Pregnancy paradox – it’s not all warm fuzzies at work

I was talking with a friend last week who recently disclosed to his co-workers that he and his wife were expecting their first child in the fall. Being in the same boat myself – the Nugget is due in September – I was interested to hear how his colleagues responded. We both work in education, so you’d think the response would be pretty warm – children are, after all, our bread and butter. I was dismayed to hear that, upon hearing the news, my friend’s boss called him a jackass and asked if he would be requesting paternity leave. I thought maybe it was a guy thing (or the fact that this particular guy has the social skills of a turnip at times), but my friend went on to describe the comments he received from other co-workers – most of whom are women – when he had to change his schedule to attend doctor’s appointments with his wife or visit daycares – I won’t repeat them here, but they weren’t good.

I left this conversation with mixed emotions. The overwhelming feeling was one of relief and gratitude – my own experience has been 100% different. My boss just had a baby last year, and rather than cuss me out, she handed over all of her maternity clothes the minute I shared my news. I have yet to encounter even a lukewarm response – it’s been nothing but advice and congratulations in equal measure from co-workers with and without kids, even on the days when I’ve come in late or left work early to manage the myriad pregnancy related appointments that can’t happen over weekends.

My friend and I are both high-performing employees. We both work with a lot of women and a lot of people who have kids. And I would wager we’re missing about the same amount of work and doing about the same amount to make it up – if I’m being really honest, he’s probably doing more than me (because his wife, like me, falls asleep by 9 p.m. every night – what else is he going to do?). And we both work in relatively high-pressure positions. So what’s the difference?

One key difference is, of course, that he’s not actually carrying the child. In a world where a disappointing number of men fail to take responsibility for their children, I find it appalling that a man who wants to take an active role in his progeny’s life from conception on should be lambasted by his colleagues for doing so. But the fact that the co-workers giving my friend the hardest time are women is even more disconcerting – you’d think they would be applauding his desire to be there for his wife – wouldn’t they want the same?

But I think the real issue is that my friend works in an environment with a negative culture toward families, the complete opposite of my family-friendly workplace. The young employees in his company are expected to burn the midnight oil until they burn out – only then is a family life acceptable. My question is, how do you tell these companies from the outside, and how do you make the choice of whether or not to deal with the sacrifices required to work there? Things will only get worse for my buddy, as pre-natal appointments give way to sleepless nights and emergency pediatrician visits and calls from pre-school in the middle of the day. Ultimately either his family will suffer so that he can be an acceptable breadwinner in the eyes of his colleagues, or his company will lose a dedicated employee (when I recruit him to come work with me).

I told my friend to hang in there and stick to his guns, that his co-workers would come around and he’d make it through and be a better dad for it – and then called my boss, just to say thanks.

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Comments
2 Responses to “Pregnancy paradox – it’s not all warm fuzzies at work”
  1. Skinny Sushi says:

    That is so tough, and I’m really glad to hear you’re having a better time. When I was pregnant with my daughter I worked for a boss who not only didn’t have children of her own, but seemed to be bothered by the idea that anyone would want them. When two of us turned up pregnant (there were only the three of us in the department) she was on edge all the time. She gave me slack for missing work for doctors appointments, even though I would work from home all day and get just as much done. When I had some odd blood test results and had to miss a little more, she was openly angry about it. And the day that I started having lots of low pressure and had to leave work early for an emergency doctor’s appointment? (I had a history of loss) She was downright pissed and reluctant to “let” me leave. She was the number one reason why I decided to leave once my maternity leave was up. I actually submitted a proposal to work from home full time, but they said no… so now I work from home, but I’m the boss!

  2. H says:

    These stories make me so sad, but pissed too! I think one of the major fallacies of our collective work culture is that working longer hours means working harder, smarter and better. In my experience, that’s just not true for most professions, although I’m sure there are exceptions. If we didn’t believe this, than work/life balance would not be the capitol “I” issue that it is.

    I also think it is harder for men to strive for work/life balance, and I applaud men who are doing it. My husband and I split time when our son is sick, and I know he catches a lot more heck about it than I do. His job isn’t more important, it’s just that employers have even less flexibility when it comes to men. But men need to assert their rights and take the crap, or things won’t ever change.

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