Friday, February 25, 2011

Welcome, MPR listeners!

Some of you heard my live conversation Friday on Minnesota Public Radio about the cost of opting out to care for children. The other guest was the estimable Joan C. Williams, author of Reshaping the Work-Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter, easily one of the country's leading authorities on gender roles and work-family balance.

The conversation and call-in questions were great. It was exactly my second time being interviewed on the air, my first time live, so I was a little nervous about how we'd fill the hour. But I could have gone on much longer! There's so much to say about this topic.

As usual, I was both heartened and discouraged (heartscouraged?) to hear from call-in parents who've left the workforce to care for family and now feel trapped, permanently unable to get back to work. I'm so sorry we're all struggling, folks, yet so glad to be connecting. I think sharing our thoughts about our situation--talking about why, frankly, it's bullshit--is an important first step. Personally, for a long time I figured my problems returning to the workforce after my divorce were obviously due to my incredible unemployable loserdom rather than anything related to my unpaid caregiving status and gaps in my employment history.

One caller, David, a stay-at-home dad, noted my "sexist" focus on stay-at-home mothers. While there are only about 150,000 SAHDs compared to 5.1 million SAHMs, David definitely has a point, because of course stay-at-home dads struggle, too. In fact, as Joan Williams pointed out, in some ways SAHDs are more stigmatized than SAHMs, because at least mothers are doing what they're "supposed" to do according to gender expectations, whereas fathers have betrayed both their employers AND society's notions of masculinity. Sorry, David, and SAHDs in general, for seeming to disregard you.

By the way, another group briefly mentioned in the MPR discussion is people who opt out to provide care for ailing parents (or other family members). An old friend called recently to say my essay had resonated with her, even though she doesn't have kids, because she had left work to take care of her parents and then had an extremely hard time getting another job. I could relate to this, since I cared for a mother with Alzheimer's for a number of years. My kids were little then, so I did some time as the peanut butter in the sandwich generation. With Alzheimer cases expected to quadruple by 2050, we can expect to find more people in this situation.

So I guess the group we're talking about here, the group whose under-reported needs we're hoping to address, is: Mothers and fathers who leave work altogether or reduce their paid employment significantly to care for children or other family members. Otherwise known as MAFWLWAORTPESTCFCOOFM.

Hmm. Might have to look for a slightly catchier acronym.

For those who missed the MPR conversation, here it is. It's longish (almost an hour), but I think worth a listen, and I'm not the least bit biased.


  1. It was a great conversation, and a desperately needed one at that. After hearing it, my wife and I wondered why, if there are this many articulate people passionate about the need for change in policy, why is nothing being done?

  2. Thanks, Zebulon. And good question! I suspect the answers range from "Nobody knows the solution" to "At least half the people in this country don't even recognize this is a problem."

    To clarify that latter one, I'm not talking about men here, or conservatives, or any specific demographic group. I've received supportive messages from (many) men, from conservatives, and from at least one male conservative! When I say "half" I'm just roughly estimating based on comments to, for example, my essay that ran in Salon.

    But really, I do think that although this problem -- the problem that, like Friedan's, really has no name, or at least not a succinct one, yet -- has been talked about for years in feminist/activist/motherhood circles, is just starting to infiltrate public awareness.