Glass Ceilings and 100-Hour Couples: What the Opt-out Phenomenon Can Teach Us about Work and Family

By Karine Moe; Dianna Shandy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
Child Care Dilemmas

Cry, baby bunting,
Father’s gone a-hunting,
Mother’s gone a-milking,
Sister’s gone a-silking,
And brother’s gone to buy a skin
To wrap the baby bunting in
.
ENGLISH POEM, 1784

How American society configures the relationships among mothers, fathers, and children tells us something important about how our culture shapes gender, work, and identity. While biology determines the reality that women give birth, it is our culture that situates mothers as the principal caretakers and companions of young children.1 While individuals may buck these norms, they often find they are swimming against the current. Jane, a twenty-six-year veteran in the field of child care and the director of a child development center we interviewed for this study, told us that while she has noticed more interest and involvement on the part of dads in child care issues, moms continue to play the dominant role. This cultural norm of women’s role as primary caregiver collides with the competing role of ideal worker. The key issue in all of this is who, how, when, and where the kids are cared for while mom is at work. Struggles over how to negotiate this dilemma surfaced as a key concern for women we interviewed. In some cases, the child care dilemma resulted in women quitting their jobs or downsizing their careers.

As working moms ourselves, we do not intend to say that combining children and careers cannot be done. On the contrary, as

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