11/23/2008 02:24 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"Mommy Trap" Author: Supporting Families Not A Priority For McCain

This issue of working families with children is always a contentious one in this country. As the number of working and highly educated women has drastically increased over the last forty years, anxiety has grown over how to best to raise children. The feminist legacy initially mandated that a woman could do it all, work and take care of the children alone with little help from the father, whose role was to "bring home the bacon." But a new modified feminism recognizes the impossibility of doing it all well and advocates more of a choice for women.

In order to pursue that choice, of staying home with the children, or going back to work, or taking extended maternity and paternity leave, women and families look for options that will allow them to make the appropriate choices for their families.

The topic of working women with children, in particular, and family support hasn't gained a great deal of attention. OffTheBus asked Julie Shields, author of How to Avoid The Mommy Trap, how she thought the candidates stack up on the issue of working mothers/families and children. Shields has spoken nationally on television and radio and has extensively studied the issue of the affect of working parents on children.

In writing your book, what did you conclude about government's role in securing a healthy balance between being a mother and working woman?

Julie Shields: Real change will not occur until three things happen: the workplace must change, families must change, and society must change. Given that the U.S currently has one of the worst family and parental leave policies of all industrialized nations, there is much that the government can and must do to support parents of young children, including paid leave for both parents during the first year after birth. Until our government falls in line with the rest of the modernized world, we will continue to force either/or choices on parents and children, and provide little support for families with working parents, or at-home parents. It will be difficult for society and the workplace to change unless our laws also change.

In what way can the government be of assistance and fall in line with the rest of the developed world?

In addition to paid parental leave, paid maternity leave before the birth of a baby is a health measure which yields measurable benefits. Encouraging part-time work and providing health insurance for all would also help as too often parents need to choose between finding time for their family and being able to insure them.

What has been status of working women with children since the Bush Administration?

Women still earn far less than men and many working mothers have been affected by the economic downturn. In addition, the Bush administration has sought to make the Family Medical Leave Act, commonly known as FMLA harder for workers to use. The Supreme Court, aided by Conservative Bush appointees, has made it more difficult for women to sue under the Equal Pay Act of 1963.

How do you believe Senator McCain will fare as president in this issue? Will working women and families with children will be a priority in a McCain- Palin Administration

I am not sure that supporting families with children is a priority of John McCain's. His economic plan will give tax cuts to the wealthiest, most of whom are not the types of families that family leave and middle-class tax cuts seek to aid. In addition, McCain recently avoided voting on a bill to ensure that women can sue for equal pay for equal work, the "Ledbetter Bill." In opposing the bill, he said, that what women really need is "education and training, particularly since more and more women are heads of their households, as much or more than anybody else.."

Of course, McCain's answer ignored the fact that the bill would protect women with equal education and training as higher-earning male coworkers. McCain would probably not differ much from the Republican platform of protecting employers; his long record does not reveal support of FMLA, child care subsidy, and other issues of concern to working parents. Finally, McCain has indicated that he would continue to fill vacancies on the Supreme Court with conservative justices, which would further limit the rights and interests of working families if recent Supreme Court jurisprudence is any indication.

I ask the same question with regard to Senator Obama ? Will working families with children be a priority in Obama´s administration?

Barack Obama is a Democrat, and he seeks to expand FMLA. As a parent of two young girls with a working wife, he does "get it" in a way that McCain, with his heiress second wife and Republican background, does not. In this case, the Democrats tend to be more interested in protecting families and workers and Republicans less interested in such laws and policies. Both Obama and McCain hew to party lines with respect to these issues.

What would you say is the most important aspect of any new administration with regard to families with children?

Anyone who cares about bringing US family policy out of the third world and enacting support for families should vote for Barack Obama. In addition, improving the quality of child care, making it easier for parents to stay home or work flexibly, and ensuring high-quality education for all should be priorities. In an ideal world, a new administration would look into why the cost of a college education so far outpaces inflation and seek creative ways to change that, including encouraging universities to use their endowments for need-based scholarships rather than sitting on them and letting them grow. The cost of a college education, coupled with an inability for many college graduates to find jobs after college, is squeezing many American families.

I imagine you feel the same about healthcare in this regard?

Providing healthcare to all, or healthcare which is not employer based, would help families to find better options. Many couples stay in jobs with more hours than they need or want to work because it is the only way for them to have health insurance. But given the lack of good childcare available, they may be sacrificing crucial elements of their children's development for insurance. It is a dilemma for many and millions others do not have the luxury of having health care, which more progressive countries treat as a right.

OffTheBus is publishing a variety of stories that cover the policy differences between Senators John McCain and Barack Obama. If you have a policy expertise and would like to participate, please see Calling All Policy Gurus.