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?