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Defending the Working Mom

My last blog post is getting record readership. And it’s spawning a ton of emails and Facebook posts. People say they felt defensive reading it. They say it was harsh against working moms. They say it has the ability to fan the flames of the Mommy Wars. I stand by the post. When I wrote the post I was mad. Really mad. But that doesn’t mean I don’t believe what I wrote. But maybe I left a few things out. Stay with me, folks.

I still believe that mom was wrong, negligent, and self-centered to bring a constantly coughing two-year-old to a gym class three days before Christmas. Selfish and mean, too. Mean to her kid. Mean to everyone else. Ultimately, though, it was the gym’s owner who should have asked the woman to leave based on the guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Public Health Association that I included in my other post. A child who has an unchecked cough must be excluded from activities with other children. Period. The owner didn’t, so I did what I needed to do to protect my child. I should have told that mother off, as some of my Facebook friends pointed out. But I didn’t. Water under the bridge. That said, if he had a runny nose we wouldn’t be having this dialog. I am not afraid of a runny nose. Only of symptoms that pretty much guarantee the spread of illness: constant sneezing and coughing, open sores, and crusty eyes come to mind.

As for what some are taking as a blanket statement against working moms. Of course, not all working moms are willing to take their sick kids out. However, I think some moms who have their kids in daycare settings are forced — through lack of other options — to bring a semi-sick kid, someone who is contagious, to daycare. Since the kid was already out, it’s not unthinkable that they might not think twice about bringing them out in public. In my opinion, those same moms are also more likely to overlook another kid’s cough. (And again, there are lots and lots of stay-at-homes who fall into these categories, too.)

But what I will add here is that I feel like I can make these statements because I lived them. First as a kid of a single, working mother, then as a working mother. When Big Girl went to preschool, she was in five days a week as a four-year-old. There were days when I would drop her off and see tons of sick kids coughing and sniffling. I would stand in the doorway wishing I could take her home, but knowing I only had 25 hours while she was in preschool to get all my interviewing work done. So I would leave. She would invariably catch that cold. (Thank goodness, stomach bugs were few and far between.) But this is where I differ from some. When she got sick, she would stay home if she was coughing or lethargic even if she didn’t have a fever. Always. Because I remembered being sick at school and how terrible a feeling that was. It was on those days where I would scramble to reschedule phone interviews, beg my mom to come over, beg my husband to take off from work, or let her take long naps.

It’s no wonder she got sick so much. Preschools and daycare facilities, as a friend pointed out, are breeding grounds for germs. Toddlers in daycare — under two years of age and during their first year of childcare — are more likely to get sick than those cared for in an in-home setting. “In children younger than 1 year of age, the first 6 months of daycare attendance were associated with a 69-percent higher incidence of hospital admission for acute respiratory infection compared with children in home care,” according to the study. Another 2002 study found that “Attendance at large day care was associated with more common colds during the preschool years.” (And these more frequent colds do lead to some protection against getting sick when kids become school age, although everyone catches up by age 13, according to the study.) When those kids get sick, what is Mom or Dad supposed to do? Unless the kid has a fever or is puking her brains up, that kid is probably going to daycare. And that parent? She’s probably going to be less crazy about germs. Generalization? Yes, but I think many working parents have to overlook sniffles and snot or they would make themselves crazy with worry.

Which brings us full circle. Here I am making generalizations again, right? Well, if this country had better emergency childcare, paid its workers better wages so one parent could stay home, provided more paid time off for new parents, and valued motherhood and parenting the same way it values fighting wars and bailing out big business, my generalizations might be very different.

Thoughts? Comments? Let’s hear them.

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