Archive for Having It All

Maternity Leave is Not a Golden Ticket for Women

Okay, friends, I’m going to tackle a highly controversial topic today, and I’ve been putting it off for years.  Lately I’ve heard so many “enlightened” people proudly telling me that they’re pro-woman because they support extended and/or mandatory paid maternity leaves, and I think it’s time to examine the subject.  Maternity leave is not inherently pro-woman or pro-child.  It’s just a subsidy for a small segment of women, often at the expense of the rest of us.

Maternity Leave Does Nothing for Stay-at-Home Moms

At E2S, we’ve been pretty clear that the best thing for a child is to be raised by her own mom, but maternity leave doesn’t promote that.  Maternity leave operates under the assumption that after a few months, mom is chucking her kid into daycare and going back to work.  When a mom decides to forgo income and stay home with her kids, our society says that’s a choice she’s made that she gets to live with.  But when a mom chooses to leave her kids in the care of another and work for pay, then somehow her employer and/or fellow taxpayers owe it to her to give her a break so that she doesn’t really have to live with the cost of her choice?

The reality is that maternity leave is only a career woman’s subsidy.  Now, I’m glad when mothers spend more time bonding with (and breastfeeding, if possible) their newborn babies, and I’m always sad when I hear of moms going right back to work after a week or two, as if that is something to admire.  But I was pregnant or nursing for most of the last decade, and I have yet to find an employer willing to pay me not to work for them while I breastfed and bonded with my kids.  No homemaker that I know gets a paid maternity leave, nor do I think it’s anyone’s job but my husband’s to ensure my family’s financial well-being while I stay home to raise our children.  Similarly, many women who work part-time as music teachers, tutors, babysitters, etc, would never ask their clients to keep paying them for the weeks they take off to have a baby.

Maternity Leave Promotes One Lifestyle Over Another

Why has our society decided that it is okay for the decision to stay at home with our children to require financial sacrifice, but not the decision to work outside the home?  When I looked into the benefits package from my husband’s current employer, a religious institution, I noticed that double income families are eligible for up to $5000 in childcare assistance, but single income families are not.  Let me tell you, living in SoCal on one income is no easy feat, but because we’ve chosen to have me care for our children rather than the daycare workers down the road, we apparently don’t deserve as much assistance as our working mom friends.  Logically, I understand that the cost of childcare is astronomical–high school babysitters charge $15/hour plus gas, and I’m saving us $40,000/year in daycare costs by caring for our children myself.  But in choosing to subsidize one form of childcare over another, we’re sending the message that we place a higher value on families that outsource childrearing.

Maternity Leave is Bad for Women Writ-Large

Surprisingly, this point is one that I’ve seen made, repeatedly, by working women, not by my fellow sahms.  Without intense government subsidies (=our tax dollars paying for that subset not to work), paid maternity leave is only viable for women working for employers secure enough to be able to swallow the cost of paying two people to do one job, and even unpaid maternity leave presents a logistical burden for employers holding a job open for someone who may or may not come back.  I recently talked to a couple who hold very conservative views in other areas.  But because the wife was determined to be a working mother, they were incensed that we couldn’t be more like Canada or England, with their generous socialist maternity leave legislation. I hear this a lot in conversations about motherhood and career.

Interestingly enough, feminist working mothers in both aforementioned countries have questioned whether maternity leave is such a perfect solution, after all.  As Alexandra Shulman, the editor of Vogue magazine, points out, “Nobody can legislate a route through the conflict between work and motherhood.”  While the UK’s laws have expanded maternity leave privileges more and more, the results might not actually be as helpful for women (and therefore their families) as one might think.  I love her honesty here–she gets that some women want to work, and some want to stay home, “But what I don’t understand is the idea that you should be able to keep exactly the same job, with all the advantages that entails, and work less for it, regardless of how that affects the office or colleagues.”  When working mothers demand preferential treatment in the workplace, we shouldn’t be surprised that coworkers have certain negative assumptions and attitudes about women of childbearing age. Now we have childless people demanding “meternity leave” to go “find themselves” (it’s only fair, after all).

And this post at Canadian Business talks about the dark side of maternity leave: “Many businesses struggle with the financial and efficiency burdens of filling temporary positions, especially if they’re senior or highly skilled roles. They can’t be sure if the new parents will return after their leaves or choose to cut back their workload—or quit altogether. Meanwhile, resentment may brew among remaining staff forced to shoulder extra work demands.”  Several employers confess that it’s just easier to avoid hiring people who are going to be having families.  This decrease in job opportunity, salaries, and promotions for women of childbearing age can be seen in country after country with extended maternity leave.  So while a working mother loves the idea of getting paid not to work while she bonds with her baby, all the rest of the women trying to enter the workforce are being penalized for her little subsidy.

