Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Women At Work - Third Times A Charm

I have to say, one of the best things about having grown children and a somewhat empty nest is that my husband and I don’t have to sort out who will be taking care of our children while we work. With 58 percent of children under six having all parents in the workforce, it’s a problem common to many.
My husband learned very early to fend for himself. He’s an ironing fanatic. I buy wash-and-wear. In his dream home there would be a room just for ironing, where an expensive iron awaits, maybe on a timer. If he could awake to the smell of coffee brewing and the click, click of an iron warming up he would be a happier man.

So, early in our marriage he learned I would not be making him breakfast or ironing his clothes before work. When our children were born, he jumped in with diaper changes, bathing the babies and although he didn’t have the “equipment” for midnight feedings, he was very active in their care. I almost wrote that he was a great helper, but we agreed long ago it wasn’t about one of us parenting and the other “helping”. We were in it as partners. Although one partner was way better at color coordinating outfits and finding tiny matching pink socks and putting bows in the hair. But hey. Is it really life altering if your child shows up at daycare with her little dress on backwards?

So when it came to juggling child care while my husband and I both worked, it was an equal-opportunity challenge. I wanted to be the one caring for my baby though. I wanted to not have to wake her up on a cold morning, bundle her sleepy sweetness into a car seat and hand her off to someone else. I wanted to be sure she was safe, teach her to play peek-a-boo, watch her learn to turn herself over, teach her to read, help her make cupcakes for school, take her to gymnastics, pick her up after play practice, take her to volleyball, shop for a prom dress, help her with her graduation speech, know her friends from school and connect with her friends parents. I delegate all kinds of things at work. I didn’t want to delegate parenting.

Through our child-raising years, we juggled life, work and parenting so that the girls were always a priority. Sometimes I worked from home. There was a tiny and glorious window of time where I didn’t work at all. Sometimes we traded off taking our vacation weeks. Here’s a parenting math problem for you. Two parents plus 10 vacation days each equals how many weeks of summer vacation? That would eight weeks of someone at home with your children if you split each vacation day in half. See how that works? The pre-teen children sleep the first half of the day anyway! I’ve worked early and my husband worked late so that one of us could be there at either end of the school day. You name it, we’ve probably done it to care for our children.

I wish I could say my children never let themselves into an empty house after school. I wish I could say my children never had to call me at work. The day Mr. Mooberry let Tessa call me at work doesn’t count. She had that man wrapped around her little third-grade finger. Seriously. What teacher lets a child call her mom because she’s worried the dog will be frightened by a thunderstorm?

Plenty of moms seemingly successfully balance work and raising children. Mona Sutphen, White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy, was recently featured in Working Mother magazine.

“Described by colleagues as smart, focused and disciplined, Mona has witnessed the toll Washington jobs can take on the lives of people with families. She’s known staffers who didn’t know how to stop working. ‘They thought they were so essential that they couldn’t leave the office. There was always something else to do, and it overtook their lives,’ she says. ‘There are times you have to be at the office, and there are also times when you don’t really have to be there, though it would be better if you were. Now that I have a family and a little more experience in work settings, I have more confidence that I can cover what I need to accomplish and I can make the trade-off.’”
Ms. Sutphen goes days without seeing her children awake. Her husband works long hours as well. Their solution for child care is an au pair, who lives with them and cares for the children while mom and dad work very demanding jobs.

This is where I get really cranky. The story about Ms. Sutphen was under the category of “Real Mom Stories” on the online site for Working Mother. While it is marvelous that accomplished, experienced and well educated women have the opportunity to work in important jobs and serve as role models to girls everywhere, this story is not about your average mom.

Your average mom does not have the money to hire an au pair, much less house one in her three bedroom, two bath ranch-style home in suburban USA. Many parents are going it alone, without a partner. In female-head-of-household families where there are children below school age, 54% of those families have an annual income that falls below the federal poverty level. Fifty-four percent!

Middle class or working poor –women have their own “Real Mom Stories”. Their stories are way less glamorous and they certainly do not include an au pair. The reality is, aside from a very small minority, all of us moms care about what happens to our kids. We just hope that each day will be a better day and we can work it out.
Again, I’ve written something that has no obvious conclusion. I have to go to work, though thankfully my seemingly well-adjusted children are grown and can feed and house themselves and I no longer have to worry if I’ll get home in time to pick them up from school. There may soon come a day where we have to sort out elder-care issues in our household. But for today, I’m thankful to be on the other side of that one life challenge.

1 comment:

tessa said...

I really like this new section of your blog, I think it's cool. And I also like this post a lot, maybe because it involves my own personal life, but I read it straight through and found it to be very interesting :) I know Ang and I definitely noticed and appreciated having open access to atleast one parent at all times. And other than that one time in fourth grade when dad, pre ADD diagnosis, forgot to pick me up from school I can't remember a time when I ever felt anything close to neglected. So kudos to you mom, setting that bar high! Now Ang will just have to try her darndest to live up to it!!