Kaylie Astin is the founder of the organization Family Friendly Work and lives in Northern Utah with her husband and children.
I have always believed (and still do) that the work of mothers matters.
When I became a mother myself, I quit everything, because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do. Motherhood would fill me up from my head down to my toes. I was going to live vicariously through my children, and helping them succeed would be enough.
But it didn’t take long for me to realize that though I’d always dreamed of raising a family, something was missing. I had other dreams and interests, and these dreams hadn’t died when I became a mother. At first, when I compared myself to other LDS women who loved staying home, I felt guilty and unfeminine because in my mind, family was supposed to be all I wanted.
I tried to fill the void in my life. I needed something, I knew, but nothing felt right, and I became increasingly desperate. I tried a variety of at-home ventures. I considered going back to work, but couldn’t find a part-time job that paid more than minimum wage. Wasn’t there a way for women like me to combine ambition with family instead of choosing one or the other?
In the midst of my angst, a General Conference address by Quentin L. Cook seemed to be exactly what I needed. He said, “I would hope that Latter-day Saints would be at the forefront in creating an environment in the workplace that is more receptive and accommodating to both women and men in their responsibilities as parents.” His words invited people of our faith to fight for families in the workplace.
And suddenly, I knew I had to do just that.
The pieces fell into place. My struggles were not just meaningless misery, but a path leading me to help other parents. The more I read, the more I realized I wasn’t alone. What person with a family doesn’t struggle with these issues?
And, for LDS people, with family being so important to our faith (and with so many LDS mothers who work), what better way to show what matters to us than to advocate for families in our workplaces and schools?
Surprisingly, though, there were very few resources to help LDS people navigate work and family issues. I’m not sure why this is. We’ve seen many efforts lately where Church members have gotten involved in legislation dealing with marriage laws. But I haven’t seen as strong of a push for measures promoting family-friendly work policies, such as parental leave or sick leave.
Is it because we think women should stay home with the children? Many Church leaders recognize that’s not very realistic in many areas of the world, and especially in recent times. Julie Beck said,
One of the questions that I get frequently is, “Is it okay if I work outside of my home or I don’t work outside of my home?” You have to know that as an international, global, Relief Society president, that question isn’t always appropriate in all of the world’s countries. There are many, many places where if our women don’t work, they don’t eat. So of course they have to work. The question of whether or not to work is the wrong question. The question is, “Am I aligned with the Lord’s vision of me and what He needs me to become, and the roles and responsibilities He gave me in heaven that are not negotiable?
Is it because we think employers and employees should make their own decisions about work/family balance and leave politics out of it? From what I’ve read, our leaders promote the exact opposite. M. Russell Ballard said, “We call upon government and political leaders to put the needs of children and parents first and to think in terms of family impact in all legislation and policy making.”
And even though, ideally, it would make sense for employers to encourage a family-friendly work environment, most employers and employees don’t implement the policies that would help most. Though studies have shown, time and again, that work/life strategies save much more than they cost, not all employers take advantage of them. Though we know that employees work better when they can accommodate their personal lives, many employees don’t ask for schedule changes or parental leaves because they’re afraid of losing their jobs or paying a professional penalty.
That’s why I favor a multi-pronged approach. If laws are passed that require employers to provide time and a place for breastfeeding mothers to pump, I cheer. If companies make bold new moves to compete for national workplace flexibility awards, I’m thrilled. If an employee goes out of his or her way to negotiate a job share, that’s amazing. If several employees band together to discuss how their workplace can better support employees with elderly parents, it’s exciting. I hope that my site, www.familyfriendlywork.org, can promote any action that helps things change, whether that’s on an individual, company, or national level.
Most importantly, though, I want to create some discussion. Many of us struggle to find a way to balance work, school, and family (or sometimes all three at the same time!). We shouldn’t have to struggle alone, particularly in the LDS community, where family is so highly valued. It’s not just the logistical details of how to find a sitter or what to do when your child is sick, though those are real issues. It’s the emotion that comes along with it—the almost crippling guilt, the worry of being second best to SAHMs, the lack of sleep that makes it nearly impossible to function, or the fear created by the need to provide for a family when unprepared to do so. Along with the site, I began a Facebook group to help working parents discuss their situations, whether that’s offering advice or just a listening ear.
Most of the parents I talk with seek some kind of balance in their lives. I still believe that mothers matter, and that’s exactly why family-friendly workplaces are so important.
Do you enjoy a flexible work environment? What have been your experiences negotiating work share, paid maternity/paternity leave, flextime, etc.? What organizations or resources have been the most helpful for you when setting up your flexible work schedule? Do you know of any other Latter-day Saints who have heeded the General Authorities’ call to promote family friendly workplace accomodations?