The recent CCF Symposium, Parents Can’t Go It Alone, introduces you to important new work about what parents need to meet their goals and successfully raise the next generation. The essays range from a comparison of social supports across nations to what worries Latinx parents for their children’s safety.. Other essays highlight the strengths of community support for mothering in the African-American community and the need for change in how we structure low-wage work to support parents who work in those jobs. The symposium also provides evidence that most Americans want to live in families where both parents share the work of making a living and raising the children, so it is vitally important that we don’t leave fathers out of our demands for workplace flexibility.
We have so much in this country, so why is parenting so hard? An online symposium convened by the Council on Contemporary Families—Parents Can’t Go It Alone—illustrates that parenting today is harder because working mothers and fathers are going without the help they need. We are neglecting parents.
Why now? CCF asked scholars who study families to write about the most current research on the needs of parents. We heard that parents have diverse priorities, and that many parents worry about how racism is affecting their children. Some worry about the lack of time for their kids, and others struggle with jobs that seem to demand their attention 24/7 jobs and so interfere with giving children enough attention. These problems are significant, and we see their consequences: The birth rate is falling throughout much of the world.
The symposium offers descriptions of how hard parenting is—and potential solutions to reduce the consequent discouragement for diverse American parents. Each essay suggests possibilities for how our society might come to the aid of today’s parents.
How do families “do it all?” They don’t.
New York University sociologist Kathleen Gerson busts the myth that there is such a thing as “having it all.” On the basis of interviews with 120 young adults (33–47 years old), she found four patterns for managing the conflicts between the workplace and child rearing. Some workers are hyper-traditional, while others remain single or childless. In some families, women “do it all” rather than have it all. A third of her sample can be described as egalitarians, experimenting with building an equal partnership at both work and home despite the obstacles. Only the egalitarians prefer the choice they have made; most of the others would prefer egalitarian relationships but have not found a way to achieve them in today’s world.
It isn’t just time or just autonomy. Both matter for parents.
Maureen Perry-Jenkins from University of Massachusetts Amherst interviewed 360 low-income working families and found that a shortage of time is nearly everyone’s complaint. Parents needed time to sleep, care for babies, and connect with their partner, but they also needed predictability in their schedules. Control over their time makes it possible to have last-minute doctor appointments or a needed sick day. Beyond that, Perry-Jenkins reports that conditions at work affect parents’ mental health and their relationships with their children and partners. One way to support the next generation is to improve the conditions of work for their parents. Work matters.
Parents report fear of violence (from police as well as gangs).
University of Illinois at Chicago’s Lorena Garcia interviewed 68 middle- and upper-middle-class Latinx parents in the Chicagoland area. She found both optimism and worry: The parents had the knowledge and financial resources to help their children pursue their dreams; yet they worried, especially about their sons. They worried about the vulnerability of Black and Latino boys to gun violence in the city. They gave their sons a version of “the talk,” to help them reduce their vulnerability to police racism. Despite economic privileges, the Latinx parents in her study had serious concerns about their sons’ physical safety. Garcia shows us that good family policy must include reducing gang violence and police racism.
African-American communities support employed mothers
Dawn Marie Dow, from the University of Maryland and author of Mothering While Black, offers a view of African-American mothering that contradicts the presumption that all mothers feel a conflict between paid work and parenting. In interviews with middle- and upper-middle-class African-American mothers, Dow found that for African-American mothers, working outside the home is part of mothering work. Unlike other American mothers’ view that parenting is at odds with work, they felt supported by their families and communities for their paid labor. In their communities, being a strong, independent woman is seen as a virtue. Dow’s research reminds us that not only must we change the structures of workplaces to support parenting, but we must support cultural expectations and communities that validate parents’ ability to combine earning a living with caring for others.
Fathers are parents too.
Although some of the essays in this symposium are all about mothering, Stephanie Coontz reminds us that dads count too. She suggests that a major obstacle to the successful coordination of work and family life is the assumption that the problem belongs only to mothers. If fathers were not expected to focus solely on earning a living, mothers would never be required to “do it all.” Coontz provides data on the kinds of parental leave available to U.S. fathers and shows the inequity of providing more or better leave to mothers. Coontz suggests that feminists must work as strenuously for fair and generous paternal leaves as we do for maternal leaves.
How and why work–family policies matter
Caitlyn Collins, author of Making Motherhood Work, takes us on a deep dive into the social policies that make it easier or harder to be an employed parent. She interviewed 135 middle-class working mothers in Sweden, Germany, Italy, and the United States, and learned that while European countries have wide-ranging approaches to social policies, all have more substantial family-related policies than does the United States. Those policies make employed mothering less stressful in those countries than in the United States. Collins suggests that the lack of such policies in the United States sends the message that our families are on their own—that the community owes nothing to those raising the next generation of citizens.
FULL SYMPOSIUM PDF: CCF Parents Can’t Go It Alone Online Symposium 2019
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Children Are Now Back at School, Time to Focus on What Their Parents Need by Barbara J. Risman, firstname.lastname@example.org
Why No One Can “Have It All” and What to Do About It by Kathleen Gerson, Kathleen.email@example.com
Work that Works for Low-Wage Workers by Maureen Perry-Jenkins, firstname.lastname@example.org
Fears of Violence: Concerns of Middle-Class Latinx Parents by Lorena Garcia, email@example.com
Mothering While Black by Dawn Marie Dow, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dads Count Too: Family-Friendly Policies Must Include Fathers by Stephanie Coontz, email@example.com
Raising a Village: Identifying Social Supports for All Kinds of Families by Caitlyn Collins, firstname.lastname@example.org