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Where Are America’s Family Values?
Karenna Gore Schiff
United StatesGALLERYCONVERSATION
This cacophony of conflicting demands put me in good company with the army of bleary-eyed working mothers who lurch between...
It’s a big army, some twenty-five million strong, each of us struggling in our own unique way to bring a little order to the chaos. It’s a fantastic feat that many American mothers accomplish every day. But instead of support and solutions, we get finger wagging, finger-pointing, and sometimes, it seems, just the finger.
The dissing of American working moms starts at birth: ours is one of only two major industrialized nations without paid maternity leave (Australia is the other). In England, you get eighteen weeks of it; in Hungary, twenty-four. Compare this to our government’s guarantee of a measly twelve weeks of unpaid leave if you work for a company of fifty or more people, and you get the picture.
Why, in a nation like ours, is it so hair-raising for a woman to combine children and career? The reality is that more than 70 percent of American women with school-age children work outside the home. For women like me, and I know how lucky I am, it’s a choice that’s made easier by a supportive spouse, solid child care, and a flexible workplace. I work because I love the law, I love my independence, and, perhaps most important, I have a boss who lets me work part-time.
Watching my son put Elmo down for a nap may in fact be worth not making law partner. It’s a trade-off I can live with. (My law firm has been extraordinarily kind to me, but the reality is that private- practice lawyers are evaluated at least in part by the hours they log. An ambitious associate is rarely home on the weekend, much less by dinnertime on weekdays. I work three days a week and am home by 7 p.m.
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