I have total recall of every breath I took the day I went back to work three months after the birth of my first child. I loved my job – yet I felt like my heart had been surgically removed and lay beating next to my baby in his crib at home. I was paying another woman to do what I wanted to do most, at that moment, in the entire world. It was painful to me that her job was taking care of my baby – and that my job required me to be in an office 30 miles away.
I felt the same way about my second child. And my third. When my youngest was a baby, I remember locking our heavy black front door behind me, walking slowly down my street on my way to the office. Our babysitter would hold my daughter up to the window so she could wave good-bye. I would smile resolutely and waved gaily, determined to send the right message: Mommy loves going to work. And I did love going to work. But I never, ever came to love leaving my babies in the care of others.
And now, some parents don’t have to leave their babies behind, thanks to a very practical and determined Angel-to-Working-Mothers named Carla Moquin. A year ago, she launched Babies in the Workplace , an advocacy group that encourages employers to allow new parents to return to their jobs with their babies for the first several months of life.
Nearly two years of research and interviews with dozens of organizations with babies-at-work programs revealed a paradoxically radical yet commonsense reality: new parents still have plenty of time and energy to work and care for babies simultaneously. But for the arrangement to succeed, parents, employers and babies all need to be flexible about where and how work gets accomplished. Moquin has created a program to address legal issues, baby-free zones, age limits, what to do about noisy babies and other guidelines that help employers get comfortable with the program, and provides boundaries for workers with and without babies.
There are currently more than 100 companies in 33 states that allow babies at work. The companies cover a wide range of industries including government organizations, non-profits, manufacturing plants and consulting firms, showing how practical babies-at-work can be. (If your firm allows babies, you can email Babies at Work to get listed; if you want to persuade an employer to try the program, visit the website for tips and benefits.)
Moquin’s research found that most babies in an office environment tend to be extremely content. This seems to be due to high levels of responsive care, breastfeeding, and physical contact – the parenting model that women practiced for centuries before the Industrial Revolution and subsequent workplace norms required separation of new mom and new baby. Executives and managers rave about the benefits baby-friendly offices provide, creating communities in which parents and babies feel supported and coworkers empowered. Results include lower turnover, increased morale and productivity, enhanced teamwork and collaboration, improved employee recruitment efforts, and higher respect and loyalty from customers and clients.
As for me, I was lucky: six months after my first baby arrived, a spot opened up in the daycare center across the street from my office. True, my son was next door instead of in my arms, but I managed to find my own balance. Now, twelve years later, I work at home, where I get to set the rules. One of which is that children of all ages are allowed in my office.
Babies in the Workplace is owned by Babies In Business, a Massachusetts-based company providing seminars, coaching, and consulting on issues related to parenting in the workplace. Questions and comments can be directed to Carla Moquin, the founder and owner of BIB, at carla @ babiesatwork.org.