Lately, I’ve found myself growing increasingly frustrated with the lack of support our society provides working moms. People ask me all the time how I do it — work, kids, home, etc. and I will tell you: I am the exception, not the rule. I happen to have an incredibly flexible schedule, a mellow-tempered kid, and the ability to work wherever I choose. And, even with all that, it’s not easy per se. It’s just possible.
My recent bout of frustration was triggered by a Bostinno piece which posited the question “Do parents have more right to work-life balance than non-parents?” Admittedly, I was upset before I even started reading. What kind of question is that? It’s not about whose rights trump whose; it’s about giving all people the opportunity to have both career and life (and not lose their minds in the process). The article lamented the plight of the childless, forced to occassionally pick up extra hours to cover for parents who needed to leave the office to be with their kids.
Look, I don’t think being childless means you shouldn’t enjoy work-life balance, too. However, the article, written by a childless 20-something, misses the opportunity to tackle the bigger and more important issue: why this tension even exists in the first place.
We tend to look at the issues facing working parents as impacting only those who are working parents. But, as the Bostinno piece indirectly points out, the problems go far beyond the individuals and, parent or not, impact us all. And until we solve the root cause of the problem (i.e. the lack of support for working parents), we will all continue to suffer the resulting pain.
Since becoming a mom, I’ve been shocked and frustrated with how difficult it is to have both a career and a kid. And it’s not because women aren’t working hard enough. Women are working harder than ever. It’s because we, as a nation, have not changed to support them. I think it’s long-overdue that we remedy the situation. Here are a few ways we could do that:
- Extend the school day to align with the work day. I know this takes money (and a lot of it). But we should view it as an investment in our future. We’re falling behind the rest of the world and experts have recommended increasing the number of hours children spend in school as a way to give children – especially those from lower income families – a leg up. An added bonus? Fewer harried moms ducking out of work early to get their kids or scrambling to coordinate schedules.
- Provide federally-funded paid parental leave. It’s well-known that the US is the only developed nation in the world without paid maternity leave. The impact of this being that many mothers, unable to subsist without an income, are forced back to work far earlier than they are ready. These women are tired, recuperating from giving birth, and not very productive workers. Babies suffer, women suffer, and the business world suffers when we don’t give new moms the parental leave they need.
- Shut up about breastfeeding. No, really. We should not even cede the premise that breastfeeding could be inappropriate. If a mom needs to feed her baby (yes, needs – not wants; it’s not some pleasurable exhibitionist fantasy she is living out), she should feed her baby, regardless of where she is at the moment her baby needs to eat. And we should applaud her for making the best health and financial decision for her family. Breasts can be both sexual and maternal and our society needs to laud both purposes. Or, at least stop denigrating them.
I do not deny that there will always be some tension between work and home responsibilities, nor do I think we have clear answers to the problems. But I strongly believe it is time to stop simply talking about the issues and start working seriously to address them. We need to pay more than just lip-service to the challenges working parents, especially working moms, face. Because, by doing so, we all stand to benefit.