If working moms are guilty of anything, it's for wanting careers and paychecks of our own. And that's not something I want to apologize — or be penalized — for. All this apologizing is not just adding to our anxiety, it’s distracting us from the real problem. As Alcorn puts it: Our country is “uniquely hostile to working parents.”
The United States is the the only OECD country, and one of the few in the world, that does not offer guaranteed-paid maternity leave. In fact, the U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act, which requires most employers to provide 12 weeks of job-protected parental leave (albeit unpaid), went into effect just 20 years ago. Attempts to require paid leave since have been few and, to date, futile. (A bill that would provide four weeks’ of paid parental leave to federal employees introduced earlier this year was given just a 1 percent chance by GovTrak of being passed by Congress.)
Congress did pass legislation to provide working parents with subsidized child care — more than 40 years ago. The 1971 Comprehensive Child Development Act would have set up a network of nationally funded child care centers that would provide education, nutrition and medical services on a sliding payment scale. It was vetoed by President Nixon who claimed it had "family-weakening implications.”
In the four decades since, no legislation has made it past Congress, but child care costs have skyrocketed. The average cost for daycare is now nearly $10,000 a year — more than a quarter of the median annual income for women before taxes are taken out. (In cities like New York, it can cost thousands more for a licensed day care center. When our oldest was an infant, we paid more than $1,600 a month for full-time care.) In 28 states, a parent working full time in a minimum-wage job cannot even cover the cost of child care for two kids.
Child care concerns don't end when the kids go to school. Across the country, public schools follow schedules that are completely out of sync with work schedules — ending hours before any traditional employer lets workers go — and often arrange events for parents in the middle of the day. The simple fact is: You cannot attend a board meeting and a school event scheduled at the same time. You cannot schedule ahead or around picking a sick kid up from school and taking him to the doctor. And it's highly unlikely that you will have enough vacation to stay home every time school is closed and summer camp is out of session.
My 7-year-old son gets more than five weeks off during the school year, plus another week and a half between school and camp. That’s three to four weeks more than the average vacation time employers offer in the United States. (In fact, the U.S. is one of the few countries that doesn’t actually require employers to offer any paid vacation.) If we didn't have a nanny for our youngest — and she won't be around forever — my husband and I would have to devote every vacation and personal day to cover the days he's not at school or camp. And we’d still fall short.