Mark Mullaney and his husband, Jonathan Palant are 41 and 42 years old respectively, and have been married for 14 years. They have a 4-year-old son named Noah, and a 4-month-old daughter named Caroline. Mark works for United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, and thanks to their "Babies at Work" policy, he's able to bring his family's newest addition to the office on a regular basis! We caught up with Mark to discuss how the policy is helping the family adjust.
Gay With Kids: Before we ask about your work's Babies at Work policy, tell us a bit about the path to parenthood that you took. How was your journey?
Mark Mullaney: We began our path to parenthood about 10 years ago after signing with an adoption agency. After waiting for almost 3 years with no results we got connected to a woman who was looking for a private adoption. That scenario also didn’t work out due to some deception, which left us frustrated and unsure how we were going to realize our dream to become parents. Ultimately, it was our families that recommended we take another look at surrogacy. We had looked at it as an option years ago, but then concluded that there were enough kids in need of good homes, so adoption was the path we initially chose. In the end we had both of our children via gestational surrogates here in the Dallas area. We had amazing surrogates and got to be at every appointment and the deliveries of both our kids. As an added bonus we are still friends with both surrogates and their families.
MM: Well, this isn’t our first time at this rodeo, but having two kids is very different than having one! All our friends told us it is harder to go from one kid to two than it is to go from zero to one, or from two to three. And we agree! While we are settling in and adjusting to all that comes with having an infant again, it was a difficult adjustment. Balancing life with a 4-year-old who wants to run and play and having a child you have to carry everywhere is a juggling act. So is making sure that both children feel loved and paid attention to. Now 4 months in we seem to have hit our stride. We both have demanding jobs and travel now and then, so we have been lucky to call on parents to fly in and help when it gets too hectic.
GWK: Where do you work? What type of family leave policies did they provide you with?
MM: I work at the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas. For both of my kids I took 12 weeks of FMLA so I could be home to bond with them. I have been with UW a while so I had enough time to be able to take the full leave and have it paid. Since having my son 4 years ago there have been more men in my office also taking time to be home and bond with their kids---beyond the typical 1 to 2 weeks a dad may more typically take.
GWK: What has your work's generous policy of allowing you to bring your baby to the office allowed you to do that you otherwise would not have been able to? What would you have done if you didn't have such a policy in place?
MM: When I had my son the Babies at Work policy was not yet in place at United Way. Now that I have had my daughter I feel like this policy has allowed me to take the connection/bond I began to develop when I was on FMLA and sustain it since she can accompany me to the office.
Given the demand and expense for high-quality childcare, this policy has allowed me and my family to save some money as we transition to having our second child. Our daughter will attend the same early childhood center as our 4 year old son, but knowing that I could bring her to work with me over the summer allowed me to select the reduced attendance option while maintaining her slot within the program. It has allowed us to put the money we would have spent on full time child care for the summer and apply it to the fall tuition when she will have outgrown the Babies at Work program.
The Babies at Work program has also contributed to an even more positive work environment for my colleagues and me. When staff arrive with their babies to work it makes everyone smile and just brightens the day. The babies make us all smile, laugh, and enjoy our environment even more than we did before. It is also a great way to bond with colleagues on a new level and share tips and tricks when it comes to sleep deprivation, feeding issues, play groups, etc.
GWK: Why is it important to your work to provide its employees with generous family policies?
MM: United Way of Metropolitan Dallas’ mission is to change lives forever in North Texas. To do that we know that we need to start with out staff. Wanting to help parents achieve a better work-life balance, this Babies at Work policy allows us to bring our children to work until they are six months old. Parents bring in a portable crib or a pack ‘n’ play, and set up in their cubicles. When we have meetings we will strap on baby carrier, or roll the stroller in, and go about business as usual. The company also sees that the Babies at Work policy boosts morale in the office and also helps parents save on childcare costs.
GWK: Often, businesses will have family leave policies that exclude LGBTQ families who adopt or gay men who use a surrogate. Does your work's family policy explicitly include LGBTQ people?
MM: We have a fully inclusive nondiscrimination policy at my office which covers all other policies. When I started working at United Way I was the first to ask about partner benefits (before we were legally married and marriage equality was the law of the land), then I was the first to have a child via surrogacy, and the HR and Senior Leadership Staff never batted at eye. They only wished me well and asked if there was anything else they could do to help.
GWK: What was the family leave policy like at your husband's job?
MM: My husband is a musician and so has a few jobs with community choirs he leads as well as being a professor, author, and traveling clinician. That said, there is no leave policy for his work. Given that I have the “traditional” job it was great that I was able to shift my schedule a bit, and given that he is his own boss for most of his jobs he can flex his schedule when I cannot flex mine.
GWK: Anything you want to add?
MM: The only thing I would add is that we all have our own journey to becoming parents, and no one path is better than the other. Thankfully there are so many resources out there (like Gays With Kids) to help. Also, when it comes to policies at work to help LGBTQ families---just ask. I know that a large corporate environment may be different than a nonprofit with less than 100 people, but if you never speak up and say that there is a need, then nothing will ever change.