So. The “mommy wars” are seguing to the “having it all” debate in the mainstream media. Anne-Marie Slaughter’s piece in the Atlantic kicked things into high gear, as she wrote about the need for more flexibility for mothers in the workplace, and the home/work struggles that led her to quit her State Department job.
At least, that’s what I’ve heard. See, I haven’t had the time to actually read the darn thing because summer is here, and as any working mom can tell you, there’s probably no crazier time of the year. School had ended, but unfortunately the deadlines haven’t, so taking care of business while taking care of the kids is a trickier proposition than usual. And trying to go on vacation in the midst of all of this? Argh.
There are summer camps to help occupy the kids, of course, but I can’t do a lot of them because the cost is prohibitive. I also want to spend time with my kids, as that is the reason I’m working part-time in the first place. So I feel like I’ve added 20 more balls to my usual juggling act. Among the balls that I’ve been bobbling (laundry! cleaning the playroom! starting the mosaic project that’s been sitting in my garage for months!) is reading and keeping up on mom issues for this blog. My hopes were high when I started this at the beginning of the year that I would be all over this blog, writing at least 2-3 times a week. And anyone who looks at the date of my last post can tell I’ve fallen short of that goal. So when I read this reaction story to Slaughter’s article, this section jumped out at me:
“Is having it all in reasonable balance doable while more mothers in the U.S. wait out reforms that would make their lives better? Things like flexible hours, working from home or working part-time while raising kids and keeping careers on track? Is having it all worth having until then?
‘If you are defining it as living to your fullest potential in your field while also being present, both physically and emotionally, for your family at any time, of course it’s a fantasy,’ said Meredith Persily Lamel, a professor in the business school at American University in Washington, D.C.”
For me personally, one of the hardest parts of working part-time while raising kids has been the pressure I put on myself to excel at my career. I have definitely put my career on the back burner so I can volunteer on the PTA and hang out with the kids after school. But I feel like there is an expectation (mine and society’s) that I should be much farther along in my writing than I am. But how can I always produce top-notch work when I am sometimes writing late at night after a long day? To see someone say in black and white that it’s not realistic to be able to do it all at an optimum level is eye-opening. (Or as eye-opening as anything can be at midnight.)
I’d love to wrap all this up in a neat bow with some witty ending line, but I feel like I’m chewing over how to put this acceptance of not having it all into practice. (And, you know, it’s midnight.) So anyone out there, do you feel the pressure to have it all? And if you don’t, what is it you do want to have, and how are you working toward achieving that?
I have just dropped my daughter off for her last day of preschool. While she blithely told me I could go so she could play with her friends, I tried to keep it together and not sob all over the “vegetable soup” she was making in her classroom’s play kitchen. That ache inside me intensifies when I think that my daughter and I have one last girls’ day together–each week, she goes to school for three days and we trade child care with a friend for another. That leaves us one day a week that we spend together, just the two of us. And while the working mom side of me can’t wait until she starts kindergarten so I have more time during the week to get things done, I’ve been hyper aware that the flip side is that Mary and I won’t have our special days together anymore.
As most parents quickly realize, time goes much too fast when your child is growing up, and it seems like this spring we’ve been in hyperspeed. My months’ worth of girls’ days have evaporated and I am wondering if I’ve done enough with her, made the most of that mother-daughter time. There have been days–too many, I feel–when I’ve rushed around with her, and had to cram work in here and there, even though I promised myself I wouldn’t do that. Trying to manage the very porous boundaries of all the roles in my life has been my biggest challenge of working at home on a flexible schedule.
While I know rationally (and it’s hard to be rational when your baby is on her last day of preschool, but I’ll try my best) that I’ll have many more opportunities to bond with my daughter, just the two of us, I can’t help but feel there is something momentous about tomorrow, that it will be the end of an era, so to speak. So we are making plans to go out to breakfast and our favorite public garden, get a Father’s Day gift and go to dance class, maybe have a picnic on the beach, even though it is much too cold. And I will try to get all my tears out today, so I can focus on Mary tomorrow, and how fortunate I’ve been to have this special time with her this year.
So, yeah, I’ve seen this…
Supposedly, the story inside is about Dr. Sears and attachment parenting; I say “supposedly” because Time has most of the story behind a paywall so I can’t read it. But really, the cover is what’s getting all the buzz and eyeballs, and for a newsweekly dinosaur that’s probably more important to Time anyway.