Maternity Leave Promotes an Entitlement Mentality

At the Federalist, work-at-home mom Joy Pullman talks about why it’s not fair to require businesses to pay people not to work:

It’s unfair for me to ask employers to put themselves out for me if it doesn’t benefit them. Mutual benefit is the whole reason people enter into contracts. Work is not welfare. I have to provide something of value in exchange for my salary, or it’s not something I’ve earned, it’s an entitlement I’m coercing others to provide.

When I brought this point up to my conservative friends yearning for socialist family leave policies, they brought up a handful of Fortune 500 companies that give their employees generous time off and find that it increases productivity.  That sounds nice, but in my husband’s personal experience at a top-ten law firm, “unlimited parental leave” was really just lip service, as the work emails he received before we left the hospital with our newborn daughter attested.  My husband’s team was in the midst of a trial.  They couldn’t ask the judge, jury, and opposing counsel to just take 6 weeks off while my husband spent time with his daughter.  And while my husband did work from home for a few weeks, the broken sleep of a newborn, the acting out of a toddler who was no longer an only child, and the diaper changes and fetching and carrying while I nursed the baby did not make him more productive; they made him much less productive.  When he returned to the office, he had to be brought up to speed.  And he wasn’t even the one physically recovering from giving birth!  How much more of a burden would this be for a small business in which each employee plays a vital and distinct role.  Vacation time and parenting aren’t the same thing.  While some companies may truly be able to swallow the cost of paying their employees not to work without passing that cost along to consumers, it simply doesn’t make economic sense.  If this wishful thinking were true, we wouldn’t need the government to coerce everyone into doing it.

Serena Sigillito writes in a beautiful piece how the maternity leave controversy actually misses that “the transformative power of motherhood is precisely that it forces you to focus on someone other than yourself.”  Rather than fixating on what we’re entitled to, motherhood gives us the chance to embrace selflessness.  Sigillito continues,

Early motherhood is filled with disgusting things—like poopy diapers, with all their various, endlessly meaningful variations in color and consistency. It’s filled with difficult things—like overcoming unpredictable and painful obstacles to learn how to breastfeed your child. And it’s filled with mundane, boring things—like pre-sleep routines that involve singing the same song over and over again or going “shh, shh, shh” for twenty minutes straight.

Yet these menial things are not the purpose of maternity leave, or of motherhood. No, the purpose of the vocation of motherhood is to love your child. And love demands action—action that has the potential to draw you out of yourself, teaching you to overcome your own weaknesses and character flaws for the sake of this new little person that you love with a fierceness you could never have imagined.

So what is the solution for mothers?  Joy Pullman’s piece above ends with lots of good, concrete ways we as a society and individuals can support new parents.  We try to avoid direct politics here on the blog, but you can probably tell that I’m in the less-government-intervention camp.  When a couple chooses to have a baby, they need to a financial plan in place to care for that baby.  Morality aside, getting married first is wise.  If a couple can’t afford to have kids, we do know how babies are made.  And once we have them, children don’t actually have to cost the hundreds of thousands that we’re told we must spend on them.  And of course I think there should be a safety net for women facing unplanned pregnancies–I’ve been involved every place we’ve lived in private organizations that provide resources and support for women in that situation, beyond what the government provides.  If you’re interested, I can get you in touch with such a group near you.  I’ve talked before about how single moms especially need our support, and I encourage all of us to keep an eye out for how we can help and encourage the single moms we know.  But to return to an earlier point, extended maternity leave is not about helping minority teen single moms (who we all agree need assistance), it’s often about upper middle class career women who have spent tens of thousands of dollars on fertility treatments to have their children in the first place.

 

(I ran this piece by Anna and Bethany before posting it, and we all want to emphasize that in combating the idea that mandatory paid maternity leave is inherently good for women, we are not unsympathetic to why eligible moms want it.  It is hard to live on one income, and it gets harder the more two income families there are around us.  When we say that children are worth sacrificing for, we have all felt the pain of sacrificing career success or years and years of tight budgets or not being able to save for retirement or having to explain to our kids why they can’t have the stuff their friends with two working parents can afford.  The call to full-time motherhood (and single income living) is a high and hard calling.  We all have mom friends who are working just in order to have health insurance for their families because Dad is self-employed or a student or out of work.  We understand why women who feel they have to work still want the chance to take a paid maternity leave, getting some short-term fruits of staying home without paying the full price.  It is natural and right for women to want to stay home and bond with their babies after giving birth.  It is good for dads to spend time bonding with their children, and when my husband was eligible for paternity leave with our fourth (in his job, a one-course reduction to his teaching load), he took it.  E2S is not here to judge you if you are on parental leave.)

