Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Why the Motherhood Movement needs the Baby Boomers...

When You're Sixty-Four

During the past few years, we've seen the rise of the Mommy Wars. These explorations, while creating an often-messy public debate, have led the latest generation of parents to examine motherhood with all its accompanying joys, sorrows, and seemingly endless work. We've wrung out all the wisdom we're going to get from this conversation. It's time to write a new narrative to guide our discussions about family life. What we need is an awareness campaign about making the invisible work of life visible, and then dividing it fairly.

I believe that help is on the way, if only the Baby Boomers will open their eyes to the coming trends and join forces with parents of young children to make caregiving a national priority. All throughout their lives, the Boomers have been a demographic juggernaut, creating teen culture, and propelling the sexual revolution, feminism, and yuppiedom into our cultural consciousness. Now the emerging trend seems to be "Sixty is the New Forty" or "Sixty is Seasoned and Sexy." I empathize with optimism but implore us to also get realistic: I can only hope that as Boomers move to the senior side of the sandwich generation, caregiving will finally become cool. We have an opportunity to approach the aging of our population with grace and acceptance, working together to finally make the social accommodations that will be necessary to support all tiers of our generational network.

When we talk about motherhood and childcare, we get entangled with debates about personal choices, privilege, and gender. On the one hand, this has fueled the Mommy Wars. But there is an opportunity to connect as well. In my work as the author of Mojo Mom: Nurturing Your Self While Raising a Family, I have come to see motherhood as a leveling experience that raises privileged women's awareness about the hard work of life that many of us take for granted. My hope is that this common experience will translate into political action toward common goals that benefit all families, particularly those who are struggling to fit together the puzzle pieces of childcare, living wages, and health-care coverage.

Similarly, I see the emerging wave of elder care as a societal equalizer, as the 77 million Baby Boomers confront the need to support their elderly parents, and then arrange care for themselves. My hope is that executives who've never stopped to think about the crews who clean their offices after-hours will begin to see the world differently when they find themselves in charge of providing basic care for their parents. Childfree couples who looked down on co-workers for leaving work early to pick up a sick child will learn to empathize with our family obligations. Men will come to understand just how much work women have provided at home once husbands are charged with caring for ailing wives.

I am not wishing hardship, heartache or disability on anyone. I am however, asking each of us to open our eyes to the work of life. This is the work that no one notices unless it doesn't get done, the work that is dismissed as unimportant and not worthy of our attention or economic calculation, much less financial subsidy. When we are young, healthy, and childless, it was easy to ignore this invisible web of work and connectedness. Eventually, each of us will experience a "before and after moment" that illuminates the need for caregiving as part of the essential fabric of life.

As the mother of a 6-year old, I have been in touch with these ideas for quite a while now, but recent events have heightened the entire range of my family's needs. In the past two months, we've faced my mother's diagnosis of lymphoma at age 64 and my father-in-law's sudden death of a heart attack at age 74. Thankfully, my mother is responding well to treatment. I have gladly rearranged my priorities to accompany her to appointments and chemotherapy. At the same time, my husband has flown to New York to help his mother with her emotional transition as well as the legal matters and practical details of settling his father's estate.

My husband and I are fortunate to have flexible jobs, reliable after-school care, and financial security that allow us to make additional space in our lives for these emerging family duties--but this flexibility is currently a privilege, not a right. We need to create policies that support family networks on a national level. All workers should have access to family leave, flexible work options whenever possible, and job security to ensure that their employment is not at risk when family crises arise.

I invite Boomers to add their influential voices to the call for family-friendly policies. We have an amazing social network in place that will help ease the coming caregiving crunch if we provide family and community networks enough support to function. Informal caregiving already saves society 257 billion dollars per year providing long-term care for elders. This is in addition to the billions of dollars of uncompensated work mothers and fathers provide in raising the next generation of taxpayers. None of us can afford to overlook the true cost and value of caring for our families-and for weary, overworked Moms and Dads, help from the rest of us can't come soon enough.

As a teenager Paul McCartney wrote "When I'm Sixty-Four" in honor of his father's 64th birthday. June 18, 2006 was Sir Paul's own 64th birthday.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree! I am a home school mom to lovely children but to be quite frank, I feel overwhelmed sometimes. No real support from my husband (he's a workaholic and really supports us well) and definitely no help from the in-laws.

I try not to let my children watch too much TV and when they do it seems like there is just too much out there to filter. I would love your thoughts (or a posting) on how to keep the television safe for our kids....thanks - BB

5:23 PM  

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