Sunday, November 16, 2014

Stream of Thought on Parenting

I have a friend who posted a rant about motherhood and how it isn’t valued enough and before I knew it my response was an entire post by itself. Sorry, her blog is private, so I can’t link you to it. But here's the rambly stream of thoughts it kicked off for me anyway:

I think that the role of parent should be viewed more seriously and respectfully by our society. It's a hard job. And a job it certainly is. I filled out a survey the other day at my school where I knew when they asked about working while in school they were asking about paid work. Usually with this sort of thing I reluctantly put down that I'm not working. But screw that! This time I put down that I work more than 40 hours/week. Just because it's not paid doesn't mean I'm sitting around with all sorts of time for schoolwork. For me, taking two classes with kids is a heck of a lot harder than taking 10+ classes and teaching but without kids.

Lots of other countries have ways to help parents balance parenting and paid jobs, recognizing that the years when parenting typically happens are also important years for employment, recognizing that parents being able to be with their kids and bond and parent makes for a better society and a better workforce. I'm sad/frustrated/annoyed that the US is lagging so badly in this respect. It doesn’t seem right that the cost of staying home with your kids is extreme financial vulnerability/no retirement/no social security. And the reality in our country is that successfully managing the economy of the home isn’t seen as valuable experience when one is ready to re-enter the paid workforce, making it an extremely difficult, sometimes impossible transition to make. Completely ignoring how many of these skills positively transfer to many paid jobs is ridiculous. I know someone who spent years volunteering with their PTA, in charge of huge amounts of ordering and financial stuff, but no one cared about that because she wasn't getting paid to do it. It took her a very long time before she finally found someone who was willing to pay any attention to all the skills she had acquired while parenting and give her an entry-level position.

Parenting and policies surrounding it can be difficult to discuss. People tend to be extremely sensitive about it and get easily upset if what they’re currently doing isn’t being constantly affirmed. My kids and myself are much better off when I’m in school/working. I very much am still their parent and doing that job as well. Ryan and I are still raising them, though I certainly value the relationship they have with their sitter. See, even I get upset if it’s implied that by both of us working we won’t be raising our kids (and if just one of us is working does that mean that only the one not working is raising the kids?). :) But I try very hard to remember that the eventual scenario I hope for my family could be terrible for another family where having a parent home full-time might be best, or for another family where an “equally-shared parenting” style might be best. The President’s recent remarks addressing difficulties that force women out of the workforce against their will (my friend mentioned that debacle briefly) are an example of what a minefield this can be. I think what the President said was taken wildly out of context. Could it have been said better? Yup. But he was absolutely not dissing SAHPs. Anyway, that mess could be a whole discussion all it’s own, and not what I want the focus to become here.

I do think it’s important to discuss how we can shift our culture in ways such that child-caring and managing a home will be seen as valuable skills and what policies we can implement to allow for the broadest possible choice for parents, so that more people can determine for themselves what is best for their family rather than being forced into scenarios that may not be best for their family’s financial/mental/physical health. Another difficulty arises in the fact that child-rearing and managing a home have been venerated before and all that happened was to further the exploitation of those performing that work (it's such a noble/selfless work - if we laud you enough maybe you won't notice we're totally taking advantage of you!). So how do we give parenting the appropriate respect without using it to force people into a dependent or subservient position or without it becoming a vehicle for shaming people (seems this happens a lot these days - parents are constantly being told what they're doing wrong or the millions of things they must do to be doing parenting right and have every neighbor looking over their shoulder ready to criticize or even call CPS at the drop of a hat).

Things I wouldn't be sad to see: Can we provide better ways for people to maintain their qualifications for a field if they choose to leave the field for a few years? Can we have paid maternity and paternity leave? Can we match the amount of paid leave other countries offer? Can we offer some amount of social security recompense for years spent as a SAHP? Can we pay a living wage so parents don't have to run from job 1 to job 2 to job 3 just to feed, clothe and put a roof over their kids' heads? Can we make more jobs equally-shared-parenting friendly? I think some of these at least should be implemented, but I honestly don't know the best way. Would companies slowly change on their own if employees started requesting changes? Or does most of this need to be more top-down? Living wage initiatives have been pretty successful at elections, so that at least is one thing we may not have to wait for our inept federal government to fix. But leaving things up to individual companies and cities means the shifts we need could be a long time coming.


Myrna said...

Amen to this post! I am actually getting very, very tired of living in the United States because of issues like this. And so much political fighting with no compromises in sight! Parenting is a difficult job, and it is important, and all your questions in the last paragraph are spot on.

Susan said...

I agree with a lot of what you said. A few thoughts:
- While I do agree that the president's remarks were taken slightly out of context by some, I read the entire section of speech and he had an opportunity to say things that he chose not to say. While the working woman should be able to afford daycare/preschool, the way he says it seems to diminish those who make the CHOICE to stay home.
- You ask the question in your post "if just one of us is working does that mean that only the one not working is raising the kids?" In my experience, yes, that is exactly what it means. When my husband is home, he is an equal participant in raising our children. But he works outside of the home. He's just not physically present most of the time. I spend more time with them. So I am the one the primarily teaches and cares for the children.
- My main rant is that in my own life I see a lot of extremes when it comes to parenting. I see lots of women that work very rigorous jobs that take them away from their children basically all of their waking hours. They pick up their kids, maybe have a quick dinner, and put them to bed. When do they have time to parent? Then I see the other side: women that ARE stay at home moms spending most of their day lounging around the house in their pajamas watching Netflix while the kids are left to their own devices. I would like to see more middle ground. And I don't think it comes from more intervention from the government or business. I think it comes from a personal conviction that raising children is important. That it is worth hard work and sacrifices. That it's even worth putting off our own personal goals, if only for a little while, to make sure they grow up into someone who can make a positive contribution to society.

Sorry for the long comment on your blog. :) I appreciate your thoughts and I definitely agree that different things are right for different people.

Kristine Nielson said...

Things are definitely different in Australia. After I had Kepler I (of course) went on maternity leave. The great thing about that maternity leave was that nobody expected it to be six weeks. Three months is the minimum, and most people really expect about six months to a year of staying at home. Jobs have to be saved for women who go on maternity leave and, after a woman comes back it's acceptable for her to work part-time. (FWIW, I started going crazy after about three months and I've been back at work for the past month or so)

Government policies definitely make a difference here. Maternity leave is expected and respected, and the choices women make with regard to their employment or not are respected more. There is an expectation that women will take on paid employment at some point; women who keep popping out kids and not working outside the home aren't looked terribly kindly on, though I think that's pretty common in industrialized western nations.

It's not all roses down under, but it is better here for women, in my experience. I would say much of that is because of government policies and because people accept that those government policies are reasonable and should be available to everyone. This isn't a remarkably more feminist society, and yet feminism here won some key battles that have made women's lives, and ultimately our participation in the workforce, much easier.

Erin said...

Kristine, what is that status of paternity leave in Australia? Is it common and expected/given the same support as maternity leave, or not so much? I'm assuming that the maternity leave there is paid? Clearly if a longer leave is expected people can't get by without an income for that long.