Wednesday, May 06, 2009

All I Want For Mother's Day

As they usually do about this time every year, my husband and daughter have been asking what I'd like for Mother's Day. A trip to a spa would of course be nice and my only perfume bottle has pretty much run dry. But, as a I try to imagine all the pampering that could be bestowed upon me, my mind transports me to a world that many moms (and dads) only dream about. It's a place in which the contributions and sacrifices we make in raising our children are honored not just on one day but all 365 and where:

  • Every worker has 12 weeks of paid leave that they can use to take care of a new child or aging parent.

  • We never have to miss a school play or baseball game because our employer won't let us leave early.

  • No parent ever has to suffer the death of a child to gun violence.

  • Good childcare, healthcare, and housing are available to everyone, regardless of their income.

  • We can all afford to take a day off work when we are sick or needed to care for an ill child or family member.

  • Stay-at-home parents aren't penalized with poverty in their elder years because there is no social security to rely on.

  • There are parenting education classes and support networks in every community.

  • A full-time job is enough to sustain a family and part-time workers receive benefits too.

  • Schools are open all day, year-round with evening, weekend and summer programs.

  • Families can sit down to dinner and spend quality time together.

    My wish list could go on but, sadly, this Calgon take me away moment has to come to an end so I can get back to the tasks awaiting me here in reality land. Before I do, though, I'm going to fantasize just a little bit longer while watching the wonderful Mother's Day video sent to me by

    It features a faux news story of yours truly receiving the "Mother of the Year" award presented by none other than Chicago's own President Obama, one of my favorite family-friendly dads. Now, there's a gift I wouldn't have thought to ask for! View the video here and then be sure to personalize one for all the mothers and grandmothers you love to give them a laugh on our special day and a little inspiration to work for the change we all deserve.

  • Wednesday, July 30, 2008

    School Schedules In Spotlight

    Seems like school schedules are on the minds of lots of parents lately and rightly so, since they have a huge impact on our children's education as well as our ability to work and care for our families. San Diego, California and Orange County, Florida parents have been in the news protesting changes in their local school hours. And, here in Illinois, parents in Peoria School District 150 are denouncing a decision to shorten the school day every Wednesday by 90 minutes for teacher preparation and planning purposes (it would have been 45 minutes EVERY DAY had it not been for an outpouring of community outrage which resulted in the scaled back plan).

    Of course, this all rings a familiar bell since ParentsWork recently wrapped up a campaign in our home town of Evanston, Illinois to stop the expansion of early dismissal days in next year's school calendar. But just as we won that battle and were catching our breath, administrators in our local School District 65 turned around and announced that they've decided to change the start and dismissal times for three elementary schools come this fall. Check out my blog on for views on what's been happening here.

    So, why all of this tinkering with the school day? As far as I can tell, lack of adequate funding for education is a major driving factor as districts are desperate to find ways to trim expenses. And so, they are shifting schedules and taking valuable instructional time away from students in order to save on transportation costs and carve out professional development time for teachers without adding more days (and dollars) onto their contracts. Related to this, of course, is the length of the school year. Illinois has among the shortest in the nation (a paltry 176 days) and it seems that unless we find the will and the money to tackle that, it will be difficult to find a lasting solution to the scheduling challenges our schools and families are up against. In the meantime, though, it will be up to us parents to keep up the fight in our local communities to halt further erosion of the school day and continue to push for a consistent schedule that is more in sync with today's work and child care realities.

    Sunday, July 29, 2007

    No Thrills for Mom

    A few weeks ago, my daughter and I were ending a fun-filled summer day at Six Flags amusement park when we decided to stop into the guest relations office to find out more about an upcoming concert. While we were being helped, a pregnant woman came in quite upset. I couldn't help but overhear her lament. She was frustrated because she had paid the full admissions price to go to the park with her two sons and was prohibited from getting on any of the rides. She explained to the customer service representative that while there are warnings posted at the different attractions about the risk to pregnant women, there was no sign at the gate entrance explaining the outright restrictions. The mom went on to note that she certainly did not expect to get on a roller coaster this far along in her pregnancy but didn't understand the harm of riding the carousel or the train that circles the park. She added that these are no different from driving in a car which her doctor permits and that mothers carry infants on these rides every day.

