We usually celebrate Mother’s Day (and Father’s Day) fairly privately. These celebrations fall on a weekend, and the point is, after all, to recognize the mothers (and fathers) in our lives for all they do on the home front. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for these private celebrations! My own personal tradition is to spend Mother’s Day in a park with my family, enjoying the calm of nature and watching my boys gleefully throw rocks into the creek from the water’s edge.
However, today I’m suggesting that there are ways that companies — and managers within companies — can use the occasion of Mother’s Day to celebrate their employees who are committed to success both at work and on the home front.
First, I’m not advocating a company-wide celebration of Mother’s Day. Great employees are great employees, whether they have children or not. And companies would do well to recognize that the day can be triggering for many, particularly those who have lost parents, lost children or are trying to conceive.
Rather, I encourage companies to use the occasion of Mother’s Day as an opportunity to take an honest assessment of how well the company is doing at helping all employees who have commitments outside the workplace to thrive in their careers.
Instead of simply paying lip service to the holiday, companies can take a deep and honest look, for example, at their own parental leave and flexible work policies and cultures. In making this assessment, a company can ask questions like:
Do we offer an adequate amount of paid leave?
Are parental leave policies truly gender neutral, and has any reference to a “primary caregiver” distinction been eliminated? (The research shows, after all, that a dad’s taking leave improves the mom’s ability to thrive in her career.)
Is a backup care benefit available?
Have we made efforts to de-gender and de-parent our workplace flexibility policies (which in turn eliminates stigma for working parents)?
Have we put programs in place to help new parents transition smoothly back to work after leave?
Is there a working parent affinity or employee resource group available to employees?
Taking steps to ensure a company makes life tenable for its working parent talent is the *best* way it can celebrate Mother’s Day in a meaningful way.
Companies, of course, don’t exist outside of their people. And managers are in a truly unique place to recognize on Mother’s Day the (often herculean) efforts of their working-mom direct reports.
During the holiday season a few years ago, the chief of my division at work gave each of us a bottle of wine as an end-of-the-year thank you gift. Attached to the bottle was a typed note of the things she was grateful for. And at the top of the page was a handwritten, personalized note of gratitude.
To me, she wrote: “Thank you for juggling work and motherhood so elegantly.” Elegance?! It was breathtaking. I was only a few months back from maternity leave after the birth of my second child, and that word was the antithesis of how I would have described myself. Here I was, thinking I was frazzled beyond recognition, burning candles at both ends, wearing ponytails and quite possibly clothing that smelled like spit-up. And the word she chose was “elegantly”?
I still have that note and her words were forever etched into my memory. Her recognition made me feel seen. Like my efforts were worth it. It made me want to keep coming back to the office to do good work for her. And it was only one sentence.
If you manage a working mom, you have an amazing opportunity to help her feel like her efforts matter. Here are a few concrete suggestions of how to do that:
- Tell a direct report (in person or by writing a note) what an amazing job you think she’s doing of being an employee and a mother.
- Send a group e-mail to all the working moms on your team, letting them know you’re thinking of them this Mother’s Day.
- Point out to a mother colleague what strengths and leadership qualities you’ve watched her grow and develop, since she became a parent. (See this beautiful watercolor by an alum of the Mindful Return program, if you’re looking for ideas on what some of those skills might be.)
Many of us working moms are so down on ourselves for trying (and, we believe, failing), to succeed both at work and at home. Even small amounts of recognition by the managers in our lives can truly help to lift that burden of guilt. I am always in awe of the passion and commitment that working moms show for both their families and their careers. And I’m hopeful that Mother’s Day can be a catalyst for companies and managers to recognize the amazing talents of so many incredible women.
Lori Mihalich-Levin is the founder of Mindful Return, author of Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave, and creator of the Mindful Return program for new parents, which 50 employers now offer as a parental leave benefit. Lori is also a partner in the health care practice at Dentons US LLP. She holds a law degree from the Georgetown University Law Center and completed her undergraduate studies at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.