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Work And Motherhood In 'Maternal Optimism'


When we talk about the needs of working parents, we mostly focus on new parents and the policies that serve them, like parental leave to take care of a newborn or a place to pump breast milk at the office. But the challenges of integrating work and parenthood don't disappear after kids start school. Parents of older children have different challenges. Danna Greenberg and Jamie Ladge wrote about this for Harvard Business Review and in a new book "Maternal Optimism: Forging Positive Paths Through Work And Motherhood." Welcome to the program.

JAMIE LADGE: Thank you for having us.

DANNA GREENBERG: Thanks for having us.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's good that we as a society are talking more openly about the needs of new parents. But what do you argue is being left out of the conversation, Danna?

GREENBERG: You know, it's wonderful to have these conversations on early parenthood. But as children age, those needs don't go away for caretaking. And they become often hidden for women in the workplace. And they don't have a place to talk about them, have those conversations and try to figure out, how am I going to actively be an engaged parent of a school-age child, of a teenager and managing their needs along with my professional career?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Jamie, what does change for working parents as children grow up? How do their needs evolve?

LADGE: Well, you know, it's - as a parent of three teenager boys, I can attest to a lot of the different changes. I mean, it's difficult at all stages. And, you know, the old adage...


LADGE: Yes. Little children, little problems. Big children, bigger problems. So there are changes that happen over time, obviously, as children age. But in the workplace, I think we often assume that it's the people with younger children that need the most support, which is why you tend to see a lot of the policies and support mechanisms in place for early stage parenting and not as much for older - for parents with older children because I think we often assume they're self-sufficient, or they're past some of the difficulties and challenges that you see that's taking place in later stage parenting.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You both interviewed a lot of working parents for your book "Maternal Optimism." Is there a story you heard from someone that you think really illustrates the issue?

GREENBERG: One of the stories we heard frequently is about the transition to elementary school from parents. That's one of the most significant challenges, in part because it so surprises people. When people spend a lot of time and often a lot of money trying to find high quality child care for infants and toddlers and preschoolers, and they think, oh, once my child gets to elementary school, this challenge is going to go away. And they're visibly, emotionally and actually financially shocked to see the cost of before school and after school.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Exactly. What about dads, other parents who aren't mothers? What are - where are they in this conversation?

LADGE: This is Jamie. There's a ton of research that actually shows that women often gatekeep in their maternal responsibilities. And we need to stop doing that because we need the men to step up and get involved. And some of the research I've done is that actually, there's a benefit to being an involved dad - a benefit not just to the children, not just to themselves but also in the workplace because our research actually suggests that more involved dads are actually happier at work.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: When you look at all these challenges, how do we deal with this? What does it look like to have the support that families need during this crucial period?

LADGE: I think it starts with the culture of an organization. And oftentimes, there are certain norms and organizations and expectations that working long hours is a sign of commitment. And parents are often having to compete that norm with ideal parenting norms. And we have to sort of have this new conversation about shifting these cultural norms and organizations to recognize and reward that people have lives outside of their workplaces and that parenting is a really important part of people's lives. And if they're thriving in that aspect of their life, then they'll also thrive at work.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Jamie Ladge, Danna Greenberg are the authors of "Maternal Optimism: Forging Positive Paths Through Work and Motherhood." Thank you both very much.

LADGE: Thanks...

GREENBERG: Thank you.

LADGE: ...For having us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.