    Reiterating again that no one told her before she paid that she wouldn't be able to do anything once in the park, the agent replied, "well, we have a lot of people who come for the shows." I watched this irate mom's face blow up almost as big as her pregnant belly as she asserted her desire to get her money back. As the guest services agent went off to call corporate (and maybe a few attorneys) to find out what to do, I couldn't help but think that what was needed here was to bring on the mom troops and stage a rally until this woman got what she deserved. As if she could somehow read my mind, the mom turned to me and asked "do you think I'm crazy?" "Of course not," I said. While she waited for her answer, the agent who was assisting my daughter and I came back with the information we needed. As we turned to leave, the pregnant woman and I exchanged one of those empathetic mother-to-mother glances. I told her that she fully deserved her money back and encouraged her to stand her ground, sharing the story of the Illinois mom who a few years back helped get a state law passed after being thrown out of her health club for breastfeeding.

    On the way home, my 9-year-old wanted to know more about "what was happening to that lady?" After I explained, she said, "mom, you should've told her about ParentsWork," and I couldn't help but smile at her insightfulness. I'll probably never find out whether the pregnant woman got her refund or if her efforts will be rewarded with a change in Six Flags policy (although I do intend to check their Web site and the signs next time I'm there), but the experience was an important reminder that, despite how far we've come, maternal discrimination is sadly still alive and well in America today. And, whether it's speaking up at an amusement park or signing a petition to demand equal pay in the workplace, we owe it to ourselves and our daughters to do something about it!

    Sunday, May 13, 2007

    Goodnight Mom

    Last night I woke up at 3:30 a.m., my mind racing with the myriad of tasks that need doing. I was wide awake and it took me well over an hour and a half to get back to sleep. This was definitely a first for me and, I desperately hope, not a sign of things to come. My own mother loves to talk about how well I slept as a child and my husband never stops being amazed by how quickly I'm off to dreamland once my head hits the pillow at night. But, I know this is not the case for lots of moms.

    A recent survey of 500 moms found that over half of us fail to get the sleep we need (seen a Lunesta commercial lately?) and that mothers who work full time outside the home suffer the most. Even 48% of stay-at-home moms felt like they did not get the sleep they needed. Not surprisingly, most of the mothers surveyed said they would be happier and much better parents if they got enough sleep. If you've ever had to work at night or get up in the wee hours to nurse a baby or tend to a sick child, you know how true this is.

    So, why all those wide eyes? Worries about tackling all the things on our "to do" lists and stressing about family finances are among the top culprits. And, while a soak in a hot tub or cup of warm milk might be the remedy that some moms need, it doesn't get at the root of the problem. The fact is that we live in a society that talks a good family values game but hasn't put its money where its mouth is when it comes to supporting the important work that mothers (and fathers, for that matter) do in caring for our children and families. Not only is this causing us to lose sleep but it's affecting our overall health and well-being.

    I can't help but think that a few more family-friendly policies and a little relief from the time and economic pressures we face would go a long way in helping us get the rest we need.

    Thursday, September 28, 2006

    Making Every Day Family Day

    A few days ago, as I ran to pick up my daughter from school, make a quick stop home to give her a snack and get a bit of homework done, leave again an hour later to take her to a long overdue dentist appointment, hurry back home to eat a quick supper (without my husband who teaches college on Monday evenings), take my daughter to our downstairs neighbors (who agreed to look after her until dad could make it home), and dash out again so I could make it to a PTA meeting, it's no wonder I almost forgot it was National Family Day. Celebrated on the fourth Monday of September, this day is dedicated to promoting family dinners as a way to reduce substance abuse among children and teens.

    I've always been a big proponent of family dinners. We had them almost every day when I was growing up and I've done my best to keep that valued tradition going in my own home. But, there are definitely lots of reasons why family dinners are harder to come by these days. Some of them have to do with the choices we make, like whether we allow our children to participate in extra-curricular activities that involve being away from home in the evening. Others, though, have more to do with the fact that many of us have little control over our work hours. You know the drill. We stay late because the boss needs something ready for the morning or we take that second or third shift job because it's the only way we can make ends meet and keep child care costs down.