Posted in Having It All | Leave a comment

No School!

In my area, the Jewish population is large enough that our local public schools are off for Jewish holidays.  So because of Rosh Hashanah, the kids are out of school today!  And because the main (read: cheapest) daycare in the area is at the local Jewish center, the kids in our neighborhood were all at home today.  In my sunrise exercise class, the responses were firmly divided between working moms and at-home moms.  To the working moms, it was a burden to find extra childcare today, especially since we’re also getting next Monday off for Columbus Day.  All of the moms who are part-to-full-time at home were celebrating our chance to just get to hang out with the kids today.  One mom was taking her kids down to La Brea tar pits, another one mentioned the pool, and even though my kids are homeschooled and thus technically had schoolwork to do today, we did some fun projects and had all the neighbor boys over all afternoon.

I mention this situation on the blog (after weeks of silence!) because it struck me forcibly that we as a society don’t tell young women about days like this when we’re assuring them that of course they can have it all, family and career.  A lot assume that once kids are school-age, the childcare dilemma will be over.  Maybe they have a vague sense that there’s this thing called summer vacation, but there are so many camps and summer programs nowadays that it’s not a big deal, planning-wise.  It’s days like today, unexpected holidays in the midst of a work week, that can throw working parents for a loop.  This morning’s conversation among a bunch of sweaty mom friends exemplified the down side of “having it all.”  Even in the relatively flexible field of academia, college courses and office hours are still happening today for my working friends.  When you have a career, you give up the freedom to enjoy these brief vacation days with your children.  Maybe most working moms don’t mind, and maybe those of us who get to spend vacation days at home with our kids don’t appreciate it enough.  My husband had to work today, after all, much as he would have liked eating chocolate chip pancakes and playing board games with us today.  Regardless of how you or I feel about it, this is part of the parenting/working equation.  Young women planning their futures should know about days like today!

(And in the spirit of full disclosure, I had typed up this much when my potty training toddler had an accident all over the bathroom.  It did cross my mind as I mopped up pee that the privilege of staying home and playing with my kids on vacation days also means I have the “privilege” of cleaning up their messes!)

Posted in Daycare, For Younger Women, Having It All | Leave a comment

To the Mom with the Once in a Lifetime Opportunity

Photo Credit: Coleson Photography

Photo Credit: Coleson Photography

Quite often, when working mothers feel the need to justify themselves, I hear the excuse that “this job is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”  Of course, the reasoning goes, I can’t be expected to turn down this job that will never come my way again, just to stay home with some snotty-nosed kids!  Note that “once in a lifetime opportunities” are only important if they bring in money or prestige–after all, each woman who goes back to work turns down the once in a lifetime opportunity to be everything to her child in those precious early years.  Your baby will never be a baby again.

This post was originally much longer.  I waxed eloquently on how such once-in-a-lifetime “dream jobs” are not always all they’re cracked up to be, particularly with families in the mix.  I brought up several women, including our lovely mentor mom, Donna, who was out of the workplace for 20 years, raising her girls, before going back for her PhD and becoming a professor.  I listed the numerous fields that won’t just go away if a young woman takes time off to be home with her young children–we’ll never stop needing doctors, nurses, dentists, social workers, foster moms, teachers, and the list goes on.  I brought up the CEO who spoke of “dying with guilt” for neglecting her children in her rise to the top.  But I deleted it all, because a woman who even speaks of her job in this way is not going to listen to whatever I say.  She has already made up her mind, and she’s not reading this blog, anyway.

Instead, I want to encourage our readers who have embraced the other once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of being all in for their kids.  Good for you!  Your sacrifice is worth it.  These few precious years are your one shot to be everything to your little someones.  As they grow and make friends, go to school, and eventually leave the nest, other influences in their lives may grow and overtake yours.  But for now, on this day, you are their world, shaping their little minds and souls.  What a privilege.  What a calling.  Press on.  I’m rooting for you.

 

Posted in Having It All, Importance of Mothers | Leave a comment

The Support Moms Need, Part 2: Dads

Photo Credit: Mindy Rainey Creative

Photo Credit: Mindy Rainey Creative

Yesterday I noted that young moms need support, and that our kids can be part of the solution, not just the cause of our stress.

For most mothers, there is one other built-in supporter: our husband (I’ll talk about supporting single moms and military wives later).  This is a blog for women, but we can’t talk about a young mother’s need for support without pointing out that a young father needs to make some sacrifices for the family, too.  For our family, that meant my husband’s earning potential peaked at 27, when he quit his prestigious law firm job to pursue a career path that would allow for more time with the family.  For another family, that might mean that Dad doesn’t take the promotion that would require him to travel 4 months out of the year.  It might mean not running for public office.  It might mean working a ho-hum job that pays the bills rather than up and moving your family to LA to pursue your dream of making it big in Hollywood (I know way too many of those guys out here!).  It might mean turning down an opportunity to attend a conference so that you can be home on Saturday to coach your son’s soccer team.

