If you've heard more than your share of bad news lately, and you're a working parent, this column is for you. Times definitely are changing for the better -- at home and at work -- and not just in huge corporations and on the pages of women's magazines.
At a business lunch in a small town in Maine not long ago, five male executives spent half an hour discussing their companies' current parental leave policies.
"Our company gives new mothers 14 months off, with all benefits intact and a guaranteed equivalent job, but we're already behind the times. Our competition just started giving mothers a year of maternity leave, and giving their new fathers six months off, too," said the president of the town's largest bank.
Said another policy-setter, "We have no choice! If we don't cater to our young employees who are going to be parents one day, our best people will leave us and go off to big cities where they can find better benefits.
"If employers don't recognize this now and move with the times, we simply won't be able to compete in today's competitive job market."
And my best friend's grown son -- reared in the woods of Wisconsin by his father, who makes Genghis Khan look like a feminist -- wrote this week to announce that he and his new wife are pregnant, and he plans to give up his job as a high school coach and stay home indefinitely, once the baby is born, while his wife pursues her career as a veterinarian.
At a New Year's Day brunch in rural Maryland, the editor of a daily newspaper said matter-of-factly, "There seems to be a baby boom going on in my newsroom, but so far, we haven't had any trouble adjusting.
"Some of my reporters occasionally have to bring their children to work with them, it's true -- I went by a desk yesterday and there was an 8-week-old baby sitting in his infant chair, watching his father finish an article -- but as hard as these people work, I wouldn't dream of telling them they can't bring their children with them now and then if they're going to be working late!"
And a man called this morning to say, "I won't be able to keep our appointment for an interview today. My 6-year-old has an ear infection and it's my turn to stay home with her. Can we make it for another time?" He neither felt the need to explain further nor expected my applause.
And last month the man we hired to clean our chimney brought both his children along, explaining cheerfully that they were home for Christmas vacation and their mother was at work.
These exchanges never would have taken place just 10 years ago. If they had, it would only have been in the executive offices of huge, rich, public relations-conscious corporations, or in the living rooms of the five liberated couples who were, I'm convinced, interviewed over and over by all those talk show hosts.
I didn't work for -- or live with -- anyone like those husbands and bosses who kept appearing on talk shows and on the pages of all those women's magazines. I'll bet you didn't, either. The changes we working parents needed in our homes and workplaces seemed a long way off just a few years ago.
They no longer seem unattainable. The rules -- at home and at work -- are changing for the better in this country, now that we working parents are the rule and no longer the exception, and this, my friends, is good news for all of us.
Questions and comments for Niki Scott should be addressed Working Woman, Features Department, The Sun, Baltimore 21278.