    Yes, family dinners are important. But, equally important in my mind is addressing the root causes of why so many parents lack the time we need to be actively involved in our children's lives. Creating more family-friendly workplaces - like the ones featured in the just released 2006 Working Mother magazine's 100 Best Companies list (nine of which are right here in Illinois) - seems like an excellent place to start.

    President Bush couldn't have said it better in his proclamation for National Family Day 2005, "Strong families are the cornerstone of a strong America, and the well-being of families is a shared priority for all Americans. As we support families, we help build a Nation of opportunity and hope."

    Friday, September 08, 2006

    Boxed In

    I was at our neighborhood Target a few weeks ago to buy my daughter's school supplies. As we searched for a REALLY big box of pencils (the list called for 200 Ticonderoga brand which only seemed to come in pricey packs of 10), I couldn't help but think about the widely debated ordinance recently passed by the Chicago City Council. For those who aren't familiar, the "big box" ordinance would require stores with more than 90,000 square feet to pay their workers $10 per hour and at least $3 per hour in benefits by the year 2010.

    During the weeks before and after the vote, I listened intently to radio call-in programs and followed the commentary in local newspapers. And, as I tend to do, I started weighing the pros and cons from a parents' perspective.

    While I don't have any hard data to back it up, experience tells me that there are plenty of moms and dads who work at "big box" stores. One only has to look at the "I Love Mom" necklaces and buttons with pictures of beautiful babies proudly worn by the clerks at the check out counter to know. You also don't have to be an economist to figure out that these days, even a full-time position at Walmart or Target does not pay enough to support a family, which is why employees of these stores often have to rely on government subsidized child care, health care and food programs to make ends meet.

    In fact, here in Illinois, two-thirds of families that receive public benefits are headed by a worker earning $10 or less according to The Hidden Public Cost of Low-Wage Work, a report released this week by the Center for Urban Economic Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Statistics like these, and the fact that many of these workers are probably the same people America was so eager to get off the welfare rolls, are enough to convince me that a living wage ordinance is a good thing.

    At the same time, I know that economic development and job creation are essential to the revitalization of impoverished communities where many parents are struggling to raise our future generations. They want places where they can work and buy affordable, basic necessities like clothing and school supplies for their kids. Many of them fought the ordinance, and I can understand why.

    Despite compelling arguments for and against, I decided that there is just no easy answer, especially for parents who have to find ways to balance our household budgets with our values. But, regardless of our position on the ordinance, hopefully we can all agree that work - whether it's in the stockroom of a "big box" store or in a corporate boardroom - should enable us to pay the bills and care for our families.

    Wednesday, September 06, 2006


    It's hard to believe that it's time to say goodbye to summer and hello to a new school year. As always, I find myself with mixed emotions. There's, of course, that tinge of sadness that all parents must feel whether they are sending their little one off to kindergarten or college -- that our babies are growing up. At the same time, my heart is filled with pride and excitement for our daughter who has now officially joined the ranks of third grade. She has a great new teacher and group of classmates who are sure to make the next nine months of learning fun.

    I'm also breathing a tiny sigh of relief that I will once again have time to devote to this blog and ParentsWork.

    Don't get me wrong. I've loved the days my daughter and I have spent together this summer. From cheering for our favorite contestants at the American Idols Tour concert to catapulting ourselves down water slides -- I wouldn't trade this time for anything. But knowing how many fellow moms and dads do not have the luxury of a vacation fuels my desire to get back to business.

    I've often wondered how parents with limited or no paid time off manage, especially during the summer. Assuming your kids are old enough and you can afford to send them to camp, there is usually a significant gap between when these programs end and the start of school (now there's another issue for you!). Yet, according to the Bureau of Labor statistics, 22.5 million American workers do not get any paid vacation time at all. And, even those who do have to put in many years of service before they are entitled to a week or two off.

