Tuesday, September 20, 2005

On My Mind

So this is what's on my mind--how do we take all the thoughts of moms and dads everywhere, their love for their kids, their visions of a saner life of parenting, their frustration at the workplaces and government policies that make this harder than it should be, and move forward toward real change?

At the Barnard event last week, Lisa Belkin put it very succinctly: How do break out of the constant cycless of confusion, hope and disappointment that mothers in particular keep facing in our nation's history?

And me, I've been in so many rooms and discussions over the past five months since my book came out. I've listened to mothers in bookstores, living rooms, radio call-ins, library meeting rooms, and more, talk with great earnestness, and with anger. Yet as one mom said to me after a mother's salon in Maplewood, New Jersey: we talk about this all the time, and nothing changes.

After the Barnard panel, I woke in the middle of the night. The question going through my mind was: what if nothing changes? what if nothing changes, and all the frustrations stay the same? What if mother's american rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness aren't really our rights? What if we aren't fighting hard enough for them, aren't yet convinced that we have the right to something better, even if getting there is complicated?

Last night I had a most excellent conversation with Laurie Pettine. She's an activist with NOW, and she lives in Northern New Jersey with her children. We were both very tired, our talk began at 9 and went late. But it made me think we should always have our conversations about the future late at night. During the day we are so adult and practical, so aware of possibilities and their limitations. At night we feel like college students, up late solving the word's problems, sure we can.

Laurie has been working with NOW, baggage and all, on a Mothers and Caregivers Rights Taskforce. Yes, NOW. The same organization that's been accused in the past of not recognizing mothers and our needs. And the focus on this, the new NOW, apparently is going all the way up to the top.

But the real thing is, Laurie's enthusiasm, and her ability to think as an activist in a new vein, helped get me out of my fear that nothing can change. That we're all smart enough to talk about these issues, or write about them, but not able to think about how social change happens in this country, not able to get past the embarassment of putting a toe on the line.

Could there be a feminist movement brewing that includes the issues that mothers are facing?


Eileen Flanagan said...

Hey, Miriam. I just happened upon a web site that got me very excited http://www.themmob.org/ These moms are talking about a different set of issues (protecting the environment for our kids and keeping them out of the snairs of military recruiters). Still your readers might be interested in this group of mothers working together.

Mother in Chief said...

You hit it Miriam. What are we doing? I'm always talking and writing, writing and talking about these issues that affect women/mothers in the work place, but really I know nothing about making any kind of change. In the NY Times yesterday, there was an article about lots of women Yale students who've already decided that eventually when they have kids, they are going to quit their jobs. These incredibly educated women will leave corporate America for a bunch of years while they raise their babies. This is what my group of mom-friends has already done, but we are just floundering, wondering if we'll ever get back in there. So this trend is not going away. The problem is that corporate America is going to *HAVE* to change and adapt to these women. Otherwise, I fear we are moving backwards. I fear that businesses will become even more hesitant (even though it's illegal), to hire women in the first place, especially women of child-bearning age.

Chip said...

I really think that a key front in this struggle is fathers, getting men to see full time fathering, and staying at home with their kids, as just as important as a career. And then, maybe work can be restructured so that working part-time or fewer hours before kids are in school becomes the norm.

Of course the biggest problem is our society's definition of success; status goes to people with jobs that make lots of money and have lots of power, status = jobs, while staying home and taking care of kids is perceived in societal terms as lower status. For my wife it's been a struggle because she, like all of us, has been socialized into this hierarchy of values, where caring is really demoted. How to get beyond that is a good subject for a late night talk...

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