Amy Bell Hou is a writer, early childhood educator and mother living in Oakland. She is a co-founder of Drop Leaf Press, a women-operated poetry press based in San Francisco.
March 8 is International Women’s Day.
It’s also a day that multiple organizations for the advancement of women are calling for a women’s general labor strike. They’re calling it “A Day Without a Woman.”
The purpose of the strike is to shine a spotlight on “the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socio-economic system–while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequities, vulnerability to discrimination, sexual harassment, and job insecurity.”
Women are a vital, often undervalued sector of the labor force in the world. At our paid jobs, women typically earn less than men in the same roles and suffer career setbacks if they decide to have children. Women also typically take the lion’s share of domestic work, like cooking, cleaning, and child care. Such unpaid labor is vital to a functioning economy and ought to be recognized as such, yet motherhood remains the number one predictor of poverty.
At Heels of Success, we endeavor to support all women as they balance careers, partnerships, children, and their own growth as individuals. We hope our posts can help bring more women into positions of leadership, because we believe the goal of widespread gender parity in the American workplace — nothing less than a major cultural shift — is only going to come when women have an equal number of seats at the table where decisions are made.
As such, we stand in solidarity with women, trans people and their allies for A Day Without a Woman.
While many women, particularly those in the fields of healthcare, childcare, and elderly care may not be able to strike, there are still ways for women and their partners to show solidarity.
The Women’s March organizers have set up a good FAQ and resources page, which will guide you through ways to show your support. Read the full International Women’s Strike platform here.
- Avoid shopping on that day, unless the business is local or women-owned.
- Can’t strike? Wear red to show your support.
- Men can participate by bringing up equal pay and paid family leave with decision-makers at work, leaning into housework and care work for children, and reflecting on their own expectations of women co-workers.
We’d love to hear your thoughts.
My youngest son will graduate from college next weekend. It sounds cliché but I find myself wondering where the time went.
My husband and I talked about traveling to Europe directly after the graduation. After providing a college education for seven children, we planned on celebrating our freedom from tuition payments by spending the equivalent of a semester of tuition on travel for ourselves. Well, plans are great, but then life happens and as it turns out, we are both too busy with work and family obligations, so we’ll defer the trip to another time. (We have committed to taking a shorter amount of time away for ourselves this summer.)
Seeing “my baby” graduate is a big transition for me. It has made me reflect on an earlier, very difficult transition: dropping him off at college in Chicago, four years ago. It was just before labor day weekend and, like the other children in our family, he did not want us to linger around campus. We had an evening flight scheduled that day, but at 10:30 in the morning he instructed us to take the empty moving boxes to the dorm’s trash chute and head on out. I was a bit hurt, but his behavior was exactly like all the others. He was saying, “Thanks for dropping me off but I need to get on with making friends and transitioning to a new chapter in my life.” It was a healthy response.
After dropping him off we headed home for the remainder of that Labor Day weekend. I found myself in tears. So much of my identity had been about being a mother. I was so used to coming home from work to children and all of joys and obligations associated with parenthood. My friends said, “you have a big job and a busy travel schedule, you should be relieved…you have so much more to fill your life…” But regardless of what they said, I was very sad. I could not even walk by my son’s room without shedding tears.
I headed to the dreaded grocery story while feeling sorry for myself. In the parking lot while I was loading groceries in my car, I ran into an acquaintance. She too had just dropped her son off at college but she was looking at this transition as an opportunity. She and her husband were heading to the Bruce Springsteen concert and then to a party at a friend’s house. They were excited to go out to dinner and start seeing movies again. The entire encounter was a “snap out of it” situation for me. On the ride home, I vowed to have a mental model shift in how I was seeing this life transition.
Now, with his graduation from college I am facing another transition, but I have been seeing it as an opportunity. Instead of dreading the change, I will help my son launch the next chapter of his life, just as I launch my next chapter.
One of the questions I am frequently asked by younger women is, “how can I advance my career and plan a family at the same time?” Since I work among a large group a women physicians who have spent years in school, training and nurturing their careers, this is a typical topic. It’s very challenging for these career-driven women to start thinking about planning a family. Frankly, I don’t recall ever having been asked this question by a man. It’s usually women, often very sheepishly, who ask me how they should approach the decision. I always give them the same answer; if you make a list of pros and cons, the cons will almost always win.
When looking at the situation from a purely logical point of view, it’s true, the decision to start a family appears to lose. Here’s how your list will shape up: children increase the family budget with daycare, cost of food and clothing, etc., having children increases your time commitment away from work and there’s less time to care for yourself. While all of this may be true, it doesn’t mean that if you want children you should avoid it. What is immeasurable and fights against the logic is the unconditional love that comes from a child and the joy of watching them explore the world around them. Having children while advancing your career is not for everyone, but it can be done. There are many examples of women, like me, who have done just that.
