I'm what I would call a "work-at-home Mama." My friends are more or less split down the middle, with 50 percent working outside the home and 50 percent who don't. A close friend of mine, is about to return to work after a two-year hiatus, and it's practically giving her an ulcer. These decisions--leaving a career that you love and have worked for, or leaving children you love and have worked for--are never easy and the debate over what we Mamas should do with our lives, our careers and our families has raged for decades.
A "familiar" voice is weighing in on this old argument. British psychologist Penelope Leach has written a new book, Child Care Today: Getting It Right For Everyone, out this month. (Nell Casey reviews it in the February issue of Cookie Magazine, but the review is not yet available online.) Leach's perspective is not an indictment of women who struggle to make the best choices they can for themselves and their families, but rather a criticism of our system, which offers few choices and even less financial assistance for child care to women and families.
That this argument--"mommytrack" vs. "career woman"--is raging anew is, in itself, an interesting twist for us Gen-X parents. A favorite author of mine, Susan Gregory Thomas, has observed that "as a 2004 study of generational differences concluded, 'Generation X went through its all-important, formative years as one of the least parented, least nurtured generations in U.S. history.' " (The emphasis is mine.) But instead of turning into incapable and disinterested parents, we've swung the pendulum in the opposite direction. It is us Gen-X parents for whom the term "attachment parenting" was coined. Because of our deep connection to our children and our fear of making them feel "abandoned," the stakes have been raised exponentially. And deciding to go back to work is, for many of us, a decision over which we agonize, worry and, sometimes, berate ourselves or each other.
But this is, as Leach points out, "the wrong question." No fan of crowded day care, but understanding the need or desire many women have to work outside the home, Leach offers up creative ideas for making personalized, attentive child care an affordable reality for those who need it.
I'm eager to read this book and digest Leach's ideas. There's no question--especially in the midst of a faltering and uncertain economy--that we need a change. There's no question that women and children deserve more and better options than the ones currently available. After all, we're talking about the future here. And we all know just how important our kids are to us.