I saw a mother sitting with her son – a young-ish toddler, on the subway this morning. I was early, before 7am, and I imagined she was taking him to his caregiver or preschool before heading to work herself. She was dressed stylishly and professionally in the way that many women in New York are.
I couldn’t hear all of what they said to one another, but the dynamic was clear. They were happily engaged in the routine of their morning commute. She chatted to him, tickled him to keep him happy and in his seat. He fussed a bit, she soothed him and he responded. He laughed and showed her the little toy he was holding. The rest of us looked up from our reading material, noticed them, and smiled to one another.
Seeing this mom and baby pair got me thinking about what mothers and fathers do each day before we arrive at our workplaces and what this may mean for our work. For starters, there is no need for fueling up and waking up when we arrive. Parents have already been planning, negotiating and collaborating – they may even have put out a few (hopefully just a few!) fires. They have used their aesthetic minds to groom and dress their little ones. They have packed lunches and snacks in tidy containers and may have emailed a teacher or friend to schedule a meeting or play date. All the while they are choosing the best of the available options, prioritizing, fighting against perfectionism and toward action. And just as important as what they have given during their pre-work morning, they have received loving looks, giggles and hopefully some of the feeling that comes when they have satisfied their child’s needs. They have felt useful, masterful and have left home with a healthy dose of perspective on what matters most.
This picture stands in such contrast to the caricature of a tired, harried working parent – and it is much more the norm. Mothers and fathers are assets to their companies precisely because they are parents. It is all that they do before work each morning and after work each evening that makes them better thinkers, collaborators and innovators. Parents are acutely aware of the needs and the prickly spots of their clients and their projects because they are finding solutions and presenting them at almost every moment. Let’s remember this, of ourselves as workers as well as employers, and fight that nasty image of the forgetful, overwhelmed parent. I have not met him or her and I think that is because he or she is imaginary.