February 27, 2008

Motherhood Manifesto Not Just for Moms

I recently spent part of my weekend free time reading and watching The Motherhood Manifesto, a book and DVD encouraging moms to fight for new laws and workplace policies that would benefit the lives of mothers and their kids.

Yeah, I know, I’m childree, but I have great respect for the author’s of this work: Joan Blades, co-founder of MoveOn.org and Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, an award-winning author and consultant on environment policy. Also, I was curious;

I wondered, is their initiative likely to further the divide between mothers and non-mothers in the workplace?
In my humble opinion, the answer is yes, and no.

Most of what is advocated in The Motherhood Manifesto are changes that would benefit all: Flex-time, benefits for part-time workers, more paid vacation or sick time, minimum "living" wage, and equal pay for equal work.

Where it gets prickly is the instances where the push for maternal/paternal leave, after school programs, affordable childcare, and universal healthcare for kids (just for kids??) may leave childless workers with valueless benefits; benefits which, essentially, they pay for in sweat and are an important part of their compensation package.

The book exposes some very frightening facts, including the fact that families with kids are three times more likely to be forced into medical bankruptcy. But when you think about it, of course, it makes sense; the more people you have in your household the greater chance one of them will have a illness leading to catastrophic, impossible, medical bills. Parents by virtue of their choice to raise a family expose themselves to any number of risks, including sleep deprivation, severe stress, and—in the case of mothers who take time off to raise a family—loss of seniority and promotion opportunities, resulting in serious long-term loss of income.

I sympathize. The current U.S. work culture is not friendly to working moms, Americans pay far too much for health care and insurance, and I believe employers can do more to help the next generation and those who care for them. However, I think in the spirit of fairness and sound economics, benefits should be doled out in value units and the worker should have a menu of benefits and be invited to choose those which would benefit them the most. The parent might choose subsidized day care or flex time, the childfree and empty-nesters might choose affordable long-term health insurance, or paid time off to volunteer or tend to elder-care duties.

I once took a job which required me to travel state-wide. Some days it would take me two to three hours to get home. This situation forced me to drop my volunteer work as a tutor at an after school program. I would have loved paid time off for my volunteer work, but no dice. I was a part-time consultant. No benefits.

Clearly, there are shared objectives if these types of advocacy efforts can be more inclusive. So I was happy to see that on page 72 of the Motherhood Manifesto, in a sidebar titled It’s Not Just Mothers, John de Graff (who directed the Motherhood Manifesto film and is the National Coordinator of Take Back Your Time) acknowledge that moms, dads, singles, and couples are all suffering from "time poverty," pointing out:
"The average American works nine weeks—350 hours—more each year than the average Western European."
Time…aaah; time for leisure, time for family, time for sanity and health.

Now that’s something we can all get behind.

Flickr photo by edtwilight77 (cc)
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Teri said...

Geez Laura, what a great post! I feel like I just got a sneak preview of a chapter of your upcoming book. (Hooray -- you got a publisher!!!) Thanks for exploring this topic here. I can't wait to read the next "chapter".

I am dealing with all of these issues right now. I would describe myself as mid-career renaissance woman without kids. My skill-set is loaded, but I am without a straight-line career path. I have had a lot of fun tying many things. I have always wanted to find the right Job Share situation, where two very compatible people share one job, benefits and all.

I did not click through on the Motherhood Manifesto link, but with your introduction and analysis here, I will make time to do so later.

As a Purple Woman (read: intentionally childfree), I don't fit neatly into any social "box". When I used a search engine to find information about Job Sharing, most sites have content that assumes you are a mother of small children. I don't like the assumption.

I have decided that, since I want a balanced home-life and still have some time to be socially active as a volunteer in my community, I need to advertise to find a job share partner. A long commute is a deal breaker, unless the total package is right. Putting the burden on the employer is too much of a hurdle. The onus is upon thee to create the opportunity!

The big selling points for the employer are 1) more head count equals better coverage with any absences, and 2) the potential for getting a 60-hour work week without paying overtime.

Summary: Job Sharing allows for more budgetary control. Two people, sharing one job = the same overall cost to the company, and better vacation coverage and better able to meet the fluctuating demands of business.

Yale said...

Your viewers might want to check out my free audio podcast on elder care issues at www.elderlawpodcast.com

WordWench said...

I advocate job-sharing and flex-time and all the neat stuff the manifesto suggests, but as a former worker in the corporate media world for 20 years, I have to say I am a little tired of hearing the complaints of working families. Especially working mothers. My experience has been that they seem to think THEIR problems, unfortunately, are worse than everybody else's. I can't count times I was given extra work because one of the moms in the newsroom had to rush off -- not for a dire emergency mind you -- but because Ashley had forgotten to take some project to school or Brittnee's ride didn't show up for softball practice. I'm sorry, I understand about medical problems and the like, but I also believe we should live with the choices we make. I realize there are a lot of families where both spouses HAD to work, but in my particular field, there were families where both spouses worked simply because of ego or because they HAD to live in a particular subdivision or own that house at the beach. Don't get me wrong...I wholeheartedly endorse people working for WHATEVER reason and I am a diehard feminist who advocates women in the workplace. However, I also got tired of having my life made more difficult because these women seemed to think that because they had children their situations, no matter how trivial, always were more important than staying at the office and getting the job done. I could not, for instance, have gone running away from the office because my elderly father accidentally locked his keys in the car or because my cat had injured a paw jumping off the coffee table. Do you get what I'm saying? Life emergencies were not considered as important or as pressing for childfree singles or even childfree marrieds as they were for these women with children.
I advocate better health insurance, flex time for EVERYBODY, more family leave etc. However, I also would like parents with children in the workplace to be required to take responsibilities for the choice they have made -- to have kids! -- and realize that their job is the same as everybody else's. If they don't do the work, somebody else has to, and it shouldn't necessarily automatically be the single childfree person in the corner. I respectfully say that aside from the emergency situations, if you can't do the work or arent' willing to organize your life so you can do the work, please find a job that suits your lifestyle and let the people willing to DO the work have the job. Please don't think I'm being insensitive -- but 20 years of getting burned still bother me.

LauraS said...

Wordewench--I hear ya!
More than once I had to work in a busy retail store, alone on a Saturday afternoon, because my co-worker had to leave early to cook a cake for a birthday party or pick up her son from a game. Why she couldn't bake the cake the night before or get her husband to pick the boy up? Where was hubby--I wondered? Obviously not watching the game.
I'm an extremely organized person which is why I couldn't understand why a married woman with one 10- year-old child couldn't make a part-time job work, without unfairly imposing on her co-workers.

Emma said...

I've written about this topic on my own blog and in an article published by Unscripted Life. I have a much bigger problem with momsrising than you do. While everyone, the childed as well as the childfree, could benefit from policies such as flex-time, work share, and health care, momsrising is pitting the childed against the childfree by advocating a more "family-friendly" work environment. Are there any childfree people out there who believe the term "family-friendly" means anything other than "child-centric"? I'm with WordWench on this one. I've been burned at work far too many times by mothers being given first dibs on vacation time around the holidays, extra time off work to take kids here and there, flex-time, etc., when those same benefits are NOT offered to everyone across the board.

LauraS said...

What you say is true. That is why a menu of value units of benefits open to all employees is the only way to go to avoid this discrimination. "Family-friendly" is a term that must be replaced by "employee-friendly." If the parents receive more benefits in terms of value or work load there will always be a chasm between the childless/childfree and parents.