"mother is one to whom you hurry when you are troubled." - E Dickinson

March 30, 2010

Preschool Colors
Originally uploaded by barnabywasson
Heather Armstrong (the author of Dooce) announced yesterday via her Twitter feed that she's been invited to attend The White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility.

I want to state up-front that I'm a big fan of Heather Armstrong, and a big fan of the current White House. (So much so that I'm strongly considering standing outside all night in the rain tonight to get tickets for the President's visit to Portland on Thursday.) In particular, I think her voice has done a lot to educate people about the need for healthcare reform in the US, not to mention how she's raised awareness of post-partum depression. However.... (you knew that was coming, right?)

But Heather Armstrong is also the object of envy of every working mother I know. She is one of the few people I can say honestly "has it all" -- she's doing something she loves and has become very famous for it. She and her husband both work from home, on whatever schedule works for their family. You could easily say that she, almost uniquely, has built a career for herself that is the ultimate in family flexibility. But her very unique set of circumstances are not, I think, replicable by a large number of people in the world.

One of the things that makes me proud to have the Obama family in a leadership position in this country is that they are a real, working family. I do strongly believe that they get it, that they do really think they "understand the challenges" of balancing work and parenting, to use the phrasing from their press release.

But, even before he went to the Senate, they were also highly-educated professionals in leadership careers, who had family and paid in-home caregivers available to them. I doubt Sasha and Malia were ever in daycare (although I don't know that for sure). I think its more likely that they were cared for in their own home, either by their Grandmother or by someone else (a nanny, perhaps) who became, more or less, a part of the family. I know they mean well. But the experience is so different for working mothers who are a bit farther down the pay scale.

The press release says they've invited "labor leaders, CEOs, small business owners, and policy experts" to this forum. I wonder if there will be actual working mothers there? Women who hand their child over to a facility at 7:45 am and pick them up at 5:45 pm, who work blue collar jobs, who work service jobs, the low-income women and families for whom workplace flexibility is most needed. There is a cynical voice in my mind who says that the mothers who most need to have a voice at this summit won't be able to attend, and will, in fact, not ever even realize that anyone was having the conversation.

Every morning, I send my son off to be raised by a woman whom I don't know well and who doesn't really share my personal values. And I count myself lucky, because she's warm and loving, because my son spends his days in a mostly unstructured way, because he gets to run in a pasture and play outside for hours ever day, and (to be frank) because she's very inexpensive. And then I go to work and spend a large part of the day watching other, more fortunate parents as they come into my workplace and share experiences with their own children.

I have to wonder if my voice and experience will be represented?

One interesting note: in searching Flickr for an appropriate photo to add to this post, I noted this: if you search on the word "daycare" you get page after page of child care facilities in third world countries. To get middle-class American images, you have to search on the phrase "preschool". I wonder why that is?