Because (cynical media vet that I am) this story wouldn’t have gotten nearly the play on social media had there been a pic of avuncular, kindly Dr. Sears instead of a hot, young blonde breastfeeding her photogenic–and not-so-little–boy. (He turns 4 next month.) Aside from the awkward posing of the shot–the kid looks really uncomfortable; I believe the photographer said he brought in the chair for the kid to stand on, so I don’t think this is their common breastfeeding pose–I don’t have a problem with this. You want to breastfeed until your kid’s in preschool? Right on. And I’d hope this woman would be totally nonjudgey about my strenuous (and stressful) efforts to breastfeed my kids that resulted in weaning them a lot earlier than 3 years old. (More like 3 months, but that’s another blog post.)
No, my problem is with that blaring headline: “ARE YOU MOM ENOUGH?” Because God forbid we write a story about motherhood or parenting without fueling the flames between women–just swap out “stay at home” and “working moms” for “extended breastfeeding” and “vaccines” and you’ve got a different take on the same old “mommy wars.” Namely, that there is an implied “right” and “wrong.”
Just read the comments on the Huffington Post, Politico, or any other website that’s run a story about the cover. (Believe me, those stories are not hard to find.) Someone is appalled about the cover; someone else is appalled that the first person is appalled; others chime in with links, accusations, and just for good measure, some random name calling here and there.
There are people who parent one way; other people parent differently. And so it has gone since the beginning of time, or at least since the beginning of self-help publishing. Is this news, or just a blatant play to make a shallow splash in the social media pool by pushing well-worn buttons of mommyhood outrage? How about some real news that affects children? I’d love a cover shot of our school district’s 29 teachers who are being laid off because the budget is in tatters and the state’s education priorities are shameful. Maybe if all the teachers are breastfeeding 4-year-olds then we’d have a shot.
I have been so busy lately! No time to blog with a two-week spring break, kindergarten registration, PTA activities and meetings, work, health issues, etc. It’s a good thing that the “war” between stay-at-home moms and working moms hasn’t been in the news at all.
Listen, I could hyperlink for days and still not get in all the media stories about the Hilary Rosen/Ann Romney brouhaha. And this had all the hallmarks of a good old media firestorm–issues of class, wealth, politics, and of course, the tired meme about women bitching each other out about their “choices” when it comes to motherhood. Because we can’t be accomplished at raising children, having a successful career, or doing both–we are just naturally catty ladies who can’t wait to pop out our claws, Wolverine style, if another mom gives us the side eye on the playground.
I would love to know moms who have the time and energy to devote to this. Seriously! Who are you, because I would love to have you come over and help me clean my house, do my taxes and bills, or just watch my kids for a while. See, I am busy being a mom, and I don’t care if you are working full time, have stayed at home since the day you got married, or–as it seems nowadays because of economic necessity–pulling together a patchwork of responsibilities both maternal and financial that we somehow make work for our families. Our school PTA is putting together its big fundraising auction of the year, and I can tell you that no one on the auction committee is griping about each other’s work situations–we are all making the time to work together to do something important for our kids.
In the end, that’s what it’s supposed to be about right? We are mothers invested in raising wonderful kids. How is all this crap over whose lifestyle choice is better actually improving our kids’ lives? The piece that I’ve read that has resonated most with me was Mary Elizabeth Williams’ Salon article. A fellow JAM (juggling it all mom), she calls for an end to the beef, and eloquently assess the collateral damage of the mommy wars:
“This conflict – both the loathsome, whipped-up media-frenzy version of it and the very real one involving snubs and slights lobbed at Chuck E. Cheeses and PTA meetings — never goes away because it stabs right at the heart of so many of us. It shakes us to our essential core: our motherhood and, by extension, our womanhood. It’s our place in the world, undermined on all fronts. It’s the message we get again and again from our politicians and our employers and so brutally, so pervasively, our fellow mothers. And it’s this: You are doing it wrong, lady. You are messing up your life and you are screwing up your children.”
