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Babies at work?

Bring your Child to Work Day happens quite often in my child-centered society. Given that the school and work year don’t always coincide, people who work in the evening can’t always find babysitter, and the school year, often as not, will start with a teachers’ strike, it’s not unheard for parents to bring their children to work once in a while. Most bosses are understanding, as long as it’s not disruptive to the workplace and it’s not on a regular basis.

As it happens, the kids are out of school today because it’s the eve of the Jewish holdiay Purim, but parents (like me and my hubby) are still expected to work our usual hours. Which means that my daughter played in my clinic all morning. It’s a small clinic, and along with the regular patients, it got just a leetle bit rowdy. At least she had the nurse’s 4-year-old to play with. While we can all cope for a session here and there, and from past experience, and the patients (most of whom are either parents to small children or children themselves) are very understanding – this probably wouldn’t go over quite as well if it happened every time I was at work.

Which is why I really had to raise my eyebrows just a bit at women who bring their babies to work in lieu of maternity leave:

SEVERAL years ago, Joyce DeLucca became pregnant at the same time she was building her new company, Kingsland Capital Management, an investment boutique in Manhattan. Her employees wondered: Was she going to take a maternity leave during this crucial period?

She did not. Instead, Ms. DeLucca decided to bring her newborn to the office with her. She set up an enclosed playroom adjacent to her office, where Layla, now 3 1/2, could play, along with a baby sitter.

Layla is still coming to the office. “If I have a break I can stand up and walk into her room,” said Ms. DeLucca, who is 42 and works 12-hour days. “She knows her way around the office, and sometimes she’ll visit me on the trading desk. But it’s not like she comes with me to meetings. If I put my finger to my lips, she knows to be quiet.” Layla’s sister Ariana, who is 7 months old, now comes to the office, too.

More companies are allowing women — and some men, too — to bring their babies to work. The advantages are clear: The women don’t lose money by taking maternity leave. They can breastfeed conveniently. And they can bond with the baby rather than worry that he or she will develop a closer connection with a nanny or a day-care provider.

I’m not quite sure why this article makes me a little uncomfortable. It may be because, as someone who went back to attend once-a-week classes with babies in tow a week or two after giving birth to them, I would have to say that just the thought of going back to full-time work so soon after the exhausting labor of giving birth (not to mention trying to keep up with newborn sleep hours) makes me feel tired. I suppose this arrangement is OK for some very driven women in powerful positions – like the woman in the article or French justice minister Rachida Dati – but most of us mere mortals need to get the baby on a decent sleep schedule and recuperate from the birth first. I am also a bit apprehensive of this becoming the corporate culture in some American companies – that women would be expected to go back to work ASAP, FMLA be damned (assuming the company and the employee are eligible, of course).

Mind you, I’m all for on-site daycare, so that women can merely walk down the hall and nurse or play with their babies on their breaks from work (and at least then, the company takes on the hassle of hiring and paying the child minders). A child in the next office over, within earshot, though? It would be a major distraction. I’m not sure this would be an ideal setup for jobs that require intense concentration – women who deal with people’s lives or money, for example. Or women who work in environments unsafe for kids – with plenty of small parts to choke on, chemical solutions, microbes…not to mention those with no offices which would probably cover most employees at WalMart or McDonalds.

So while this is a solution that may fit some women, I think this option will probably stay the preference of a minority of parents. And I still think that paid maternity leave for a few months would benefit far more women than the option of bringing their children to work would.

For those parents who are able to take advantage of this option, the website of the Parenting in the Workplace Institute might be helpful.

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3 Responses

  1. I went back to work eight weeks after a c-section with my newborn in tow. Luckily, I worked for a small non-profit with only three employees, and I had flexible hours. It really was an ideal situation. But I had no idea how exhausting it would be. I constantly felt like I was either neglecting the baby, or neglecting my work. By the time my daughter was six months old, I was more than happy to put her into daycare part time so that I could be more focused at work, and be more focused on her when we were together.

    Fast forward two years, and I now work in a psychiatric hospital. The idea of bringing a child to work is laughable – children under the age of 13 aren’t even allowed on the unit.

    It is nice if it works, but it is exhausting and not nearly as ideal as it may seem. And, a lot of parents work in settings that are just not appropriate for children, no matter what.

    Sure would be nice if we got a decent maternity leave in the US – it would eliminate a lot of these conflicts between work and caring for a new baby.

  2. You know, that’s a big thing in the Sears Baby Book, and I really can’t imagine doing it myself.

  3. Personally I would have had no trouble working full time during the first 6 months of my daughter’s life if she had been with me. Granted, working from home would have been preferable to taking her to the office, but she was such a calm baby and slept so much, that I could easily have fit in a full work day each day (if I hadn’t been caring for her brother too).

    In Canada we have one year of parental leave and I would have preferred to have used the leave from 6 months to 18 months of age, which I think is a more interesting and important time to focus on interacting with the child. During the first six months, just having mom close is enough for the most part.

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