Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Seattle

Back from a long, jam-packed three days in Seattle, where I both talked about my book, and heard people's stories, most of my readings and events being times for us to talk aloud in public. Here are some of the more poignant moments, good and bad.

At a reading last wednesday night at Third Place Books in Ravenna, a new mother was there who had recently moved to the US from Vancouver. She was shell-shocked, not just because she was the mother of an infant, but because she couldn't believe the lack of support for mothers in the U.S. And she wasn't just talking about general, informal support. She was referring to solid things like paid family leave, and state-supported daycare. When a few days later I was in Vancouver and some of the islands of the coast, I found the same thing among mothers who had moved back and forth between Canada and the US--a sense of shock at the difference.

At a luncheon I did last thursday at the University of Washington Law School, I learned lots about how women in their twenties are doing motherhood. I was surprised, because when I was a graduate student, there were no women at Duke law school who were pregnant. Yet, things have changed, and women headed for a professional track no longer feel that to succeed they must put off childrearing till they've acheived professional success. I think this sense of entitlement will be part of what fuels change (and more on this, later). At UW, I learned that 10% of the students enter with kids, and by the third year, 20% of the students have children (this includes men and women). During my talk, someone referred to the remote room, and after, the organizer of the talk brought me to see it. When the new law school was built several years back, it was designed so that every classroom is high tech and wired for video and sound. On the second floor, there is a room filled with four stations, each with headphones and a TV monitor, where students can watch and listen to the lectures. So, if they need to breastfeed, or they have infants, or their daycare falls through, they can sit there, with kids, and still see and hear the lecture. There are two lactation rooms, one with a monitor, and plans are underway to install a hospital grade pump, so that nursing students need only bring their own tubes, and they can nurse quicker and faster than ever. There are some cribs, a small bed and toys, a refrigerator and some other kitchen appliances. What struck me is how easy it is to make student-parents feel welcome, and to do something so simple that immeasurably improves their lives. What struck me, too, is how it helps student-parents feel a sense of community and support, rather than the marginality and isolation they feel elsewhere. Kudos to the University of Washington Law School for setting such an amazing example.

8 comments:

chip said...

The great thing about Canada is that it proves that it actually is possible to have a society that is supportive of parents! Glad your Seattle tour went so well. And the U of W Law School facilities sound amazing!

Anonymous said...

Boy, did this hit home. Six months ago, I moved to Portland, Oregon from Vancouver, BC, where I had my daughter 19 months ago. (I'm a US citizen.) I was indeed shocked at the difference. My sojourn into full-time work as a communications director at a non-profit revealed that I was the only young mother in a management position, and therefore family-friendly posturing was just that--a 40-hour work week was a fantasy. I'm now moving back to Vancouver, where I can afford to work part-time--and commit energy to my most important job, mothering--due in part to state-sponsored health care.

Canada is not perfect for families. Child care is just as expensive and I know firsthand some employers discriminate against mothers. But it is easier to balance, and you can take a year off for maternity leave--with up to 60% of your pay. Additionally, there is a different attitude toward work. 40 hours a week is considered a full commitment, even in political work.

I moved back to the US to dig in and try to work toward social change where it's needed. But I've decided the first places to start a revolution are in your heart and in your home. And I'm too tired to do it at the end of a 60-hour work week with no support.

Anonymous said...

As impressed as I am with the UW facilities, those folks will have a rude awakening when they get to the real world of legal practice. I hope they get angry enough that they help the rest of us gen-X lawyers foment some change in the system - but after almost 4 years of butting my head against what I see as a wall of deliberate ignorance in one of the reputedly more "family friendly" law firms in the country, I'm beginning to run out of steam . . .

Anonymous said...

hey -- I'm at the UW, and it's interesting to hear about facilities at the law school that I'd never heard of I'm at the medical school, on the faculty. I don't think anything similar exists for us. But, as another poster said, the critical question is what happens to the UW students who are taking advantage of (relatively) family friendly policies here,when they graduate? UW does pride itself on being "friendly"; in our department, several grad students have had several babies while doing their degrees, but the 4 I'm personally familiar with are not on the tenure-track path, and never will be, even though 3/4 graduated. So, the students are decided that they're not going to put off their lives until they start their careers, but what careers will they end up having?

I don't know, and I worry. We're seeing these students chose a different path. Who knows where it will lead?

bj

[sorry for the blog post, and sorry I missed you here]

Miriam Peskowitz said...

I agree, these small places that are family friendly don't change the big picture, they just make some parts of it better. I too worry about what happens to graduate students who have children, and while they can get through school, can't truly compete with those who don't have kids, and can devote more professional time.

And to the person running out of steam--we're all running out of steam, which is why we must summon strength and get mad. Mad enough to make things change.

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