Leandra Preston-Sidler: Employers need to do more to help working moms

 It’s amazing how quickly humans adapt to changing circumstances. A few months ago I wrote about how challenging my first month of life was with a newborn — what many refer to as “baby boot camp,” a perfect term since you’re thrust into a new state of being where life is organized around one thing.

Now that I am back to work full-time and trying to write a dissertation and keep my house livable, boot camp has become how to get anything (or rather, everything) done with a very needy little one demanding all my time.

In my Women’s Studies classes, I teach about ”the second shift”: women working during the day and coming home to domestic responsibilities, essentially working two full-time jobs. It is more commonly called “doing it all,” one unplanned outcome from the women’s liberation movement.

While women gained access to the workforce (albeit still unequally), they also predominately maintain primary child-care and home responsibilities.

While we can rightfully cite stay-at-home fathers or egalitarian households to counter this notion, according to the Labor Department’s 2011 American Time Use Survey, men spend on average one third less time on housework and childrearing than women. Statistically, significantly more women are primary caregivers and do the majority of housework whether they work full-time.

My situation is unique because I teach online, which means working full-time from home. The upside is I do not spend a lot of my salary on childcare, but the downside is trying to work at home. When my husband is not home, I temporarily become a single parent. But even when he is home, I still find it hard to get everything done. I am luckier than some, because at least I have a willing partner in all of this.

However, this is not only about me, since many folks — men and women — work at home with children present without childcare. This is an issue of class as well as convenience. My position is a luxury, as childcare is not an option for many working parents but a necessity, whether they can afford it.

Excuse me for a moment. The baby is crying.

When I was pregnant, I was shocked at how things worked. I was permitted 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave. Unpaid parental leave seems like a penalizing oxymoron because having a baby means one needs pay more than ever.

My accrued sick time allowed me to receive a paycheck on leave but I was not sick. Being a teacher meant I could take off only six weeks or I would lose another semester, which extended beyond my allowance.

The United States is dreadfully behind other countries when it comes to taking care of folks on parental leave. Sweden and Norway have the best parental leave in the world — more than a year of combined pay for the mother and father. Canada provides a year at partial pay. The United States is the only industrialized nation that does not mandate that parents of newborns get paid leave.

Some argue that having a child is a choice, and institutions should not have to accommodate personal decisions. And it certainly is a choice.

But folks should be permitted to have children and still maintain careers.

Loyal employees should be supported whether we choose to have children. The fact is, many people have children — and the strength of professions is in long-term employees. Not being provided a more substantial leave after working for an employer many years is disheartening, particularly if the employees have never taken off for any other reason.

To equalize, maybe employers could offer a six or 12-week time off to non-parent employees every five years for personal benefit. Healthy employees mean healthy businesses.

Most days I juggle like a clown — grading, online discussions for class, attending meetings as needed, squeezing in dissertation research and writing, chairing committees, and whatever else work requires.

Then there is the baby. “Duty calls” has become “doodie calls.” She is my number one priority — but meeting expectations and deadlines, obviously, are important, too.

I have an exceptionally supportive work environment so I am better off than most and I want to excel in my career, but I do not want to create the impression that I am falling behind because I have a baby.

But I am falling behind on sleep. And personal time. And showers. And that pesky dissertation.

To first establish my career, I waited almost 40 years to have a baby. I don’t want to compromise that or the precious time with my baby in her first year of life. Because, as the Rolling Stones say, “You can’t always get what you want.”

But you can certainly try.

Leandra Preston-Sidler an instructor in the University of Central Florida’s Women’s Studies. She can be reached at [email protected]. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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