Give working moms a break for Mother's Day

This Mother's Day, most working moms deserve a break... from their employers. But it's a gift they'll have to ask for.

When asked if they believe they can be a success in their careers and as parents, 78 percent of working moms (and 83 percent of dads) said "Yes" in a new Career Builder survey. Getting there takes compromise, and not just from the employee side.

And moms and dads differ in their opinion about what "having it all" really means.

A slight majority of working moms, 57 percent, spend four or more hours with their kids every day, compared to 35 percent of working dads, according to the same survey. The survey asked more than 2,000 employers and 464 working mothers and 340 working dads, with a margin of error of +/-2.12, +/- 4.55 and +/- 5.31 percentage points, respectively.

But while they're spending more quality time with their kids, nearly twice as many working moms as dads say their job has harmed their relationship with the children, 25 percent of working moms compared to 13 percent of working dads.

This apparent disconnect isn't that surprising. "Even though they may be spending more time with their children, is it focused time?" said Tricia Molloy, a work-life balance expert. "Or are they also on their devices at the same time at the playground?"

For many, "having it all" really means "juggling it all."

That's certainly the case for Karen Reed, a 38-year-old assistant controller and mother of two adopted children in Houston, Texas. Every day she gets up at 4:45 am. She's in the office by 6, works through lunch, and is home by 4 so she can be there when her kids, ages 13 and 14, get home. She helps them with homework and gets dinner ready, often using a time-saving crock pot. At night she gets in a workout and responds to work emails. She's asleep by 9. Weekends are for errands, groceries, meal planning, and saying no to girlfriends who try to get her to go out.

"It's just a vicious cycle, but I wouldn't trade it for the world," she said.

Tug of war

The tug of war can leaving moms feeling guilty no matter what they do, as if they're shortchanging their families or their careers, or both.

Experts say asking for a more flexible work arrangement can ease some of the tension. Managers are increasingly open to these solutions, such as shifting your hours to come in earlier and leave later, to work four 10-hour days a week and get one day off, or working remotely, especially if you can make the case that it'll boost productivity.

Rose Stanley, a spokeswoman for World at Work, an association for compensation professionals, said the key is to come to that meeting armed with business solutions, and not like you're seeking a perk. Lay out the issues you're having, such as picking up or dropping off kids for school, and how shifting hours will help. If you're seeking ad-hoc or scheduled remote work, be able to draw a line from the travel time savings to higher performance. And if you're suggesting reducing your hours, break down some of the savings the company can get from wages to benefits, like lower 401(k) matching.

It's natural to feel intimidated before such a talk with a manger, so Stanley offers a few phrases to help start the conversation. Consider saying, "This is where I'm finding some conflict," or "These are some solutions I'd like to propose," and "I'd like to pilot it and make sure it works so I can be the most productive for you."

Though a company may have a flexible work policy, the day-to-day reality of putting it into place comes down to an individual manager's needs and prejudices.

While some employees are able to get an arrangement that gives them more work-life balance, workers can be punished in subtle ways. For instance, they may not get prime assignments or they make get passed over for promotions.

"To that manager the message is the worker can't be depended on at all times," said Molloy.

Even workers who get a flexible work arrangement approved can still feel stigmatized.

As a single mother up until recently, Reed said she's only taken jobs that offered flex time and required no travel. Then there's the lost schmooze time with colleagues. She feels like she could have advanced further and faster if she didn't have to always run out before those after-work drinks and cake parties.

But it's not as bad as it used to be. Workplaces have recognized family dynamics have changed and technology has made it so we're never truly off the clock.

"Ten years ago people would look at you when you got up to leave, even if you'd been there for a few hours before that person arrived," said Reed. "It's been a little easier in the latter part of my career."