Maybe this is retro. Maybe it’s not furthering the advancement of women in office careers, or the acceptance of motherhood as a legitimate part of a working woman’s life. But to the questioner at the New York Times’ Motherlode blog who asks how to handle bringing your baby to work, I have only this to say:
I recognize and respect most trends towards encouraging work-life balance. I think workplaces should do everything they can to support parents through their children’s younger years. But I think that, with a very few exceptions, bringing a baby to work isn’t going to advance your career or make your life easier. What it will do is change the way your colleagues view you, temporarily at best and for the long term at least. Unless your employer is Mothering magazine, bringing in a baby is likely to be disruptive. It’s going to require others to accommodate you and your infant when a crying jag interferes with a meeting or conference call. (Note that I say when, not if). It’s going to require you to nurse, juggle, sway and sing in front of people you’d hoped viewed you as a professional. It is not going to be easy.
I suppose the questioner might get one of those loaf-of-bread style babies, the ones who lie placidly on their backs gazing out the window and eat an nap on schedule. Before I had my first child, I’d read that JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book with her infant snoozing beside her in his “carry-cot” at a local coffee shop. That was so deceptive a description of life with an infant that I hated her for many years afterwards. To some extent, I suspect that the questioner shares my once-rosy view of babies, and it’s almost impossible not to. You really can’t understand the all-encompassing grasp of such a small creature until you’ve experienced it. In that way, I think she should reconsider the logistics and, as several commenters said, be prepared for it not to work.
But even more than a concern for the mechanics of the thing, I think anyone considering bringing an infant to the workplace as a regular thing needs to consider what kind of affect that will have on her image with her colleagues. Now, she is (presumably) a competent, independent individual, focused on the job at hand and able to create at least the appearance of putting work above personal concerns during working hours. She dresses suitably and not in a distracting manner. She can attend meetings scheduled by others and doesn’t require any special treatment.
With a baby on board, all of those things will change. Any meetings or conferences will need to be scheduled around the baby’s needs. If, during an important call (or whatever task requires the most attention in her office) the baby needs her, she will have to put aside work and tend to the baby, who will otherwise disrupt the entire office with his or her demands. If the situation absolutely requires her attendance, and if there is no one else willing to remove the screaming baby entirely so that no one can hear it, she may need to nurse the baby while with colleagues, something I personally have no objection to but many people find distracting. And during all of this, her fellow workers and bosses will be drawing conclusions about her performance. Even if they’re fondly sympathetic to your efforts (as opposed to irritated by the need to shape their working day around your needs), I doubt that fond sympathy is the emotion you want to inspire in your peers. You could argue that in order to become a more family friendly society, we need to be blaze this trail and make it possible. I think we’d be a more family friendly society if we gave new parents more time to just stay home, or provided more and better creches and on-site day-care.
There are people who could pull this off, but for most of them, this isn’t their first rodeo. There’s a learning curve in becoming a parent just as there is in anything else. It’s hard enough to be a first time mother, harder yet to be a first time mother with only a few weeks of maternity leave, and very hard to be a first-time mother while simultaneously doing a job that once took (and is meant to take) all of your time and energy while you were present at work. My advice to the questioner would be to find a babysitter, work when she can work, and be a mother when she’s not working. Bringing a baby in once in a while, for a child-care crisis, is one thing. Trying to fully multitask motherhood and engineering is another. I think the writer will find she’s not able to give her best to either job, and while her baby will undoubtably give her another chance, some in her office may not.
Image by Flickr member @cdharrison licensed under Creative Commons