You arrive at work with peanut butter on your skirt and spit up on your shoulder. You duck into the bathroom to apply the lipstick you didn’t have time for this morning, and arrive at your desk just a few minutes late. The baby was up all night. Then, things get worse.
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You open up your email to find three messages from your boss; the first is from last night. He needs you to redo a report by noon today that you thought you finished yesterday. Plus, you need to get this morning’s work tasks finished.
Katrina Alcorn, author of Maxed Out: American Moms on the Brink, discusses the dilemmas facing working mothers. She points out that the reality of being a working mother means always having to say, “I’m sorry.” Working mothers are sorry because they need more time to finish their reports, sorry because they can’t make a meeting, sorry because they have to leave to pick up their children, or sorry because they have to ask the babysitter to stay longer.
You can’t please everybody, but working mothers are expected to do just that.
There are loads of articles with titles like 10 Ways to Achieve Work-Life Balance, but most advice places responsibility for doing it all squarely on the mother’s shoulders. Often, that responsibility comes with blame. If she works full-time, or has more than one job, she is faulted for not being there for her children. If she stays home, she is faulted for being a drain on society. (Unless, of course, she is lucky enough to have resources.)
Mothers get the brunt of it, but many fathers are overworked and stressed out as well. Lack of sleep and multitasking are just two of the reasons why parents forget to drop off their children at daycare on their way to work, leading to tragedy. Everyone suffers from the pressure: the poor and the wealthy, the educated and the dropouts, the absentminded and the “type-A” personalities.
Our society would benefit from compassion for working families. The economy would not implode if employers gave workers lighter schedules and reasonable wages. In Japan, the highest-paid worker may only make a certain percentage more than the lowest paid worker in any company. In France, workers have more time off and enjoy more benefits than in America, and their economy is just fine.
We are running our families here in America into the ground. The declining birthrate shows that many people are answering this dilemma by having fewer kids, or not having kids at all. But there are more reasonable solutions to the problems facing us than for working families to cease to exist.
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