Stories Spark Change

Petrushka Bazin Larsen holds Ila, her five month old daughter, while working from home as Program Manager at The Laundromat Project, a non-profit offering art workshops in laundromats located in low-income neighborhoods.

Photo by Alice Proujansky

There is nothing new about images of American mothers, especially those addressing the intersection of wage earner, provider and caregiver. Famously, Dorthea Lange’s 1936 portrayal of a migrant farm mother and her children, named by CNN as one of the most iconic images of all time, is burned in our memory. Portraits of the American familial experience continue to captivate us. Historically, these powerful glimpses connect and remind us, decade to decade, of the determination of the American mother and the power of our overwhelming desire to do better by the next generation.

This is a concept that never fails to engage and intrigue, deeply resonating with each of us, reminding us of the increasing complexity of our lives and the challenges at hand. When we see images of working mothers as captured by documentary photographer Alice Proujansky featured on PBS Newshour, we see in the photos ourselves, our wives, our own mothers. We see our struggles and we see our successes.


Projansky’s photo project Women’s Work provides visual storytelling of the beauty and the struggle of modern mothers in America striving to serve both their careers and their families. The images are compelling and deeply familiar. What an remarkable project and product. We at the It’s Working Project applaud this project and we feel a deep connection with its mission


The stories that we are collecting from our Portrait Project parents provide insight through first-person accounts, richly candid narratives that tell the stories in a way that only one who has lived it can. Our mosaic is made up of words, and the hundreds of unique stories from working parents reveal honest details of parents’ failures and triumphs.


Words are powerful, as FairyGodboss is likewise proving. At this site women can anonymously provide feedback about workplaces, providing a transparency of work cultures that is improving the workplace and changing work cultures. Collectively the women’s voices collected by FairyGodboss are identifying the top companies and industries for gender equality at work and women’s job satisfaction.


The answer to “how” and “when” is as unique as the parent who is defining it. And like all the trajectories, support is the key to success. This is why we love the mission of Path Forward, the nonprofit focused on bringing women back into the workplace who have been on formal work hiatus due to family caregiving, and bringing return to work programs to companies. Through midcareer internships, Path Forward offers returning professionals the opportunity to restart or refocus their careers with companies that appreciate the skills they offer, the perspective they provide and the contributions they can make. Path Forward shares these stories of re-entry via their quickly growing blog.


We encourage all parents to keep sharing these stories of the changing landscape for working parents in America. Pass them forward, and of course, encourage your friends, work associates and fellow parents to share their very personal tales. Stories, images and personal narratives are what keep this issue front and center in the media and in conversations. Stories spark solutions and provide a new standard of transparency that takes us to the change of tomorrow.

Please share your story of working parenthood with the It’s Working Project. Your contribution is a valuable step forward toward a modified workplace culture in this country. Your stories directly speak to the changing needs of working parents in a way that supports all stakeholders in this highly complex and shifting workscape.

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Make no mistake about it, what we’re doing is working

Photo by Jessica McFadden.

This past week First Lady Michelle Obama invited 150 parent bloggers to the White House to learn about the Let’s Move! programs for families and schools. The It’s Working Project’s Jessica McFadden was in attendance.

An invitation to The White House. For me and 149 fellow parent bloggers, this was not our typical morning meeting. Rather than schlepping kids to school and conquering deadlines at my desk, I was ushered into the most iconic of American settings to discuss the issues closest to my heart: the well-being of our nation’s children and families. Within that gorgeous architectural symbol of history, our relatively new media of “mommy and daddy bloggers” was recognized as a group important to communicating ideas and goals to the parents who read our posts.

But as a staff member of the It’s Working Project, I could not help but see the morning not only through my parent blogger lens, but through my It’s Working glasses, too.

We were first greeted by Deb Eschmeyer, White House Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition and Executive Director of Let’s Move! One of the first housekeeping items she mentioned was to direct us to the designated lactation rooms, if we needed them. At this, a collective “Ahhh” arose from the parents who packed the East Room. As I realized several mothers in attendance were wearing their babies, I marveled at how incredible it was that this Administration would address the working parenting needs of those who visit the White House.

nursing mothers room

The White House East Wing lactation room offered to visitors of the Let’s Move! Media event. Photo by Jessica McFadden.

One of the next speakers was Dominique Dawes, three-time Olympic gymnast and Co-Chair of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. She confessed to all of us that this White House morning was a much-needed break for her, as she is currently parenting her two-year-old and six-month-old baby daughters. She spoke of the “beautiful struggle” of being up all night and nursing and trying to balance her work with her duties as a mom. She’s working hard, and she’s making It Work.


