Wednesday, April 2, 2008

"You Had 'em, You Raise 'em"

In the course of her work, my daughter recently has had occasion to read various “mommy blogs,” an outlet for maternal obsessing that wasn't available when I was a new mother. (Instead I got to bore people in person.) My daughter was horrified by the compulsive preoccupation with every trivial detail of baby care, and it has put her off the whole of idea of motherhood.

She had a similar reaction to a Sex and the City rerun we watched together. It was the famous baby-shower episode, where a mommy character announces that she's given up a career as a corporate senior vice president to stay home with her child. “That is so unrealistic!” Cait said. “No one would ever do that.” “Yes they would, and they do,” I said.

Personally I guess I wouldn't recommend putting a career on the back-burner. Luckily for me I never had to make that choice, not being a senior vice president of anything when I got pregnant. As a self-employed writer, I could shape my work around taking care of my child. I could even channel my maternal preoccupations into my work by writing for parenting magazines. I never had to contend with the heartrending, impossible balancing act of mothers with employers and office jobs.

I wanted to say something reassuring to Cait about how times have changed and there were more options available. I wanted to say that the senior vice president would now be able to take a year of parental leave and return to her previous job without penalty. That the part-time or reduced-hour work week was widely accepted. That there were excellent government-subsidized childcare and education centers, and that these high-quality programs were staffed by trained well-paid workers. That she could contribute to her pension fund even in the years she wasn't working.

Unfortunately, there’s no way I can say such things. Most of these family-work reconciliation measures I mention are taken for granted in Europe. There, caring for the next generation is considered to contribute to the social good. But In this country, we are rugged individualists, where the prevailing attitude is, “you had 'em, you raise 'em.” This backward attitude toward family benefits is unique in the developed world.

Realigning our family policies would be an investment that pays dividends for everyone. Literally. Because these future generations will, if we’re lucky, be paying the taxes that fund our social security dividends

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