Blame your kids, happily
If you've done any reading about inequality for women, especially moms, in the workplace, then you've likely come across the important recommendation that instead of concealing our real child-related reasons for, say, arriving to work place, we need to name and acknowledge our caregiving responsibilities in work situations.
In other words, admitting that you need to leave work early to take your child to the dentist brings visibility to the real labor of parenting and helps to normalize caregiving as a part of our lives that sometimes requires workplaces to be flexible, rather than the other way around.
I'd like to add a footnote to this discussion. I've been thinking about how we might view WFH 2020 as a portal to a new social structure that reprioritizes relationships, rest, and joy over profit and accumulation.
So here's my suggestion: when we're all making an effort to acknowledge our caregiving responsibilities in the workplace, what if we work to not only acknowledge them but to do so happily. What if we replace an apology for slow turnaround time on a project "because I had to take my kid to the doctor" with a stronger, enthusiastic request for a new deadline "because I'm visiting the doctor with my kid."
A subtle change in tone and language: replace apology and stress with power, confidence, and happiness.
This change could help us begin to move from a very basic acknowledgement that our lives consist of more than work (an acknowledgement that we've begrudgingly been forced to admit--somewhat--as children are bombing our Zoom calls and we're taking work calls from our kitchens and bathrooms and closets). We could move from this basic level to a reclaiming of caregiving as a central and a joyful aspect of our lives that deserves our time and emotional attention, even while we work. If children bring us joy, why are we perpetuating a culture where we feel the need to apologize for spending critical time with our children?
It's important to acknowledge that the less power a person has in their place of work, the more difficult it is for them to this small change in tone and language. Women, almost certainly, will find it harder to assert their caregiving responsibilities with a tone of happiness rather than apology. People of color, especially women, will likely find it much harder than will white women. Hourly workers and people at the bottom of the org chart already put their jobs at risk if they have to miss work or fall behind because of caregiving responsibilities.
For that reason, it is absolutely critical that men begin to make this change. It's even more important that supervisors, executives, and managers make this change. If you're a leader in your organization, start talking about your children and the associated responsibilities with a tone of happiness to the folks you supervise. Most importantly, start taking about your children to the individuals who are on the lowest rung of the hierarchy at your place of work. Make sure that they in particular know that you support integrated caregiving responsibilities with the responsibilities of (paid) work.