Brand building through storytelling

A parent’s place

I’d been running Chatelaine for less than a month when my managing editor burst into my office, his face alight with ecstasy and trepidation. He and his wife were about to adopt the baby they’d been longing for ever since I’d known him.

There was just one catch: the young mother-to-be lived in another time zone and she wanted both of them with her for the birth, which could happen anytime over the next several weeks. If they had to say no, she might rethink her decision that they were the ideal parents for her child.

So Ivor asked my blessing for the following game plan: he would fly to a faraway town and telecommute from his hotel via fax and modem. “You can always call me if you need me,” he promised. “We’ll make it work.”

We didn’t know what would or wouldn’t work; I’d just promoted Ivor to his post. Worst-case scenarios flashed before my eyes—missed deadlines, scrambled stories, budgetary chaos. Who had ever heard of a managing editor telecommuting from such a distance?

I trusted Ivor to look after the countless details that I couldn’t handle myself and I wanted him right beside me as I began the job of a lifetime. Then it struck me that if I trusted him that much, he’d find a way to make it work. Besides, he was the managing editor I wanted. Much as I hated to say yes, I couldn’t afford to say no.

Months later, I recounted this story to a woman with a staff of dozens. Before I could tell her how things worked out, she weighed in with her opinion: employees’ personal lives are not the company’s business. If she’d been in charge, Ivor’s wife would have made the trip alone.

Unlike my friend, I’m a mother—one who knows first-hand how tough it is to combine kids with a career in a culture that still counts mainly on women to nurture its young. And as a journalist, I’ve interviewed plenty of talented, dedicated people (including a few men) whose struggle to be good parents within the confines of their jobs ultimately drove them from their companies. I believe that employers who want the best people will have to cut parents some slack.

New research from the Conference Board of Canada points to mounting pressure on parents. Nearly half of employed Canadians report moderate to high stress levels as a result of the work-family crunch-an increase from 27 percent a decade ago. And employers are starting to pay the price. Almost a third of respondents have turned down a promotion or chosen not to apply. Fourteen percent have left a job because they couldn’t keep it all together; more have thought of quitting.

What parents want, the study says, is partly formal initiatives such as flexible hours and leaves of absence. But since the most ambitious program can be subtly undercut by old-school managers who prize face time more than results, the real bottom line is sensitive employers.

In my experience, understanding pays off big time. Let me tell you what happened for us. Once Ivor had settled down to work, I hardly noticed his absence. Over the next two weeks, he not only kept us all on track, he cut through his “someday” pile (there’s nothing like hotel tedium to boost productivity).

After taking some time off to get to know his new son, he returned to Chatelaine full of zest for his job—and appreciation for my trust in him. He eventually left us to concentrate on his writing, as we both knew he would one day. But by supporting him as a father, I postponed the inevitable by a couple of years.

Along the way, I discovered what someone can bring to an organization that makes a small space for personal dreams. Energy. Passion. Tenacity. Commitment. The defining strengths of every good parent.

By Rona Maynard. First published in Chatelaine, September, 1999, as “A parent’s place.” Copyright Rogers Media Publishing. Used by permission.

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