High Stakes


Forcing Evolution's Hand?

Babies are necessary to grown-ups.  A new baby is like the beginning of all things - wonder, hope, a dream of possibilities.
In a world that is cutting down its trees to build highways, losing its earth to concrete...
babies are almost the only remaining link with nature, with the natural world of living things from which we spring.

- Eda J Le Shan

Humans, it seems, evolved to respond to babies.  Society may push the young mother toward pursuit of a career, but the needs of her children generally weigh much heavier on her conscience than they do on the children's father.  Further, men in their 50s who have worked their way to the top of their professions can attract a young bride and start a family then, when they can afford to - usually without having a significant impact on their careers.

Women don't really have the same option.  To stop and raise children may have a huge immediate emotional reward, but has a life-long cost in terms of a woman's career advancement.  A woman's cumulative happiness doesn't seem to be significantly affected no matter which route she chooses.  Can the same be said for the lives of her spouse and children?

In Favour of Maternal Guilt

Guilt: the gift that keeps on giving.

- Erma Bombeck

by Betsy Hart

The cover of September's issue of Parents, a leading family magazine, promised tips under the title of "Guilt-Busters for Working Moms."  Such articles are a staple in parenting magazines, as ubiquitous in women's magazines now as were those "Lose 5 Pounds in 5 Days Eating What You Want" were not so long ago.  Both also share the same ring: they don't sound quite right, but they sell magazines nonetheless.

Obviously such articles are not addressed to single moms, or those women working full-time to put food on the table or a roof over their family's heads.  Guilt can only be possible if one has a choice.  So features like "Guilt-Busters for Working Moms" are clearly targeted at those mothers who've freely decided the "work or kids" struggle in favour of full-time work.

Typically, the article starts with why child-care doesn't hurt kids.  Here author Laurel Graeber, a contributing editor of Parents, cites a study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), which says a child's ability to form a strong attachment to his mother at 15 months of age is not affected by how young he is when he goes into child care, how many hours he spends there and so on.  It is, she says, more than anything else impacted by maternal sensitivity and responsiveness.  The study is extensive and respected.  So, voila, according to Graeber, no problem.

But not so fast.  Later results from the very same study show that more hours of non-maternal care were related to less sensitive play of the mother with the child at 6 and 36 months, more maternal negativity at 15 months, and less child affection toward the mother at 24 and 36 months!  No wonder.  Simply looking at the study intuitively, one must wonder how a mother can consistently show "sensitivity and responsiveness" to her child when she is out of his life for all but a few hours a day.

Graeber bounces over such concerns to focus on the how-tos of helping a child part with his mother.  She offers tips like asking the child, "What would help you feel better when we say goodbye?" and letting him select between two toys to bring to day care.  But what child would find such things a replacement for his mother's presence?

Then there are the moms themselves.  One reported her guilt was minimised by wearing a locket with her children's pictures in it.  Another took her favourite photo of her daughter and had it made into a computer mouse pad.  But somehow I doubt these strategies help a child feel closer to her mother.

You see Graeber - who went back to work just eight weeks after the birth of her second child and admits she felt hopelessly wrenched at the time - may be overlooking a very real possibility: that moms of young kids who pursue full-time careers when they have the choice not to should feel a bit, well, guilty.  At least as Dr Jay Belsky, one of the researchers in the NICHD study, told The New York Times, "It may be that some guilt and anxiety keeps you alert, vigilant and able to monitor the quality of (child) care.  Being cavalier about the effect of work turns out to be risky."

But maybe the most positive effect of legitimate guilt is to drive many working moms to consider possibilities like part-time work.  In fact, next to "guilt-busters" in this issue of Parents is an article titled "Can Part-Time Work Work for You?"  A chart helps a woman figure out what she spends on child-care, commuting, taxes and the other necessary costs of working full-time.  For many women, the net income they bring home amounts to surprisingly little.  But whether the issue is money or, understandably, wanting a professional life, it's never been easier for women to meet those needs than it is today by working part-time.  Often, given modern technology and opportunities, they can even do it from home.

