April 1, 2010

White House Notices Dads, Announces Actual Policy At Work-Family Forum

Haha, April Fools!

The wife and I had some serious conversations in advance of the White House's forum on Workplace Flexibility. For one thing, she has worked at the White House and organized a deeply substantive yet highly photogenic presidential event. For another, the only forum participant we could find mentioned beforehand was Dooce.

Now it's nothing against Heather--we came up at the same time in the parentblogging world, her husband John and I were in our first dadblog news story together, she invited me to write an essay for her first book, etc. etc.--to point out the presence and tone of the country's most impassioned momblogger did not signal a White House agenda geared toward major policy announcements.

The forum, clearly, was designed to bring attention to the issues of work and family balance--and in that respect, inviting Dooce was a brilliant idea, mainlining the forum straight into the veins of her millions of mommy followers. But the White House saw that spotlight-training as the extent of their job--or at least, as the only thing they can do right now.

And what about that substance? At Birth To Thrive, Paul Nyhan emphasized the impact of flexible and affordable childcare solutions on parental productivity. Brian at Rebel Dad was looking for leave options, particularly paid sick leave and maternity/paternity leave.

So how'd it turn out? From Brian's assessment, I'm sad to say it succeeded wildly at achieving its substance-free objectives. It got a lot of attention, but there were no policies or legislative anythings. Not even for federal employees or federal contractors. Did you know federal employees have no paid maternity leave at all? Zero. When they have a baby, they cobble together sick days and vacation, and their colleagues pool together and donate a few more sick days to them. Don't even start with paternity leave.

And that's Brian's other, more damning point: the White House Forum got its Workplace Flexibility message out alright, but it's the wrong damn message. From the opening statement through all of the media coverage so far, work-life balance is considered a woman's issue. For moms. And female employees. Dads are entirely tangential, the secondhand smoke sufferers of parenting policy.

"Workplace flexibility isn't just a women's issue. It's an issue that affects the well-being of our families and the success of our businesses," said President Obama. Which means it is a women's issue. What's the corollary to women? Families and business, not men.

As Brian has argued persuasively for way too many years, until dads are seen as central to the parent-work issue--until work-family balance stops being a "just a women's issue"--nothing's really going to change. Normally, I'm happy to agree with Rebel Dad, but it really bums me out this time: this White House thing was an opportunity lost.

Thoughts on Workplace Flexibility [rebeldad]
White House Tackles Workplace Flexibility. Child Care Key Piece of the Puzzle [birth to thrive]

4 Comments

inviting Dooce was a brilliant idea, mainlining the forum straight into the veins of her millions of mommy followers.

I'd debate this (I actually wrote about it, a little, on my site, but it was hard for me to pull my thoughts together).

I'm a big fan of Heather, but I've got to say that I don't think either she or John can speak from any well of experience about the trials of trying to balance work and parenting. I'm pretty sure that Heather has always been a WAHM, and I Leta was never in daycare. Their invitation actually kind of ticked me off, a little, because it seemed to say to me "just become a highly successful blogger, set your own schedule, and work from home. That's the solution to your problem."

I was pleased to see the two blogs you linked above (although - are they SAHD's?) because, other than Heather, they're the first actual parents I've seen write about the conference. I read a lot of mommy-blogs, and not a single writer that I read (other than Heather) was invited. In fact, I'm not seeing any of the voices of people like me -- working parents whose child has been "in care" since he was an infant -- represented at this thing at all. That's not to say they weren't - maybe they were. But I honestly think the voice of a parent who is working at Wal-mart or in some office, and who drops their child off at 7:30 am and picks the child up at 5:45 pm and is trying to balance all those things needed a stronger place at the table.

"Not even for federal employees or federal contractors. Did you know federal employees have no paid maternity leave at all? Zero. When they have a baby, they cobble together sick days and vacation, and their colleagues pool together and donate a few more sick days to them"

Yup. True and so sad. Plus, not all colleagues are so happy to donate sick days for extended maternity leaves (over 6 weeks), unless you have a medically necessary reason for that period. Then you go on Leave Without Pay (LWOP). Each time I returned from leave, I was terrified that something terrible would befall the kids and I would never get out from the time debt I owed to the overlord or that I might lose my job.

And don't even get me started on the Federal Government and breastfeeding...

You hit the nail on the head, anastasiav; neither of us could really come up with an argument for how Heather's example or experience--by which I don't mean her tenacity--was representative of most working families. And obviously, the idea of "start a blog, get famous while you work at home and support your family" is about as useful/realistic as the "become an eBay PowerSeller" thing that kept popping up during the 08 campaign.

I think that bloggers generally end up treated by the media--and by extension, politicians--as some kind of Accredited Everyman/woman, a stand-in for the "actual" "typical" people who these groups imagine their audience to be. And as is so often the case, those people usually end up being highly educated and middle class. The Wal-Mart workers are essentially invisible and silent.

I'm horrified to learn about the utter lack of maternity/paternity leave for federal employees. And you're right, Greg, as long as long as work/family issues are considered women's issues, they won't be resolved. But while the showiness of the forum raises a critical eyebrow, one hopes it raises awareness as well. Though it would be a tetch more than optimistic to also hope that awareness trickles down from educated WAHM/D-bloggers to the invisible silent masses with any tangible effect.

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