Work and Parenthood

One of our biggest national conversations is about work and parenthood—who can “have it all,” who needs to lean in or out, what moms are doing, what dads are doing, what kids need, and why it’s driving us all crazy.  When Sheryl Sandberg published Lean In, it was heralded as the next Feminine Mystique—and then rightly criticized for missing the mark in the same way that feminist classic did, by focusing almost entirely on the needs of a small (middle- to upper-class and white) group of women.  When Anne-Marie Slaughter published her much-read article in The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” she heard from many readers who described the issue of work/family balance as a nuanced one, depending on the particulars of individual lives.  She addressed these concerns with an emphasis on our cultural need to value care in her book Unfinished Business.

Ms. Slaughter is right—at the center of our problem with work/family balance is our cultural devaluation of care.  Changing our approach to care requires us to address our internal biases about gender roles and about what kind of work “counts” as worthwhile and productive.  It means taking a hard look at our language, our habits, and our beliefs.  It also means learning some history about our childcare policies, putting that history in perspective, and creating policies that will benefit all parents.

If that sounds like more than you bargained for—and like something you haven’t got time to think about because work and parenthood—you’re in good company.  There are no easy, fast solutions here, but there are insights that can help you frame your perspectives (and hopefully ease your burdens) as you navigate life as a working parent.  And as people come together to share our perspectives, we can define the necessary steps toward change.

In this workshop, we’ll consider:

  • The cultural pressures we put on working mothers to be both tireless employees and ideal moms.
  • The different messages about work that we send to middle-class and working-class or poor mothers, and the role of institutionalized classism and racism in constructing these messages.
  • The culturally constructed “Mommy Wars” and their function in keeping mothers anxious and guilt-ridden.
  • The cultural pressures we place on working fathers, and the ways in which we undermine their role as caretakers.
  • How we define gender roles in the home, and what it would take to change them.
  • A brief look at our historical approach to childcare.
  • A brief look at our current childcare policies, how they compare to those of other nations, and how they affect working parents at all socioeconomic levels.
  • The issues that working parents share with other caregivers, and our common solutions.
  • Resources for further reading and reflection