A key part of parenting is being a role model for your children. I believe that one of the reasons I have been comfortable with my decision to work full-time while my children are growing up is that that is what I saw my mother do. I never felt like it was a negative having a mom who worked. In fact I was (am) proud of her and even felt special talking about her work in school and with my friends. I think its no coincidence that my husband is comfortable with this situation as well – his mother worked – at first as a teacher, then as an attorney, then as a college professor and part-time judge. In fact my mother is still working, half of her time as medical-director of a drug rehabilitation program and part time seeing patients in the office.
So part of this cycle relates to our daughters and daughters-in-law. Do we want them to feel empowered to and comfortable pursuing a career? Do we want them to be financially self-sufficient? Independent even if they never marry or something happens to their husband or marriage?
Beyond role modeling there is also the exposure to mom’s specific career. In my case – with both my parents as physicians that exposure was not as much about business but I certainly learned a lot about medicine. I learned how doctor’s offices were run, I learned about many diseases and treatments because my parents discussed medical issues, including answering our questions, frequently around the dinner table. I worked two summers in a nursing home where my dad was medical director. Had I wanted to be a doctor this would have been a huge leg up.
In our house, the dinner table discussions about our day are much more about business – how Steve and I are building our companies, what issues are we facing. It is a great opportunity for the kids to learn about what life is like in a silicon valley company and how we handle the issues of the day. In our house they have 2 sources of this information. As the kids became teenagers these conversations were great for me too as they are discerning consumers of technology! I’ll never forget the evening while I was working for Yahoo – we had just started hearing the rumors of the impending launch of Gmail with unlimited storage – Yahoo was still offering 5mb (yes the “m” is correct). Todd quickly pronounced that we would lose all our customers if we didn’t up our offer!
I think it is no accident that two of the very small number of Fortune 500 women CEO’s grew up in the same household as sisters. They were brought up on a diet of business skills and were encouraged early on to be ambitious. All of my children have spent time in my offices over the years. Mostly brief visits – stopping in while I catch up on a few things. Todd and Margot actually did some office and tech support work during summers – I think this is a great chance to learn about the business world.
More generally, I think my children got an extra dose of independence training – starting young with getting dressed and making school lunches themselves to starting homework and problem solving after school. I believe their nannies and (in Derek’s case) daycare experiences exposed them to new people and ideas and challenged and therefore developed their communication skills. At a more subtle level I think that seeing a mom as a working person confirms for children the sense that people—especially women—are multidimensional. Studies have also shown that both boys and girls have more egalitarian attitudes towards marriage, family and men and women’s roles when their mothers were employed which could help their future marital happiness. Finally, I believe that having a working mom helps prepare children for their future where both they and their spouses are statistically likely to both be working.