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Motherhood Is More Than Your Average "Smoke Break"

Motherhood

When you become a mother, one of the first changes you recognize (besides the fact that your abdomen will never ever be the same after a C-section) is that changes in your professional life will have to accommodate the radical reduction in free time you now have.


Motherhood definitely makes you move differently in the professional world.

Last year at The Pennsylvania Conference for Women, Michelle Obama offered some insight about the demands that come with being a working mother and their needs for flexible schedules:

"I had both kids and Barack was in the Senate. I told my boss do not check for me for these needless meetings. I do not have time for that. I will be getting work done. If you are looking for me to sit down in meetings to make you feel good, I can't do it because I am working my butt off."

Luckily, the nonprofit I'm employed at takes work/life balance very seriously. We don't exactly have an on-site daycare, but for the most part my colleagues, parents or not, recognize that although being a caregiver can be unpredictable and tiresome, it doesn't mean you will be automatically ineffective as a professional, especially when a workplace is supportive of your situation.

So when an article compared motherhood to the new "work smoke break," I couldn't help but laugh.

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Having a toddler pelt you with soggy Goldfish crackers and requests for Puppy Dog Pals, Episode 7 (at exactly at the three-minute 12-second mark) is anything but a smooth, long drag. But studies show that according to some colleagues that are child-free, moms have it made in the workplace. "Are Women Without Children Discriminated Against at Work?" asks if motherhood is the new "smoke-break" that offices everywhere are accommodating.

In the piece, several child-free working women expressed their feelings on their time at work being taken for granted since they don't have a report card conference or PTA meeting to run to after the work day. Helen Read, a 28-year-old civil engineer shared that work/life balance sounds like an inclusive term, but really is treated differently in the workplace depending on whether an employee has children or not. She says management often forgets that even those that are not parents have loved ones that they care for also, and that care can't always be arranged conveniently around the work day:

"People forget that single people have people they care about outside of the traditional relative structure, and they are often more likely to work late when the parents are leaving early to collect the kids from school."

As a working mother, I'd like to add that every working mom is different. I've stayed late to cover many a shift and thankfully have a good support system in place to aid with childcare.

I also have colleagues who call out way more than I do and don't have any small children at home. So it's not safe to assume just because someone is a working parent, that they have zero flexibility. However, at my workplace, I'm thankful for a family-friendly policy that extends to all employees, parents or not. I'm also conscious of seeking those types of policies when I apply for jobs.

But what about those employees who feel they should get first dibs on every holiday including Arbor Day because they have kids? Or the parents who feel like they can show up two hours late and leave an hour early because Junior has a school play after working on his science project all night? Lastly, what about the managers who accommodate all of this?

Admittedly, I'll say that kids are the best excuse ever to get out of anything. Extra-long weekend? Call work on Friday morning and tell them your toddler has had the runs all night. Bestie wants you to hang with her annoying friends from college? No childcare, sorry.

But some argue that it's more than a convenient "excuse." Further, more and more work policies are allowing women to do less work for the same pay, and it's not fair. But even with all that support in the world, most days even with what many would say is an ideal support system, any time I use my kid as an excuse to get out of anything, it's because I damn well need the break. Granted, the mom life is the life I chose, but most days I'm operating on less than five hours of sleep and staying in the shower for an extra twenty minutes just to escape singing the wrong lyrics to "Wheels On the Bus" for the seventeenth time.

Comparing motherhood to anything that resembles a break is comical at least, and insulting at best.

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Whether you have a newborn at home or a very ill French bulldog, work/life balance is just that: a balancing act.

Employers have to recognize that life can't always occur around a 9-5 schedule and you don't have to be chained to your desk to be doing your job in many positions. On the same token, employees have to learn how to be flexible and work together. As a mom, I don't expect to have first dibs on every single holiday, nor do I expect not to pull the same weight as my colleagues because I created life (but you got admit that's pretty damn impressive). But seriously, it's also about not taking advantage of policies meant to support those in need. Coming in a few hours late because your elderly mother is sick is one thing, calling out for two days straight because your dog had a few Hershey kisses and the runs might be pushing it.

Lastly, it's about recognizing who the real issue is with. You can be mad all day for having to cover a shift for a third time for a co-worker whose bailed on her work obligations for her family, but is your problem with her or the supervisor that keeps allowing her to do so?

Let's not forget there's another side to the working-mom coin. It's a side where it's automatically assumed I can never go above and beyond because I'm "burdened" by my motherly duties, and in some ways, that's true. Being a working mom means you can't pull that all-nighter on the office presentation because you're committed to a consistent bath and bedtime routine for your toddler. Meanwhile, the next morning, you're faced with the eager new college grad, high on Red Bull and presenting color-coded Excel sheets to the board while you're blowing Goldfish dust off your day-planner.

Whether you're a working mom with two kids or fresh out of college with only a betta fish to care for, there's something to be said about not allowing any employer to make you to lose sight of the fact that work is not life and you shouldn't have to be handcuffed to a desk, a cell phone, or an inbox as proof of how committed you are to your job.

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I'm not here to engage in a "battle of the struggles" but if you feel like you're currently in a professional space where you feel like parents are getting all of the "perks," you may need to spend more time in HR's office fighting for policies that support flexibility for all workers instead of ranting about being penalized for the kids you don't have.

I've been on both sides, I've seen a colleague be employed for two months and make the same amount I've made in two years solely based on management's knowledge of her single-mom status, and not actual performance. I've also been the mom who had a manager look the other way when I miss a deadline because newborns = sleep deprivation. We all have privileges at some point in our lives, the point is that we all support one another so that flexibility in the workplace truly serves all employees in a way that's fair regardless if they use personal time for traveling the world or anyplace where Puppy Dog Pals, Episode 7 isn't playing.

xoNecole is always looking for new voices and empowering stories to add to our platform. If you have an interesting story or personal essay that you'd love to share, we'd love to hear from you. Contact us at submissons@xonecole.com

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

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