Just as motherhood is often not glamorous, fatherhood can seem less exciting than the workforce.  Men can’t have it all, either, and a dad who stays late at work because he doesn’t want to come home and give the kids baths is being selfish and disrespectful to his wife, who has been working just as long as he has by 7 pm.  As a stay-at-home mom, I am ON every waking moment.  My four year old crawls into my bed at dawn to get me up, I’m homeschooling all morning and trying to do chores all afternoon, and on the nights when my husband goes back in to the office to work until midnight, I’m the one sending overtired kids back to bed until 10 pm (I hate you, daylight savings time!!!).  My husband gets up earlier than I do and works a full day, too, but that doesn’t mean that he’s exempt from bedtime duty on the evenings when he’s home.  It’s poisonous to try for a perfect 50/50 division of parenting duties, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater and throw all the responsibility for child-rearing on mom. Kids are a lot of work, and when you choose to become a father, you should expect to participate in that work.

Moms sometimes shoot themselves in the foot here.  They complain that they have to do everything, but then they criticize how their husbands do things: Dad takes the kids out on Saturday morning to give Mom a quiet couple of hours at home, and they come home, announcing that they had a yummy breakfast at McDonalds!!!!  Mom blows up at Dad for feeding her precious snowflakes junk food, and Dad decides that next weekend, he’ll sleep in.  Mom complains to her girlfriends that Dad just doesn’t care about the kids, and resentment grows.  Or Dad gets the kids dressed, and the girls are wearing church dresses to go watch a soccer game.  Mom lights into Dad (who can’t tell the difference between church dresses and play dresses–they all just look like dresses to him), and next week, he sits in the minivan, waiting, while Mom searches for shin guards and dresses children and mumbles about how unhelpful Dad is.  Know what I mean?  In nine years of parenting together, my husband and I have figured out that yes, I do have certain ways we do things because my routines work for our family, but if he does something differently, it’s okay.  I can’t remember which one of us first let the kids put mini chocolate chips in their oatmeal, but you know what, my kids eat oatmeal every single day, and there’s still less sugar in it than in a bowl of cold cereal, at a fraction of the cost!  It’s okay!  There is not one right way to feed kids breakfast!

And then there are my friends whose husbands seem to feel that if Mom is staying home, they don’t have to worry about parenting.  Or the husbands who are really in a crazy time at work (pre-tenure, or leading up to a big case/presentation/conference) and really don’t have the brain cells left at the end of a long day to do much more than kiss the kids and tuck them into bed.  That is tough.  Most of the burned-out moms I know are the ones who have been doing all the parenting and figure if they go back to work, their husbands will have to pitch in more.  One mom I know announced to her husband that she was chucking her home daycare business and going back to an office job because she couldn’t handle their four children plus two extras, all on her own.  Her husband was totally caught off guard and promised to help more, but at that point, it was too late.  She said if he’d spent the last three years helping, she wouldn’t be quitting now.  This is where I think regular dates with our spouses, talking through work stress and family needs, would really be helpful.  (If you’re like me, thousands of miles away from family, the idea of a regular date night probably has you rolling your eyes.  Maybe you can substitute with a 15 minute conversation after the kids go to bed and before pulling up Netflix?)  It’s hard for me to address this issue with my own husband in a way that respects the hard work that he does for our family by bringing home the paycheck but also communicates my need for specific assistance on evenings and weekends.  I totally mucked up a discussion on this very issue recently and had to ask my husband’s forgiveness for my sinful words and attitude.  I get it, girlfriends, it’s hard.

Perhaps the most important way Dad can be part of Mom’s support network is with his words.  Even though I blog about the importance of full-time motherhood, I can get pretty discouraged on the days (weeks!) when I see no fruit from my work.  When my husband comes alongside me and and praises me for the invisible things I do each day, I feel so built up and encouraged.  In our excellent pre-marriage counseling, our mentors specifically told my husband he would need to do this–a lot–when I was home with a houseful of kids.  Of course, this not-taking-your-spouse-for-granted thing goes both ways: how often do I praise my husband for getting up and going to the office day in and day out, year after year?  Not enough.  If any husbands are reading this, I encourage them to praise their wives today.  And for the discouraged moms reading this, I encourage you to tell your husband that he can help you by praising you for your efforts with the home and the kids.

 

How does your husband support your work in the home?  Do you believe that men can’t “have it all” either?

Posted in For New Moms, Having It All, Marriage, Parenting | 2 Comments
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