A growing number of mothers in the United States are joining the workforce, from fewer than 50 percent in the 1970s to close to 75 percent today. And while U.S. labor policies in support of working mothers have come a long way, analysts say they have not caught up to the realities of women who struggle daily to balance family and career.
Alison Barnes is getting her kids fed and ready for school as she gets ready to leave for her job.
This busy mother of three says she has been trying hard to juggle the needs of her family with her work.
"Since I became a mom eight years ago I’ve definitely had periods where I’ve been able to achieve good balance and other times when that’s been elusive,"
Barnes is a partner in a Washington, D.C. law firm. That position gives her some flexibility in her job. She’s been able to take long maternity leaves and work just four days a week.
"I have Fridays with my children, and that’s been very important and helped me feel like I have really achieved some sense of balance," Barnes said.
Barnes is among the more fortunate women who have those options available to them, says Vicki Shabo. She is the director of work and family programs at the National Partnership for Women and Families in Washington.
"White collar workers, high-paid workers, professional workers have more flexibility than they used to. Telecommuting and policies that allow people to do work from home every once in a while or to set their own hours are increasing," Shabo said.
"For most of the women in this country, they don’t have choices about when they work or where they work or how much they’re working. They don’t have access to high quality childcare. They don’t have access to sick days, and they certainly don’t have access to paid parental leave or paid leave to take care of an ill family member," Shabo said.
And then says Shabo, there’s the issue of maternity leave, which is one of the biggest concerns for working moms.
"We are one of the few countries in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave to new moms and one of a slightly larger number that doesn’t offer paid leave to new dads," Shabo said.
"Our key workplace policy is the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act which provides 12 weeks of unpaid job-protected leave to new parents and to people who need to deal with their own serious health conditions or care for an ill child or spouse," Shabo said.
But that, says Shabo, is only a start.
"My greatest hope is that we implement a national paid family and medical leave insurance program to bring ourselves up to the level of the rest of the world," Shabo said.
No matter what their job, working mothers want what all caring parents want: a society that recognizes the value of happy, healthy children.