I’d like to say that I purposely haven’t written about this story sooner because I was taking a principled stand against the mommy wars media coverage, against political manipulation of women. But really, I’ve been busy. Being a mom. And honestly, there are more important things to direct our ire toward: childhood obesity, the lack of strong parental leave and child care policies in many workplaces, the dire state of funding in public schools (for our California moms), and the nimrod in charge of scheduling “Revenge” at ABC. I mean, who puts a soap opera on a monthlong hiatus? I can’t even remember if Declan and Charlotte finally have a worthwhile storyline. (Probably not, but still.) Priorities, people!
Yesterday was a madhouse. Dropped my son off at his school, my daughter off at preschool, and then rushed back home for a frenzy of work, work-related phone calls, and joy of joys, work and calls about a refi. (I have to sign, scan, and email 29 pages of a loan doc today? Please, bring it on. Oh, and two years’ worth of tax returns? Sure, why not? I only have three deadlines approaching. Piece of cake!)
So I’m on the phone with our broker and I’ve got an eye on the clock because it’s conference week (of course!) and my son gets out right after my daughter’s preschool pickup time. I’ve got him on speaker while I’m getting ready to leave (because of course I’ve done all the work above in my sweats) and thinking, “If I can make it out of here by 12:35, I’m golden.” By the time I’m grabbing the keys and heading out the door, it’s 12:32, and I’m thinking I’m kind of hot stuff for powering through my morning.
As I walk across the greenbelt by my son’s school I see a couple of friends pull up in their cars and I go over to meet them. One of them is wearing her baby sling, and I think, “Oh, my daughter will be so excited to see the baby.” And then I think, “Hmmm, it’s kind of weird that my daughter isn’t here with me.” And then I think, “Where could she be?” And then I think (and yes, it did take me this long to process it), “Oh. I forgot to pick her up at preschool.”
My friends offer to get my son and I tear off back across the greenbelt to get home and get in the car and get to the preschool, breathlessly calling over there and telling them I am on my way. In the end I am 20 minutes late, and I am sure my heavy breathing and crazed countenance conveyed that I was in the middle of some crisis and thankfully everyone tactfully didn’t ask why, specifically, I was late.
So, yeah, I’ve pretty much got Mother of the Year locked up.
As I am pulling a long night shift (catching up from playing hooky today), I am trying to feel inspired by this story about how women who work part-time in the U.K. earn more than men who work part time. (Of course, full-time working women lag behind the men in pay.) Ironically, I got my tax returns back today and found out I owe a boatload because of my increased income last year and my resulting increased self-employment tax. Would love to know if there is a similar trend in the U.S….
There are times when my “flexible” schedule makes me twist myself into a pretzel to make certain writing assignments, and those times are usually during the night. I need to cover a school board or community meeting, or attend an art exhibit or play, but obviously can’t drag the kids with me. Dad doesn’t get home until 7, factoring in his commute and hot yoga class, which is usually too late for me to make any nighttime engagements.
Now, I’m lucky that my in-laws live in the next town over so I have free, family help I can tap first, but sometimes grandma and grandpa will have the temerity to book a cruise, go to the Indian casino for some wholesome gambling, and basically have, you know, a life. So when I read about this, I was intrigued, and even halfway tempted to ditch my writing career and start one of these nighttime childcare centers in the States. (After all, so many writing jobs are outsourced to India it’d be nice to work it the other way around.)
I wonder how many part-time JAMS could use nighttime care. There’s no reason, with my job, that I shouldn’t be home regularly to tuck my kids in bed, but for those times when I’m in a pinch for a special event, I could see how it would be appealing to drop the kids off for an hour or so until dad could pick them up. So, “night care”–next big thing or nutty?
The Nation’s Bryce Covert wrote a blog post about the changing face of childcare, which included a mention of a study of MBA graduates of the University of Chicago. That study shows its respondents were more likely to leave their jobs not at the first blush of pregnancy or after delivering their baby, but rather in the few years afterward, when their children are toddler or preschool age. For us JAMS (juggling-it-all moms who work part time), I was particularly interested in this section of Covert’s post:
The study also found that most weren’t actually leaving their careers. Instead, they started to slow them down, decreasing hours, shifting to part-time work, or becoming self-employed. The study observes that “almost no decline in labor-force participation is noted, and only a modest decline in hours worked are apparent in the two years before the first birth.” Those hours keep falling off in the four years after a woman has her child. In conjunction, there is a “large shift” into part-time or self-employment. That represents a huge change in the way we normally think of mothers: these days, rather than leaving work to go full-time mommy, many seem to be trying to do both.
