In the decade since I first became a mom, I’ve had good bosses, bad bosses and a few halfway in between. The bad bosses scared me because I’m a single mom and I have mouths to feed and limits on how much work I can do. The halfway ones left me wary because I was never sure where I stood. And the good ones? They have had my undying loyalty every time because anyone who appreciates a working mom gets exponential appreciation in return. By now, don’t both sides realize that having an understanding and flexible boss is not only good for employees but also good for business?
The man who was my manager when I was first pregnant was, in retrospect, a good one. He called me “Mom” from the time I told him the news, which grated on my last hormonal nerve. But he backed me up when I declined an assignment that would have me flying across the country in my final weeks. He seemed delighted when I brought the baby into the office for a visit and impressed when I handed her off to a babysitter and went out for a team dinner. He didn’t care when my 12-week maternity leave (I was living in the U.S. at the time) interfered with a big assignment. Well, he cared but subversively said that family was more important, so screw ’em—the higher-ups who applied the pressure.
And so for him, I hired a nanny who could come with me when I needed to travel for work, even though paying for that extra flight and hotel room was a crazy strain on my budget. For him, I flew out my mother to meet me on assignment so that I could pump and pass off the baby in between deadlines and still perform on demand. This loyalty to him helped me, too: It helped me prove to myself and others that I could still “do it all,” even with an infant along for the ride, as long as I had a boss who had my back when doing it all was doing too much. We earned a few rave reviews together, that first good boss and I, and even when we had gone our separate ways, we said good things about each other, loyalty tested and proven.
Of course, I’ve had bad bosses, too. There’s the one who called me, with his boss on a conference call, in my last week of maternity leave with baby no. 2 to tell me that the job I was leaving wouldn’t be the one I’d have when I came back. He demoted me just as I was psyching myself up to return to work, throwing me to the wolves of uncertainty when I was hoping for a flying start. The new job, it turned out, would require“some minor shift work” when it came to changing hours and early starts—shame about that breastfeeding schedule I’d worked out to ease baby into her new routine.
There are the bosses who demand overtime with little notice, who blink unsympathetically when travel is a challenge and who have no sympathy for sick days and school plays. In all the mommy blogs, parenting journals and, yes, business pages, there is angst and drama over highly qualified, highly trained, experienced women dropping out of the workforce. The population is aging, the boomers are retiring, and somehow women aren’t catching up with men in terms of pay, top jobs and promotions. Productivity is suffering, leadership is lost, turnover costs money, and retention has become the challenge for employers who don’t want the women they train to walk out the door. To go part-time. To find more amenable bosses. But we will. When we can, we will seek out better bosses, family-friendly policies, flex-time and a work-life balance.
For me, the bad bosses never lasted that long—or, at least, they only lasted as long as I could stand. The fear and uncertainty of working for an unsympathetic manager always made me work harder toward the exit, toward somewhere better and safer. To higher ground. Word of mouth and my solid reputation as a hard worker and high performer assured me of the next job and the next, even when bad bosses grumbled about shorter hours and unanswered emails when the baby was sick. I had new priorities—I was still good at my job, but I sure didn’t want to do it 24/7 anymore.
Ten years into this parenting adventure, I feel like I’ve seen it all in the workplace. As a single mother with two kids, there is no chance that I’ll stop working or parenting, and my double-income, married friends are in the same boat. Even if we could afford it, many moms simply don’t want to give up their careers—they just want a little room to breathe. And, because I had my kids late in life, it seems fairly likely that the rest of my working years will be parenting years. From now on, there will be sick days when I’m not the one who is sick. There will be days when I have to arrive late or leave early, and days when I can’t make it in. But I’m also no longer a rookie at anything. My time management is superb. I’m intimidated by nothing when it comes to my workload, as long as no one minds if I get it done between dropping off one kid and picking up another, or after everyone’s bedtime. The good bosses don’t—they just care about the work, not the hours. They share credit, not blame. Good bosses also normalize the experience of working while having kids and don’t force you to hide your parenting responsibilities.
My latest good boss is a woman (though in my experience, that hasn’t mattered—bad bosses come in all genders). She told me a few weeks ago that she was trying to be a better boss. She was working with a coach to improve her leadership. Her bosses were supportive. Would we offer anonymous feedback? And oh, she’s hiring, too. Did we know anybody? Loyalty comes full circle, and word of mouth and peer reviews travel fast in the mama lane. This workplace is lovely, have you heard? This boss is amazing, let me tell you how. Morale is high, productivity is up, and everyone likes coming to work. Mama, have I got a job for you.