I recently watched an interview with Kelly Corrigan (one of my favorite authors) and Margaret Atwood (a well-known prolific author whose work I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never read). Kelly has started this video series with help from Medium. The premise of Foreword is that she asks some of the world’s big thinkers about big ideas. We have enjoyed every episode, but the Atwood interview is by far the best of the videos released so far. The interview spawned an hour-long discussion with Honey and I about all sorts of things. It is long, but I strongly encourage you to check it out.
Atwood says something so simple that struck me as profound around the 8:00 mark of the video. Corrigan asks Atwood what would change if there were more women in the work force in the next 100 years. Her response? Better daycare.
We have all struggled through the mess that is this winter with all this snow and time and time again I hear the same story about the professional sacrifices working moms are having to make because of childcare, or lack thereof. Granted, repetitive avalanche-sized snow storms are out of the ordinary. However, I bet if you asked any working mom what the biggest obstacle to their professional success was, I’m sure a vast majority of them would say childcare. Do you cringe when your kid wakes up with a fever? Have you ever sent your kid to school less than 24 hours after they vomited because you just couldn’t miss another day of work? Have you ever made less than stellar childcare choices (like using the gym drop off for several hours) because you just didn’t have any other viable options? We’ve all been there.
I’m not trying to say that our spouses don’t carry the burden with us because they do. Honey and I typically take turns staying home with a sick kid. If they’re only mildly sick they’ll stay home with the nanny but we usually give them the option. Collectively, my daughters have been out sick 19 times this school year. And never on the same days. That’s a lot of days off. When the whole family got flu I had to stay home for all of it because Honey was down for the count too, and we didn’t want to expose any one else to the germs. I missed a whole week of work that weeks later I’m still trying to correct.
Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful that I have the opportunities for childcare that I do have. I’m also happy to have a flexible job (to an extent) and have a spouse with a flexible job. I’m not naive to think that there are other people who don’t have it as good as I do and I know there are people who see childcare as a luxury. The astronomical price of childcare is in fact what keeps a lot of women out of the work force or away from jobs for which they are trained and qualified. This in turn lowers their salary and stifles their earning potential. The vicious cycle of the plight of the working family continues.
So what do we do? Well, I’m not sure there is an easy answer.
“In today’s economy, when having both parents in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families, affordable, high-quality child care and early childhood education — these aren’t just nice to have, this is a must-have,” Obama said in remarks at the University of Kansas.
This is a start, but I hate to break it to the president, but a $3,000 tax cut isn’t going to put a dent in my approximately $20,000 child care bill. I think we need to urge employers to offer more flexibility to their employees with young children. More flexibility would allow for more effective and efficient work time. We all know how much work doesn’t get done on a work-from-home snow day. Ann wrote about this a while back but I think her message is still valid and bears repeating. Maybe the first step is to acknowledge that families with young children make up a large part of the workforce and those employees for whom childcare is a constant balance will work more productively if there are better, safer, cheaper, more stable options for caring for their children.