It takes a workplace: Moms who take their kids to work

by Roberta Werdinger
Printed in the July 2011 Ukiah Women in Business Network newsletter


Mo Wattenburger still remembers the day her child decided to reorganize her office.

The 32-year-old Ukiah native, co-owner and proprietor of JLB Insurance Services, also known as Insurance Mommy, had just stepped out for a moment when her one-year-old daughter, Andie, got busy. File drawers were opened and spilled out, cold coffee splattered on the rug, while completed insurance forms and scribbled messages, ready to receive special treatment from Andie’s extensive crayon collection, rested gracefully on the floor. Mo sighed and got to work, in more ways than one.

It was just another day in the life of a working mom.

The routine of working mothers and two-career families is now familiar to many: juggling work, family, and personal life, negotiating chores and schedules with your spouse, trying to squeezing time into your day to take your child to a dentist’s appointment. Yet a crucial difference emerges: Moms like Mo are rejecting the belief that one must choose between one’s home life and a career, quietly carving out a new path where the two streams of life are integrated.

“Bringing our kids to work has been a plus both for our kids and for our business,” Mo (short for Maureen) explains, sitting in her expanded new office just off State Street in downtown Ukiah with her business partner, Jen Bazzani. “Clients for the most part like the kid-friendly attitude. We keep toys and video games that their kids can play with. Our kids come by after school and like to help out.” Mo and Jen are proud that their kids are unfolding their own entrepreneurial skills, which includes selling lemonade to raise money for Relay for Life.

As you might guess, moms who take their children to work are not a sober, quiet bunch—their offspring make sure of that. Our old image of the pinstriped male professional in a leather and wood-paneled room may have to be replaced with that of a spry young woman who answers phones in an office with teddy bears propped on bookshelves. Insurance Mommy’s new digs include a multicolored graffiti mural and a slide show featuring photos of the owners’ children: Ashlyn and Katelyn Bazzani, thirteen-year-old twins, and Kasie, Seja, Ashiah, and Andie Wattenburger, ages thirteen, ten, seven, and one. The two moms, friends since sixth grade, joined forces when Jen invited Mo, then pregnant with Andie, to join up with her to sell auto, home, life and commercial insurance. Mo’s father’s business was slow, so he was able to help care for the baby when she was born. “I couldn’t have done this without him,” Mo reflects gratefully. She’s glad that she was able to be present for the milestones—first step or word—that working mothers often miss. She’s glad she can stay at home and care for a sick child if she needs to.

Other women who integrate their children into their working routine agree on the benefits. “Customers love it when my youngest, Nicholas, pops up in the booth,” Carol Larson, owner of Cuppa Joe To Go on North State Street, says. “He likes giving biscuits to owners with dogs. Our workers love it, too, because customers always leave better tips when the children are around.” Cuppa Joe’s loyal client base still inquire about Carol’s oldest child, Christopher, now seven years old, whom Carol and her husband were in the process of adopting while the business got started. Carol feels fortunate she had the flexibility to stay at home more when Christopher was young. She keeps an office in their house for accounting and bookkeeping and tries to perform those functions while the kids are away at school.

With more women than ever building careers in the midst of their childbearing years, the workplace has changed to accommodate their ever-shifting demands. Some women, like Mo, waive or minimize their maternity leave and place their infant in a playpen (or in a nearby room with a caretaker) while they work. The child’s first year of life is often more appropriate for this, allowing the mother to breastfeed. (Andie herself, after a no-doubt formative first year in the Insurance Mommy office, is now happily ensconced in daycare.) While this model may seem startling and innovative, it may really be quite traditional. In the old days, mothers would strap their babies onto their backs while they worked in the fields. Now, they hold them in their lap while they send emails and make conference calls. There’s even a Parenting in the Workplace Institute, founded in 2006, that supports this trend and keeps a list of kid-friendly workplaces. (See And a 2010 Columbia University study concludes there is no adverse effect on a child if the mother returns to work in their first year, reversing earlier findings.

Managing work and family life at the same time can also be a challenge. Lisa Epstein, an insurance agent with State Farm, often takes her two kids to the office she shares with her husband, Jay, after they let out of school. They keep the little office kitchen stocked with snacks and drinks; their two boys play air hockey or watch TV in a nearby room while they work. Lisa adds, “Our boys are voracious readers, so they will often curl up with a book or work on one of our laptops.” Still, “We try not to have them at work very much because it is tiring for all of us.” Carol Larson’s days start at 5:30 when she tiptoes out of the house while her family is still sleeping for a quick visit to the Cuppa Joe’s location to get her morning employee started. She can recall when an important phone transaction was punctuated with the triumphant cry of her toilet-training son: “Mom, I’ve gotta poop!”

If it’s now a well-known adage that it takes a village to raise a child, perhaps it will take a workplace to raise our 21st-century kids. Children thrive on being integrated into a community; they learn new skills by emulating their elders. Meanwhile, the adults get to look up from their overloaded to-do lists and flashing computer screens and share in the joys of a new word on a page, a freshly placed purple blotch on a drawing, and perhaps even a creatively redesigned workplace.


Roberta Werdinger is a writer, publicist, and editor based in Willits and Ukiah whose clients include the Grace Hudson Museum, Redwood Valley Outdoor Education Program, and more.