Thursday, October 16, 2008

Who's Minding the Kids?

More than 60 percent of women with children under the age of one are in the workforce. In this country, the average length of maternity leave is six weeks. I don’t know about you, but when my firstborn was six weeks old I couldn’t wash my hair and brush my teeth on the same day. The kid never slept or if he did, it was in a Snugli attached to my chest. I was a walking zombie, only the Bride of Frankenstein looked better.

My employer gave me three months of maternity leave, unpaid except for my unused vacation. Not working wasn’t an option. We needed my salary. I was lucky to find a mother in the neighborhood who was willing to babysit, for essentially half of my salary. On my first day back to work, I pulled on a pantsuit with an elastic waistband, dabbed at the spitup on my shoulder, got in my car and cried hysterically while I drove to the office.

Get a group of working mothers together and inevitably the conversation turns to childcare. I’m willing to bet that 99 percent of moms are dissatisfied, to a greater or lesser degree, with their arrangements. For those with the resources to hire private nannies, the quality and cost of such care is a constant worry – hence the explosion of hidden nannycams. For those who opt for home or commercial daycare, there is the concern about a lack of one-on-one interaction, frequent staff turnover, and inevitably, a baby with a never-ending runny nose due to the constant exposure to viruses. Even if it’s grandma who is the baby sitter, there are often tensions between generations about how best to care for the infant.

We worry about our kids. We worry about our jobs. I often thought I wasn’t giving 100 percent in either place.

Other nations seem to have figured out that fully paid maternity leave and better childcare are good for both parents and the economy. It means better worker productivity. In France, the government provides three-year paid parental leave with guaranteed job protection upon returning to the workforce; universal, full-time preschool starting at age three; subsidized day care before age three; stipends for in-home nannies; and monthly child-care allowances that increase with the number of children per family.

We’ve got to do better for our families. We’ve got to make it easier for parents to take care of their children, while also being productive members of the workforce. It’s a win-win situation for all.

Evelyn David


  1. Childcare (or the lack thereof) is what made me leave the out-of-the-house workforce when my kids were five and six months. My babysitter quit and I couldn't face the prospect of going through the complicated trust dance that accompanied hiring someone new (with my travel schedule, a daycare center was out of the question). Why is that other countries have figured this out, yet we here in the US of A still lag behind? It's extremely frustrating. Your post hits the nail on the head, Evelyn. Maggie

  2. You are so right. Though I have no children, I did work as a preschool teacher for 15 years. NOw, if it were not for parents being forced to work I would not so muhc have had a career there. I would have gladly given it up to know that less kids were bonding with me and more with their parents.

    I keep hearing how the decline of quality entertainment (movies, video games, music, books) is the cause of so much of our societal problems, and to an extent I agree, but I believe that the majority of our socitey's problems is the fact that not enough kids know their parents and are not being taught solid values. Is this the parent's fault? Only to a small degree and with a portion of them.

    Those parents who have no choice but to put their kids in someone ele's care do need some kind of financial and personal guidance. Employers do need to take more of a responsibility with allowing parents to be with their small children, to care for sick children, and to take time off for childcare emergencies.

    I'm not saying it is the sole responsibility of the empolyer, but for goodness sake, how is your company going to run if you have no employees because they can't afford childcare or their kids are alweays in trouble because they never see their parents.

    I do think three years is a long time to hold a job for someone, but I do think that in some situations there has to be a compromise that benefits the KIDS.

    Karen Syed

  3. I am incredibly lucky on two counts: one is that God looked at me and said, "let's just give you ONE child and see how it goes." The other is that I found a babysitter from Lebanon whose entire family doted on our son as if he were their own. If I had needed to put him in a less loving and supportive daycare environment, I'd have lost my mind.

    "They" keep telling us it takes a village to raise a child, but they leave us without the equipment to accomplish that. How do we make "them" give our village the proper tools to raise good citizens?