Dear Employers, It’s Time We Recognize Parenting as Work – It really is a win-win. Here’s why.

A few years ago, I published a children’s picture book, My Mom Has Two Jobs, celebrating working moms. On each page, children share their appreciation for all that their moms do in both their professional and parenting roles. Instead of depicting these roles as conflicting, it highlights the synergies between our professional jobs and our parenting jobs, which actually make us more effective in both realms.

Although working moms readily see themselves in the book’s narrative and often share with me their sense of affirmation from its message, the book’s title initially raised some skeptical eyebrows. A few children’s book publishers were wary of referring to motherhood as a “job” and suggesting that parenting is “work.” But for me, that concept was central to the book’s purpose.

Recognizing motherhood as a job does not devalue moms, and acknowledging parenting as work does not demean parenthood. To the contrary, there are many benefits to calling parenting what it is: incredibly challenging, highly-skilled, and enormously impactful work. This recognition is crucial for advancing gender equity by breaking down gender role stereotypes and empowering work-family integration for all parents.

I’ve been excited to see two growing social movements that both highlight the benefits of recognizing parenting as work. These movements come from opposite directions, but they’re both headed for the same target of gender equity. In a post-pandemic world, where women are digging themselves out of the first “she-cession” in history, this target is more important than ever.

The first movement is led largely by women, and it’s directed from our homes to the office. Its goal is for employers to acknowledge and value the skills that women bring to the workplace from their experience as mothers. This movement helps employers recognize that motherhood is not a problematic resume gap. In reality, motherhood is a phenomenal leadership training ground. Raising children and running a family builds exceptional project management, multi-tasking, budgeting, negotiation, collaboration, and empathy skills—all of which are critical capacities for effective workplace leaders.

The HeyMama organization is spearheading this effort with its Motherhood On The Resume (MOTR) campaign, encouraging women to explicitly translate their motherhood skills into leadership skills on their resumes. They seek to disrupt the cultural bias against mothers in the workplace, validate moms’ unpaid labor, and destigmatize career breaks for caregiving responsibilities. Valuing the skills that moms bring to their professional lives, “not in spite of being parents, but because of it,” will advance women’s workplace equality and lift more women into the leadership roles for which they are so well equipped.

The second movement is led largely by men, and it’s directed from the office to our homes. Its goal is to encourage men to lean into co-equal parenting by applying their workplace skills to their fatherhood role. Research shows that many men want to be more engaged fathers, but they often feel that they lack the necessary experience and expertise. Many men also fear negative career stigma by taking parental leave, seeking workplace flexibility, and visibly prioritizing their family lives. These concerns create barriers for men who want to escape restrictive norms and achieve a healthier work-family integration. They also ensure women’s status as second-class employees as long as women continue to shoulder the bulk of caregiving responsibilities at home.

The Fathering Together organization is breaking down these barriers by helping men recognize that their career leadership skills are also parenting skills. With its More Than A Neck Tie initiative, Fathering Together is revealing how so-called “workplace skills,” such as project management, strategic planning, flexibility, creativity, and innovation, are the same skills that empower fathers to become co-equal parents and partners at home.

Stewart Friedman and Alyssa Westring have written a practical guide for this movement in their new book, Parents Who Lead. As experts on work-family integration, the authors encourage reluctant fathers to understand that “raising children is a leadership challenge.” The ability to inspire and mobilize a team to achieve meaningful goals is not just a defining attribute of successful workplace leaders, but a key to effective parenting. When men make this connection, it empowers them to approach fatherhood with greater confidence and fuller engagement by applying their workplace leadership skills to their parenting role.

Let’s get one thing straight: Parenting is work. It’s a labor of love, of course, but it’s still work. And it’s important to call it what it is. By explicitly embracing this reality, women will receive appropriate recognition for the skills they bring as mothers into their professional roles. Men will be empowered to become more engaged fathers and co-equal parents. Employers will reap the economic gains that flow from more gender equitable workplaces. And our children will grow into a world that’s a little less restricted by conventional gender roles and expectations.

I think my children’s book title got it right. Working parents indeed have “two jobs”—and we’re all better off as a result.

[First Published in Working Mother Magazine]