As on most Sunday mornings, my family was poring over the weekend paper, discussing the news, when my Mom handed me an article by Stephanie Coontz, Do Millennial Men Want Stay-at-Home Wives? The article references a study by Joanna Pepin and David Cotter on high school seniors and their gender ideologies, and suggests a possible decline in young people holding egalitarian views. As a rising high school senior, I worry about these results and the future of women’s place in society.
Some may wonder why I, a male teenager, am concerned about this. The answer is simply because I’m an advocate for gender equality. My views were shaped by my parents at a young age; as a child I was frequently exposed to discussions around gender, but later I began to see the role gender plays in the real world while observing my working mom’s life. She often had to make tough choices between work and childcare. For example, should she stay home with her sick child or go to work? Should she miss the parents’ coffee or take the work trip? I know that these decisions and the accompanying guilt factor were difficult for her, and remains a common obstacle for countless other working mothers.
Now that I am in high school and my sister is in middle school, I am more conscious than ever of my Mom’s struggle with work-life balance. I want young people to understand the tough choices and challenging situations that working moms often face. In Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, she talks about the guilt she faced while working and worrying about her 14-year-old son. The stress eventually led her to withdraw from her government career. Reading this makes me worry about the possible instances when my Mom might have considered doing the same for my sake.
Unfortunately, working mom’s guilt is a common phenomenon. A 2014 survey from Care.com illustrates the stress many mothers face trying to juggle work, childcare, and relationships. The survey reported that mothers who average 37 hours a week working spend approximately 80 hours on childcare and home responsibilities. Needless to say, this responsibility takes a toll, with 25% reporting that they cry at least once a week, and 11% calling in sick or showing up late to work because of stress. Does any child want his or her mother to be a part of those statistics? I know I don’t.
I also know that regardless of whether or not women have children, they face workplace obstacles that their male counterparts do not. These range from the gender pay gap, to limiting gender stereotypes, to not being able to break into the “old boys’ club.”
For these many reasons, I believe it’s important that children and teens help ease the burden by supporting their working mothers today and their spouses in the future. My hope is that women won’t feel obligated to choose between their careers and parenthood. Looking back, there are many times I could have helped my mom more, and would have, had I understood the challenges she faced not only as a working mom, but as a woman in the workplace. I believe that a child’s attitude and efforts can have immense influence over a mother’s career and life. In the words of Sheryl Sandberg, “leaning in” is necessary and important.
I’ve had time to contemplate what I can do better or differently to help my mom. I now help more with chores, help take care of my sister, and try to be as self-sufficient as possible.
For example: earlier this year, my sixth-grade sister was working on a science project. Everything was fine until we had our weekly calendar check-in. My sister’s science presentation was on Thursday, but Dad was travelling and Mom had a work commitment. Having both parents unavailable at the same moment is a highly unusual occurrence. My sister had an incredulous look on her face and my Mom started to panic. I said, “how about I go instead?” My sister was ecstatic. As Mom stopped in to say goodnight she said, “Pranav, thanks for stepping in for me.”
I wish someone had explained to me earlier the positive impact that my support could have on my mom.
When I look back, I realize that had I understood the situation better, I could have done more. Now, I have many ideas on how to further the cause. I can form a peer group—a “lean in” group for kids—that talks about how to be a part of the solution. Maybe I can even integrate the idea into the school system so that kids can understand their parents’ struggles at an early age. Most importantly, we can all communicate the significance of the role children play in their working mom’s lives. Simply spreading the word and opening up the discussion can be an effective part of the solution.
We need to reverse the possible regression in the attitudes about gender equality described in Pepin and Cotter’s survey. We can start that reversal at home, by supporting our moms. This necessary movement needs to start with all boys and girls in middle and high school. And it needs to start now.