Go over to the Nation.com and read this article. Go on, I’ll wait.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the emphasis–or lack of it–that our society places on caregiving, and remembering an experience I had after the birth of the Bee, when I was still a pretty new mom.
I first got involved in parenting & the internet when I was pregnant with the Bee, joining a listserv for other women who were due in September of 1999. After she was born, I joined hipmama, and spent hours on their forums, trying to find a community of people who wanted to think differently about parenting. Some of those hours were ones I spent at work, reading online while I pumped breastmilk in my office, or nursed the Bee.
One day, I got an email from a reporter who was writing a story commissioned by one of the women’s policy organizations in DC–maybe Institute for Women’s Policy Research? She wanted to know if I was interested in being interviewed about my experience of going back to work fairly soon after the birth of my daughter. I hemmed and hawed a bit–because I didn’t feel like I had had that tough a time with the transition, but eventually, I agreed to do the interview, and sent her my phone number.
She called me, and we had a long conversation about my (to me) extremely accommodating boss, & my overall experience becoming a working mom. I had gotten this job while I was pregnant, and through a phone interview, and I went from working for a mid-sized organization to a fairly small non-profit that had fewer than 10 staff. I did disclose to my then-prospective employer that I was pregnant, and when he asked me if I intended to come back to work after the baby was born, I told him I didn’t know–that I intended to, but I also knew I couldn’t predict how I would feel about it once the baby was there. He hired me anyway, knowing that I might only work there for five months.
When the Bee was born, I took three months off (one paid, two unpaid), and then I went back to work. Landisdad took paternity leave for another two months, but almost from the beginning, I took the Bee to work with me a day or two a week. I continued to bring her to work with me until she was 18 months old, and never heard a peep about it from my boss–in fact, I still see him at work-related events, and he never fails to ask how she is doing.
You can see why, when I started the conversation with the reporter, I didn’t feel like I had a terrible story to tell, and after I got through it, I said something like, “so you see, I don’t really think my situation could have been much better.” And then she said something that shocked me. She said, “You don’t? “
And it struck me, suddenly and almost astonishingly, that I had immersed myself so deeply in the myriad problems that other U.S. mothers I knew were going through in wrestling with their choices to stay home or return to work, that I was only measuring my own experience against theirs. I had stopped even hoping for a society that would provide real family support, the way that some other countries do. I had stopped hoping for a society that would pay a parent to stay home for the first year of a child’s life, for example. And stopped hoping that at some point, our government would be convinced that providing safe, high quality daycare was as important as acquiring the latest fighter jet.
I’m getting closer to that care-giver sandwich myself. While I’m not quite at the point of having to figure out elder care, I have quite a few older colleagues and co-workers who are. I’m hoping that by the time I get there, I’m not content to be one of the lucky few, who has a flexible work situation that lets me deal with my care-giving responsibilities too. I’m hoping that instead, we’ll all make it a priority.