I was in middle school in 1993 when Gloria Steinem and the Ms. Foundation for Women started “Take Our Daughters to Work Day.” At the time, I viewed it as a day off from school, but, in hindsight, going to work with my mom helped me see my mother in a new light.
My mother taught at a state-run residential facility for adults with severe mental and physical disabilities. Going to work with her was cool and scary. I’d visited her work before, on the weekends, when my mother needed to complete lesson plans or make notations. But during those hours I was safely ensconced in her empty classroom and given free reign to create anything I wanted from all best arts and crafts supplies I had ever seen.
On a day when she was actually teaching though, it was different. There were locked doors. There were adults in wheelchairs moaning, drooling, and sticking their hands in their diapers. There were students my mother would introduce me to and expect me to have a conversation with and others that when I (or they) ventured too close would cause my mother to jerk me back to her side where she would whisper “she bites.”
There was the staff who worked there too. They came to my mother with questions, problems or daily gossip. They all knew who I was and it was obvious my mother spoke of me with pride.
Above it all, there was my mother’s patience and purpose – two things she often seemed to lack at home. There was no patience for us when we lost our library books or left our dishes in the sink and she, to me – the self-centered adolescent that I was – lacked a purpose beyond her children, always waiting for me to finish my ballet class or cooking us dinner and then immersing herself in trash novels. Seeing her at work let me know that my mother was a dynamic person – more than portrait of her in pink sweatpants cooking spaghetti that I saw at home every day.
In 2003, “Take Our Daughters to Work Day” changed its name to “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day.” While the original goal was to expose females to the opportunities in the workplace, the rebranding allowed children to explore careers outside of prescribed gender stereotypes and allowed to organization to focus the empowerment of youth. In fact, that’s why the name isn’t “Take Your Daughter and Son…”. It would get old if I had my child visit my classroom every year, but if I had a friend with a career that could interest him or her, it would be a great opportunity.
While there still needs to be a focus on raising girls to believe they can aspire to any career they choose and any leadership position they hear about, and while the day has been spoofed in television sitcoms like The Office, the value of taking your children to work with you goes beyond exposing them to potential job opportunities. Just like observing your child at school, on a field trip, at a dance, or during a sports practice allows you to see your child in ways that you don’t observe at home around the kitchen table, seeing you in your work environment may allow them to begin to see you as a person, not just a parent.