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Without Models, Woman Shaped Her Work, Family Life



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No one was keeping exact records a quarter of a century ago, but Patricia Morrison may be among the first of modern-day women to earn the title of Mother of Flexible Hours.

In 1980, Morrison used flexibility to achieve the work/life balance she wanted and needed.

She also was a probable pioneer that year when she brought her infant son to the office every day - at a machine shop in Clarendon Hills, Ill. - so she could continue nursing him.

"I quit my previous job as a full-time legal secretary when my son, Lake, was born," said Morrison, of Richmond, Va. She is a mediation coordinator and program administration specialist for the atate of Virginia's department of employment dispute and resolution.

"But I knew I wanted to go back to work. I'm a worker. However, I was nursing and only wanted to work 20 hours a week. I also wanted to raise my son."

Morrison, who is divorced and has resumed her maiden name, was then Patricia Stockdreher. By working flexible hours in part-time jobs until 1995 when she went back to working full time, Morrison was able to do what meant most to her: She nursed both her sons, now 26 and 24 years old, raised them, finished her undergraduate degree in interdisciplinary studies - and also managed to maintain her professional status.

Without any role models to guide her, the enterprising woman created her own opportunities - even though Morrison claims the opportunity to work flexible hours and to nurse Lake right there in the office, on-site, "fell into my lap."

"When I was in the hospital after giving birth to Lake, I had a lactation consultant who was also an active member of La Leche League - and her father had a job opening for an order router," said Morrison . "I took my baby with me to my job interview and got the job. After my first week there, in which I pumped milk and used a babysitter - the sister-in-law of the boss who told him Lake was a very good baby - the owner himself suggested I bring Lake to work with me."

And she happily did. But because, even way back then, Morrison was very savvy, she did something else, too: "I was paid to work four hours a day five days a week, but I always worked five hours a day and used that extra hour to catch up and mesh my parenting responsibilities with my work."

Morrison brought Lake to the office and nursed him there for nine months, "until he started to walk and I felt that the plant wasn't a safe environment." She continued to nurse him until he was 1 year old. After two years she left her job at the machine shop. Morrison also nursed her second child for 12 months, once again working a flexible schedule "that suited me."

She did the same in her subsequent jobs, continuing to work part time, changing her hours, switching departments as necessary. After her move to Virginia in 1988 she continued to work in what still were considered "nontraditional" jobs, so-named in absence of official company policies and programs. Morrison herself shaped her schedule so that she was able to balance her personal and professional responsibilities.

"I was able to be a mother and I always felt I raised my children," she said.

"Day care did not raise my children. A variety of relatives did not raise my children. I raised my children and earned a living at the same time. I didn't have to sacrifice the things I wanted in motherhood or work. And I wanted to be able to take care of myself."

Morrison, understandably, is a strong advocate of part-time work and flexible working hours. "Everyone's needs get met, including the employers" she asserted. "It's a win-win situation and should be more prevalent. What I was doing back in the `80s I hoped would catch on and be more accepted."

She advises other working parents about flexible work schedules: "Corporations don't have to rule everything. You can bite the bullet and change your life. Even if you have less money coming in, you will have more time with your kids.

"You only get one shot."

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(Carol Kleiman is the workplace columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Send e-mail to ckleiman@tribune.com.)

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(c) 2005, Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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