For me, working part-time as my kids get older is ideal in part because school serves as an affordable form of child care–they are there for about 6.5 hours a day, which gives me plenty of time (ideally) to work uninterrupted. My self-employed, part-time gigs also allow me to be more involved with my kids. I can volunteer in their classrooms, or set aside after-school time to connect and talk about their day. I “dropped out” of my full-time job before my kids were born, so I didn’t make the exact same shift as the study respondents, but I certainly understand the attempt to integrate work and parenting.
My kids love to eat. My son will come home from school and head straight to the fridge, while my petite 5-year-old daughter invariably finds the room in her stomach to eat two “breaksets,” (or breakfasts, in Meg-speak). But as with most moms, working part time or not, the challenge is making sure what they eat is good for them. I’ve had strangers willingly share their secrets to getting healthy foods into their children, so I know I’m not alone. As I’ve mentioned before, I am always on the lookout for “helpful hints” on the home front, the better to help me juggle my work and mom tasks. Some of what I’ve accrued so far:
* Everything tastes better with a dip/sauce. Strawberries in mascarpone cream, carrots and celery in ranch dressing, etc.
* When the bible talks about manna from heaven, I believe it’s talking about tortillas. My son could care less about a turkey and avocado sandwich, but roll that baby up in a tortilla–well, he’s even learned how to make them himself.
* Make the good stuff the only stuff available. In the dark moment when I get the cries of “I’m starving” and dinner is still on the stove, put out a plate of veggies. Just don’t forget the dip.
* Make snacks different and fun. A friend of mine will make a little trail mix snack out of cashews and the candy-coated sunflower seeds from Trader Joe’s that I have totally stolen (and that I will even eat myself). And speaking of Trader Joe’s, there always seem to be some yummy options on the shelves there. While the seaweed snacks were a noble failure with my brood, I had more recent success with the new Crispy Jeju Mandarin Orange Slices, basically dried oranges that are so good it’s easy to plow through a bag quickly.
* The one thing I need to do more of: get the kids more involved in meal planning and cooking (see tortilla wraps above). My daughter keeps talking about how she wants to be a famous chef (and a famous artist, and singer, and a dancer, among other professions) so I’ve enlisted her help in making smoothies and her peanut butter sandwiches. My goal is to give each kid one day a week to choose the dinner for the family, and then have them help make it.
What snack secrets do you have?
While we were going through my grandmother’s home to gather up important paperwork after her death, I came across a box on the top shelf of her broom closet. Inside was a thick stack of newspaper clippings, most of which detailed her volunteer work. It seemed as if there wasn’t an organization in town she didn’t devote time to: the local library, the Red Cross, Meals on Wheels, the American Association of University Women, and numerous cultural centers and arts groups.
She could do all of this because she didn’t work; my grandfather made it a point of pride that he provided enough that she didn’t have to take a paying job, and she had yet to go back to school to earn her master’s and doctorate degrees (the latter at age 72). So throughout the 1960s and ’70s she was busy in the community, and it was all preserved on the yellowing newspapers in her closet. (Side note: there’s a whole dissertation that could be made in the coverage of women in newspapers during that era–she was called ”Mrs. Clyde Lyles” and relegated to the “ladies” section of the local papers during much of the ’60s, before making her way into the “regular” section of the paper and being called by her own name in the ’70s.)
My mom and I joked about how reading through her many accomplishments made us feel lazy, but that’s not really the right word. Any mom who is working part time in some capacity knows laziness is not an option if you don’t want a home overflowing with unwashed laundry and hungry kids. But it has made me wonder what I am missing out on by not being able to volunteer my time–and what our communities are missing out on with more moms finding that they want to give more of themselves but can’t because family and work obligations take up too much of their time.
Right now, my volunteering centers around PTA and my son’s classroom. Now, Lord knows, California public schools need all the help they can get, but I feel like I need to do something that isn’t as centered around my kids–volunteering at school feels like it’s part and parcel of being a mom. So my job now is figuring out how to broaden my horizons within an ever-narrowing space of free time.