Photo by Jessica McFadden.

Then Christy Goldfuss, Managing Director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, shared a story that embodies what we at It’s Working Project not only identify with, but strive to communicate every day. She says that as a working parent and DC veteran, she has never seen an Administration or work environment that is so welcoming to expectant parents and parents of young children. She says that there are often two or three expectant parents at a time in her office, and when they come back and are bleary eyed, they have fellow staff who can relate to their completely changed lives. She also mentioned the nursing rooms established for working moms in the White House and Administrative offices.


Photo courtesy Stacey Ferguson of Justice Fergie Lifestyle Media.

And then, the woman we were all waiting for took the stage. If there is anyone who personifies the It’s Working Project philosophy of “bringing parents back to work with ease, as a matter of course and with a sense of pride,” she is First Lady Michelle Obama. She addressed her deep, dual commitments to her family as well as to her job as First Lady and leader of the Let’s Move! Initiative.

As First Lady Obama spoke of her goals for healthier families nationwide, she also related to all of us parents in attendance with stories of when her daughters were little and she was a “busy working mom with a job as an associate dean and eventually as vice president at the University of Chicago hospitals…life back then was a constant juggling act for our family. Barack was traveling all the time. He was going back and forth to Washington. And at the time, the girls were little, and they had those little-kid schedules, boy, filled with soccer practice and birthday parties, playdates and dance classes.”

And with that story, the room changed from 150 parents with hearts beating fast with First Lady hero worship to 150 parents who claimed her as one of our own: a parent striving to make It Work.

mrs o

Photo by Jessica McFadden.

We listened and learned from First Lady Obama about the more health-focused daycare centers for working parents, the healthier school meals, the increased physical activity in schools and then we had the chance to tour the White House Kitchen Garden, as well as learn how we can initiate Kitchen Gardens for our own children’s school cafeterias.

I know First Lady Obama was referring to the Let’s Move! Program when she said the following words, but I took it to heart on a much deeper level as a working mother:

“Make no mistake about it, what we’re doing is working.”
Jessica McFadden is an It’s Working Project staff member, a communications consultant, a freelance writer and a proud parenting blogger at A Parent in Silver Spring and A Parent in America. She lives in Silver Spring, Maryland with her husband and their three children.

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Oh Daddy: Adam LaRoche and the Mother of all Plays, Parenting!

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I was asked to comment yesterday on the story that is Adam LaRoche’s potential retirement from baseball. Amy Joyce did a fantastic job of considering the whole of the story in On Parenting in The Washington Post. A former Washington National, LaRoche took a step back from the White Sox in a move that many feel is related to his being asked to limit his 14-year-old son’s time with him at practice.

With the exception of Major League Baseball — which offers three days of leave upon the birth of a baby– the rest of the major professional sports leagues in the United States (NBA, NFL, NHL) are without policies that provide for parental leave. Decisions about parental time off are player and team-driven. This feels to be an interesting parallel to the bigger-picture challenge of moving from the boss lottery (when you have a boss who is invested in your success back to work as a new parent and onward) — which is the club, to full-on organizational commitment which really requires an intentional cultural shift- which in this case is the the league.

And while we consider, how about a walk down memory lane at these “for the records” sports-daddy moments:

  • Sports commentator and retired quarterback Boomer Esiason’s commentary (followed up by an apology) in response to Daniel Murphy’s parental leave. His gagging words? That Murphy’s wife should have had a “c-section before the season.”

As I shared with The Post, without a clear team policy it is not surprising that LaRoche attempted to define one for himself. He worked to find his own personal success, to combine both his identities of player and parent. And in this case, perhaps the result was a swing and a miss….

And who cannot identify with that?

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Whatever Gets You Through the Night, Out the Door, On Your Feet…

When I started Forty Weeks in 1999, there immediately came to life a category of emerging products that I called “the nasties.” At the time, marketing to new and expectant parents was still a relatively new venture, and these brands had deep pockets and were going after new and expectant parents with fear at the very core of their messaging.

Perhaps they didn’t intend to be fear mongering. Many launched their brands or products simply to address an unmet need. By simply tying their products to a parent’s fear — is my baby eating enough, is she sleeping enough, is he crying too much? — there was a sudden wave of nasties flooding trade-show floors and retailers. A fear-based product category that assured a parent could “get it right” was born. These products promised a child’s safety and well being, and played directly into the narrative that a child needed a perfect upbringing to be a satisfied adult. I believed that “the nasties” were predators, they were making it harder for a parent to feel successful, and creating unnecessary stress and fear.

