Friday, September 2, 2016

Coffee & Conversation: A Parent's Burden

A Parent’s Burden

They tell you early and often that having a child will change you forever. It’s a cliché because it’s the  truth. Mostly, it changes you in positive ways. I always said one of the main reasons I wanted to have kids was because I didn’t want to be center of my own universe anymore. It’s almost like I needed motherhood to humble me in ways I thought I needed. I’m only six months in, and boy, it certainly has been humbling. I feel as though someone took a chip out of my brain and replaced it with a new chip that only allows me to see things from a parent’s perspective. It’s a pinch of worry. It’s a dash of compassion. But mostly it’s a burden. It’s the best kind of burden, but I don’t know how else to describe it. 


Most people who have spent any time with me know that I used to be pretty darn conservative. I mean, I was once a card-carrying member of the GOP. Back then, my priorities were a strong foreign policy (terrorism paranoia) and fiscal responsibility (even though I had no money of my own at the time). I wasn’t taking a stand on social issues at all. I wanted the government to have a limited role in the lives of its citizens, both socially and economically and trusted that private enterprise would always yield a better work product or service if given the opportunity. I wasn’t pro-war, but I was scared of our enemies. 

And then I had a baby. You know, the old adage is “if you’re not liberal when you’re young, you have no heart. If you’re not conservative when you’re old, you have no brain.” I am not sure whether I am considered young or old for purposes of this quote, but I’ve liberalized. To be honest, I am not sure I have liberalized as much as my priorities have changed. Of course I still think fiscal responsibility and strong foreign policy are important, but I can no longer diminish the importance of social equality, equal access to justice, equal pay, immigration policy, the gender gap in wages, etc. I established a lot of my opinions as an unemployed student without a bill to my name. The paradigm shifted when I became a mom to contemplating what I want the world to be like for her. I don’t have all the answers or solutions, but, in general, I can get behind the idea of fewer guns. I want her to grow up in a world where women get paid as much as men for adding the same value to the workplace. I don’t want her absorbing discriminatory policies or practices that she witnesses in our country. We are trying to raise our girl to be kind, confident, safe, happy and independent and I want a political landscape that enables that.


I was listening to local sports radio host, Gary Parrish, this week and he was discussing he read the general concept of what you want for your children when you become a parent – wanting them to be okay and happy. One story was actually a Facebook post he read from a mom who was heartened by a Florida State (GO NOLES) football player visiting her son’s school, seeing her son eating alone and joining him for lunch. The other article was one about a kid who felt bullied at school and no teacher or administrator would help him. He ended up hanging himself at age 13 and leaving a note behind explaining his reasons for ending his life. This is extremely sad for any reader, but it strikes a different chord when you’re a parent. That is why I am so hell-bent on teaching Eila kindness and tolerance toward every one. I don’t want her to be a bully or cause anyone any pain. I don’t want her ever to think it is okay to assume she is better than someone or that the social hierarchy in grade school dictates anyone’s self-worth. I want to teach her to be confident in case someone else tries to tear down her little world with cruelty or harsh words. Eila might be a bookworm. Eila might be an athlete. Eila might be an introvert. Whatever Eila is, I need her to be secure in it. As a new mom, one of my largest concerns is the fragility of a child’s self-esteem. Good thing she is only six-months old. We have plenty of time to prepare. 


I guess it isn’t a word I throw around very often because it seems as though being an advocate for your gender to have equal opportunities is just a given, but it is no such thing. I live in a part of the country where there are still spoken and unspoken wars between stay-at-home moms and working moms. Some in each group have landed on their role by thoughtful and deliberate choice and desire. Others have landed on their role because the alternative was not a meaningful option. Many moms may really want to stay home, but their income is necessary to pay the bills. Many moms may want to go back to work, but the cost of childcare for multiple children outweighs what would be their take-home pay. Working moms worry about whether deciding to have a child will impact their ability to be promoted. Stay-at-home moms may worry that they will no longer be employable after years off from the work place. My point is this – far more often women are in the position to make huge sacrifices while men hold status-quo with minimal career disruption. 

We introduce daycare costs on couples when they are least able to afford it – our twenties and early thirties, and it is asinine to suggest folks opt out of having a family or delaying it because our corporate society governs our personal lives and financial well being. It’s messed up. Until men and women are making equal family sacrifices, women are going to feel this burden more strongly. Women have babies. Women go on maternity leave. I understand that time away from the office does not equal productivity or added value, but maternity leave is both a medical necessity and a bonding experience of which women do not want to be deprived. But depending on the company, the money runs out eventually and we saunter back to work hoping the impact of our absence doesn't derail us. As a woman, I am forced to navigate my ambition around obstacles that never show up for my male counterparts who have been welcomed into the business world for generations ahead of me and women collectively. There is a tremendous headwind women face in the workplace during motherhood and until our society's attitude changes on gender and parenting dynamic, a mother's value in the workplace will continue to be overshadowed, asterisked or altogether ignored. Let's fix it. 

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