In late 2012, in response to President Obama's election victory speech, I posted here about the importance of the President demonstrating initiative in prioritizing flexibility and work-life alignment for all during this second presidential term. In recent weeks, the President and the topic have crossed paths once again in the headlines, this time in a more acerbic way.
In this January's Politico article, authors Jennifer Epstein and Glenn Thrush make an "irritable" synopsis of POTUS' operation of his work and family life, and according to the opinion of the authors, the end result is negligence of the promises he made to the city he currently calls home: Washington, D.C..
After reading the article, I must say that I identify with and agree far more strongly with this contrarian viewpoint from Forbes contributor David Shaywitz. Shaywitz praises President Obama's dedication to his family and natural inclination to "turn inward." He points out that by arriving home in time for dinner, coaching his daughter's basketball team and being present for their parent-teacher conferences, Obama is proving that work-life alignment is indeed indispensable.
Shaywitz responds with enthusiasm that the President puts family first -- something that isn't covered often enough in the doom-and-gloom news landscape. The best leaders lead by example, not by words alone. Thus, the President is showing the American workforce that work/life alignment, even in the most stressful of jobs, is necessary to our overall well-being.
Adding to the Politico piece, I do take issue with the context in which Epstein and Thrush present the idea that "Obama's natural inclination is to turn inward, toward his family." How do you measure something like that from someone who spends most of his waking hours in the public eye? In my view, conversations like these seem to magnify what we've seen time and again, when a parent's perceived professional shortcomings are joined somehow with their personal decision emphasize family. While chronic absenteeism may be a root cause of failings at work, generally speaking, a parent who takes care of his or her family is not an inherent problem. If President Obama wasn't a parent, where would criticism lay in regards to his personal life? Somewhere, I imagine, but the points presented here just don't seem to hold water.
Where did we diverge the paths of success and fulfillment in life when it comes to work and family? Perhaps we are just in that awkward stage where one piece (our personal lives) has evolved past the other (our work lives), and the latter has to catch up with the times. Aligning all those aspects without feeling guilty about one or the other at times is a difficult and continual journey. Making sacrifices for the betterment of the big picture is part of life today. We're going faster and doing more every day, all day. But I'd venture to guess that a large portion of us are pretty thrilled overall with our performance as both parents and professionals.
Parents will always encounter topics and issues from a different perspective than non-parents. That is to be expected. But we're finding that these differences have less and less of a place at work. Professionals across the country and the world, really, are considering how they work differently for all kinds of motives. It's not just for carpool reasons that people have obligations away from work. Companies are slowly mirroring these trends and preferences. Wouldn't it make sense that someone like the President of the United States and others in the public eye are also addressing and practicing these same shifts? Being critical of that advancement isn't helpful, especially when something like a focus on family and working in a way that connects it all is such a win-win across the board.
Allison O'Kelly is founder/CEO of Mom Corps, a national professional staffing firm with a focus on flexible work. Launched in 2005, Mom Corps has helped champion the view that flexibility is a benefit to not only professionals but to the companies that employ them. Follow us at @MomCorps and @AllisonOKelly.