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Published May 26, 2014, 05:16 PM

Parenting Perspectives: When parenthood makes its way into the office

An early morning headache called for a couple ibuprofens. I raided the office stash, pouring two tablets into the palm of my hand. When I looked again, there was only one. I started scanning the office floor frantically for the missing ibuprofen.

By: Sherri Richards, INFORUM

An early morning headache called for a couple ibuprofens. I raided the office stash, pouring two tablets into the palm of my hand.

When I looked again, there was only one. I started scanning the office floor frantically for the missing ibuprofen.

I paused and reflected on my behavior. Why was I panicking over a dropped pill?

Oh, because I’m a mom. And at home, a certain 2-year-old would quickly descend to gobble it up. Obviously that’s not a risk at the office.

It made me think about how else parenthood can carry over into work life.

A former colleague once commented that he feared the day when, out of habit, he’d end a professional phone conversation with “Love you!” as he finishes calls with his wife and kids.

I remembered a scene from the book “I Don’t Know How She Does It” (later a movie starring Sarah Jessica Parker) where working mom Kate Reddy unconsciously moves an important client’s glass of wine away from his elbow. It’s an automatic reflex when you’re around spill-prone kids, but was mortifying for the character when her client asked for his wine back.

It’s not easy to turn off “mom mode.” I don’t expect I’ll start confiscating my co-workers’ knives, wiping their faces or insisting they blow into a tissue. But there are more subtle ways parenting can infiltrate the workplace.

A friend said she finds herself giving her subordinates the same “Oh really?” raised eyebrow look she gives her kids, as well as the same verbal coaching – “You can do this” or “Choices have consequences.”

My desk mate is renowned, and appreciated, for his regular “candy tossing” trips around the office. Having grown up in a family where “food is love,” he recognizes it as a continuation of his fatherly nurturing.

As I’ve transitioned from working at home to working at work, I’ve wondered whether it’s better/easier/more natural to keep the parent and employee personas separate. Or can I authentically be both simultaneously, allowing one to shape the other?

Parenthood often makes us more patient, more compassionate – qualities our colleagues would certainly appreciate.

Maybe motherhood can make me a better manager, as long as I keep my Kleenexes to myself.


Sherri Richards is mother of a 6-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son and is Business editor of The Forum. She can be reached at srichards@forumcomm.com.

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