Paula Faris on Moms in the Workplace, Paternity Leave, and the Proverbs 31 Woman

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When Paula Faris lost her job at ABC News at the start of the pandemic in 2020, she wasn’t sure what path to follow next. Should she try to get another position in broadcasting or should she pursue a passion that had been burning inside her for some time: becoming an advocate for mothers who work outside the home?

The latter option brought the most uncertainty – and it was one she had struggled with herself as a Christian, having been raised with traditional views on gender roles. But as Paula explained during our recent “Christopher Closeup” interview (podcast below), “They say to run towards what scares you, so that’s what I did.”

As a result, Paula created the company Carry Media to advocate for working moms, as well as those who want to leave the workforce for several years to raise their children. Based on her experiences and research, she has written a new book called “You Don’t Have to Carry It All: Ditch the Mom Guilt and Find a Better Way Forward,” which offers some surprising revelations about the history of working women from both a secular and biblical perspective.

As a mother of three, Paula has experienced misperceptions about motherhood, such as when she returned from maternity leave once only to have a co-worker ask her, “How was your vacation?” She pointed out, “Many of the issues we face as a society are a direct result of how mothers are treated in the workplace, as well as how families are devalued in society.”

Paula continued, “The mother is the default caretaker, nurturer. Seventy percent of mothers will also be the primary breadwinner for their family. So we’re the default everything…[But] once you become a mother, you are kind of treated as this flight risk and liability [in the workplace]…We are passed over for promotions. That’s a known thing called the ‘motherhood penalty.’ We are paid less. We are deemed less viable leaders once we become mothers…If we’re a country about families, we’ve got to take care of our families so much better. It’s the true health of a nation.”

In conducting her research for “You Don’t Have to Carry It All,” Paula learned the surprising fact that for much of human history, “Men and women were co-producers and co-laborers in family economies.” Prior to the Industrial Revolution, husbands and wives worked the farms and fields together and shared in the child-rearing duties. This changed somewhat once industry jobs arose, but there was still no real separation between man’s work and woman’s work.

Following World War II, when soldiers returned home from overseas, the message changed. Paula explained, “Men were told, ‘This is what you do. You bring home the bacon. And the women, you fry it and you nurture everyone.’ That’s really where things shifted, and we start to carry it all as mothers, because women and mothers threw so much of their identity into this.”

Studying history led Paula to realize that the 1950s ideal only worked for some segments of society. Around 25 percent of people lived below the poverty line, while women and African Americans were often forced out of the workplace. “I just say we find that better way forward, and that’s what I’m trying to do with this book.”

That better way forward can be found by looking at other countries. Paula shares the story of her friend Liz Bohannon, founder of Sseko Designs, which offers education, employment, and entrepreneurial opportunities to women in East Africa.

Liz told Paula that “mom guilt” is an American thing because in many other countries, women have no choice but to work. These women take pride in being able to provide for their families.

“What’s even more important,” added Paula, “is there’s an attitudinal shift in other countries that ‘These are our children,’ even if they’re not your children, that we are investing in our children, we are investing in our families. I am my brother’s keeper. There’s community, there’s social policies. So, it’s like they’re all working to raise this next generation, because they believe that kids are the greatest natural resource in the future of their country…They have interdependence, they have family members that live with them. Here, it’s like if we ask for help, we’re weaker. We need help. We need to say, ‘I cannot do this on my own, and I cannot carry it all.'”

Part of the conflict Paula herself has felt over the years as a working mother stems from her being raised with the Christian belief that “a good, godly woman stays home with her children.” Though “You Don’t Have to Carry It All” is a book for a general audience, she did want to explore what the Bible actually teaches about women working outside the home. In interviewing the Director of Theology for Proverbs 31 Ministries, she gained a new perspective.

Paula said, “It was the hardest chapter for me to write, because I do think that Christianity often can be misogyny in disguise. I have experienced that. That was hard for me to reconcile, but it was also very freeing, because [there is] example after example, from the beginning of time where God created Adam and Eve to co-labor and co-subdue the earth together…I had heard in church growing up  that, ‘You’re in the kitchen, you raise your kids, that’s the Proverbs 31 woman.’…[But there’s] much more than just the Proverbs 31 woman in the domesticated sense. She was the source of stability for her family and for her community. She worked, yes, she did all of that at home and did it beautifully, but she worked outside of the home. There’s a verse in Proverbs 31 where it talks about her buying a vineyard with her earnings, with the money that she earned in the marketplace. She was a skillful negotiator, a skilled businesswoman. Yet we reduce her to the domesticated sense. So for me, it was freeing in terms of what God really says about our roles as women and as mothers. It was something that I needed to hear, and I think something that a lot of other women need to hear.”

Paula has been blessed with a husband, John, who was willing to put his dreams on hold so she could pursue her broadcasting career. It’s a decision he was able to make because he is a man who is both confident and strong in who he is, especially in light of the cultural messages that tell men, “You’re only as good as your paycheck and if you can provide for your family.”

“I’m grateful to my husband,” Paula said. “We always approach it as a team. When my career was starting to take off and he was in coaching, we’re like, ‘We can’t do both.’ It’s not like he followed me; we did this together. But my story of spousal equity is definitely the exception, even among some of the most brilliant minds, because there’s still that mentality out there that the man’s job will come first. Sometimes it makes sense because the man is paid more…But I’m super grateful for John, and I think for men, they have so much more to add to this. There’s so many ways that they can help join the fight. One of the biggest ways that they can do it is by taking their paternity leave, if they have it – and if they don’t, to really fight for it. Paternity leave has shown to not only increase bonding with your children, it helps your partner take a load off of her plate. It helps with anything that she’s going through mentally, emotionally, and physically. But also what it does out of the gate, it levels the playing field and it says, ‘We are a partnership. The mother isn’t going to be the default for every single thing. We are in this together. We are raising this child together, as a unit, as a couple.’ I had a friend tell me that she had no idea how much it would change the entire dynamic of [their] marriage.”

Paula hopes that corporate America will take steps to make the workplace more family-friendly. Simple steps include allowing flexible schedules and hybrid home/office hours. She also hopes that companies stop discriminating against the “mommy gap” on resumes from women who left the workforce for several years to raise their children – as well as end the “motherhood penalty” which passes over mothers for promotions and raises.

In addition, there need to be more mothers at the decision-making table. Paula said, “Children are our greatest natural resource or they’re not. They’re the future. And if we make it more difficult to have families, we’ll have fewer children. Fewer children equals labor shortage. Labor shortage equals crisis. So it’s the right thing to do for companies, and it’s good for their bottom line. You take care of families, and culture will change. Families, mothers, fathers are very productive. There’s all these core capabilities that increase once you become a parent, you’re actually becoming the most ideal employee. The companies that take care of families on their roster are going to be the ones that will advance deep into the 21st century. The ones that don’t, they’re going to have a retention and hiring crisis.”

Ultimately, concluded Paula, “We need men, women, parents, non-parents in this fight. I want to change the game for working moms, and ultimately I want to change the game for families…If we can change the game for them, we can change our culture.”

(To listen to my full interview with Paula Faris, click on the podcast link):

Paula Faris interview (2023) – Christopher Closeup


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