Are Moms Asking for Too Much Flexibility at Work?

time clock The ongoing battle between the working parents and the stay-at-home parents may get all the press, but it's got nothing on working parents and the child-free who work with them. Working moms want a family-friendly workplace with respect for the fact that they have lives outside of the job. But is it fair of us to ask? Are we "playing the kid card" too much?

As a mother I want to say no. But as a mom who has confessed she often feels guilty leaving work for her kid, I can easily see both sides.

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So can Karen Grigsby Bates. She's the mom who wrote the emotionally-charged Slate article "Why Working Parents Should Not Pull the Kid Card" this week. Yes, I said she's a mom. And she thinks her fellow moms and dads are pushing it with all this family-friendly workplace business. Says Bates:

People without children have lives that are as legitimate and that they cherish as much as people who have children. This unwavering entitlement—I need time off; I have to have this holiday; I need to leave a half-hour before everyone else does, every day—kills office morale.

Her comments have merit. Every mom who has ever had to leave work early for a kid with a stuffy nose has encountered at least one cranky co-worker along the way.

But are all parents really killing office morale? Aaron Goldman recently confessed at that he was afraid to broach the topic of a flexible work day when his daughter was first born. But when he did, he found it didn't affect his work negatively at all:

As the months went by with our daughter, I slowly started to figure out that I could be more flexible, and that work would not suffer. Going in a little late after dropping my daughter off at day care is not a big deal, and although staying at home with a sick kid is not the best way to work, it can be done, and no one was judging me for it.

And some parents aren't asking for help because they want it. They're put in positions where they're desperate. Take the plight of single dad of three and veteran Dan Greeley. His story hit the news when he decided to take a pay cut at work ... because he was at risk of losing child care assistance critical for his family. Olivia Golden, an expert on child and family assistance programs at the Urban Institute, a non-partisan economic and social policy research organization based in Washington, D.C., explained that Greeley's story is typical of American parents who are desperately juggling to make things work. They don't want special treatment, Golden says, they need it:

Parents who are trying to work at low or moderate wage jobs and raise kids often run into roadblocks where the system just doesn't make sense.

We've been talking a lot about the middle class and the American dream. And to me, people who are working hard, trying to raise their kids, and on the edge of that middle class life, it should be one of our priorities to help them gain the stability they need to have that life that we all aspire to.

But what about the roadblocks other folks, without kids, run into? It seems there may be room for improvement on either side.

Congress recently hashed over a plan called the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013 that would have a major effect on all workers, not just those with kids. If it passes, the bill could have employees working unpaid overtime hours beyond the 40-hour workweek. Employees could accrue comp time (rather than time-and-a-half that many American workers depend on), but even that would be up to the discretion of the employer.

According to Eileen Appelbaum, a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, that means it doesn't matter if you have a sick kid, you're taking care of a sick granny, have your own health issues, or just want to have some free time to blow off steam, your "flexibility" would be limited: we're all in the same boat.

Do you feel like working parents play the "kid card" too often? Do you ask your employer for time off to take care of your kids?


Image via Dave Castleton/Flickr

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Betty VandenBosch-Warrick

Why does this article's title single out moms when the article acknowledges that it's parents, not specifically mom's who are in need of this flexibility?

As a manager, I can say this . . . no one cares when someone who's a highly productive person needs some flexibility. Everyone cares when it's the same person all the time, and when that person doesn't step up to the plate to make up for the lost hours. The job matters a lot. If your absence is hardly noticed because your job doesn't impact others, it's one thing. When your co-workers are having to pick up the slack on a regular basis, resentment builds. I like the idea of hourly employees being allowed to bank time, so they don't have to use up all their vacation or PTO to take time for family matters. At this office it wouldn't impact compensation because we don't have a need for anyone to work over-time. Hourly employees are allowed to come in early or stay late to make up for lost time, but with current legislation, they have to do it within the same week. It would be nice if they were allowed to bank time or make up time at a later date.

Michael Reynolds

This is so dumb. All this talk of "leaving early" and "workplace flexibility" is so 1950s. Why no go ROWE and end all the silly babysitting?

nonmember avatar mm

Depending on overtime pay every month to "make it" is a risky way to live. An employer is not required to ensure that you get enough hours beyond the standard 8 or 40 to ensure you get your bills paid.

