A lot of mothers seem to share a similar idea of the perfect Mother’s Day gift: a day off. Not necessarily from the family (although a morning of peace and quiet wouldn’t hurt), but from the daily to-do list that’s ever-present in their minds: school concerns, doctor’s appointments, play dates and extracurriculars, groceries to buy, bills to pay. The list goes on.
At EdNavigator, we work with caregivers of all kinds: mothers, fathers, grandparents, even aunts and uncles. But the majority of our members are working moms, which means that most of the members we’re supporting every day are shouldering not just demanding day jobs, but also demanding home jobs. For women in supportive partnerships, of course, these roles are shared, but the research is very clear: In households led by heterosexual couples, women take on a larger share of the household and childcare work, often called the “mental load,” even when they work just as many hours as their male partners.
Flowers and pastries and handwritten cards for Mother’s Day are nice. (Don’t get us wrong, we love cards. And pastries.) But working mothers are some of the most productive employees around. If we truly appreciated them, things would look very different, all year round.
What can employers and schools do to unburden working mothers from (some of) that huge mental load they’re carrying? Every workplace and school should adopt strategies that fit the unique needs of their community, and those will look different in different spaces. But here are a few ideas to consider:
Embrace flexible, creative systems for all working parents.
Kids get sick. They have unexpected school closures for bad weather, and doctor’s appointments that can’t be scheduled on the weekends. (That’s especially true for children with ongoing medical concerns or special needs.) Working parents—moms and dads alike—need workplace cultures that acknowledge those realities, and put systems in place to embrace them. For example, working mothers in shift-based jobs need straightforward systems for changing or trading shifts with colleagues, without losing a paycheck or having to take sick days. Parents in 9-5 roles benefit from fluid start and end times, or options to work remotely when and where possible. Some offices allow employees to bring their infants to work in the early months—an option that especially makes life easier for nursing mothers—while others without such formal policies are shifting toward more flexibility to accommodate the needs of families with new babies.
In school, flexibility is also critical. A mother who can’t make it to a middle-of-the-day parent-teacher conference isn’t necessarily disengaged from school—she might just be unable to get the time off work. Scheduling conferences at a range of different times of day, offering phone or video chat alternatives, or including childcare on-site during conference times can all make life easier for all working parents.
Use inclusive language to talk about families.
“Here’s a form for Mom to sign.”
“Ask your mom about this.”
“Let’s call Mom.”
We’ve all heard variants of this in school, where mothers are often the presumed primary contact for students. Schools can shift the responsibility off the generic “Mom”—and be more inclusive in the process—by adopting neutral terms when talking to students about who’s at home, or learning about individual students’ family structures and tailoring communications to suit them. “Getting to Know My Child” forms can be useful tools for schools to keep on file from the start of the new school year, so it’s easy to avoid assumptions about who to call when a student gets sick or needs that permission slip signed.
Don’t wait for mothers to ask for help.
Instead of relying on mothers to speak up when something doesn’t work for them, schools and workplaces can be proactive about making choices that are inclusive of all working parents. In school, that might mean being thoughtful about offering food and childcare during school events, and making sure PTA meetings have conference lines available for parents who can’t be present in person but still want to participate. Workplaces can stay on top of seasonal trends that affect families (like school vacations) and be especially thoughtful about scheduling during those times. And new mothers shouldn’t have to ask to exercise their protected rights: For example, employers should make sure all staff are aware of their company’s accommodations for nursing mothers, so it’s not on moms to ask when and where they can express breastmilk—or to educate their managers or colleagues about their right to do so. Employers can also make sure staff have ready access to support with family concerns right in the workplace, so employees don’t feel that they have to hide their family lives while they’re at work.
Promote equitable ownership of family responsibilities.
Research shows that mothers and fathers are treated differently in professional settings: While men tend to be rewarded for having children, women tend to take a financial and career hit. But workplaces can actively work to undo those patterns through family-friendly policies that apply to mothers, fathers, and all constellations of families: flexible family leave for all kinds of caregivers; job structures that allow employees to more easily substitute for one another; and backup childcare benefits. We love to see our own employer partners promoting EdNavigator services to all parents and carers, not just moms.