The New Mommy Track
More mothers win flextime at work, and hubbies' help (really!) at home
On a Tuesday evening in early summer, a very pregnant Lindsay Androski Kelly walked in her door to exuberant shouts of "Mommy! Mommy!" from her 2-year-old son, George. She dropped her laptop in her home office and listened to the boy tell her about his adventures on the playground.
Kelly, a 30-year-old lawyer on track to become partner at her Washington, D.C., law firm, is now on maternity leave with her baby daughter, Vivian. But when she returns to the office, she'll also go back to working part of her 55-hour week at home so she can spend as much time as possible with her children, who have a nanny. And she'll resume her old routine: rising at 5 a.m. to put in a couple of hours before the kids wake up and logging in for an hour or two after they go to sleep. She'll eat breakfast with her family and be home in time to make dinner.
A generation ago, a lawyer in Kelly's situation would probably have felt pressure to put in early mornings and late nights at the office. But Kelly's firm allows employees to work flexible hours. "As long as you get everything done and meet the clients' needs, you can work whatever time of day you like," she says.
Kelly represents a new generation of American mothers who are rejecting the "superwoman" image from the 1980s as well as the "soccer mom" stereotype of the 1990s. Mothers today are more likely to negotiate flexible schedules at work and demand fuller participation of fathers in child raising than previous generations did, giving them more time to pursue their own careers and interests. Some so-called mompreneurs start their own businesses. Nearly 26 percent of working women with children under 18 work flexible schedules, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared with 14 percent in 1991.
"Fifteen to 20 years ago, women in suits and sneakers...were playing by the traditional rules of the game, trying to live in a man's world. Now women are saying, 'Screw the rules—the rules didn't work,'" says
Kellyanne Conway, president of the Polling Co., a research firm. Conway, 40, the mother of twins who are almost 3 years old, started her business in 1995, allowing her to set her own hours and occasionally work from home.
Not that it's always easy. Heidi Leigh, 34, a former theater sales manager and mother of a 1-year-old in South Plainfield, N.J., tried to shift her schedule a half-hour earlier in the day so she could get home in time to pick up her son from day care and make dinner. Her boss said no. "He wouldn't allow it, because he didn't want other people to do the same thing," she says.
"More and more companies are hip to [flexibility], but it's still not the norm," cautions Michelle Goodman, author of The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube.
Art of the deal. While balancing work and family is never simple, Goodman and others who have studied the issue say mothers can increase their chances of getting onto this new mommy track by choosing certain careers, partners, and companies. While a handful of workplaces are making it easier for mothers (and fathers) to meld work with family, many women report that they often need to take matters into their own hands, through skillful negotiation with supervisors or, in some cases, quitting office life and starting their own businesses.