Additionally, what about the folks who accrue little to no vacation sick time to begin with and are still expected to hang around a few hours extra? When do they get time to be sick or take care of family members? You know the old saying "Time is money". This bill adds flexibility and options for folks where there were none. Sounds good to me!

Coles... Coles_mom

This is a matter close to my heart right now. I have three kids and just recently took them and left the state due to an abusive situation at home that was escalating. I am looking for a job right now- can't find one because I've been a stay at home mom for 8 years...but even more than that- I have absolutely zero help with my kids. I am the only one that can pick then up when school calls and they're sick. I have to be able to drop them off at school and pick then up. I can't afford child care. I'll be lucky If I can find a minimum wage job at this point and yes, my kids are going to come first. Even if it screws the other employees. It's just me and my three kids against te world at this point.

nonmember avatar Christie

My workplace just recently cut back financially to afford to keep everyone on staff. One thing we lost was most of our paid holidays. Which means, Monday, I'm not going to enjoy the day off as much as I used to knowing my check will be short the following week.

I just asked about accruing time and my boss checked with the Dept. of Labor and was informed that they couldn't allow me to do that. This bill would really help me. And my work doesn't mind me needing the flexibility at all, I always make up the time and I always get the work done no matter what. Also, that comment about single people enjoying things also, doesn't hold water with me, my kid is only going to have her first field day once, she's only going to sing in the talent show with her Kindergarten class once, these are things that if you miss them, you miss them, there's no later when you have kids. The gym, bar, restaurant, etc. that the child-less person is heading to will always be there.

nonmember avatar Christie

@Coles_mom ... Good luck, and look into government assistance in your area, there might be a program that will give you free (or reduced) before and after school care.

Betty VandenBosch-Warrick

Still, Christie, it's about fairness.  Non-parents should have the same flexibility and parents shouldn't use the kid card to trump people.  This is one of the reasons resentment builds in the workplace.  How anyone uses their PTO time is no one else's business, when it's planned and approved by management.  Your kid's field trip or play isn't an emergency and shouldn't be treated as such. 

What parents run into is the need for drop everything and  run  flexibility when that call from the school nurse comes.  Depending on the type of business you're working for these can be easy or hard situations for a business to deal with.  While in my office, it's usually no big deal, I can see where in other situations it can be crippling.  A friend works at a doctor's office with only 2 nurses and 1 receptionist.  When any one of them are out, it's a real problem for the rest.  

The bottom line is school isn't your daycare.  If you don't work at a job where you can easily take off at a moments notice to be with your sick child, you need to have a back up plan. It's one thing to have to run out to pick them up and drop them off at your SIL's or something, but quite another to have to take the rest of the day.  

MamaC... MamaCatShively

I am lucky in that I have vacation and sick time that I accrue at work to take as needed when my daughter is not well and I need to stay home.  I also have the option to work from home which is what I did a few months ago when we are at the ER with the kiddo until 3AM.  I just started my day a little late and did what I could from home.  I know my boss appreciates it and I know he wants me back after our next baby arrives (sometime in the next two weeks) so that helps.  And I have the option to make up my time and I try not to feel bad when I have to stay home.  It's hard but you do what you have to do for your family.  The same is true of my coworkers who are taking time because they or a family member are sick.  You make it work.

amnew... amnewlon8982

I am all about a fair amount of flexibility for everyone. Even people without children still have families they would like to spend time with. At my last job, I worked there for 4 yrs before I started having children and being in law enforcement dispatch, when anyone called in sick, we had to find a replacement for their shift. I got so tired of being called each of my days off first because I didn't have kids so what else did I have to to. I had a teenaged sister to whom I broke many

amnew... amnewlon8982

A promise to because they all assumed just because I didn't have a child that I had no obligations or I was just sitting at home waiting on their phone call. And after so many years picking up others slack, I got pregnant, and at seven months pregnant, I was hit by a car and had hairline fracture in my spine and two herniated discs. I never missed a day of work during that time even though I was in a great amount of pain. When I had back surgery three he's later, I only took five weeks off instead of twelve which was suggested by my surgeon. I worked from the hospital for 11 days. Then from home the other weeks and after sacrificing my health for work, still got treated like crap. 11 yrs and two kids later, I needed a second surgery to fix the first one and was basically forced out even though I had plenty of time off to cover it.

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