work/life balance


Mom’s Memo To Schools: Please, Make These Random Half-Days Stop

May I share with you the delights of my children’s April school schedule? They get out at 12:40 because of parent-teacher conferences on these days sprinkled through the month: Tues., April 1; Weds., April 9; Tues., April 29. Oh, yes, and just when you thought it was safe, one more on May 7. (Plus they’re off April 18-25 for spring vacation.)

That’s in addition to our new regular Friday early dismissals at 1:40. When we got word of that, one mother I know said to the superintendent, “You must really hate parents.”

I don’t think the administration hates us, but I do think that perhaps we haven’t spoken up loudly enough about the logistical stress these half-days create. And they’re common around the state, from year-round early-release Tuesdays in Newton to April half-Wednesdays in Westwood.

They’re an old tradition. Many of us remember the joys of occasional half days from our own school years. You know, back when our mothers were mostly housewives. Now, virtually all mothers work, and I venture to say that virtually all working parents wish that all our public schools provided universal, affordable after-school care.

(Photo: Rachel Zimmerman)

(Photo: Rachel Zimmerman)

Or at the very least, reliable after-school care on random half-days. At our school, a team of mothers has created a “half-day matinee,” gathering all the children who need looking after for a movie that runs until the normal 2:30 dismissal time. But their altruistic efforts are in danger of being overwhelmed by demand: More than 200 children have been coming to the movies this month, straining even their heroic volunteer powers.

“First-world problems,” you may say, and I’d agree but go a step further: This is specifically a first-world middle-class problem. Continue reading

When You’re Fired For Being Pregnant

We recently posted a couple of stories about how to avoid getting fired when you have cancer.

What about when you’re pregnant?

Here’s Dina Bakst, a lawyer and founder of the organization, A Better Balance: The Work and Family Legal Center (gotta love that) writing for The New York Times today about pregnant women getting pushed out of their jobs.

Here’s the lede:

FEW people realize that getting pregnant can mean losing your job. Imagine a woman who, seven months into her pregnancy, is fired from her position as a cashier because she needed a few extra bathroom breaks. Or imagine another pregnant employee who was fired from her retail job after giving her supervisors a doctor’s note requesting she be allowed to refrain from heavy lifting and climbing ladders during the month and a half before her maternity leave: that’s what happened to Patricia Leahy. In 2008 a federal judge in Brooklyn ruled that her firing was fair because her employers were not obligated to accommodate her needs.

We see this kind of case in our legal clinic all the time. It happens every day to pregnant women in the United States, and it happens thanks to a gap between discrimination laws and disability laws.

I haven’t been pregnant for over six years, but I still remember feeling like a loser working at a large daily newspaper during those last few months before giving birth. Continue reading

More On The Mommy Wars In Medicine

Listen to this great On Point segment featuring Karen S. Sibert, anesthesiologist and author of the controversial New York Times op-ed piece in which she argues that women doctors (read: mothers) who work part-time are wasting a precious medical education and taxpayer dollars as well as doing a disservice to patients and the entire medical profession.

“Did you know how provocative this was going to strike people?” Tom Ashbrook asks Sibert. “Yes, I did,” she says.

She was right. At CommonHealth (which is written by two moms working part-time) our response was visceral. “Instead of pushing for more of the workplace flexibility that so many families so desperately need, she wants less,” Carey wrote in her first excellent post, 7 Arguments In Defense Of Women Who Doctor Part-Time.

And the thoughtful comments from doctors, mothers, fathers and other professionals trying to juggle their lives and their families keep rolling in. This one, from Kirsten Meisinger, a family doc and medical director at the Union Square Family Health Center makes the important point that what’s really needed are more financial incentives for men and women to enter primary care, not more finger pointing among mothers. She writes:

Dr. Sibert’s reactionary piece and this well intentioned follow up article both entirely miss the point – raising children is a time consuming and challenging enterprise that US society undervalues, regardless who is taking the time to do it. Feminism is a dead end prospect until we allow men, not just women, to change their role in society and in relation to their families. More and more men are staying home to care for children because their physician wives out earn them – it is a simple financial equation. Fewer graduating physicians go into Primary Care because the “privilege” of becoming a physician costs hundreds of thousands of dollars in this country – another financial equation.

Overwhelmingly, female physicians make the same choices other human beings do – those that best reflect the balance of their self-interest. Let’s move on from pointing fingers to subsidizing medical education for those who want to embrace the primary care shortage – both in medical school and as practicing physicians. Loan reduction or elimination programs work, they should be expanded. Community health centers have long endorsed alternative schedules for physicians, regardless of gender, who find balance in their lives by working hours that increase access for other working families – evenings, weekends and the like. Creative solutions with financial incentives are already out there, but apparently, as long as specialists like Dr. Sibert are given the dominant voice, these will take a back seat to inflammatory and counter-productive articles.