This week I watched the PBS documentary Makers: Women Who Make America, which chronicles the feminist movement and includes interviews of many of the movement’s leaders. In an interview with Abby Pogrebin (daughter of Letty Cottin Pogrebin, a co-founder of Ms. Magazine) Pogrebin relates how women of our generation really haven’t been given the tools to know how to balance work with being a mother and to be happy doing both.
When I was pregnant and considering my options for work and mothering, it was assumed by most of my friends and co-workers that I would construct some type of schedule whereby I would wake up in the morning, drop my baby off at a care center, go to the office all day, then pick my baby back up and take her home in time to feed her and put her to bed. While there’s nothing wrong with this strategy, and parents are open about how stressful it is, it’s time for us to start questioning this arrangement as the acceptable norm. Putting aside the more emotional question of whether one feels sad or anxious about how little meaningful time this leaves for them to spend with their children, there is the more objective matter of whether this leaves a person any free time at all: time to do the housework, time to prepare a healthy meal, time to take a walk and enjoy the world with your family. This lifestyle that so many choose (or are forced into) is reflective of our consumerist culture. The more stressed out we feel, the more that we buy things in an attempt to feel better about ourselves. The higher our level of stress, and the less time we have, the more likely we are to consume processed foods. The worse we eat, the more illnesses we have and our needs for pharmaceutical drugs increases.
Before I was pregnant, I always felt that there was never enough time for all the “other” things I wanted to do: paint, keep a clean house, play music, dance or spend more quality time with family and friends. I would call these my extra-curricular activities, and I rarely accomplished my goals of doing them. When I was pregnant all I could think was “so now my baby is going to become one of those extra-curricular activities?” It was partly this thinking that finally led to me leaving my job.
And while my husband and I keep a close watch on our budget in order for me to be with Alzette full time, I know that I am speaking from a place of incredible privilege. There are numerous mothers and fathers who don’t have the option to consider leaving their jobs (or their multiple jobs). Many of these parents would probably welcome the opportunity to “just” be a mother (or father). The feminist movement has the important function of assuring that men and women are seen as equals and treated as equals when it comes to work, sports, home making, and society. But what the original movement seemed to forget was exactly what it was arguing from the beginning: that mothering is already a full-time job. For this they wanted women to get credit, and to also have the opportunities to do whatever other job they wanted. But what about fighting for everyone to have a better quality of life?
Growing up, I never doubted that I could take on any career that I wanted, and I have the feminist movement to thank for that. There were plenty of career advisors in college and law school helping me to achieve my career goals, but no advisors to help me figure out how I could have both a career and a child. Women today put together a patchwork of friends, mothers groups and co-workers to come up with a working/mothering strategy. But the information we’re able to gather isn’t readily available or talked about hardly at all until we are pregnant and working.
That’s why I’m done with Yahoo. It was reported recently that in a memo circulated to her employees, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer announced that Yahoo employees would no longer be allowed to work from home. I was disappointed with Mayer before, when she announced she would only be taking two weeks for maternity leave. I try not to judge other people’s parenting decisions, but I was dismayed that she was setting a bad precedent for those of us advocating for longer (not shorter!) maternity leaves in the United States. But this recent news is much worse, since she is now making parenting decisions not just for herself, but for her employees. In a culture that already lacks the proper support and resources for those of us trying alternative ways to balance parenting and work, flexible schedules and working from home are just about the only things we have. Abby Pogrebin and I had the luxury of quitting our jobs. I feel for those at Yahoo who were getting their work done and spending more time with their children and will no longer have that option.