In order to launch yourself on the journey, you need to throw away the list of pros and cons. First, focus on developing your support systems. It’s critical that you create a good partnership with your co-parent, making sure you communicate what you expect from each other, and that you are both set up to take an active role. Next, set out to create your broader support network that may include grandparents (if you’re lucky) other family members, neighbors, other working mothers and day-care providers. A note here: ease up on pressuring yourself on the daycare situation. I know that many women feel guilty about leaving their children with someone else and struggle over making sure every detail is perfect when making this choice. Remember this: your child’s future college application is not dependent on their daycare situation. All you need to do is find a loving, supportive and safe environment for your child.
It’s no surprise that having children changes everything. In order to feel like you can balance everything you will likely need to create a new routine in your life, one that makes space for quality time in the evenings and weekends for your children. My kids were always the last to go to bed in my neighborhood. I kept them up just a bit later so that we could play, read or just sit and talk about the day. There is no one right way to create a work-family balance, you have to decide what works for YOU and your family. Lastly, if you do decide to take a break from work, it’s very important that you find ways to keep your skills current and stay involved in developing your career. Read publications about what’s happening in your field, make time to have coffee with colleagues, and socialize with other moms — think of it as a networking opportunity!
Anyone in a dual career partnership knows how important “dividing the labor” at home truly is. This is often a topic of discussion with my colleagues and friends when we address the demands of our jobs and how to find our balance between work life and home life.
Inevitably, someone raises the issue of unequal division of labor for household duties such as grocery shopping, cooking and childcare. In my experience, it is common that the woman in the partnership is the person assuming the lion’s share of these domestic responsibilities. (This is not always the case for all families, but it is for most of society.)
Last fall, I was at a dinner meeting, and afterwards, I sat with a group of women over a glass of wine. One of them, my colleague, mentioned that she has been feeling very overwhelmed with two children in elementary school and a high-powered job. Like many mothers, she found herself absorbing the role of overseeing and performing most of the childcare and organization of the household. She knew that her husband wanted to help but didn’t know what to do in order to be helpful.
I told her about my experience coming home from work one night after a long day and finding my husband, a busy physician and very supportive partner, sitting at the island sipping a glass of wine and reading the newspaper. When I entered the kitchen, he looked up and asked what we would be doing for dinner. Right then, I decided that I, like many spouses, had created a situation of learned helplessness. I had gotten into the bad habit of taking on too much by myself, removing most of the responsibility to divide household duties from my very smart and capable husband.
I also told my women colleagues about a pre-prepared delivery meal service that provides fresh ingredients and step-by-step instructions on how to prepare the meal, something I’d learned about from a group of young women physicians and mothers at CHOP. I sent my friend a free meal as a trial. A month later, she told me that the meal service had changed her life. Her husband was able to prepare the meals, gain some cooking experience and, most importantly, relieve her of the burden of cooking fresh meals for the family three nights a week.
It is time for women to shift their own understanding of housework and childcare as a woman’s obligation to the obligation of both partners. Learned helplessness is not a matter of having a partner who doesn’t want to help. It’s about letting go of the ingrained expectations we all carry, so that the health and nutrition and organization of our families are in both partners’ capable hands.
When I speak to groups of women I am inevitably asked the same question each time – “how do you balance your family and career?” It is certainly not easy and I spent years struggling with a constant mental tug of war. When at work, I felt as though I should be home and when at home, I felt guilty for not being at work.
Fast forward to 2015 — my husband and I are essentially empty-nesters, with all seven kids making their own ways. Our youngest son is now 21 and a senior in college. Last fall, I was asked to speak at a women’s forum for a financial services company. In preparation for the meeting I was asked to comment on work life balance, especially managing motherhood and career.
In preparation for the meeting, I asked my adult children what they thought of my availability as a mother and my career choices. I also recalled a conversation I had with my children at the dinner table several years ago. I told the following story:
While the kids were at home, my husband (a busy pediatrician) and I would look at the week ahead every Sunday night and divide and conquer – you go to this game, I pick up from this rehearsal etc. Planning and communication were key to managing the week and we would do our very best to attend something for each child.
When my children were younger, they used to ask, “Why can’t you chaperone the class trip, or be the homeroom mother, or help the teacher in the classroom?” It was difficult for them to understand the demands of my career and I did what I could. If I knew far enough in advance, I would sign up to chaperone the class trip, work in the little league snack bar in the evenings, or sign up for weekend events. I was intentional about being present in their lives but it never seemed to satisfy their desires to have me involved and visible.
More recently, my kids said to me: “Aw Mom, you shouldn’t have listened to us then, we didn’t really know what we were talking about. We’re so proud of you and we have always felt that we were the most important people in your life. We’re glad that you weren’t one of those helicopter moms hanging out at school all day or in our personal business. We learn so much from seeing you in your career. You’ve been a good role model for us.”
If I had only known then what I know now, I could have saved myself of a lot of stress and anxiety. The only gift that I can give to women is to share my survival tips and to tell them that they will be all right and their children will be all right. You can have a career while ensuring your children, through actions and words, know that they are your priority and they are loved.