Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Yet another work-family post

Update: There are now quite a few posts about this out there. Found by doing a search on the author's name. Will try to read some tomorrow and post.

This one with actual resources and links. The cover story of this week's Newsweek features an article called "Mommy Madness," explaining the overproduced way women approach motherhood. The author, Judith Warner, explains that despite the feminist movement giving women lots of choices, most find they don't have any:
Yet as mothers many women face "choices" on the order of: You can continue to pursue your professional dreams at the cost of abandoning your children to long hours of inadequate child care. Or: You can stay at home with your baby and live in a state of virtual, crazy-making isolation because you can't afford a nanny, because there is no such thing as part-time day care, and because your husband doesn't come home until 8:30 at night.

These are choices that don't feel like choices at all. They are the harsh realities of family life in a culture that has no structures in place to allow women—and men—to balance work and child-rearing. But most women in our generation don't think to look beyond themselves at the constraints that keep them from being able to make real choices as mothers. It almost never occurs to them that they can use the muscle of their superb education or their collective voice to change or rearrange their social support system. They simply don't have the political reflex—or the vocabulary—to think of things in this way.

And we're damn tired, too. She offers some really good solutions, like tax credits to businesses for providing "family-friendly" work conditions. While she emphasizes problems that are more societal in nature--the need for quality daycare, good public schools, and more flexible work schedules--she also places some onus on the women themselves to stop overscheduling their kids, to quit being so perfect.

I started thinking about why I feel so guilty for not being perfect and it's the peer pressure that does it. When I'm out at the bus stop and a mom asks me which camps I'm signing my kids up for, I suddenly feel horrible for not signing them up. When my kids are in the after school daycare and no one else in the neighborhood has their kids in daycare, I feel like I'm dumping them, like I wasn't "mom" enough to make arrangements to be home with them. If I don't have those interactions, then I'm clueless and as long as my kids seem okay, then I'm okay with what I'm doing. But as the world shrinks and we know more and more about what other moms are doing, we begin to measure ourselves against that. It's human nature to do so (it's something Gladwell points out in the Tipping Point as well).

I did a little skipping around the blogosphere to see if there was even a blip on the radar about this issue. Not in the top 100. Interestingly, the blogs that I found that are writing about it are saying mostly that it's not their reality and that the women in the article are overprivileged and whining. That may be true to some extent, but I live in a very middle-class neighborhood. No one drives fancy cars or sends their kids to private school, but there's still enough pressure to make some of us (me) feel like they're not doing enough.

Then, there's this sentiment: "We're now living in a world that has rolled back many of the gains tht feminists made in the 70's. Women are now, once again, responsible for being June Cleaver but more so."

If I just kick back and become the slacker mom (a good read), will they be okay? I think so. I know I will be. "The Yellow Wallpaper" haunts me at times. I certainly don't want to become that.

Despite what I know is good for me--not worrying too much about cleanliness, not overscheduling the kids, not being a supermom--I still think much can be done to alleviate the workload. Americans have the longest work week in the world. Flexible work schedules including part-time opportunities with benefits don't just help families. They can help whole communities. Everyone needs time for a life, whether that life is with kids, other relatives, art, volunteer work. If people have time for a life, there's more time to participate in their communities and/or contribute to it. That makes life better for everyone, don't you think?