    Why should American workers have to sacrifice our health and well-being for a paycheck? If our European neighbors have figured out how to give workers 4-6 weeks of paid leave each year without compromising business productivity, why can't we?

    These are just some of the important questions discussed in Take Back Your Time, the official handbook of the movement by the same name. Edited by John de Graaf (who also happens to be the producer of the soon-to-be-released Motherhood Manifesto film), the book is filled with ideas on how parents can reclaim the time we need to care for ourselves, our children, and our families.

    It's worth the read and doing something about (if we can find the time, of course!).

    Thursday, July 20, 2006

    We're All in This Together

    If you've seen the Disney movie, High School Musical, you probably know this catchy tune complete with it's own dance moves. It would have been the perfect theme song for a conversation I had at a friend's 4th of July picnic. As tends to happen at these events, someone asked the proverbial "so what do you do?" question. You know the one . . . it makes women who are at home with their children cringe in anticipation of the "oh that's nice" followed by what I like to call the walk-away (that's when the person roams off to get a drink or say hi to someone else). If you're a mom with a career outside the home, this is the perfect opportunity to talk about all of the important things you do besides change diapers or wipe up mac and cheese spills. Whew, validation.

    Answering the "what do you do" question is always pretty interesting for me because I hold the unique distinction of having two unpaid jobs - stay at home mom and founder of a grassroots parents' organization. The only mommy war I've really experienced is the one that goes on sometimes inside my own head (should I stop to play a game of Chutes & Ladders or answer all those e-mails that have been piling up?). But, after sharing more about my parent advocacy work with folks at that picnic, I found myself falling off the fence and onto the battlefield that people like Miriam Peskowitz and Leslie Morgan Steiner have been writing so passionately about.

    A 70-year-old mother and grandmother started talking about how she didn't go to work until her children were older and how her husband worked two jobs to support the family and make it possible for her to be at home. She then proceeded to criticize mothers of today who work outside the home in order to keep up with the Jones' and have nice cars, buy IPods for their kids, etc. O.k. while I don't personally know any of these people, there are probably a few out there. But, I can safely say they would be the exception, not the rule. At any rate, in this one mother's opinion, it would be possible for all of us to stay at home with our children if only we could forgo the luxuries of 21st century living.

    As I listened politely to her views, I felt a strong rebuttal coming on. I could have shared the statistics about how many mothers are in the workforce in order to afford basic necessities like food and shelter for their families or the facts about how many of us who stay at home while our children are young end up impoverished in our aging years. However, I decided not to enlist in the war of words that could have easily ensued.

    The simple truth is that whatever work we do as parents - whether it's in the home or in the paid labor market - it is important and deserves to be valued. And when all of us can come together to make sure we each have what it takes to do our jobs well, everyone will be a winner.

    Wednesday, June 28, 2006

    Dads Make A Difference

    This past spring, my husband got the chance to chaperone the 2nd grade field trip to the Shedd Aquarium. It was a wonderful experience both for him and our daughter who was overjoyed to have her father with her.

    To my daughter's classmates, however, my husband's presence came as a bit of a shock. Upon his arrival, many of them exclaimed, "where's your mom?" Not exactly the warm welcome he might have hoped for!

    While this was not my husband's first school appearance, I'm the one these wonderfully direct 2nd graders have come to know. They see me in the classroom where I've helped out on numerous occasions and at the PTA-run bookstore where I volunteer each month. They see me at school recitals and celebrations. And, I've chaperoned nearly every field trip since our daughter started kindergarten.

    Parent involvement in schools has historically been a "mommy thing," but change is on the horizon. Like my husband, more and more dads are taking an active role, doing everything from teaching a classroom of six-year-olds how to make applesauce from scratch to participating in workshops on the importance of writing in one's career. And, at our daughter's school, there's even a dad president of the PTA!

    Yet, most parents still face tremendous obstacles to participating in school-related activities. Few have the ability to take an entire day off of work to go on a field trip or punch out for a couple of hours to attend a function planned for noon. And, even those who do have this flexibility are hesitant to use it for fear that it might jeopardize their jobs or that they may need the time for more urgent needs such as an unexpected illness.