But whatever the motivation, those of us who've chosen this route echo the sentiments of Debbie Sutton, a part-time worker who says being able to share more of those small, everyday moments with her son and daughter - from baking cookies to building a snowman - has more than compensated for any loss of income.  So instead of "Busting the Guilt," how about another article for full-time working moms entitled, "Trusting the Guilt - and Making Everyone Happier?"

Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached at mailtohart@aol.com.

Source: © Nando.net and Scripps Howard 25 Sept 1998

For most women, the opportunity to work part time from home never presents itself unless it comes in the form of piecework or minding other people's kids - perhaps not the most effective use of that Master's degree in Liberal Arts?  If women follow their instincts and stay home for awhile to raise their young children, they find themselves severely disadvantaged when they (re)enter the workforce.  For some problems, there IS no perfect solution...

I'd Like to Skill You

A Business Week survey of top men and women in business found half the women were divorced or never married.  Only half the married women had children.  But 95% of the men were married with children.

It's funny: people skills - including being able to motivate, resolve disputes, persuade, and inspire - are the same ones properly raising children reinforces in mothers.  Business schools don't come close.  Yet the business world doesn't seek out retired mothers to hire.  (A lot of today's social problems might be alleviated if they did.)

Free to Be Happy?

The only real failure in life is not to be true to the best one knows.

- Buddha

Granny Knew Best, Maybe

Has liberation made women happier?  After a century of fitful change in the developed world, the question is still being asked.  It is answered, to some extent, in the latest of The Economist's world polls, carried out by the Angus Reid Organisation.

The poll is based on interviews with more than 3,000 women in 11 mainly developed countries.  The results throw up something of a paradox.  Belief that the lot of women has improved, at least over the past two generations, is near-universal.  Of those interviewed, 93% said that they are in a better position than were their grandmothers.  Only in Mexico and South Africa did many women express doubts about that belief.  Yet, at the same time, a majority of all the women asked said that they believed themselves to be no happier than their grandmothers were.

Women have demonstrably not given up on the liberation ideal.  In all, 58% of the sample said that they should have all the rights and opportunities that men enjoy, and a further 24% said that they should have almost all.  In only two countries did women in large numbers recoil from wanting such equality.  In Japan, facing up to realities, only 21% wanted to be equal; in Switzerland, only 39%.

How much equality do women think they have achieved?  Only 8% of the sample thought that they had all the same rights as men.  A further 31% thought that they had almost all.  Against this, a hefty 37% grumbled that they had only some of them.

Then there is the happiness question. In fact, not many women feel that they are unhappier than their grandmothers' generation.  But if you add those who think they are less happy to those who will admit to being no more than equally happy, they outnumber those who think they are happier by 54% to 41%.  The elixir of happiness remains elusive.

Source: The Economist 9 October 1999

See also:

bulletGender Skills - Unsurprisingly, more men than women think achievement in business is what makes them happiest.  To achievement in business, women add in personal achievement and whether or not they make others happy.  Being dominant over everything you can (competition), and knowing clearly the local hierarchies (comparison) are generally more important to men (maybe because their brains are wired for spatial and mathematical placement).  Money, power, and fame are much more meaningful to the male.  Winning is worth sacrifice because it's a way of proving success...
bulletPlight of the High Status Woman - High-status women find themselves in competition not only with other high-status women but also with younger women of lesser education, in lower occupations.  The classic example is 30-ish female physicians who, having finished their rigourous training, are ready for marriage.  They find themselves up against slightly younger residents and interns along with a large pool of 20-something nurses and other health professionals.  Since the nurses and the physical therapists are in careers that can be disrupted and then picked up again, they may be more willing than the female physicians to stay home and raise children while their husbands pursue careers.
bulletThe Inevitability of Patriarchy - the physiological factors that underlie women's life-sustaining abilities - the qualities most vital to the survival of our species - preclude them from ever  manifesting the psychological predisposition, the obsessive need of power, or the abilities necessary for the attainment of the significant amounts of political power that men have...
bulletBefore Her Prime - Donatella Versace says she could never design clothes for a woman who does not work, "because a woman must have a relationship with the world.  And the only way to stay in tune is to work."

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