The decision to work or stay home should belong to moms—not their employers

Family-friendly policies are shown to benefit companies, too. 

The decision to work or stay home should belong to moms—not their employers

For years, there has been talk about the opt-out revolution where women who are well-situated in their careers voluntarily stepped back to raise families. What much of the conversation overlooked, however, is that the decision for many is more about feeling forced out.

According to a survey of nearly 1,500 women for the book Work PAUSE Thrive, only 11% of women planned to step back from work when they became mothers. But 72% actually did. Author Lisen Sromberg concludes, “Something had forced these women out of the workforce.”

That was the reality for Amy Mason, a mother from Washington D.C., who worked on labor compliance and living wage issues for more than a decade.


“I was the first person at my organization to take multiple maternity leaves, and the first person to ask for a flexible schedule,” Mason tells Motherly. “They gave it to me, but I felt like I was asking for ‘leniency.’ I remained on the senior leadership team, but was no longer in the inner circle.”

Feeling squeezed out, Mason recently stepped out of the workforce altogether. She says, “Finally I came to the conclusion that it had to be a full-time job, you had to be all in. And I couldn’t do that.”

The statistics show she’s far from alone—with many women leaving the jobs they love for less desirable jobs that offer more flexibility and others halting their careers entirely.

According to the Department of Labor, 43% of women with a child younger than one don’t work outside the home. As those children age, many women seek reentrance into the workforce—with 75% of mothers who have children older than 6 working outside the home again.

For many of these women, the ability to stay home when the children are young is a choice and privilege. But, for some like Mason, it may feel like the choice is out of their hands.

What we lose when women opt out

These are talented women. They worked hard to develop their skills into significant professional contributions. They have a lot to offer to the workplace, the economy and the world.

But because of the relentless demands of a typical work day, moms like Mason have to make the tough decision between their professional lives and their families. Leaving their careers entirely or taking a job unaligned with their skills is the only way they can balance work with their other priorities.

Other moms choose to stay in a job aligned with their professional skills, but feel the pull of their personal priorities when the workday stretches into the evenings and weekends and clashes with the needs of their children.

Who benefits in this situation? Not organizations that need exceptional talent to accomplish their missions. Not families who need engaged parents. Not moms who want to contribute their professional skills in ways that doesn’t continually pull them away from their families.

Here’s a better question: Are the relentless demands of a typical workday necessary? Are the demands even effective?

When we make this conversation about workplace flexibility or family-friendly policies, it’s detrimental to everyone when employers aren’t forthright about what they can offer. Of her search to combine her family and her career, Mason says, “The onus was on me to ask. There weren’t established policies.”

The irony is family-friendly policies benefit companies, too: According to a 2012 research report from the Center for Women and Work, women who are offered paid leave are 93% more likely to be in the workforce nine to 12 months after their child’s birth. And a 2016 study from EY found 70% of employers reported increased employee productivity when they offered parental leave.

How we can change the workday for the better

What if instead of pushing moms to “opt out” of the grueling 9-to-5 (and then some), we engaged these talented women with a workday structure that respects their time and effort, rewards the outcomes they produce instead of the number of hours they put in and gives moms another option beyond opting out?

It’s time for companies—and the talented moms they hire—to start thinking about the best way to achieve their mission with the right team, the right focus and the right outcomes.

Restructuring the workday to allow parents the freedom to both work hard and focus on their families, will not just result in happier employees; it can improve a company’s bottom line by having the right people working on the right tasks.

It’s time for what Arianna Huffington calls the third feminist revolution: the transformation of the workday. Just imagine an economy that respects the family and gives mothers and fathers the opportunity to work toward positive change, correctly aligned in jobs that use all of their skills without burning them out.

We shouldn’t see people leaving careers they love and have given years to because of the unnecessarily incessant demands of a work day. When we can instead achieve flexibility and family-friendly balances, everyone will benefit.

I felt lost as a new mother, but babywearing helped me find myself again

I wish someone had told me before how special wearing your baby can be, even when you have no idea how to do it.

My first baby and I were alone in our Brooklyn apartment during a particularly cold spring with yet another day of no plans. My husband was back at work after a mere three weeks of parental leave (what a joke!) and all my friends were busy with their childless lives—which kept them too busy to stop by or check in (making me, at times, feel jealous).

It was another day in which I would wait for baby to fall asleep for nap number one so I could shower and get ready to attempt to get out of the house together to do something, anything really, so I wouldn't feel the walls of the apartment close in on me by the time the second nap rolled around. I would pack all the diapers and toys and pacifiers and pump and bottles into a ginormous stroller that was already too heavy to push without a baby in it .

Then I would spend so much time figuring out where we could go with said stroller, because I wanted to avoid places with steps or narrow doors (I couldn't lift the stroller by myself and I was too embarrassed to ask strangers for help—also hi, New Yorkers, please help new moms when you see them huffing and puffing up the subway stairs, okay?). Then I would obsess about the weather, was it too cold to bring the baby out? And by the time I thought I had our adventure planned, the baby would wake up, I would still be in my PJs and it was time to pump yet again.

Slowly, but surely, and mostly thanks to sleep deprivation and isolation, I began to detest this whole new mom life. I've always been a social butterfly. I moved to New York because I craved that non-stop energy the city has and in the years before having my baby I amassed new friends I made through my daily adventures. I would never stop. I would walk everywhere just to take in the scenery and was always on the move.

Now I had this ball and chain attached to me, I thought, that didn't even allow me to make it out of the door to walk the dog. This sucks, I would think regularly, followed by maybe I'm not meant to be a mom after all.

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Every week, we stock the Motherly Shop with innovative and fresh products from brands we feel good about. We want to be certain you don't miss anything, so to keep you in the loop, we're providing a cheat sheet.

So, what's new this week?

Meri Meri: Decor and gifts that bring the wonder of childhood to life

We could not be more excited to bring the magic of Meri Meri to the Motherly Shop. For over 30 years, their playful line of party products, decorations, children's toys and stationery have brought magic to celebrations and spaces all over the world. Staring as a kitchen table endeavor with some scissors, pens and glitter in Los Angeles in 1985, Meri Meri (founder Meredithe Stuart-Smith's childhood nickname) has evolved from a little network of mamas working from home to a team of 200 dreaming up beautiful, well-crafted products that make any day feel special.

We've stocked The Motherly Shop with everything from Halloween must-haves to instant-heirloom gifts kiddos will adore. Whether you're throwing a party or just trying to make the everyday feel a little more special, we've got you covered.

Not sure where to start? Here's what we're adding to our cart:

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Errands and showers are not self-care for moms

Thinking they are is what's burning moms out.

A friend and I bump into each other at Target nearly every time we go. We don't pre-plan this; we must just be on the same paper towel use cycle or something. Really, I think there was a stretch where I saw her at Target five times in a row.

We've turned it into a bit of a running joke. "Yeah," I say sarcastically, "We needed paper towels so you know, I had to come to Target… for two hours of alone time."

She'll laugh and reply, "Oh yes, we were out of… um… paper clips. So here I am, shopping without the kids. Heaven!"

Now don't get me wrong. I adore my trips to Target (and based on the fullness of my cart when I leave, I am pretty sure Target adores my trips there, too).

But my little running joke with my friend is actually a big problem. Because why is the absence of paper towels the thing that prompts me to get a break? And why on earth is buying paper towels considered a break for moms?

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