I am of the mindset that the American work life balance is not good for anyone. Workplace culture is a tough environment for all of us, as it expects us all, at least to some extent, to shed elements of our humanity. However, in my opinion, those who struggle the least/benefit the most in this environment are straight, white men. Let’s face it, workplace culture is designed for straight, white, corporate, middle class men who have a housewife. And even for them, it’s not the healthiest lifestyle. But as women, women of color, men of color, transgender people, people with disabilities, etc it is that much more difficult of an
environment and more detrimental to their health. And of course, the more oppression you face, the harder it is for you to exist and survive in the American workplace.
The focus of this post is on women, of all races, transgender or cisgender, straight or not. However as a straight, white, middle class woman there are undoubtedly aspects of other women’s realities, I will overlook though I will do my best to acknowledge my own privilege and what I really can’t speak to, as it is not part of my own lived experience. And while not a focus, I want to acknowledge that the workplace poses additional challenge to
men of color, men with disabilities, transgender men, people who identify as neither male nor female and many other groups.
But I’m focusing on women, and well specifically on women who are or are considering becoming moms, because of an article I read recently. The article, found here, discusses the ways that current maternity leave is not actually a benefit and may cause more harm than good.
As a childless, married woman in my early 30s, I really appreciated many aspects of this article. I especially appreciated that the article talked about the career paralysis that often occurs for women once they are even thinking about getting pregnant. Because it’s so true. I am not pregnant and I’m not trying to get pregnant but I likely will be soon. And I’m already losing sleep as I think about the logistics this next phase of my life will involve. I’m kept up at night wondering how it would be remotely possible to do my current, 1.5 hour/way commute after having baby (hint: it’s probably not). I toss and turn as I realize I will probably need to leave my beloved job for one closer to home and well I better do that soon because I need to be there at least a year to play it safe by current federal regulations on maternity leave. Never mind the fact I probably won’t get pregnant right away and so putting off trying is probably something I’ll regret later. But I can’t just throw caution to the wind because what if I do get pregnant right away? The hours tick by and soon I’ve only gotten a few hours of sleep due to my not yet conceived baby. Meanwhile my husband snoozes next to me, blissfully unaware of the additional pressures and challenges I face
when it comes to even thinking about parenthood.
It would be a lie to say this happens every night. It doesn’t. But it’s unfair that I am losing any sleep over my child before even trying to make said child exist. I will have enough sleep deprivation in my future as a mom, why can’t I at least enjoy my freedom now? Well
I can’t because of our current, societal manner of treating women, specifically in this case working women who are parents. It’s like when women wanted to have careers too, society compromised only to such a small extent that it ends up setting women up to be completely unable to have the jobs they want and be a mom too. Unless they hit some sort of jackpot of a job, which is what happened eventually for the woman who wrote the article I’m referencing. But that doesn’t happen for most women, and I’m talking about most privileged women. Never mind women who are working particularly low paying jobs, women who are perhaps working two or more jobs to financially provide for their families. Because the corporate non-compromise that took place for privileged women trickled down to jobs typically filled by more oppressed women. Oh wait many less privileged women already were working and not by choice. But prior to white, privileged ladies entering the workforce, I doubt that less privileged women experienced just and healthy workplace environments. My point is that as much as it is a struggle for privileged women to fit into the workforce (and it is!), it is that much more of a struggle for less privileged women.
I can just hear some (probably more conservative) people judging and asking that if this stresses me so much, why wouldn’t I just stay home (as if being home w/a baby all day would be less stressful!). And in truth, I could stay home. I am pretty lucky (aka privileged). It wouldn’t be as comfortable but my husband and I could make it work. Lest we forget that for many moms, staying home won’t work. There is no choice. They have to work. But let’s get back to the fact that as of now (and I know my feelings could change), I plan to return to work after having a baby. Is that so bad of me to want? I want to be a mom but I also want to continue having a career. I worked hard for this career. I have a master’s degree (and a sh*t ton of debt) and I feel like I have skills to offer both in and out of the home and I want to use both skillsets. For me, that’s what I want. I don’t even have a kid yet and I already feel the societal judgment of being a woman who’s not just trying to work and raise children but actually wants to do both. As if I’m super selfish for wanting to be a parent and an employee when men get to do that all the time without judgment!
It’s not easy. Or at least so I’ve heard. Feeding and picking up kids from daycare and etc is hard. And parenting is just never going to be easy, no matter what. But I can’t help but think that it could be a lot different, for all parents, if we invested more resources into
work/life balance. If we provided more comprehensive parental leaves (for people of all genders). I know breastfeeding is hard but wouldn’t it be less hard if my partner were home with me to help while I struggle with the “joys” of new motherhood? Wouldn’t our families be better if we didn’t make women feel trapped as soon as they come to a point in
their lives where they’re even thinking of having a baby? If we actually gave women optimal choices and then respected their choices? If we acknowledged not all families have a mom and a dad but some have a single parent or two moms or two dads or two non-cisgender parents? If we acknowledged that these days some men are stepping up but many still are not, and wouldn’t a good cultural shift towards equitably shared parenting be providing leave for all parents?
I liked the article I referenced above because it’s a good start at acknowledging the complexities of maternity and the ways in which current leave policies hurt moms, and as a result, families. I appreciated that the article didn’t only feature straight, white women. But. There were still many women, cisgender or transgender, who were left out. We’ve got a long way to go to better things for moms and families. And inclusivity can’t be remiss as we continue the journey. Inclusive policies will, after all, be better for all families.