For too long, our culture has dictated that there is no middle ground for parents—every one of the available choices is filled with difficulty and sacrifice.
- If we have our children when we’re young, then we struggle to support them because we aren’t established in a sustainable career.
- If we wait the decade or two it can take to earn a decent salary, getting pregnant has often become an obstacle course and it carries higher risks for our children’s health.
- When our babies are born, if we take extended time off from work, we lose weeks or months of income. Even in countries with extended, paid maternity leave, mothers at home typically make much less than when they’re at their jobs, and women face hiring discrimination from businesses who don’t want an employee to be gone for months or a year at a time.
- When we stay home with our babies, we often find ourselves socially isolated during one of the biggest learning curves we’ll ever experience. If we return to work soon after birth, we typically have to spend thousands of dollars to leave our vulnerable babies in the care of strangers.
- Mothers see study after study showing the benefits of breastfeeding, but working outside the home and successfully breastfeeding is often an insurmountable challenge.
- Even in the few companies that offer paternity leave, fathers risk being judged as not dedicated to their jobs if they take more than a day or two off with a new baby.
We live in a world of absolutes and judgment–be a parent or have a career, but don’t expect to balance both. This maze of extreme choices has come about, in large part, from other divisions in our society. We have lost our “tribes.” We live in variations of the nuclear family, without the support we used to have from our extended families and our communities. We have developed a mentality of, “If you can’t do it all by yourself, you shouldn’t have children.” As a culture, we have lost the interconnections and mutual investment in each other’s lives. Given this, it’s really not surprising that so many of our social policies are so family-unfriendly.
When we see a glimpse of hope that maybe there is a way to bridge the chasm between our family and work lives, people are quick to shoot it down as unrealistic on a large scale.
When Jo Swinson, a member of the United Kingdom Parliament, tries to change the rules so that she has the option to bring her baby into the House of Commons, she’s chided for creating unrealistic expectations: “[H]ow many new mums in other walks of life can bring their babies to work day in day out?”
Italian MP Licia Ronzulli has been bringing her daughter with her to the European Parliament at various points since she was a baby, triggering ongoing international debate about whether her decision is “appropriate.”
In some circles, these high-profile mothers—and others like them—have been hailed as heroes of finding a successful balance between career and family. However, bringing children to work is still considered to be a choice that is reserved only for politicians, movie stars, and (sometimes) bosses. There’s an assumption that it could never work for the rest of us.
But across the world, a quiet revolution has already begun.
These pioneers of a new world bring their young babies to work every day and care for them at their desks, in their offices, and while helping customers at stores. They have jobs as designers, as bank tellers, as programmers and cashiers and teachers. They are mothers and fathers in law firms, schools, manufacturing companies, and government agencies. More than 2,100 families have discovered that not only is it possible to work with your babies by your side, it’s the key to creating a truly family-friendly culture.
Mothers, fathers, and babies benefit from having the social network of the workplace in the early months of a baby’s life. Mothers who choose to breastfeed find it far easier to successfully do so when they have their babies with them.
Fathers who bring their babies to work come to be viewed as just as integral to their children’s well-being–and just as competent–as mothers, which equalizes gender roles.
When babies-at-work programs are set up right, coworkers find themselves bonding with these children. They become emotionally invested in the well-being of the babies—and everything changes.
People treat each other better and trust each other more.
Parents find themselves with more career options because their peers and managers see firsthand that they can be skilled professionals and skilled parents at the same time. Because they can raise their children while still being present in the workplace, parents are more financially stable, and they don’t miss out on job advancement opportunities.
Companies become more open to other family-friendly policies because it’s not about “other people’s kids” anymore. These policies become personal—they are inspired by specific children who are loved and welcomed within the community of the workplace. These programs bring back the village; they bring back the supportive culture that we seemed to have lost.
Margot Merrill Fernandez used to work at a marketing firm that was subsequently bought by Facebook. In this video, she describes her less-than-ideal experience with her first child:
After our organization, the Parenting in the Workplace Institute, helped Margot’s firm to start a babies-at-work program, she brought her second baby to work with her. Although she was initially skeptical of being able to make it work, she ultimately told us this:
“I didn’t quite believe all of that fluffy stuff you promised about everyone being happier at first. But it’s true. Amazing for the culture and morale.”
Debbie Sallen started a baby program at Valley Credit Union, which hosted 70 babies over the next ten years. After Valley was bought out, Debbie moved to Alliance Credit Union and proceeded to start another baby program there. Alliance has hosted three babies so far and expects at least three more this year. The feedback from credit union members has been overwhelmingly positive. Along with coworkers, members have also bonded with the babies and frequently ask to see and hold them. One member commented, “That is so awesome!” when a participating mom explained why she had her baby with her.
Hawaii First Federal Credit Union started a baby program in 2011, and they found that productivity increased because everyone was so much happier having the babies around.
Addison Lee, a taxi company in London, was featured in a BBC documentary about baby programs in 2012. The company allowed babies and toddlers up to 2 years of age to come to work with their parents in their 500-person headquarters. In spite of tremendous skepticism at the beginning of the experiment, by the end of the month-long trial, the company had decided to permanently allow babies to come to work until a year of age. Addison Lee also began building an on-site day care facility because they had come to understand the cultural transformation that results from supporting employees and their families.
And these are just a few of the more than 180 organizations in the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom that we know have successfully hosted babies at work.
Parents are the original efficiency experts. We learn how to cook while holding a baby on our hip. We can organize a room so that we can get work done while keeping a toddler entertained. We learn how to bounce between conversations with an adult friend and our 8-year-old who never runs out of things to talk about. We carve out blocks of time in our stressful lives to be there for our teenagers when they need our support.
We are so much more capable than the corporate world believes, and we are at a tipping point for true integration of our work and family lives.
We are launching a clearinghouse to bring babies-at-work programs into the mainstream.
We know that there are many more baby-inclusive companies than the ones we’ve documented over the past several years, and we know that there are other companies that regularly allow older children to come to work after school or during school vacations. But we need your help to find them.
We know how to help companies to set up viable parenting-at-work programs, but we need to build networks of supporters within specific organizations so that we can get thousands more of these policies in place. We want to find parents who want to pilot these programs in their companies so that we can work with them to pitch a program.
Send us your pictures, videos, and stories of parenting at work—or working with your kids in other ways—so that we can build a gallery showing the beauty and potential of bringing these worlds together again.
We are on the verge of creating a culture where children are valued and welcomed. We can build a society in which parents can support their families with their children by their sides—and their coworkers form a community of love and support.
Help us to create a world in which this is just another work day: