State of the Union 2014- Doing Away with the Mad Men

I rarely have time to pay attention to politics, but about a 1/2 hour before the State of the Union address this evening, my phone blew up and every news app I have reminded me it was about to start. I was cooking dinner, so I went ahead and opened one of my news apps and watched it. I don’t want to get into my opinions on the president or anything else really, but I did want to address this specific paragraph with you:

“A woman deserves equal pay for equal work,” Obama said. “She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship –- and you know what, a father does, too. It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a ‘Mad Men’ episode.”

It literally made me giddy with excitement that finally someone was addressing these issues.  Admitting that a FATHER has a right to be called home from work, too?? That’s unheard of! Both the mother AND the father have the right to stay home and care for their children without the fear of losing their jobs or running into financial hardships as a result. Our system is wildly unfair to both parents compared to other areas of the Western world regarding family/maternity/paternity leave and the idea that someone might actually try to fix that… oh man, it just lights me up with happiness!  Not only does he say he wants to address that, but he also wants to give mothers the ability to feel that they can have a job, be successful AND raise a family.  That’s awesome!
As a supervisor for a call center once upon a time, I know how hard it was for our CSRs to feel safe taking time off for their kids.  We only got so many days to take off for sick time and during peak season, every employee needed those approved days so it was hard to take the time.  So often I would get the 5am calls from team members that would go a little something like this, “Um… Janelle?  I’m so sorry to call you so early and bother you… um… my baby has a fever… I really don’t think I should leave her with a sitter today, is that okay??” Every call like this broke my heart for them.  Every time a scared, sleep deprived mother had to make that degrading 5am phone call to me, a childless 20-something, barely just married and no concept of what its like to raise a baby and have to work, it would hurt my heart for them and I’d immediately say “of course, sweetheart! Do what you need to do!”  Then, at the end of the month when the numbers for attendance were tallied, I’d have to count those days against them, leave them out of incentive programs and if there were too many, they’d end up with a warning.  It was brutal and sad and I hated it.  With these experiences weighing on my heart, I heard him say he wants to help mothers to not have to fear making that 5am call.  And maybe, it would allow employers and supervisors the ability to grant this time off without knowing in the back of their minds that they’d probably end up with a write up at the end of the month.  That would be incredible, right? Wow… such an awesome plan…

As I was standing at the stove, exhausted after spending a day cleaning houses to make my grocery money, watching my 3 year old son teach my 1 year old daughter how to hold a plastic light saber and run around the living room with my husband who was beyond exhausted from work, I listened to all the talk of how life can only get better now for everyone- the request to pay people living wages, the honoring of soldiers who have sacrificed so much and helping families maintain a quality of life even during hard financial times through the Affordable Healthcare Act.  It all seemed to uplift and ease the anxiety… for just a moment.

Then… After the speech ended and dinner was eaten, as I was cleaning up while walking over piles of clothes that I’m sorting for a consignment sale so I can help pay bills, I began to think about it- he’s still implying that both parents are working.  He’s praising, encouraging and supporting a system that considers households with two working parents a standard and he wants to do whatever he can to make that easier.

Our system has slowly crept up to the place it’s in now… one where you really have to be in the upper middle class or higher in order to comfortably raise a family on a single income, yet according to the graph above, higher income households are less likely to choose to have a single income household.  So, who does this truly benefit?  People who can be comfortable and raise a family on a single income seem to be in scarce supply these days. Now, don’t misunderstand, by “comfortable” I’m not talking about having extra money to do whatever you want and buy anything you please, I simply mean comfortable in the sense that a mother wouldn’t have to worry about being able to buy groceries till next Friday and a father wouldn’t have to worry about doing without medical coverage because the car broke and they had to use the extra money to fix it instead of paying that bill.  By comfortable, I just mean being able to pay bills and buy things when they need them, not after 4 months of saving.  Comfortable like they could maybe afford a pet without having to pray they never get sick because the vet bills would be too high or being able to manage the monthly bills while putting money away for college at the same time.  Comfortable in the sense I mean, is in our society today, considered a luxury on a single income and although this statement does address a huge piece of the problem; that both parents currently don’t get ANY respect in the workplace and they should have a right to care for their children without fear of “hardship”, the fact is, so many parents reluctantly and woefully have had to return to work after having babies because they simply cannot afford to stay home. They have had to step away from their lives as stay at home parents because without both parents actively contributing, the hardship would be devastating.

This demoralizing reality was never addressed.  The reality that causes a parent who WANTED to stay home to have to return to work in the first place was never brought up. He said, “She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job” which is great, for mothers who want to be working moms and don’t mind that lifestyle, but what of the mother who wants to stay close to her babies and not sacrifice her ability to raise her own children just to pay the bills because a single income won’t cut it anymore?  What of her right to do so and remain a stay at home mom?  Do we not care about her or that right anymore? I’m all for equal rights, equal pay and treating both sexes and their responsibilities as parents fairly in the workplace, but once I considered the big picture, a question began to formulate; Does stepping away from the “Mad Men” also step away from the notion that it’s okay to WANT to stay home?  I mean, Mad Men is all about the social standards of an age when we had very clear and defined gender roles and women in the home were respected for doing that job, but it was hard because women as a whole were NOT respected at all, in pretty much any venue.  After I really gave it some thought, the notion of doing away with the Mad Men mentality started to mean more to me than just sexism in the workplace.  Are we also doing away with mothers taking care of their kids?  Is the idea of paying a day care going to be expected? Are we exchanging the full time mom or dad for a full time employee who also just happens to be a parent? What will become of our culture if this standard where two, full time working parents becomes the acceptable and only standard in the US while being a full time parent at home is only left for the upper classes who can afford it? What will that kind of society really look like? Will our sons and daughters even have the option, or will it be a thing of the past, a standard seen as old fashioned and unAmerican?

My questions have no current answers and some people say we’ve already reached that point… I don’t agree, but I believe continuing to support working moms while ignoring the needs of the single income family with only one working parent will certainly get us there faster.  Whether you are a working at home mom or a working at work mom, you have a right to feel safe and protected either way. I know staying at home with the babies is not for everyone, but most people I know who work with babies at home or in day cares wish they didn’t have to.  I believe we all deserve to make that choice and right now we still can, but for how long?  Doing away with the Mad Men might mean equality, but it also might mean the end to respect for a single income household and the desire to raise one’s own family.  Scary thought… I’ll try not to focus on that, “borrowing tomorrow’s problems” as a friend put it and I will strive to have hope for our future and the continued freedom of each parent to make those choices.

Moms truly can do anything and we should be focusing on creating a nation where we are given the liberty to do anything. Does tonight’s speech indicate a change for the worse, or for the better for the modern, stay at home mom?  Will we turn into a double income household society, or is there hope for those parents who would rather be home?  I would love to hear your voices on this one!

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