Bottles and briefcases. Parents with jobs and families tote children to work
Brandon, Fla. — WHEN Carolyn Morgan at age 32 had her first child, a son, she couldn't put her thriving veterinary practice on hold to stay home. But she had waited years to have a baby and wanted to spend time with him. Dr. Morgan's solution?
She decided to ``have it all'' by caring for him at her office.
``I really didn't want to leave him at a very young age with a stranger,'' says Morgan in between appointments.
Hugging her 14-month-old, she continues, ``If I had not been able to bring him with me, I would have had a real guilt complex.''
Trying to perform two full-time jobs at once has been no easy feat, she concedes. ``It makes things a lot harder. There are times when it's busy, and he's cranky - but anything has its times.''
While this family's situation is not an option for most working parents, it's a phenomenon that experts say may grow as more women join a work force without widespread child-care and parental-leave options.
In the veterinary office, son Morgan Proctor spends much of his time in the walker, his travels restricted by a leash fastened between the walker and a convenient drawer handle. Even so, few areas are off limits to the active baby.
Dr. Morgan relies on the aid of her employees, who often keep an eye on the baby. She also relies on her husband, Mark Proctor, who has a real estate office in the same building. A door between the two offices allows Morgan to drop her son off with his dad when the schedule gets too hectic.
``We can't look at this as a solution,'' remarks Phyllis Silverman, a senior program adviser at Catalyst, a working women's advisory group in New York. Rather, it's ``a cry for attention in this country to family problems,'' she says.
About 220,000 preschool-aged children, or almost 2.7 percent of the country's total 8.2 million, were under the care of parents working either full- or part-time during during 1984-85, according to the most recent United States Census Bureau study covering this topic. The number does not include another 440,000 children under the care of parents working at home.
Most companies have no written policies on bringing children to the workplace, says Dana Friedman of the Work and Family Information Center at the Conference Board, a business research organization in New York. Often it is smaller companies that are willing to accommodate such an arrangement, while large ones generally prohibit children at work.
What motivates an employer to allow children at work?
While it certainly may boost an employee's morale, some managers have found that mothers who are allowed to bring their children to work often return more quickly from maternity leave.
Such was the case with Pat Robinett, clinical services director of Planned Parenthood of North Central Indiana. When she became pregnant with her son Jud, her boss suggested that her employee of six years care for the baby at the South Bend Planned Parenthood office - a proposal to which the new mother happily agreed.
``I probably would not have come back'' to work without being able to bring Jud, says Mrs. Robinett now. Instead, she was inspired to return to the job only two weeks after the birth.
Robinett's boss, Elizabeth Mooney, says that some male executives in South Bend have labeled her ``a dotty old grandmother'' for allowing children at work. But she prefers to think of herself as an astute manager.
``It's absolutely from my perspective a business decision.... I hire top-notch employees, and I don't pay a lot, because I'm a social service agency. This way [allowing babies at work], I'm able to keep good employees.''
Inspired by Robinett's example, fellow-employee Craig Witkowski brings his son to work two or three days each week. His position requires a lot of typing and answering telephones, but he has found ``a little knapsack'' invaluable for carrying son Brent.
Both Witkowski and Robinett say work is more difficult with a baby on hand, but they feel it's worth the effort.
``From the outset, I wanted to be as involved with him as possible,'' says Mr. Witkowski. ``I'm a lot closer to him than if I just came home at night.''
Purchasing clerk Merle Weaver, who shares an office with Witkowski and sometimes keeps an eye on Brent, comments, ``The baby has not been distracting ... and it brightens the day when he gets his first tooth, or you see a great big smile.''
No matter how well mannered the child, some say having a youngster in the office is a strain on both the parent and co-workers. Internationl Business Machines spokesman Mike Shore reports that his company forbids the practice, because ``bringing children to the workplace isn't conducive to a working environment.''
