This is World Kindness Week. There is so much unkindness happening every second all over the world that it's overwhelming. So, let's just focus on our country. Can't go there -- same problem. I've always believed in starting small and building, so let's think about our families. American families could sure use a huge dose of kindness these days.
Last December, I gave one of those family values posters to my kids and made a copy for myself. I thought this list was a good one for my grandkids to see:
I know "family values" can also be loaded phrase. Depending on where you fall politically, you may think they include or reject the following:
- Same sex marriage
- Single parent households
- Access to family planning and abortion
- Religious observance
- Equal pay for equal work
- Saying no to drugs
- Working hard
- Paying your fair share
Regardless of political persuasion, I think we can all agree on a few basics. How much kinder would life be if parents could...
- See their spouses and children at least a few times a week
- Have a minimum of one week of family vacation time, preferably paid
- Not have to work 60+ hours a week or more than one job to survive
- Be allowed to leave work if their spouse or child has a medical emergency
- Receive some paid family leave time when welcoming a new baby to their lives
- Not be on call 24/7 and expected to go into work on a moment's notice
- Be spared from having their family's health insurance terminated the minute their boss decides "your job no longer exists" or "your contacted work is finished"
I'm amazed by how much family life changed in my lifetime. It's pretty hard to love, share, enjoy, hug, laugh with and listen to your family when you are never home. Working hard and paying your taxes does not protect you from being laid off or outsourced. Job security no longer exists, regardless of work ethic or talent.
When I was growing up in the '50s, most families had fathers who came home in the evening and were around on weekends. They often stayed at the same job for their entire careers, earning a gold watch and gratitude upon retiring at age 65. Middle class families could live modestly in their own homes on a single salary, making it possible for mothers to be at home to raise their children.
Of course, many women felt stifled by this lifestyle. My generation of women was told we should go to college and have careers. But it was still possible for us to live for a time on one income. What I earned enabled us to have the extras. And then, something happened.
My children and their children no longer have this security or lifestyle. Both parents need to work full-time to support the family. Jobs can end in a split-second. Work expectations for both parents cut deeply into family time.
In the Chicago Tribune Health & Family Section on November 5, Heidi Stevens wrote about the exhaustion of working mothers. Citing statistics of 1,000 working moms from a care.com survey, Stevens noted that today's mothers work 37 hours per week outside the home and 80 hours per week at home. 35% feel like they are always behind. 25% cry alone at least once a week over their stressful lives.
Unfortunately, Stevens's solution -- hire help -- is not an option for lots of moms who have to use whatever money they have beyond the basics of food and shelter to pay for child care so they can work those 37 hours. Once they subtract that cost from their wages to see what they are really earning, they probably don't have the time or energy to read books like Knowing Your Value by Mika Brzezinski, co-host of Morning Joe, or Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. Speaking up and advocating for themselves in the work place would be nice, if only they could be sure they would not lose their jobs. Many mothers feel lucky to be able to return to work after taking as little of their unpaid 12 weeks of maternity leave as possible. For most modern working moms, books that encourage women to demand a seat at the table with men and to takes risks to achieve their goals are not particularly relevant. Sadly, their only goal is surviving until the next day.
If you think things are better for the average dad, they're not. While most of them don't put in anything close to 80 hours per week working at home, they may be working that many hours or more at one or more jobs. If you think the key to getting out of this rut is education, think again. I know plenty of highly educated professionals who are worked to death and underpaid. And part of what they earn has to go to paying off the student loans that enabled them to get a job with no security that it won't end or be outsourced.
I worry about my children and grandchildren. What kind of a world have we left them? What family values will be possible for them? How did we go so far astray in this country that I have to write a rant asking for kindness for our families?