy wars”

| April 28, 2012 | Comments (1)

The woman@work column appears weekly in The Globe and Mail.

“Do you work?”

Posing that question to a group of mothers can be the verbal equivalent of throwing a Molotov cocktail.

For those unfamiliar with the long-running “mommy war”, a flare up between those who work outside the home versus stay-at-home mothers recently occurred in the U.S. political scene.

In a discussion about the economic challenges women face, democratic commentator Hilary Rosen stated that Ann Romney, wife of Mitt Romney, “never worked a day in her life.” Ms. Rosen later apologized to Ms. Romney, who stayed at home to raise the couple’s five sons.

Parenting remains a tough job and the notion that “it’s not work” stems from the absence of compensation more than anything else. Although it’s highly unlikely we’ll see a pay-for-mothering model, a yearly survey released by suggests that stay-at-home moms should earn over a $100,000 a year for their labour, including overtime.

Although the “mommy war” debate may be less explosive in Canada, I’ve witnessed many flares ups in social settings and it’s high time for this discussion to evolve. For starters, many of us play both roles as some point in our lives and staying home remains an option that few can afford.

To ease the transition from domestic to professional work, parents must start coming forward and talking about the skills gleaned at home and how they apply to the workplace. Only then will the role of parenting and “time off” to raise children be viewed as a benefit rather than a black mark on your resume. Corporate employers look favorably on veterans and athletes, so why not stay-at-home mothers?

The skills parents acquire offer them an advantage in the corporate world, argued Sumru Erkut, the associate director and senior research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women, based in Massachusetts.

“Parents develop ways of responding to changing demands of children who are not necessarily rational negotiators,” observed Dr. Erkut. She lists persuasion, patience, priorities setting and strategic thinking as some of the skills successful parents learn on the job.

With the caveat that not all parents develop these skills, nor does one need to be a parent to acquire them, Dr. Erkut suggests that those parents who take their role seriously are more likely to develop them than non-parents.

Not all working mothers dismiss the skills they learned on their domestic shift, illustrating that a changing mindset on parenting as it applies to the professional world might be underway.

Alexandra Bellamy, a partner at KPMG’s Technology, Media and Telecommunications practice often tells co-workers that parenting her 3 children made her a better employee by allowing her to better manage complex issues and tight deadlines.

“One of the most important skills that having children has taught me is how to keep work stress in perspective,” observed Ms. Bellamy. She recounted how her eldest son fell very ill as an infant. Unable to eat or drink, he lost a significant amount of weight and all Ms. Bellamy could do was comfort him. The experience allowed her to better manage work-related stress.

“I subsequently learned that as a professional, at work I have the skills to deal with stressful situations as they arise and I have the ability to stay in control and manage through them if I keep a cool head and calm demeanor,” Ms. Bellamy explained.

Amy Laski, president of Felicity, a communications agency in Toronto, cites teamwork and efficiency among the skills she honed as a parent that apply to her work environment. Most notably, Ms. Laski learned to quickly adapt to change when her first daughter arrived 8 weeks early.

“This experience marked the start of a transformation for me into someone who can confidently say that sometimes the greatest results are achieved when you relinquish some control and don’t plan every last detail,” reflected Ms. Laski, which she finds a huge advantage in the business world.

It’s not only the corporate world that finds these skills useful. A sense of diplomacy plays an important role in politics as well as childrearing.

Toronto City Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon ran an ESL department at a school before staying at home to raise her kids full-time for 8 years. She asserts the experience taught her, among other things, to strategize, problem solve and manage conflict.

Although Ms. McMahon admitted to being one those women who swore she would never stay home, she’s glad she did and believes the experience made her a better city councilor.

“After years of refereeing my kids and their friends and other kids in the sandbox or playground, I honed my bridge building techniques [which was] definitely essential for council,” she quipped.

Tags: Ann Romney, compensation, corporate world, , Hilary Rosen, kids, mommy war, parenting skills, stay-at-home moms, ,

Category: Family 2.0, Women@Work

Leah Eichler

About Leah Eichler: Leah Eichler is the founder of Femme-O-Nomics. View author profile.

Comments (1)

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  1. says:

    Work, productivity and employment are separate metrics.

    Just because an activity is not commercialized, does not diminish it’s importance. Values, not cash, determine whether unpaid caregiving work is undertaken.

    The mid-20th Century prosperity and foundation of North America is underpinned by Post-war WWII unpaid labour of work-place trained women forced to re-assume domestic child-rearing roles in a suburban setting.

    Fertility control was not a viable public option until 1969, in Canada. Anyone more than 52yo is a happy accident, whose life needed to be accommodated into the routine of life.

    IN post-WWII, Unpaid labour of women built prosperity networks in quality, engaged school, sports, arts communities for boomer children.

    Yet decisionmakers of the Boomer demographic seem disinclined to honour the investments made by the previous generation, on behalf of the next. Old Age Security OAS is a case in point. Impoverished, sick women need to wait another 2 years to be eligible.