If You Could Change One Thing, What Would it Be?

The third in a seven-part series by Family Forward Oregon; written by Lisa Frack.

Our conversation during this week’s “High Cost of Motherhood” discussion + action group ended with a question to which we all, understandably, had different answers: If you could change one thing about the public policies that affect how motherhood works (or doesn’t work!) for you personally, what would it be? Of course our answers depended on our individual circumstances, but together they make a pretty good list of the changes many mothers need:

One stay-at-home mom would stop penalizing mothers for caring for kids full-time. There is an opportunity cost for moms who step out of the workforce to care for kids – even if it’s only for a short time. One survey of 200 mothers with MBA degrees found that those who took an average of only 8.8 months out of the job market were less likely to reach upper-middle management and earned 17 percent less than comparable women who had no employment gaps. Another economic analysis in England estimated that a typical middle-class British mother of two forfeits almost half of her potential lifetime earnings. No wonder motherhood is a leading predictor of poverty in old age.

There are creative solutions to this opportunity cost, such as: (1) enabling stay-at-home mothers to earn social security benefits, which they also forfeit while out of the workplace; and (2) enabling mothers who receive government support to count caring for their own small children as “work,” instead of the current rule that only counts paid work toward a work requirement.

One unemployed new mother hopes for onsite childcare when she returns to work. Having childcare near your work makes it easier to keep nursing once you return to work, keeps kids closer to you in the event of an emergency, and makes commuting far more efficient.

It’s worth noting that while employer-provided childcare can work, relying on employers to “do the right thing” isn’t a full answer for all parents, plus it is an expensive endeavor that only certain types and sizes of employers can provide. A problem with it is if you change jobs, does your child then change childcare providers, too? One idea is mapping “childcare deserts” like people are now mapping food deserts, so we start by knowing where there are plenty to serve workers and where there aren’t. Urban planning regulations often require a certain number of parking spots per square foot of an office building – why treat cars better than young children?

An employed mom with two part-time jobs would like to have health care for herself; her two kids are on OHP. It is terrific that the state of Oregon offers health insurance to all uninsured children. But, the fact remains that for parents, health insurance is cheapest when provided through the workplace. Because many mothers work part-time jobs to be able to care for their children and reduce childcare costs, they aren’t eligible for health insurance, which often kicks in at 30 or 40 hours per week. We read a good bit on the negative impacts part-time work can have on employees’ pay and promotion rates, even though for many mothers it is a preferred option that enables them to support and care for their children while staying connected to the workforce, which matters for their long-term earnings potential.

As for me, someone who thinks about the public and workplace policies that affect parents a lot, the one thing I would change – now that I have a 6- and 9-year-old – would be to shift our current, agrarian school calendar to something that jibes better with today’s families real lives. The typical employee gets two to three weeks of vacation annually, while most students are out of school for a full four months. The childcare/summer camp costs are exorbitant; lower-income kids who aren’t enrolled in high-quality, expensive camps fall behind; and parents need and want to spend time with their children rather than sending them to camp five days a week while they work. There have been experiments with alternative schedules and there is research on their success and impact on parents.


Next Week’s Conversation:

Next week we tackle the care economy: Caring for children, the elderly the sick and disabled is not seen as work in our culture. However, it is critical to the functioning of our economy and society. How can we redefine work to include care?


Share Your Thoughts:

What would YOU change if you could change just one thing about the public policies that affect motherhood?

1 Comment so far

  1. Sattie Clark8:54 am on April 25, 2012

    We need high quality education year round, paired with high quality, fun, free after school kid care. Now that our economy requires dual incomes of most families, who’s taking care of the kids? To provide this quality education and kid care, we need stabile funding. I don’t see any way around a sales tax for Oregon. We just need to make sure it’s structured in a way that doesn’t hurt poor and working families.

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