Role models and judgement around choices
I started a new group recently, a mix of mums and dads who have all had extended periods of parental leave (as an aside, yes, the take-up has been slow to start but there are some great examples of shared parental leave). I asked them about the challenges of being a working parent.
The lack of role models came up (this is something we hear often). When parents look up in their organisations they don’t see other people managing work and life in a way that appeals to them. The common accusation is that their children are being raised by somebody else, either a stay-at-home partner or a full-time nanny and that they are not playing an active role in the parenting/ work juggle so don’t really count as a role model.
We talk about judgement on our programmes and it often is mentioned that working parents feel judged – on how they should raise their children, on how many hours they work, on what they should be doing at home and work – the list goes on. Yet as working parents I think we can often be a harsh judge of others. Although it doesn’t always feel it and it is far from perfect, the culture around work and parenting has moved quickly. In a previous employer of mine, a policy was still in place in 1974 that on the occasion of her marriage a woman would be expected to leave employment! We, both men and women, have a lot more choice than those before us, and although that doesn’t make it easy, I for one would rather have a choice than not. Those who are more senior than us started their careers at a different cultural time and made decisions based on the choices open to them at the time.
Often, we organise panel sessions where senior working parents share their experience with our groups. They are always illuminating as panel members explain the choices they have had to make. It is rarely what it appears, assumptions about them are challenged and the perspectives of everyone in the room are altered.
Role models may not present themselves in one perfect package and we ourselves may need to be the role model (‘be the change you wish to see in the world’ as Gandhi said). I think we can look at all levels in an organisation for role models e.g. a peer in our team or another department and gain inspiration from them (another reason why we do work in groups!). Most of all we should be a little less judgemental of others, generally, parents are doing the best for their family based upon the choices that were available to them at the time – support and understanding in this go a long way to helping people feel less judged.