I am the proud mother of a feminist, Deborah Kolben, who was inspired by the iconic “Free to Be… You and Me” album wrote this recent Sisterhood post about her decision to stay home with her infant daughter. In that post, she wonders whether she is fulfilling the dreams of her mother, who worked outside of the home. The answer is a resounding yes.
In addition to being Debbie’s mom, I’m also the executive director of Center for Children’s Initiatives, an organization devoted to shaping childcare polices and helping parents find appropriate day care. I have devoted the past few decades to changing the way we value parenthood and young children by removing child care as a barrier to parents having real choices — the theme of “Free to be… You and Me.”
When I reflect on my long career, I see some success. In fact, I made a career shift when my first child was born, and went to work to expand childcare opportunities for working parents. I, too, found it difficult to leave my baby, but I had the luxury of working two blocks from home and having a somewhat flexible schedule — not an option open to most parents of young children.
But when my first grandchild was born, just three months ago I was reminded very personally about the challenges new parents face in making that choice about returning to work.
At my office, we speak daily with mothers who have no choice but to return to work or fear loss of their job, who cannot afford to stay home longer and want our help figuring out who will care for their baby. Our counselors are there to help with guidance and information, but the options are limited and extremely expensive. And where is the help for the mom who really wants that special time with her baby? We force moms to make a decision much too early about what is the right path for her. We make moms like my daughter wonder if she is doing something wrong by wanting to have time to be a mom, fulfill her own pursuits, and, yes, earn a paycheck. (Israel, for example, has much more generous policies for providing new moms time at home with their babies.)
I salute the young mothers, like my daughter, who are working to make the right (and very personal) decision for themselves and their families.