The real mommy war is against the state

Caitlyn Collins, assistant professor of sociology in Arts & Sciences

 

Since 2011, I’ve interviewed 135 middle-class employed mothers in Sweden, Germany, Italy and the United States to understand their work-family conflict. (I spoke to mothers specifically because in wealthy nations, mothers have historically been the focus of work-family policies and they’re still responsible for most housework and child care. They report greater work-family conflict and they use work-family policies more often than men.) And I had a personal interest: I’d watched my own mother struggle to navigate her work and family obligations — a decade-long juggling act that involved occasionally toting my sister and me to boardroom meetings to nap in sleeping bags when babysitters fell ill or schools closed. Years later, it seemed as though the conflict hadn’t eased for many of my peers.

In the United States, almost every woman I interviewed had reached the same conclusion: It was her — or her and her partner’s — responsibility to figure out child care, cobble together a leave of absence (often unpaid), get on a preschool waiting list, find a babysitter, seek advice from friends and acquaintances, and engineer any number of other highly improvised coping techniques. In the lawyer’s case, this meant, among other things, joining a less-prestigious firm that demanded fewer hours and finding the right hands-free breast pump to multitask in her cubicle. The common thread in every conversation was that the parents had to solve their problem themselves, no matter how piecemeal the solutions.

Read the full piece in The New York Times.

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