Google “motherhood and guilt,” and the search engine returns over 2 million results. Women, and increasingly men, are feeling they cannot find the optimal balance between working and caring for their children.
There always have been women who worked.
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We can see the many ways — even in ancient times — where women were pulled. In Proverbs 31, the wife is praised for making clothes from scratch and selling any extra, cooking, buying land and cultivating it, giving to charity, caring for the members of the household, and speaking wisely. Even in the 1950s — the iconic period of the American family — over a third of women worked outside the home.
As time has passed, the demands we place on parents have increased. Mothers used to spend a lot less time with their children than mothers do today. According to a study by the University of California, Irvine, mothers in 1965 spent an average of 54 minutes caring for children compared to 104 minutes per day in 2012.
Parents were expected to discipline, feed and care for their children, but now they are expected to play with their children and provide them with all sorts of supplementary education.
Where children once were expected to entertain themselves outdoors with others, mothers now act as social secretaries — in part because we live in greater fear of potential dangers that lurk for children who are unsupervised, despite numerous statistics showing the low level of kidnapping and abuse by strangers.
While expectations of nurturing have become more time intensive, so have our expectations of parents’ dedication to work.
With wages largely stagnant since about 1975 and divorce more likely, women have joined the workforce in larger numbers. This both supplements their household income and provides them with economic security in the event of an unexpected catastrophe.
But it also cuts the amount of time available to spend with children. And that’s happening just as the expectation of spending time with children is growing.
Fathers now feel the same stress.
According to the Pew Research Center, “fully half of working dads say it’s difficult for them to balance these competing responsibilities; 56 percent of working moms say the same. And about the same share of working dads (34 percent) and moms (40 percent) say they ‘always feel rushed’ in their day-to-day lives.
But when they’re asked about the time they spend with their children, dads are much more likely than moms to say it’s not enough. About half (48 percent) of working dads say they spend too little time with their kids, compared with just 26 percent of working moms.”
Unlike other advanced industrial states that support parents with publicly funded, affordable daycare and parental leave policies, the United States leaves American parents struggling to find some way to balance their work and childcare responsibilities.
In fact, parents who look for government and other charitable help find that the various programs available to them do not work well together. Some expect a parent to be at home during the day, while others require parents to work or train full-time.
Join the Columbia Basin Badger Club on Nov. 16 as Debra Wagar, director of WorkForce at CBC, and Roswitha Stürmer discuss the menu of policies available to parents in both the United States and Germany and the ways in which they support and frustrate parents as they struggle to provide for their children both financially and emotionally.
Miriam Kerzner is an adjunct instructor for CBC with a masters in public and international affairs from the University of Pittsburgh. She has taught various classes in sociology and political science during her nine years at the college.
If you go ...
- What: Columbia Basin Badger Club.
- When: 11:30 a.m. Thursday, November 16.
- Where: Shilo Inn, 50 Comstock St., Richland.
- Cost: Advance registration is $20 for members and $25 for non-members. Day of event is $30. Lunch is included with the forum.
Register: Go to columbiabasinbadgers.com or call 628-6011