    Of course, there are other important ways to be involved in our children's education, like helping with homework or curling up to read a bedtime story. But one only needs to see the joy on a child's face when their parent comes into the classroom or the sadness in their eyes when mom or dad can't be there to know that something needs to be done.

    Just like moms, dads deserve family-friendly policies that encourage and support them in being involved in their children's lives. Thanks go out to those who are leading the way - in the halls of our schools, workplaces and government - and to all whose voices can still make a difference.

    Friday, June 02, 2006

    A Round of Applause

    There was a custom in my daughter's second grade classroom that I just loved. Whenever one of the students accomplished something important - like finishing a special assignment or project - the class gave them a round of applause. I'm not talking about your ordinary, run-of-the-mill applause, but rather, clapping in the round in which the children literally put their hands together over and over in a circular motion. It's the kind of thing that is sure to bring a smile and lots of giggles, even if you're not an eight year old.

    How wonderful it is to celebrate our achievements. As parents, we probably don't do it enough. But the time and energy we devote to raising our children and helping them pursue their dreams deserves to be recognized.

    During an interview with a reporter moments after winning the gold medal for snowboarding in this year's Olympic Winter Games, a tearful Shaun White talked about the many sacrifices his parents made to get him there (including risking their jobs by calling in to work sick so that they could take him to various competitions). Similarly, during a recent homecoming celebration here in Evanston for our very own Olympic speed skating gold medallist, Shani Davis, his mother Cherie was publicly honored for her many contributions to his success.

    Of course, few of us will rise to stardom on the Olympic stage, but stories like those of White and Davis remind us just how important parents are in making it possible for our children to reach their full potential. The work we do isn't glamorous and there's no salary bonus when we do it well, but it's no doubt the most important job there is.

    So, whether your little one is just taking their first steps, learning how to swim or ride a two-wheeler, performing in the end of the year band recital, or walking across the graduation stage, be sure to remember that you helped them get there.

    And, don't forget to give yourself a round of applause!

    Thursday, May 18, 2006

    Moms On A Mission

    Every once in awhile there is a day in which I have an experience or conversation that tells me that I'm on the right path in my work to build an organization that can bring Illinois parents together - across our divisions - to advocate for changes that will improve our lives and ensure a better future for our children.

    Yesterday was definitely one of those days.

    Joan Blades, co-founder of Move was in town to promote her new book, The Motherhood Manifesto, as well as her latest on-line organizing venture, Moms Rising. I had the fortunate opportunity to attend the launch event, which was held on the south side of Chicago at the home of a mom and daycare provider featured in the book.

    When we arrived, we were introduced to our hostess and several other moms who have been at the forefront of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) campaign to secure better pay and benefits for home day care providers. We were also greeted by a group of precious toddlers, who couldn't wait to show off their newly-acquired sign language skills and musical repertoire. As I listened to those tiny voices singing ''if you're happy and you know it, say amen,'' and glanced at the walls filled with diplomas and certificates of professional achievement, news clippings announcing the day care providers' union victory, and photos of our hostess with leading Illinois politicians, I knew this was the kind of place where movements are born.

    Later, we joined one another for lunch and conversation about Joan's book and the challenges today's mothers face. Sitting around the table were: younger moms and older moms; moms of children who haven't yet started school and moms whose youngest has already headed off to college; African American, Latina and Caucasian moms; single moms and married moms; stay-at-home moms and moms working for pay; middle class moms and moms with limited economic means; moms of Christian faith and Jewish moms; and, the wonderful women I like to call FOMs (that's friends of moms!) who aren't parents but who are dedicating themselves to making life better for us and our children. Despite our varied backgrounds, when we started talking about our experiences and sharing some of our personal struggles in trying to earn a living while also caring for our families, it was clear that what we have in common transcends our differences.

    We ended the afternoon by posing for a group photo with Joan and then tiptoed out of the house so as not to wake the little ones napping on their cots in the living room. Quietly, we stepped out the front door - moms on a mission - ready to take on the world.