But now, a few years older and wiser, the lens I am looking through has changed (perhaps now more of a prism than a crisp, inflexible view). I understand that new parents will have fears and concerns regardless, it’s common to question how to meet your baby’s needs, and babies aren’t always the easiest to communicate with nor is parental confidence easy to access. There are still some extreme products that I feel are unnecessarily fear-mongering, but most speak to meeting need — that of freeing parents from their own personal stressors by addressing their deepest concerns head on.

So now, years later, I say, whatever gets you out the door. What does it take for you go back to work, to engage, to access your “self” to get you at your peak level? Finding what you need is the opposite of fear mongering. It’s empowering.

At the It’s Working Project, we understand that success is different for every person. Products that you could construe as fear-mongering do wonders to liberate a different person. Not everyone needs those things, but if having access lowers anxiety, then that creates success.

In our Portrait Project, where men and women have shared their back-to-work after baby stories, we can see anxiety coming up over and again. “I was scared to leave my baby at daycare”, was what Peter S. of Brooklyn told us. “ I was still a mess and trying to get a firm grasp on this whole parenting thing” Melissa D. from Boston told us. The anxiety is there, it’s real and palpable. And anxiety gets in the way of getting out the door, on your feet or to a place of confidence.

So when I see a product out there… be it a highly sophisticated line of nursery monitors such as Project Nursery’s new system for VOXX which according to their press materials:

“The system also serves as a digital clock, timer and room thermometer, things mom and dad need to see at-a-glance. Extra benefits allow parents to send lullabies, voice communicate with their baby and capture digital images of special moments”.

Or perhaps a look at the new line Hatch which offers a monitoring changing pad and highly sophisticated app which promises to “keep track of the information that you and your pediatrician care about” — leaves me encouraged by the possibilities.

I am optimistic that these highly evolved products will move parents to a place of strength. And from strength we hope will come a very personal victory — be it small gesture or a game-changing moment. Whatever that success it, we applaud it. Because really, success looks different for each one of us. And part of understanding what is it to be back to work after baby in this country is understanding and accepting that.

Will you share your back to work after baby story with us? We would love to hear from you!

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Where Oh Where is the Childcare?

The New York Times is once again considering how we get from here to there in the American workplace. This week’s Magazine featured an in-depth, well-considered view of the American workplace, and how it’s changing for the better.

What caught our eye, specifically, was Susan Dominus’ “Rethinking the Work-Life Equation” . The complex challenges of this question have been on our minds for nearly 20 years, first at Forty Weeks and now at the It’s Working Project where we ask: what is the ideal, the gold standard — how does one build a work culture that successfully launches and nurtures careers and all versions and stages of family and self? And if we can better understand what is working, what can we do to support employers who know who they want to succeed but cannot understand how to get from intention to execution?

One of our biggest takeaways — and one that Dominus echoes and articulates in her article — is the need for flexibility. And we agree. We’ve found that there is no true work-life balance. It is a myth. This is not yoga: there is no balance, no active leaning, no fancy juggling. We were so glad the NYT piece used (and credited) Cali Yost’s “work-life fit” as their terminology. And also that they quoted friend of IWP Rachael Ellison on her work dedicated to coaching employers and employees to help both manage leave and explore flexibility, both of which are critical for back-to-work after baby success.

One thing that feels strong and getting stronger is the recognition of the value and the necessity of an active support system. This is not a question of flex-time or childcare planning — both are essential to the success of parents and work. But we need to build complex relationships on both sides for the equation to work.

It’s a full range of support, including childcare.

Families are not doing it alone. Even in the most enlightened of workplaces — and there are many that are leading the way in changing the workplace culture — there is the issue of childcare. We did not notice any mention of this in the NYT and we are not sure why. Any work conversation begins and ends with who is taking care of kids, both as a regular child care arrangement and on an emergency childcare basis. Life happens: kids get sick, snow closes school, or even the best childcare arrangements have wrinkles where they don’t work. If we truly want to make family-friendly, flexible work arrangements the norm, then we need to begin with the childcare conversation.

Success will look different for every family and different for that same family as life happens, but childcare is the common question we all ask. I hope more workplaces will use the New York Times’ Magazine feature as a starting point to ask what else they can, what they will bring to the table to show and actively offer support for all that their valuable employees value.

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