Being a woman has many advantages, ranging from the ability to experience multiple orgasms, having a greater variety of shoes to choose from, to the gift of being a mother. The experience of incubating life can feel magical except for the potential hazards of morning sickness, stretch marks, hemorrhoids, and the reality that this growing being is going to burst from your favorite body part despite a major size discrepancy. But once you hold your baby for the first time you know that the unique bond of mother and child was well worth the physical challenges. Yet, for the modern woman, many of us will have to address still another series of sacrifices; choosing between your career and your child.
For the greater part of the human saga, deciding between your work and your baby was not a conundrum women had to face. Women depended on each other, worked side-by-side mothering all children, and life was truly communal rather than moments of manufactured interaction. The main female responsibility was tending to the home front where the children would be integrated into the women's many tasks. Women were building huts, grinding wheat, making clothes out of animal whiskers, all while the kids played and observed these skills. The way the community was set up allowed mothering while working, since the entire system was dependent on women being able to do both.
We went from a culture that focused mainly on the basic needs of survival to one where all our creature comforts are mass-produced by machines. The work we used to do to stay alive has been transformed into working to make money to buy the stuff we used to do ourselves. All our needs are the same -- food, water, shelter, skinny jeans -- but the way we spend our time acquiring them is drastically different.
At one point the social pressure was on men alone to make the money to buy the stuff, and the work force they shaped was not designed to respect the father-child relationship. Maybe this was because men were used to being away from their offspring during the day -- hunting, warring, raping, and pillaging? Now women are a part of this same system, yet nothing has changed despite a 6-week maternity leave and dirty looks from your colleagues the second you start showing. I don't know about your baby, but mine was still pretty pathetic at 6-weeks and definitely could not take care of herself. So then you have to ask yourself "Who is going to raise my baby while I am at work? Am I going to work full time? Part time? Can I afford to be a stay-at-home mom? How am I going to divide my time and how will that decision affect me and my baby?"
These are deep philosophical issues that have no right or wrong answer, but the fact that we are put in the position to ask these questions is the real problem. Having babies is an inevitable part of our anthropological story and, although I am not a historian, I think it is going to keep happening. It is not just the mother who suffers the stress of having to choose between work and her children, but also the father who feels even more pressure to provide for a family he hardly has the time to know. Rather than denying the impact of two working parents on a family, it is time to figure out a system that honors the complexities of child rearing and employment. Instead of businesses expecting parents to be inventive managing their working and parenting lives, it should be the responsibility and innovation of the employer to integrate parenting into their employee relations. If politicians are going preach the importance of family values, there should be government regulation ensuring that businesses prioritize the time parents need to spend with their children. It is time to re-think how to better a system that is forcing a generation of children to be raised by strangers.
Even though I am sure we all appreciate the luxuries of modern times, what is the point of technical advances like iphones, Skype, video conferencing, or shared operating systems, if all we use them for is to work more on the weekends? We should be exploiting such knowledge to improve our emotional lives as well as our monetary ones in view of all the possibilities technology provides. If modern machinery is smart enough to create a glow-in-the-dark-cloned-cat, I am sure we can figure out how to better use technology to integrate our working and familial selves.
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