Deborah Meyer, associate director of 9 to 5, the National Association of Working Women, says it's an arrangement her group would rarely recommend. ``It is hard on the parent. Most employers seem to think parents can't get their work done [with achild present], and we tend to agree.''
Parents who care for children at work admit that they can be pulled between working and spending time with the child. Most compensate for time lost on child care by taking work home, working through lunch, or working late.
Cheryl McCarthy, former vice-president of Scott, Fitton & Company, says time with the child is limited because ``you still have a job to do.''
She cared for her son, Tony, at the office from age 9 months to 22 months. Then she decided to become a full-time mother. ``I started to feel cheated,'' she says. ``I wanted to spend time alone with Tony.''
But Mrs. McCarthy feels that both she and, more important, Tony benefited from his stint as an office child. ``Tony had an incredible vocabulary at the age of one, and he is a very social, outgoing child,'' she comments. ``I would do it again.''
While many parents who care for children at work feel confident of the benefits, experts' opinions differ as to whether it's a good method of child care.
``I think we ought to make better arrangements for both mother and child,'' says T. Berry Brazelton, professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Brazelton disapproves of keeping a child at work, regardless of the child's age, because ``either they [the parents] aren't going to do their work, or they sure aren't going to help their children.''
A different view is voiced by Irwin Gribetz, professor of clinical pediatrics at Mount Sinai Medical School: ``I would encourage her [the mother] to do what she felt comfortable doing ... it's always healthier to have the mother take care of the child.''
Yet another opinion comes from Ms. Silverman of Catalyst, who holds a doctorate in human development.
``Up to six months, if you have a baby with a very even temper, you may be able to get away with it,'' she says. But when they get older, ``they should have space to run; they should have space to climb.''
For Sarah Goldberg, vice-president of Perceptronics Inc., an artificial-intelligence firm in Woodland Hills, Calif., being able to bring her children to work meant she was able to work part-time just two weeks after birth.
Although she says that ``it was really difficult talking to someone who doesn't have children'' with a baby crying in the background, Mrs. Goldberg found the office-care arrangement was a good compromise between her desire to be with her children in early infancy and her work demands.
As the infants grew older, they demanded more attention than Goldberg felt she could give them at work.
``I don't think you can concentrate with your children there ... it's not fair to them, and it's not fair to you.''
For some mothers, bringing baby to work is more a necessity than a choice.
Ohio state Rep. Jane Campbell had to go to the state capital for crucial budget hearings just weeks after the birth of her daughter, Jessica. The baby then traveled with her mother from Cleveland to Columbus and became a familiar face at the legislature.
``It was hard,'' says Mrs. Campbell, ``but I would do it again the same way. I think it gave us a good, solid foundation.''
Campbell recalls that she often listened to debates while nursing Jessica in the women's restroom near the House chambers. At other times, Jessica viewed the lawmakers in action from the warm confines of a cloth baby carrier.
When Jessica was four months old, she entered nursery school, because Campbell felt the baby needed more opportunity for activity.
``She was awake a lot more, and there were all kinds of things [in my office] that she shouldn't get into,'' she says.
Campbell and other mothers have found that having baby at the office actually may make it easier to work long and odd hours, especially when they are breast-feeding.
``I didn't slow down when my first child was born,'' says Joan Bertin, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union's women's rights project in New York. Her daughter came into the world when she was working 15- to 16-hour days on a demanding case.
Mrs. Bertin says it wouldn't have been possible to breast-feed her at work such long hours had Claire not stayed at the office.
Bertin also kept her second daughter at the office until the age of six months, when she was eligible for a day-care center Bertin liked. Her husband, also a lawyer, sometimes cared for the children while working at home to give her a break. She and her husband felt no inclination to extend the office-care arrangement past early infancy for either child, because, ``once they could crawl, it was hard. They wanted a lot of interaction,'' Bertin says.
But she had no regrets about keeping her children at work during their first six months.
``It satisfied our own desire to be their primary caregivers when they were young.''