“I’m just a mom,” the young woman replied, with bowed head and downcast eyes. This troubling response arose during a discussion among a group of women about managing their hectic schedules between career and child care.
When asked a common question like, ‘What do you do’?, the glaring meaning of the word, ‘just’, along with its gestures, speaks volumes in how hard-working mothers see themselves and their value relative to employed moms. And what they see and feel mirrors society’s attitudes towards them. What they do is not important because caring for children does not contribute to the economy. This thought couldn’t be further from the truth but perception becomes truth – the one that matters.
The issue of child care vs. career arose in the 1950’s when the Women’s Liberation Movement rightfully sought gender equality from family life to the workplace setting up a storm of ‘mommy wars.’ Historically and biologically driven, the role and responsibility of mothers has been, and to a large extent still is, primarily fulfilled by the biological mother, whether employed outside the home or not. The unexpected fall-out, however, created a vacuum in who would care for the children. Since stay-at-home mothers are unpaid labor, the work they do is viewed as neither worthy of respect nor recognition. Unfortunately, these self-sacrificing moms have absorbed the same negative attitudes as seen too often in the lack of pride and self-worth in their role.
Children are dependent on the care and support of their adults. Yet in our busy world, mothering is viewed as a secondary role we must fit in with the more ‘important’ facets of our lives. The result creates social and economic pressures in terms of child care and a personal conflict for many employed mothers as well, who may feel a gnawing sense of guilt. As Andrea Mrozek, family program director at Cardus, a Canadian public policy think tank, writes, “…the plight of the woman is that she can be all that she wants to be, just don’t bring motherhood into the picture.”1
The Glass Ceiling
Society seems to assume to be valued is to be equal to men’s traditional roles, as in the workplace. Directly contributing to the economy receives recognition through respect, appreciation, esteem and dignity, as well as financial rewards, which translates into power, control and independence. Many women, therefore, strive to ‘break the glass ceiling’ as the only way to prove their worth. In the quest for resolving the issue of child care, the starting point needs to be prioritized with this question – “What is best for children?”
To answer it, a poll released in May, 2013 by the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC) 2 showed that 76% of Canadians believe it is best for children under six to be at home with at least one parent. These results were consistent regardless of income, gender or working arrangements, and to a lesser extent, regional lines. If parents cannot be home, they prefer options closest to the home environment, starting with relatives, then a neighbourhood home daycare, followed by other arrangements. The last choice for their children is center-based daycare.
So what is the underlying problem?
It lies in our value system. There is an assumption that it is women’s main responsibility for the care of children (and caregiving, in general). According to Anne-Marie Slaughter, professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University: “Women shouldn’t need to accept male behaviour and male choices as the default and the ideal.”3
Attitudes are difficult and slow to change but there are solutions on the horizon. In ‘The Real Wealth of Nations’ (2007), Riane Eisler,4 social scientist, activist and attorney, states that our values are distorted by the economic double standard that devalues anything associated with women and femininity. She characterizes the present system as not only outdated, but the foundation for our current problems, such as pay disparity favoring men and limited career choices for women. Economic rules are human creations and we must invent new ones that meet our human needs. For example, these archaic dominator beliefs and institutions that devalue caring and caregiving is an unsustainable economic system.
Eisler suggests society’s leaders change the economic rules in terms of its structure from families to schools to businesses and governments with caring as a core cultural value. And social activists should focus on shifting the culture from an archaic domination system inherited from past eras to partnerships towards primary relations between women and men and parents and children. This shift is already in place with businesses like the SAS Institute, the world’s largest privately-held software company. It demonstrates “corporate responsibility to enduring commitment to employees, environment and communities.”5 It reaps the benefits of caring policies and practices in dollars and cents.
The necessity of having to choose between being ‘just a Mom’ or a ‘working Mom’ is being transformed into a reality for becoming truly ‘all you can be,’ with none making a sacrifice at the expense of another.
As Slaughter says, “If we truly valued breadwinning and caregiving equally…then we would value male caregivers as much as we value female breadwinners and every permutation and combination in between.”6
- Mrozek, Andrea, Motherhood is a woman’s right to be valued, too, Winnipeg Free Press, Canada, Posted: 03/22/2017.
- www.imfcanada.org. (IMFC), Mrozek, Andrea, Executive Director, Institute of Marriage and Family Canada., Canadian Daycare Desires, Part 1, May 2013
Slaughter, Anne-Marie, president of the New America Foundation and Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University and the Bert G. Kerstetter ’66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University
- ttp://www.partnershipway.org/. Eisler, Riane, The Real Wealth of Nations, Berrett-Koehler, Inc., 2007, San Francisco, CA. 2007 pps.218-225
- http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-cant-have-it-all/309020/, Slaughter, Anne-Marie, president of the New America Foundation and Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University and the Bert G. Kerstetter ’66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University