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Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Child care isn't for chumps

I know a lot of people out there pooh-poohed Judith Warner's cover story in Newsweek, but if you just focus on the women pining for the "best camps," and the "right ballet class" for their kids, you miss a very important part of the article.

Jody over at Raising WEG did a thorough job of summing up the activity around Warner's article. Jody's round-up points to blogs that accuse the article of featuring "overparenting," "superparenting," and "mommy stupidity."

Many of those posts were so focused on those women trying to be super moms, like the anchorwomen who leaves for work at 3:30 am so that she can be home by the time her daughter is waking up. However, there were two points to the article: 1) Women are going insane trying to be the best moms possible, and 2) there is a problem with child care in this country.

Finding good, affordable, and reliable child care is a ongoing struggle for parents. During the winter, every day it snows is a craps shoot for parents. If a child gets a snow day or if a child is sick and needs to be sent home from school, what do working parents do? It often forces parents "to juggle a host of unpalatable options - stay home from work, bring kids to the office, foist them on the neighbors, hire an unfamiliar sitter," wrote Maggie Jackson, a columnist for the Boston Globe earlier this month.

Finding good backup care is the bane of working parents, and by some yardsticks the picture's getting bleaker. Although parents lose an estimated five to eight days annually due to child-care breakdowns, just 9 percent of companies offer backup care, down from 14 percent in 2001, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

We need corporations to be more family-friendly. And if it takes government tax incentives to make companies offer flexible hours, telecommuting, more part-time work, and on-site child care, as Warner suggested, then I'm for it 100 percent. We need affordable, quality child care, so that women can work and not have the cost of child care be more than what they can earn working. We need to offer part-time workers affordable health insurance benefits. That way they don't have to choose between working full time and getting benefits, but having their kids in daycare full time, or being at home with the kids, without benefits if their partners don't have coverage, or if they don't have partners. These are real issues that affect lots of women.

We can pretend that problem doesn't exist, but that doesn't make it go away. Women want to work. Women want to contribute. Even at-home moms (and dads) want to work and contribute. There were pieces of the article that were called out and attacked, but in the process, a lot of people missed the bigger picture.

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