    Tuesday, May 16, 2006

    When You Wish Upon a Star

    I had a wonderful Mother's Day this year. Brunch with my family and even a mommy-daughter trip to Six Flags amusement park, complete with getting soaking wet on a water ride in 50 degree weather. What more could a mother ask for?

    Well, actually, I can think of a few things. Paid family & medical leave would be nice and so would affordable health insurance coverage for every family. Better day care and after school programs also seem like a good idea. And, how about flexible work schedules so we can be there when our little one debuts as a vegetable in the school play.

    O.k. I admit this may sound like a pretty big wish list. But you gotta dream big, right? And, lots of moms (and dads!) are.

    In addition to those of us who have been organizing here in Illinois on issues affecting our ability to support and care for our families, there are others who have set their sights on building a national movement for a more family-friendly America. Be sure to check out and to catch a glimpse of what we can do if we come together.

    There's definitely lots of hard work ahead. But, before we roll up our sleeves, let's close our eyes and make a wish.

    Friday, April 28, 2006

    Flu season is over but parents still feeling the squeeze

    Well, we've made it through another flu season - a time when I find my anxiety level rise in anticipation of the endless rounds of illness it seems our family goes through every winter. Aside from a few colds, we've thankfully all stayed pretty healthy this year, but last year was a definitely different story.

    Our daughter got a terrible case of pneumonia that landed her in the hospital. Then, there were the viruses, each one with a high temp that went on for days. All in all, she missed 24 days of school because of illness.

    My husband and I took turns caring for our daughter. And, each time a fever ended, we dutifully waited the recommended 24 hours before sending her back to school. But this is a luxury most parents can't afford. They don't have flexible schedules or the ability to work from home like we do and many of them are among the 59 million American workers who don't get any paid sick leave at all. And, even if they do, many employers still don't allow these days to be used to care for an ill family member.

    So, what do these parents do? Well, for one, they send their sneezing and coughing kids to childcare and school, which in turn infects classmates and teachers. Sometimes, they go to work when they are feeling run down for fear of exhausting the little paid time off they have. And, then there are those who have to lie when they call in sick because it's really their little one who has the sniffles.

    I don't blame these moms and dads. One bad bout of bronchitis - for them, their kids, or even their own aging parents - can land them in the unemployment line. They take their responsibilities seriously but are being put in the impossible position of having to choose between their health and putting food on the table.

    I certainly don't need the threat of a pandemic to convince me that something has to change.

    Fortunately, I'm not alone. Several recent news stories and research studies have highlighted the problem and our elected officials are beginning to offer solutions. Last year, a bill called the Healthy Families Act was introduced in the U.S. Congress. If it passed, this legislation would guarantee full-time employees seven paid sick days each year to use when they are ill or needed to care for an ill family member (and part-time employees would also get a share based on the number of hours they work).

    Closer to home, members of the Illinois General Assembly have been considering the creation of an insurance program that would provide workers with up to 4 weeks of partially paid leave per year to care for a newborn or adopted child or to deal with a serious personal or family medical emergency. Employers and employees would each chip in about 75 cents per week to pay for the program, which seems like a small price for ensuring healthier families, schools and workplaces.

    Believe it or not, there is still a lot of opposition to these common sense proposals. The biggest argument seems to be coming from the business community, which doesn't want the government telling it what to do. I'm fine with that as long as employers do their part by giving all workers - no matter what job they have or how much they earn - paid time off when they need it (and don't penalize them when they use it!).

    As the saying goes, mothers and fathers really do know best when it comes to what our families need to stay healthy. So, tell us what you think of the ideas discussed here and about your own personal experiences in taking a family or medical leave. Simply click "comment" to join a conversation with other Illinois parents about what we can do to move this important concern from the back to the front burner.

    And, be sure to bookmark where you can learn more about paid leave and other timely topics as well as ways you can speak out and take action.

    Name:Rhonda Present

    All I Want For Mother's Day
    School Schedules In Spotlight
    No Thrills for Mom
    Goodnight Mom
    Making Every Day Family Day
    Boxed In
    We're All in This Together
    Dads Make A Difference
    A Round of Applause

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