Why We Need to Be Parenting Loudly
Working for Parents.com, talking about my kids—and pregnancy and health and vaccine status—isn't TMI, it's par for the course. Having kids and talking about my experiences actually adds to my expertise. But being free to "parent loudly"—you know, be honest about family life and the obligations that come along with having children—hasn't always been a given.
Before I had my two sons and was working somewhere else, I had a miscarriage at my office. I was bleeding, crampy, scared—but kept my head down and my pain secret until the work day was over. I didn't want to talk about what was happening because it was so personal, but there was a part of me that didn't want anyone to know that I was losing my unborn child because of how I might be perceived differently—and potentially less seriously—if colleagues knew that I was trying to start a family. That somehow everything would change if I was honest about how my home life was evolving. The hesitation to parent loudly started before I was even a parent.
Looking back, that situation was not only heartbreaking, it was unnatural and inauthentic. After my first son was born, I wound up leaving that job because the work-life balance wasn't something I was willing to compromise on. Now I make it a priority to work with people who prioritize family in the same way and embrace the fact that parents have lives outside of work—but not everyone's as privileged. For many, finding parent-friendly work isn't easy and the "motherhood penalty"—where U.S. mothers make less money and lack opportunities for job advancement after starting a family—is still a very real reality.
Can that change if we all start parenting loudly?
What Exactly Is Parenting Loudly?
In her new book, It's Personal: The Business Case for Caring, workplace expert Lorna Borenstein makes the case that parents—and specifically mothers—need to start being transparent with colleagues, employers, and employees about having kids. "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," Borenstein said. "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."
So instead of making up an excuse for leaving work early, you'd be honest about the fact that you've got your kid's baseball game to go to. Or ask for that early morning meeting be moved to the afternoon because you've got to take your child to a doctor appointment before daycare dropoff. Or simply share photos of your family with the people you work with day in and day out.
But it's really time we normalize parenting—period. "I really don't like the term 'parenting loudly,'" says Madeline Levine, Ph.D., child psychologist and best-selling author of Ready or Not: Preparing Our Kids to Thrive in an Uncertain and Rapidly Changing World and The Price of Privilege. "I think what it stands for is important and, yes, parenting absolutely needs to be normalized in the workplace. I'm far more interested in having our roles as parents be an acceptable and admired part of who we are as people. I just think that the idea that not only are we parents, but that fact typically makes us better at a whole lot of things like collaboration is what matters. I'd prefer 'normalized parenting' or 'honest parenting' or 'comprehensive parenting' or just plain 'parenting.'"
How COVID Shifted Things for Working Parents
"I've never been a fan of the idea that you should work like you don't have a family and parent like you don't work," says Suzanne Brown, work-life balance speaker, consultant, and author of Mompowerment: Insights from Successful Professional Part-Time Working Moms Who Balance Career and Family and The Mompowerment Guide to Work-life Balance. "Getting to know your colleagues personally makes for a tighter-knit team. And many non-parents might not realize that working parents often are the most productive on a team. They must work smarter and plan their time so that they can leave early for their child's performance or coach their young child's sports team and not miss a deadline. In the past, they might have hidden this engagement in their children's lives, but the pandemic has given them permission in many ways to show the flow between work and life."
Not all working parents had the same support when COVID-19 forced shutdowns and work and school moved online though. That's evident by the millions of moms who lost unemployment or had to leave their jobs to prioritize child care during the pandemic. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, more than 150,000 women lost jobs in December 2020 alone. The pandemic certainly hit women hard, with mothers bearing the brunt of housework and child care on top of their jobs. Getting moms back into the workforce—with the support they need and understanding that they are more than just an employee number—is crucial to continue breaking down gender inequities in the workplace and at home.
"I'm hoping that the adjustments we needed to make during the pandemic changes some of the perception that women will be unduly distracted or less involved because of their children," says Dr. Levine. During the pandemic, many parents simply couldn't hide their kids from their colleagues and everyone was more honest about the fact that they were juggling things. "We are so much more than our jobs. We have other relationships and responsibilities. We need to bring our full selves to work in order to be both authentic and to lessen the anxiety of keeping all of these things separate. That takes a lot of bandwidth."
Having a full life is actually an asset—and parents have proven time and time again during the pandemic that they can, in fact, wear more than one hat well. Putting on the mom or dad hat doesn't decrease a person's dedication to their job or other responsibilities. And if parents could do all of this while in crisis mode, parenting loudly should certainly continue as we all get back to our more regular lives.
Prioritizing Parenting Loudly Could Incite Real Change
Moving away from the notion of "parenting quietly" could lead to less stress and gender pay disparity as well as better relationships formed through shared experiences and more happiness overall.
Instead of worrying about things like "Did I talk too much about my kids" and "Will I miss the next promotion if they think I'm slipping out to watch my kid in the class play?" at work, Dr. Levine says that parents have got to focus on integration over compartmentalization. Parents can start parenting loudly and encourage others to do the same, but a healthy example really needs to be set from the top.
"It would be helpful to have senior leaders model the fullness of their lives," says Dr. Levine. "This is bringing kids to work. Talking about it. Not just kids accomplishments, but more the pleasures and strains of tackling at least two enormous jobs at the same time."
With family-friendly employers, colleagues, work events, and resources, we can help parents avoid burnout and fully embrace the reality that their lives have changed since having kids—for the better. We can help get—and keep—moms in the workforce and help parents and all employees obtain a healthy work-life balance that the pandemic showed us we so desperately need.
"Work-life balance is a long-term approach to life," says Brown. "There are times that are more work-focused and times more about life and family as a working parent. It's a pendulum that sways, not a moment in time. Parenting loudly allows the seasons that are more life-focused to come to the surface, realizing that the employee or entrepreneur will still reach his or her work goals. In the seasons more focused on life, working parents are being even more intentional in how they engage with their family life. We hire employees or entrepreneurs to support our business and goals, so we need to have faith they will get their job done even if they're not thinking and dreaming about work every minute of the day."