Government Shut Down Just When We Need Better Support for Families

So, we’re on the verge of a government shutdown. How nice. Just when it seems like we could use some more strong, yet not necessarily more intrusive, policies to support families, our elected officials are bickering and can’t even come to agreement. Ironically, at post time, the stalls are over “women’s health“. They are leaving us all hanging.

For several posts I’ve said that I want to look at the challenges of being a working mom. Really, I think it’s about being a working parent, because I know plenty of dads who are finding that working and parenting are difficult to master simultaneously.

I’ve been on this kick pretty much since Ladybug was born about how the U.S. offers a fraction of the amount of support to families as do comparable nations. How do I know? Some info is from first hand conversations with friends living in Vienna who are from abroad. Also, I’ve read blogs, like a mom’s in Finland, who used time during her year of maternity leave to be creative with photography of her daughter.

The other source is a book, Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety. The author, Judith Warner, describes her experience raising a baby in France, then returning to the U.S. (ironically, to the DC Metro area), to raise a second child. She says that in France there is a medical system that sends people home with real, holistic information and contacts to call with questions; generous maternity leave that allows moms to ease into being a mother for the first year and return to a guaranteed job; and societal norms that recognize that when work ends, it’s family time – and work ends before dinner and does not happen on weekends. The author finds that these things are not so in America.

She challenges us to examine the hard-fought feminism and women’s rights of the 1970s and ask what we’ve really gained: isolated family lives, long commutes to jobs with longer work schedules, being put in a position to have to choose between family life and career.

A point from the book that stuck the most with me is this: in nature, female animals are responsible for providing for their children’s well-being – getting them food, elevating their status to the head of the pack, ensuring their future. This is the working aspect. Sometimes, like apes, they tote their young along with them as they forage. They provide love to them. This is the nurturing aspect.

American society forces moms to choose between working (commuting, working long hours) and nurturing (being a full-time mom).

And men don’t have it easy, either. They are stuck between being the father of the past who was the breadwinner and mostly hands-off with the child rearing, and the 21st Century father who is expected to be as responsible for children’s social, emotional and developmental well-being as moms.

If America is a strong nation, why don’t we have maternity and paternity leave policies that help families start strong from day one? Why aren’t there more incentives for employers to offer part-time jobs that allow professionals to contribute something valuable while taking time to raise their children? Why aren’t there more affordable, high-quality child care options so that parents who do have to work are not plagued with guilt about their children receiving inferior care while depleting years of savings?

These are big issues that start in our home, but could be assisted by smart government policies that allow more flexibility to live healthy lives. Is there hope on the brink of government shut down? What can we do about this? What have you done?

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7 thoughts on “Government Shut Down Just When We Need Better Support for Families

  1. If my job wasn’t so completely inflexible, I might have stayed. But I knew what I would be up against, so I had to make that hard choice that many mothers before me have done and sadly, probably many others to come. The best I can do is take this time as a SAHM and use it wisely. Take good care of my daughter and be her full-time nurturer and keep one eye on the front and dream about what I might like to do when Kate is older.

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    • Yes, I suppose that is the silver lining – getting to spend time with your precious child. I try to keep that in mind each day, and make strive to be present in the moments I am with my daughter. I know you do a wonderful job for Kate!

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  2. I recently found your blog and although I am not a Vienna mom, I am a Fairfax County mom and have found your blog very useful in discovering fun things to do with my little one. Thank you for that!

    I have a comment regarding your topic here. It is true that our government, as well as societal norms in America, limit the choices one has in parenting to, essentially, working or nurturing. There are absolutely companies, like the one I work for, as well as the one my husband works for, that encourage strong family ties and bonding with young children. We were both given generous (by US standards) leave to bond with our daughter and we never have to explain ourselves when something comes up (illness, pumping at work, a much needed “sanity” day, leaving early/arriving late). This is rare, but we have been lucky enough to find employers that allow us to master the WORKING part.

    So onto the NURTURING aspect. Can a parent who works outside of the home nurture their children in the same way that a parent with more at-home time can? This is where we have run into some issues. Your blog focuses on fun things to do around town that encourage the nurturing aspect – music groups, nature walks, art classes, play spaces, etc. Not only do these things nurture the child, they nurture and help grow community ties (from your blog I see that you are very aware of the importance of strong community ties, as am I). The problem then, is that they are widely unavailable to a family with two full time working parents. Thankfully, warmer weather is upon us and my small family will have the opportunity to take advantage of some outdoor events that occasionally occur on weekends or in the evenings, but we still miss out on the many activities that you blog about. You blogged recently about both music classes and the library. I love both of those things! But neither the music classes nor the children’s groups at the library are offered after working hours or on weekends. I often feel guilty that my daughter is missing out on experiencing these things with her father and I, though we do participate in these things at home with her. Sometimes it is just nice to be in a group and experience them together (baby/parent) and together (family/community). Am I making any sense at all?

    So my point here, after a long streamofconsciousnessrambling comment, is that maybe the very community groups that you blog about are not quite doing their part in making the work/nurturing juggling act any easier.

    Love your blog! Very insightful and useful, even to those outside of Vienna!

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    • Hi Elizabeth. Welcome and thanks for sharing your thoughtful comments.

      It sounds like you are benefitting from a great work situation. And I admit, I do know some folks who also are in that boat. Perhaps those situations are on the rise. Overall, though, I am more focused on changing the societal norms that you’ve pointed out, so that it’s not an exception but the rule that we as a culture are supported in being family-oriented.

      To your comment about activities that happen outside the 9-5 working day – actually, there are some events that happen on weekends and weekday evenings. Indeed, there are music and library classes at these times! How fun for you! But you’ve actually given me the subject of a forthcoming blog post: after-hours and weekend activities for families. So please stay tuned for that, as I’m sure there are other readers who would also love to know where to nurture their families around town. You can also check out my Friday column in the Vienna Patch (see top right of any page in my blog) where I list an array of activities for families for the coming week – I try to reach a spectrum of ages and activity time frames.

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