Few would deny that it is rather difficult to be a working woman in America, and hardly anywhere else. Part of this difficulty stems from the fact that most women either are mothers or plan to become those in the near future. For mothers, the choice to work is not that straightforward – they have to decide between realizing their potential in professional work and realizing their goal of raising healthy children with well-rounded personality development.
And what makes things worse for many is the absence of reliable child day care in many workplaces. The issue is particularly acute for working mothers whose income is barely enough to compensate for child care. If a woman does not compensate for baby sitting financially, does she have to go out and leave her children alone? For many families, the answer is a clear-cut “no”, not least because husbands, mothers-in-law and other relatives come in with their own cultural assumptions and ideas about how it should be.
A team of researchers from Georgia State University have researched the life-and-work balance in the lives of low-income mothers. Polling women in Columbus and Atlanta, the scientists have found most women to be stressed about their ability to pay for the child care that cost them from $75 to $150 per week (GSU:2). Moreover, in many cases, they were dissatisfied with the quality of care their children received. Many women had to tailor their professional plans to the need to combine work and child care, as well as day care availability.
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Two of the respondents in the GSU study “accepted stressful nighttime work schedules so relatives could care for the children while they sleep” (GSU:2). There was also one who retained the job she hated so that she could pay for the care for her child, and another one left the job she enjoyed to care for the baby when the day care price went up. These are important life choices, and women keep making them based on their family situation, or, more specifically, based on the quality of child care available.
Under these conditions, many women are under serious emotional pressure to stay home and attend to their children while simultaneously pressured by the intrinsic desire to take their career chances. The most pathetic is the story of one young mother whose child was born three months early and had to be fed through a tube for a while. Leaving the baby with her grandmother, this woman did not know that the old woman would get tired of the noise the machine made. When the baby had actually stopped breathing, the woman had to rush home from work and take her daughter to the hospital (GSU:2).
This scary example demonstrates exactly what kind of choices women have to make in order to remain both mothers and professionals. With all the discussion about childcare as an important issue for working women, some have raised the question of whether mothers should be granted free care by the state. Sonya Michel asks in her book Children's Interests/Mothers' Rights: The Shaping of America's Child Care Policy: "Why ... does universal child care, organized and supported by the government, remain an elusive social good in the United States? " (Michel 1999:1).
Examining the history of child care in the US, the author arrives at the conclusion that the real reason why this good remains elusive is that the rights of children are placed above women’s rights. As a result, many people believe it to be more important to create a friendly family environment than to provide women with opportunities for self-development. Day care centers originated as pastimes for affluent women in the nineteenth century that were motivated by the desire to take poor and disadvantaged children off the streets rather than make life easier for their poorer sisters.
The woman was to be a mother, and this role was emphasized most often. Against this background, more and more corporations seem to have realized that providing day care for their employees they help to retain talented female workforce and increase stability of their personnel. Day care facilities may soon become the norm in corporate America, something that will hopefully be a sign of progress on the front of women’s issues. Fewer women would have to balance their children with workplace issues to circumvent the limitations imposed by their family status.
On-site facilities that spring up in many corporate headquarters and branches are a sign of the increasing emphasis that employers place on the development of their workforce and commitment to diversity. One of the pioneers in this area was the Convergys Corporation, a customer care and billing services company, that opened a day care center in its Oklahoma City Office as early as December 1998. The office, 7,500 square feet in area, had enough capacity to house over 300 children at a time (Convergys Corporation 1998).
The opening of a new office made a difference in the daily schedules of over 1,100 employees (Convergys Corporation 1998). The company did not go about it alone – instead it partnered with Latchkey Child Services, Inc. , a company specializing in day care services. The professionals that have been in day care services since 1992 have the skills and expertise to deliver. With all the advances, the solutions to the long-term issue of working mothers finding a balance between attending to their kids and following their career path is still a long way ahead.
The day care market does exist in the US, but it is rather unbalanced, a situation that stems primarily from the division of this market into two separate branches: non-profit or government-subsidized care and private facilities. As is to be expected, “there is an excess of demand because tuition fees are set at a level below that of actual costs, while in the uncontrolled sector, fees are determined by supply and demand, and are higher than in the organizations' centers” (Malka 1990).
A lot of working mothers still cannot afford to pay the “private market” rate, and they cannot get into low-price subsidized care simply because there are not enough slots. Corporate day care centers are still limited in number so that only large corporations, and perhaps mostly those with a pro-women mentality, do have them after all. While in many nations the government has taken control of the situation, in the US child care is still predominantly in private hands. This makes the price of this care adhere to the market rules, and those who cannot afford it are basically on their own.
In the meantime, working mothers have to go to work with an uneasy feeling that something might happen to their child while they are away. In the culture where women have been child-raisers for centuries, making a choice to leave your child in the hands of a strange person is a tough issue. When costs and dubious quality are added to the decision-making process, it becomes only more difficult. Although women are already better off with the proliferation of day care centers, there is still a long way to go to achieve the maximum life-work balance for them.
Bibliography Convergys Corporation.
Convergys Corporation Opens Pilot Day Care Center. 1 December 1998. 4 October 2006 <http://www. convergys. com/news_release. php? y=1998&q=4&newsid=180>. Georgia State University. Child Policy Brief. 4 October 2006 <http://www. gsu. edu/~wwwghp/publications/children/childpolbrf/cpbworkmoms0102. pdf>. Malka, Irit. Day Care Centers and Working Mothers. Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, Jerusalem, 6 (July 1990). 4 October 2006 <http://www. iasps. org/irit1. htm>. Michel, Sonya. Children's Interests/Mothers' Rights: The Shaping of America's Child Care Policy. New Haven, Conn. : Yale University Press, 1999.
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