The ‘Working Parent’ conundrum.

This story will seem like a departure from the direction I said we’d take this week, but it isn’t. And this first part is a repeat of something you’ve read before, if you’ve been here awhile. Also, there’s a recipe link at the end as a reward for getting through this particular contemplation. Here goes:

My third job after graduating from college was working as an administrative assistant (that was the official title, though the conversational term was still “secretary”) in the sales and marketing division of a satellite communications firm, in the 1990s, before the breakup of AT&T (which is also part of this story).

Like many companies then, and still, this one had a complicated power dynamic between the sales team and the marketing team. In overly simplistic, dramatized terms, “sales” brought in money while “marketing” just spent money. The sales people were doing actual work; the marketing people were just dressed well and threw good parties. No, no, no; that wasn’t it. The marketing people were cultivating deep relationships that brought in sustained revenue; the sales people were just lackeys taking orders.

Get the picture?

The organizational chart was constantly changing as the balance shifted in the winds of a small company’s growth and evolution during a time of seismic change.

I was promoted from secretary to marketing coordinator when the marketing director, for whom I’d been typing and answering phone calls, recognized that not only was I a good typist and could work a computer (even when computers ran MS-DOS), I could actually do a few other things like write and organize logistics for trade show events.

After a couple of years (longer than I’d expected to stay in that line of work), a new sheriff came to town to consolidate, redirect, and improve the sales and marketing departments. During that shuffle, a job opened up on the account management (sales) team, and the shiny new vice president encouraged me to apply, so I did.

I went through the interviews, the personality assessments, the whole nine yards. At the same time, the marketing team was being reorganized in a way that wasn’t yet clear but that would also have a career path for me, if I wanted it.

My final interview for the account manager job was with a man who had been kind and supportive since I’d arrived at the company, when I was just a temp from the temp agency, placed in a typing job working for a man who had a reputation for losing his temper. (Get it? The temp for the temper. Someone actually said that to me, my first day there.)

He had daughters about my age, this man who’d been kind and supportive. He was funny and wise and had a built-in bullshit detector. He asked all the interview questions, went through the formalities of our appointment, and told me, in essence, that the job was mine if I wanted it. Then he asked: Did I want it?

I didn’t know.

“How am I going to make this decision?” I asked him, in response to the question he’d asked me.

And he said: “Always take the job for the boss. If you work for someone who supports you, recognizes your talents, invests in your growth, and helps you succeed, then you’ll never go wrong.”

I didn’t take the job. I stayed in marketing, working for the woman who had vacated the account manager position to become the new marketing director, after the man with the temper moved on. To this day that woman is a trusted friend and colleague.

That decision led, eventually, to my taking a job in Omaha, working for the subsequent owner of that tiny satellite communications company. The man who recruited me to Omaha had risen in the ranks of AT&T when it was a monopoly, before the Telecom Act of 1996 (which is another story, for another day). In his AT&T tenure he was the beneficiary of the company’s talent identification program, a conscious effort to develop talent within the ranks, using assessments, training, and mentoring to build skills, expertise, and leadership. That’s why he had been recruited for the job in Omaha, because he had a reputation for his ability to build a high performance team.

During my five years in Omaha he, in turn, mentored me, teaching what he’d learned and helping me build skills and expertise.

The framework, or mental model, for all that career mentoring, training, development, and support?


Though we are reluctant to talk about it in this way because it sounds somehow inappropriate, the construct of “parenting,” in its most basic definition, is deeply embedded in our workplaces and professional lives. It’s the apprentice-journeyman-master progression, the internship, the career pipeline, etc.

So why isn’t actual parenting — the literal work of mentoring, training, supporting and nurturing tiny people who will become doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, teachers, artists, engineers, astronauts, plumbers — embraced and revered as the first, most basic, and most essential part of the economic engine we call work?

Why do parents, and mothers in particular, so often feel pressure to deny their parenting responsibilities in professional settings, if the ability to parent, through mentoring, training, and development, is critically important to the health of the profession?

Think about that for a minute (or a day). Just sit with it, and tomorrow, if you come back, we’ll see how that idea has settled in.

Meanwhile, here’s something to cook, and eat, that will feel like comfort on a chilly fall evening.

Pear and Blue Cheese Crostata

It’s pear (and apple) season, so what better to make than a warm, sweet-savory pastry?

This pear and blue cheese crostata from The Kitchn is easy and delicious. Make a simple salad for dinner, perhaps, and eat that salad while this pastry is baking. As is written in the recipe prelude, “It’s dessert plus cheese, people!” What’s not to like?

For the record, salad+dessert was my mother’s routine whenever she felt a taste for something sweet. She would prepare a simple salad for dinner and then indulge in dessert, which usually included cream, ice cream, or custard.

There are worse things you could do, I promise.