Life at Work

A Mother's Day Wish

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 14, 2006

It being Mother's Day and all, I figured it was time for a wish list. The Working Mom's Wish List.

Oh, sure, I know all you moms are sitting there right now, looking at that carefully crafted Popsicle-stick card your little ones made you. But if those little ones had all the power in the world, I can guess what you, dear working mom, would ask that they give you.

In short: flexibility.

Most workers, but particularly working parents -- and even more particularly working moms -- thirst for, strive for and dream of a little flexibility. The chance to take your child to the speech therapist at 3 in the afternoon. Or to be able to run home for dinner, read a few stories, tuck the gang into bed and then log back on to the office from the kitchen table.

Is it a 9-to-5 world anymore? Should it be? Or could, maybe, possibly, all these new technologies and this global economy translate into a chance to have a little flexibility to help people be great moms and great workers all at once?

Of course, not every workplace can offer a scheduling free-for-all. But many could be, and should be, more flexible than they are now. Particularly as the number of dual-income families has increased in recent decades. The rules of the structured work world were created back when we lived in Ozzie-and-Harriet Land. Dad brought home the pay, then read the newspaper and drank a martini. Mom did the cooking, cleaning and child-rearing.

But today, it's a frantic juggle of day-care arrangements, pickups, drop-offs. Dad's day to drive. Mom's week at the faraway conference. And a phone ringing with the boss, the co-worker and the babysitter asking for everything all at once.

Among two-parent households with children under 18, 61.3 percent have two working parents, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And 71.2 percent of single mothers with children under 18 are working.

"There has been a big change in the composition of the workforce, but the structure has not changed," said Vicky Lovell, director of employment and work-life programs at the Institute for Women's Policy Research. "If there's any attention your family needs, all that has to happen outside of work hours."

For some, that is nearly impossible. Anne Ganten has two disabled sons. Her 5-year-old is autistic, and her 4-year-old is developmentally delayed. She moved from Belgium to Fairfax almost three years ago when she realized doing so would provide a better opportunity for her children's care.

Ganten found a job with a defense contractor in Bethesda as a business development analyst, knowing the pay would help cover the mind-blowing costs of doctors, teachers, therapies, child care and all that goes into helping children with disabilities.

But even good pay isn't enough. Any savings she once had are now depleted. Any sense of an easy balance between work and home is shattered.

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