JANICE HOUGH, a travel agent in Los Altos, wants her 13-year-old son, Carey, to know what she does at work. Several times a year, her son arrives after school and hangs out for a few hours in her office.
"When he's here, he sees that I'm busy." says Hough. "He helps out a bit, hears the phone ringing, sees the panic on clients' faces, and watches the frustration I face during my workday. Then, when we're at home, he understands why I sometimes have to drop everything to check up on a airplane ticket or a hotel reservation. He gets it that Mom has another life."
Hough also hopes that Carey's visits will help him understand the competing demands his mother juggles. "Somewhere in his mind," she says, "he'll always have the memory of his mother at work. I hope that will help him understand the many responsibilities working parents juggle. I hope that will make him a better father."
That is the wish of the Ms. Foundation for Women as well. For the past 10 years, the Ms. Foundation has sponsored a "Take Your Daughter to Work" day. They wanted girls to gain firsthand knowledge of the world of work and perhaps imagine themselves in occupations and professions once closed to women. Nearly 40 percent of the parents who took their daughters to work were men.
This year, on April 24, the Ms. Foundation is launching a new "Take our Daughters and Sons to Work" day. "For girls to take full advantage of the opportunities the program helped to create," says Marie C. Wilson, president of the Ms. Foundation, " boys' lives must change as well."
The larger goal has broadened as well. "This year," says Wilson, "the goal is to give daughters and sons an opportunity to see the problems faced by working parents and to think about 'family friendly' policies that can help improve everyone's lives."
Interestingly, today's young people already want their futures less torn by the competing demands of family and work. According to a national study conducted by the Families and Work Institute, "Ask the Children: Youth and Employment," 81 percent of girls and almost 60 percent of boys expressed a desire to reduce their work hours when they have children.
We often ask kids what they want to be when they grow up. But we rarely follow up with the question, "Do you know what it will take to realize your dream?"
To encourage girls and boys to imagine how to combine their future family and work lives, the Ms. Foundation and the Families and Work Institute have created a curriculum for employers. It includes games and exercises, including such questions as: What do you do if your work requires you to travel or work a night shift? How do you share responsibilities for your children? (The complete curriculum is available online at www.DaughtersandSonstoWork.org.)
To participate, you don't have to bring your own son or daughter. In fact, this is a great opportunity to be a mentor. Invite a nephew or niece, or a neighbor or a friend's child who has expressed interest in what you do.
If you work in a laboratory and know someone's daughter who wants to be a scientist, consider asking her to spend the day with you. If you work in a restaurant and know someone's son who has dreamed of becoming a chef, why not invite him to join you for the day?
Janice Hough won't be bringing her son to work on April 24. "It's not necessary," she says. "I do it all year long and it just feels more natural this way." For those of us who haven't followed her example, however, April 24 offers an opportunity to give tomorrow's adults a glimpse of the challenges they will face as they reach for their dreams.
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle