Mommy Wars in India

Welcome to the "On Balance" guest blog. Every Tuesday, "On Balance" features the views of a guest writer. It could be your neighbor, your boss, your most loved or hated poster from the blog, or you! Send me your original, unpublished entry (300 words or fewer) for consideration. Writers need to use their full names. Obviously, the topic should be something related to balancing your life.

By Priyadarshini Narendra

I'm a "working mom" from India with two kids under five. The issues of "balance" are the same here as everywhere else in the world, and I would like to put in my two paise (cents) on the subject.

I've lived both lives, and neither is better. I had to quit my work in marketing during my first pregnancy due to complications. For six months after my son arrived, I stayed home because I couldn't face the thought of leaving him. Even though I was bored and longing for adult company, the stimulation of work, and of course, my own money.

Eventually, a half day job fell into my lap and I thought I'd try it out. Initially leaving him was hard but I got used to it, and he got used to having me go to office. After my daughter was born, I began working full time in management consulting. It's been just about a year since then.

I have times when I'm so busy I don't get home when the kids are awake. I hate that. When I make a good presentation or a client likes my work, I love that. There are days when my husband is flying into town and I'm flying out and we meet at the airport. I miss PTA meetings. When my son has vacation from school and I have to go off to the office, it hurts. I like having money I can call my own. I enjoy the arguments and debates that form my work. Every day, my feelings regarding working vs. staying at home change. On good days, I think -- Yes! I can do it. On bad days, I type out my resignation letter.

I'm someone who doesn't fully buy the 'quality time' argument so I have guilt pangs about the quantity time the kids aren't getting. But I also think only quantity time doesn't cut it. When I look at my kids objectively, I don't see two neglected kids. I see kids who get a little less time with their parents, but whose parents are involved with them.

My husband is wonderfully supportive and does tons of stuff with and for them. He's home in time to read our son bedtime stories at least four days out of seven. I'm a poor sleeper who can't get back to sleep if interrupted so if either of the kids gets up in the night, he does night duty, and has done so ever since the kids were about nine months old. On weekends, we both take the kids to the park or elsewhere, and we try to go together to all school events. If I have to travel my husband stays in town, even if he has to postpone his travel and vice versa. We take turns staying home when the kids are ill. He attends PTA meetings by himself when I'm traveling. On my days off, we all paint together. I teach my son the names of all the plants in our garden. We have fun.

In terms of household management, that usually falls in my lap though we do the monthly grocery shopping together.
We have two helpers at home for the house and the childcare. I wanted older women who had kids or even grandkids of their own; one is in her early fifties, the other one in her mid thirties. Even if they are a little less energetic than younger caregivers, they are genuinely loving and patient with our kids.

My in-laws and my parents are highly supportive of the fact that I work. My mother-in-law was a working woman, a professor in college until her recent retirement. My mother always wanted to be a working woman but wasn't for most of her life, so both my parents were keen that my sister and I be well educated and financially independent. Of course, at times they do feel the pressure and stress of a two-working-parent household are too high. But most of the time they're willing to pitch in and help out in any way they can, including keeping an eye on the kids and the helpers.

However, ultimately it doesn't matter whether you work or not, or how much or how little help you have -- it's how you feel about the trade-offs. I've found motherhood to be one debate that has no single resolution. Each one of us has to work it out for herself. And I'm not even sure you've won it even with yourself, because the feelings towards the decision ebb and flow with everything that happens (at least they do for me.)

And so I've decided to take it one day at a time. This doesn't sound like a Hollywood -- or Bollywood -- crescendo of epiphany. But it works for me. So far.


Priyadarshini Narendra lives with her family in Gurgaon, a suburb of New Delhi.

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  December 4, 2007; 7:10 AM ET  | Category:  Guest Blogs
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Comments

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First!

Just kidding. My real post is this: I wanted to take a minute to thank Priya and all the other On Balance Guest Bloggers. I've gotten nearly a hundred essays over the past 18 months and they have added so many diverse voices, stories and perspectives to the blog. Thank you!

Posted by: leslie4 | December 4, 2007 7:17 AM

This has got to be one of the best,most honest, well written pieces I have read in "On Balance". Thank you Praya. I would love to have your help though. How is the job market in India for non-Indians? :)

Posted by: tuckerjules | December 4, 2007 7:32 AM

Speaking as someone who is Indian herself, it seems like your husband has really taken to the role of hands-on parenting and offers quite a bit of support -- not necessarily something that I saw modeled for me as a child. Also, most Americans can't afford or don't want 2 household helpers for their kids (it's a cultural difference); how do you think this influences your choices?

Posted by: anny | December 4, 2007 7:35 AM

People, they are the same all over the world, problems, people have the same problems all over the world. Why call her article «Mommy Wars in India»? Priyadarshini Narendra, she does not write of «wars», of other mommies making mock of her, no! everyone likes her, respects her. Also Pakistan, surely some mother from Pakistan can tell us her way of balancing, too, like Priyadarshini Narendra from India does. Balance Pakistan and India, then we can all get along.

Posted by: abu_ibrahim | December 4, 2007 7:54 AM

Anny corectly notes that "most Americans can't afford or don't want 2 household helpers for their kids (it's a cultural difference)"

Not meaning to be snarky, but I wonder who's taking care of the homes and families of Priya's household workers -- she specified that she wanted adult women with children or even grandchildren of their own -- while they're at her house taking care of her family? It's not as though she has young, single au pairs who are free to live-in as quasi-family members themselves.

Posted by: mehitabel | December 4, 2007 8:19 AM

What a wonderful guest blog! I think this view represents how a lot of people feel. Your confidence in your decision may change from day to day, but in the end you weigh the pros and cons and come up with the same decision. There are some things to be really proud of, and there are some things that make you feel guilty.

These are universals that are true for moms, dads, daughters, sons, wives, husbands... everybody.

Posted by: Meesh | December 4, 2007 8:32 AM

Her caregivers are taking care of their homes like any working women do - when they get home and on the weekends. I have a feeling her caregivers do not have young ones at home by how she described them.

Posted by: robinwfcva | December 4, 2007 8:37 AM

I think this is a great blog. And the key sentences for me came at the end when you said "It works for me. So far." As far as I can tell, unless you have beaucoup bucks or stumble upon a fantastic staff of one or more, childcare and household arrangements are almost continuously morphing things. Babies need a different kind of care than school-aged children who have more needs than high-school kids. It's all fun, though.

By the way, I am so in love with my own kids right now. They say the most killing things and are spontaneously loving and caring with me, my husband and each other (it makes up for those times when they're shrieking epithets at one another). Maybe it's Christmas, maybe it's just the stage they're in, but I'm loving every second.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | December 4, 2007 8:42 AM

robinwfcva wrote: "Her caregivers are taking care of their homes like any working women do - when they get home and on the weekends. I have a feeling her caregivers do not have young ones at home by how she described them."

Perhaps, but I'd be equally interested in reading a guest blog by the caregivers, to learn how working-class women in India deal with balance issues.

Posted by: mehitabel | December 4, 2007 8:42 AM

Mehitabel,
The irony that the rich and middle class all over the world pay the poor to watch their children which results in the children of the poor SOMETIMES being neglected by their mothers or receiving substandard care.

I sent my daughter to a daycare in DC at a Federal Agency. It was a wonderful daycare almost exclusively staffed with loving and energetic young African
American women living in DC. Many had two or more small children at home ... either in cheaper daycare, homecare or with grandparents filling the gap. Policy prohibited them having their children at work but the cost of the daycare would have been a barrier to bringing the kids to work given their salaries.

Certainly this resulted in some employees' children getting less than the best of care while my daughter had the very best. Did it bother me? Yes. Could I change anything? No. I didn't have space for an au pair or the money for a full time nanny. I chose to work and place my child in daycare, perhaps contributing to the neglect of other children.

Like the guest writer, I lived abroad in a developing country. While working there I also chose to hire an older lady as a live-in nanny/housekeeper. Experience, patience and no small children was what I was looking for. She had one teenager. Her son lived with her/us sharing 3 rooms in a seperate suite behind our house. We also paid his school fees and uniform and he was the first in his family to attend high school.

It is ironic that I feel that my work-life balance had more of a negative impact on other children when I lived in DC than in a poor country with few laws/regulation to protect children.

Posted by: samclare | December 4, 2007 8:48 AM

I'm actually interested in hearing more about the New Delhi PTA. Do they have to sell wrapping paper and pizza kits to their co-workers too? Seriously, I'm interested in how things work socially elsewhere!

Posted by: moxiemom1 | December 4, 2007 8:53 AM

"The irony that the rich and middle class all over the world pay the poor to watch their children which results in the children of the poor SOMETIMES being neglected by their mothers or receiving substandard care."

Posted by: samclare | December 4, 2007 08:48 AM

Zju Zju noticed the same phenomenon almost exactly two years ago, commenting on Professor Linda Hirshman's "Homeward Bound" article in The American Prospect:
- - - - -
"In Hirshman's cold world, in which people base their most intimate decisions not on human passion but rather on money and 'power' (which reads a lot like contempt), there's no discussion of real children -- their real needs, their real capacities, their real hurts. Presumably, children are to be resentfully birthed by mothers who are wholly preoccupied with 'public spheres like the market or the government,' then handed over to poorer, darker-skinned women who will care for them until it's time for the children to set out for Princeton. Is there anyone in this world who doesn't take advantage of other human beings, who doesn't cruelly exploit women (and men) 'beneath' them on the Hirshman food chain?
And Hirshman states that this is what 'full human flourishing' looks like??"

Posted by Zju Zju, December 2, 2005 06:36 PM
- - - - -

Posted by: MattInAberdeen | December 4, 2007 8:57 AM

I wonder why people so quickly slip into the questions about the caregivers, and about how much household and childcare help working parents need.

In order to work, you need to hire someone else to take care of your children and your home to some degree. Taking care of children is a JOB worthy of great respect, whether you live in India, the US or Timbuktu. Priya's childcare and household helpers deserve respect -- as do Priya and her husband, because they obviously are taking good care of the children and themselves too, and working hard at their jobs.

Whether you are paid to do it, or do it because you love being home with your kids, taking care of children is hard work and should be recognized as such.

Posted by: leslie4 | December 4, 2007 9:10 AM

What I love about this post is how it demonstrates that the love and guilt that go along with motherhood transcends cultural boundaries. It's a reminder that we are all more similar than we are different -- and that the balance we desire, seek, strive for -- and that sometimes makes us sad or crazy -- is a way that we can link to one another. And that's got to be a good thing.

Amy Nathan

Posted by: asng3017 | December 4, 2007 9:18 AM

*Off-topic alert!*

I just thought that I'd mention the reason why so much food is high in salt is because it is also high in sugar. And vice versa. Take a look at the labels on some of the cereals in the cupboard (or on top of the fridge). It's counterintuitive, but true.

For example, that's why the Ovaltine that is sold in Europe tastes so different--less sugar, less salt.

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

It must be the immigrant family I come from, but honestly, everyone worked outside of the home. It was the only way to get the kids into better schools, to keep the landlord from beating down your door or your mortgage paid, and have money to salt away for your retirement. The clannish mentality means that family pitches in to help with the kids. Even if that means playing round-robin and following some fool teenager around for the entire school day for two weeks solid, to ensure they will NEVER skip school again. No, that wasn't me, that was a cousin. It worked too!

Isn't anyone on this blog not white? Does no one have relatives who were the silent, invisible people, with many tales to tell about 14 hour days working as a maid, then going home and trying to deal with your family? I can't be the only one.

Posted by: maryland_mother | December 4, 2007 9:20 AM

My immigrant grandmother took care of her family and then went to her job mopping the floors of a local college at night. She never learned to read well, but her kids went to school. She was white.

Posted by: babsy1 | December 4, 2007 9:24 AM

Leslie asks: "I wonder why people so quickly slip into the questions about the caregivers, and about how much household and childcare help working parents need."

Sarcasm alert: Right, Leslie, shame on me. Those lower-class folks' family needs aren't nearly as important as those of the more privileged. Don't those caregivers know their place as mere cogs in richer people's life-wheels???

Posted by: mehitabel | December 4, 2007 9:36 AM

Hi Babs,

So am I, but it didn't stop my maternal grandmother from making me sleep in the barn the last time I visited her. Made a nice little comment about my father's northern European background, made a comment about my resemblance to his sister and gave me a sleeping bag. Vile old

Posted by: maryland_mother | December 4, 2007 9:38 AM

My child is in a federal daycare center and some of the workers there do enroll their children at the center. I'm sure it ensures loyalty from a group of workers that traditionally has high turnover. Not only that, I understand that center employees get to enroll their kids at a reduction of costs. A policy that prohibits employees from enrolling their kids is insulting and has to be bad for recruitment. Caregivers probably can't be in the same classroom as their child at our center, but otherwise, having people work in the same place where their children are seems like the right way to go for so many reasons.

Posted by: baby-work | December 4, 2007 9:55 AM

to Maryland_Mother - you questioned where the non-whites were on this blog - but your point is more about economic status than race. I am white, but I've spent much of my adult life as a "silent, invisible person", and I often find this blog doesn't reflect the world I live in. Most of the blog entries are about two parent families that are balancing work and home. Every once in while there will be a post from a single mom or someone in a lower economic class. But not often. But I think this is probably because most of the readers of this log are more well off.

I just try to read this without taking it personally, and when I think it will help, I offer my "view" of the world.

Posted by: jjtwo | December 4, 2007 10:00 AM

"I've lived both lives, and neither is better".... this is probably the best characterization of issue that I have come across so far. Thank you Priya!

Posted by: tsm | December 4, 2007 10:00 AM

Isn't anyone on this blog not white? Does no one have relatives who were the silent, invisible people, with many tales to tell about 14 hour days working as a maid, then going home and trying to deal with your family? I can't be the only one.

Posted by: maryland_mother | December 4, 2007 09:20 AM

Maryland Mother, like jjtwo, I'm not sure that race is as important as economic status on this issue. I've made the point before that the Donna Reed world some imagine as the Holy Grail was never, and is not, available universally for most Americans. My greatgrandparents were those silent, invisible people who worked. My grandparents were those silent, invisible people who worked. Heck, DH's great-grandmother supported her 11 children as a peddlar in West Virginia when her husband refused to leave Lebanon. They didn't work for satifaction. Nor for intellectual challenge. They worked to survive. To pay the light bill. To keep their kids in a single pair of shoes for each school year. For most people, there is no choice about whether to work. You simply do.

Posted by: mn.188 | December 4, 2007 10:10 AM

Mehitabel, why do you always take every opportunity to attack me?

I'm standing up for the working women whose job is caring for children, as well as working women who have other kinds of jobs and value the women who care for their children.

What I'm against is people who try to divide women into different camps -- working v. at-home, upper v. lower class, etc. As Priya's essay shows, we are all in this together.

I don't know what good it does you or anyone else to constantly go after me with your rants. I think it is divisive and negative. Your opinions are great and I welcome them. But do you need to wrap them up in a personal, pointed attack every time? It detracts from the credibility of your messages.

Posted by: leslie4 | December 4, 2007 10:24 AM

I agree with jjtwo and MN. It's certainly about socioeconomic status. Every woman in my family worked--my grandmother, her mother, and my mom and all her sisters. My brother and I went to day care and then got jobs at 14 to pay for our stuff.

To echo a point the MN made that most people here seem to forget: Most people don't have the option to not work.

Posted by: Meesh | December 4, 2007 10:25 AM

Cool guest blog. It sounds as if the balance issue is a global issue. The in home care givers is a little different. But some Americans can afford a care giver in the home. In regards to daycare, my private day care allows each worker to bring two children at no cost to the day care. So for most of the workers, it covers their day care needs. I do think it breeds loyalty and a certain level of care. But has anyone considered letting an in home nanny bring their own children to your home for reduced wages? I am not sure what the tax ramifications and license ramifications are but it sounds like a unique way to get around the child care issue. I have to agree with MN and others. Lots or even most have no other choice to work. Two parent or not. It seems like most people work to pay the bills.

Posted by: foamgnome | December 4, 2007 10:33 AM

I live in the U.S. and am white and married to an Indian man. We have one young son.

It's been interesting to meet my husband's young female relatives in India and see how many hunger for more independence, more freedom and are obtaining more education, while still valuing the culture and their family structures. Things are slowly changing in India and women are leading the way.

It's amazing to see how cultural changes follow economic changes. For instance, more and more women are living on their own (previously unheard of)and perhaps do not go live with their husband's family, but have their own apartments with their husband. Greater economic prosperity is slowly making these things possible for the upper middle class (poor and middle class may still be unable to do these things).

Priya, my congratulations to you! You sound like one member of a wonderful family. Happy, successful women who use their brains and their hearts both -- a pleasure to have them in the world.

Posted by: goodhome631 | December 4, 2007 10:46 AM

"What I'm against is people who try to divide women into different camps -- working v. at-home, upper v. lower class, etc."

And ubermoms vs. slackermoms?

The issues surrounding having household help are a huge part of the balance issue. I don't care what you say, if you can afford - or if it is a cultural norm - to have people help you, it's easier to balance work and family. If you have someone heating up the chicken nuggets for your kids' dinner so you can take a bubble bath and then have a nice dinner with your husband later, you're likely to have better balance than someone who has worked all day, picked up her kids at 5:30, rushed home, cooked a healthy dinner, cleaned up after the dinner, scrubbed the toilets, vacuumed the family room, and fallen into bed exhausted.

Posted by: fake99 | December 4, 2007 10:50 AM

I agree, socioeconomic may be a better fit. But I have extended family who were not only poor, but black, and working silently during Jim Crow and before. Being white at least ensured slightly better pay. Even being a white immigrant woman netted you more.

My family had a lot less to fear. We may have been the denigrated immigrant underclass, but we were protected by our lack of melanin-enhancement. There are at least two incidents of lynchings in the extended family tree.

Posted by: maryland_mother | December 4, 2007 10:59 AM

Some people actually manage to balance their lives without paid help. I work all day, pick up the kids at 5:30, rush home, cook a healthy dinner, clean up after dinner, do laundry, put the kids to bed--then relax with my husband. Maybe it's because I have a husband who participates equally in the household chores and cooking, but we manage perfectly well without a lawn service or a cleaning crew or a nanny.

Posted by: maggielmcg | December 4, 2007 11:06 AM

Leslie, don't blame me. I didn't make your write, "I wonder why people so quickly slip into the questions about the caregivers, and about how much household and childcare help working parents need." You did that to yourself, now you have to live with your words. Think before you type.

Posted by: mehitabel | December 4, 2007 11:06 AM

Should be, I didn't make you write...

Posted by: mehitabel | December 4, 2007 11:09 AM

Maybe it's because I have a husband who participates equally in the household chores and cooking,

Strike out the word "maybe", and enjoy the quiet moments!

Posted by: maryland_mother | December 4, 2007 11:13 AM

mleifer - maybe so, but paid help does still help in the pursuit of balance. If it didn't, everyone would do the work themselves. (Unless people actually are hiring household help because they're lazy, or because they consider housework "beneath" them.) But apparently we're only allowed to talk about balance issues if they're something Leslie approves of, and questioning the motives behind why someone hires help isn't something she approves of.

Posted by: fake99 | December 4, 2007 11:14 AM

Leslie wrote: "What I'm against is people who try to divide women into different camps."

Sarcasm alert: Ooooh, we can't have class warfare, now can we? That's what Bush and his cronies would say.

I agree with Maryland Mother and jjtwo that race plus low socioeconomic class is even harder in this country than low socioeconomic class alone -- although for white immigrants, as eloquently described by MN, survival was plenty hard too. Likewise for single parents juggling earning a living while raising a family alone.

BTW, in no way should my comments be construed as criticizing Priya. She lives in a different culture, where household help for middle class families is the norm. As Samclare described, even Americans living in such countries are likely to have such help, and she describes a personal situation where they admirably did much for their household employee and her family.

Posted by: mehitabel | December 4, 2007 11:16 AM

Why do people assume that if somebody hires a caregiver be it a nanny or a house keeper or a private cook (!) then the household employee is abused. Clearly, the job description of a housekeeper sounds less glamorous than, say, a manager, but a housekeeper knows what the going wage is for her services and will not work in a house where she is paid less and exploited. My mother in law moved to this country when she was too old to learn English. Despite the fact that she was highly educated, she knew, realistically, that she can only get a job babysitting. And she did. She never once felt exploited. Moreover, this family made her part of their family and she attended birthdays, college graduations, etc. My husband was happy that she had this job too.

Posted by: tsm | December 4, 2007 11:21 AM

As I may have said before, an immigrant background usually means a strong work ethic. My family immigrated from Italy, and my great grandfather was African, (which makes me an "octoroon") which means that we were low socioeconomic status and brown skinned. But I don't pretend that our Hungarian cousins who immigrated at the same time had it any easier because they had blond hair and grey eyes.

Working is an essential part of life for many immigrants regardless of race. That drive to work has not lessened in our family--we take pride in our ability to work and make the lives of our children better. the day we stop working is the day we die (not to be melodramatic ;).

Posted by: Meesh | December 4, 2007 11:31 AM

tsm--I totally agree.

Posted by: maggielmcg | December 4, 2007 11:36 AM

"For most people, there is no choice about whether to work."

Wrong once again. Everybody has the choice NOT to work. Granted, the consequences of that decision may not be very appealing, but in a worldwide perspective the contrary is true. What many people don't have is the choice to go to work and get paid for their labor.

Posted by: GutlessCoward | December 4, 2007 11:37 AM

I don't disagree with what Meesh posted, but imagine that, all other things being eaul, it's generally faster for fair-skinned, fair-haired immigrants (like Meesh's Hungarian cousins) to assimilate into mainstream American culture (i.e., "pass" for WASP) than for Americans of sub-Saharan African (i.e., Black) ancestry, owing to historic racism.

Posted by: mehitabel | December 4, 2007 11:39 AM

Should read, all other things being equal...

Posted by: mehitabel | December 4, 2007 11:41 AM

mleifer and tsm's comments re contented household workers reminds me of the occasional slaves who would be trotted out to say they liked slavery. Maybe a few slaves were well treated by their mastners -- leaving aside the moral issues inherent in one person owning another -- but in truth many domestic home workers are exploited, especially if they're illegal aliens who don't have legal protection from abusive employers. Remember those poor unfortunate women working at certain embassies who were held virtually prisoner and abused physically and/or psychologically, who basically had to escape?

Posted by: mehitabel | December 4, 2007 11:47 AM

masters, not mastners. Not typing so well today ;-)

Posted by: mehitabel | December 4, 2007 11:49 AM

Leslie wrote: "I don't know what good it does you or anyone else to constantly go after me with your rants. I think it is divisive and negative. Your opinions are great and I welcome them. But do you need to wrap them up in a personal, pointed attack every time? It detracts from the credibility of your messages."

In other words, if you can't defend your points, call the poster names. If that doesn't work, will you be calling me a schoolyard bully and publishing my full name and city next?

Posted by: mehitabel | December 4, 2007 11:54 AM

LMS- I cringed when I saw your response. Speaking as an IT consultant, the design of this technological forum makes it nearly impossible for you to argue with an individual and win. Trust me, don't try.

This is not a commentary on the merits of either position, just an observation that a public-figure-as-blogger will lose a personality-based disagreement on-blog almost 100% of the time, regardless of the merits of the argument.

That advice was free. The next one you'll have to contract me for....

Posted by: ProudPapa15 | December 4, 2007 12:07 PM

mehitabel, I agree that it would be easier if all other things were equal. But they weren't. They were obviously not American because they had think foreign accents (when they finally did learn English). Discrimination lasted well into the 50s for my family.

The original point was that race was not the only factor back then in terms of the "silent, invisible people." Fair-skinned immigrants were among that group. I think we can all agree. The same is true today. The working poor are black, Hispanic, Asian, white, you name it.

Posted by: Meesh | December 4, 2007 12:12 PM

ProudPapa, My posts to the blog were based on substance. It was Leslie who pushed back hard based on personalities, since her arguments were untenable so she had nothing else to offer.

Posted by: mehitabel | December 4, 2007 12:13 PM

"in truth many domestic home workers are exploited, especially if they're illegal aliens who don't have legal protection from abusive employers."

Statistics, please. What is the basis for saying that "many" domestic home workers are exploited? Even with respect to illegals, the potential for exploitation does not prove the existence of exploitation. I'm not disagreeing with your conclusion - I am asking on what is it based.

"I work all day, pick up the kids at 5:30, rush home, cook a healthy dinner, clean up after dinner, do laundry, put the kids to bed--then relax with my husband.:

Posted by: 11:06 AM

So what with the cooking, cleaning, and laundry, the children merit perhaps 15 minutes of attention and then only at bedtime? No. No balance problems there. No wonder some SAHMs laugh at the concept of "quality time".

Posted by: mn.188 | December 4, 2007 12:14 PM

Meesh, I agree that foreign accents can certainly hold immigrants back, especially poor immigrants. But by the next generation this situation often no longer exists, as the immigrants' children (particularly if born here) usually speak flawless English. Non-white racial appearance, however, doesn't go away in a generation, so those children don't get to "pass."

Posted by: mehitabel | December 4, 2007 12:17 PM

"Wrong once again. Everybody has the choice NOT to work. Granted, the consequences of that decision may not be very appealing, but in a worldwide perspective the contrary is true. What many people don't have is the choice to go to work and get paid for their labor.

GC, are you refering to slavery? Would you really consider is accurate to say that "many people" are slaves today? Where do you imagine the "contrary" to be the rule as opposed to the exception?

Posted by: Meesh | December 4, 2007 12:22 PM

MN, all I meant was that household and childcare workers work very hard (in often physically taxing labor) yet are at the low end of the pay scale, and (if aliens, especially illegal aliens) may well have fewer legal protections than more privileged workers; remember several government nominees' nanny problems that became public? Perhaps one of our chatters can post links to census or labor department data on this situation.

Posted by: mehitabel | December 4, 2007 12:22 PM

Yes, domestic workers do work very hard. In India, often these jobs are the only thing available to them for work. Often these workers are completely uneducated and must be trained even in the simplest household tasks by the family they work for. Do we blame that family for exploiting them? OR should we blame the society for failing to educate their own people (good schools in India cost money)? Or do we blame the culture who thinks that education for women (or in general) is a waste of time/not worth paying for?

Upper middle class families will hire children to be "nannies" for their own children. I've heard of a 16-year-old girl being hired as a full-time nanny. Why isn't that girl in school? She needs to earn money to support her family. So before we judge those who do the hiring in this society, let's look at all aspects and not just assume it's exactly like it is here in North America or Europe.

In this country, immigration often provides another twist to the employment of a domestic worker.

To generalize and say that they are all abused, etc., is not correct. It is much more complicated than that.

Posted by: goodhome631 | December 4, 2007 12:58 PM

"So what with the cooking, cleaning, and laundry, the children merit perhaps 15 minutes of attention and then only at bedtime? No. No balance problems there. No wonder some SAHMs laugh at the concept of "quality time". "

Yes, that's right--my kids have to stay outside in the yard like dogs while I do that stuff, then I throw them their dinner and call them in when it's time for bed.

BTW, I was a SAHM for 8 years and did laugh at the concept of quality time--which is why I don't kid myself that hiring a maid to clean the house so I can spend every moment with my kids sitting on the floor doing flashcards or whatever it is you feel I should be doing with them makes me a better mom. My kids do their homework in the kitchen while I make the dinner; they are downstairs with me when I do the laundry and they help clean up after dinner. If I have to go to the grocery store or do some other errand they go with me. We sit down and eat together as a family every night. Etc.

Posted by: maggielmcg | December 4, 2007 12:58 PM

MN, all I meant was that household and childcare workers work very hard (in often physically taxing labor) yet are at the low end of the pay scale, and (if aliens, especially illegal aliens) may well have fewer legal protections than more privileged workers; remember several government nominees' nanny problems that became public? Perhaps one of our chatters can post links to census or labor department data on this situation.

Posted by: mehitabel | December 4, 2007 12:22 PM

The governmment nominees' nanny problems that became public were about the failure to pay into the social security system. The political problem was that they were not complying with applicable federal law. Do you think the nannies cared about this one bit, LOL?

Domestic employees do work hard, on average, but, as someone who has worn quite a few polyester uniforms and inquired repeatedly whether you'd like fries or garlic cheese sticks with your order, some hard work is better than others. I suspect you also might not be aware of the payscale for qualified nannies. Good nannies call the shots and, given a choice between being an assistant manager for Target and having to work holiday hours, Wendy's and have to work until 2 a.m., or working for a reasonably tolerable family at their residence in a safe neighborhood, 9 - 5, Monday - Friday, work as a nanny is infinitely to be preferred for many folks.

What puzzles me is that you seem to suggest today and on other days that there is something immoral and unseemly about HIRING household workers. Were I a betting girl, I'd bet those household workers wish you'd stop. These are clean, safe jobs in nicer surroundings than might otherwise be available for them. Would you rather clean an office building or a mansion in Potomac? I would much prefer that those jobs be available to those who want them and are qualified to hold them, and that we press employers to treat their employees politely, fairly and comply with applicable wage and hour and tax laws.

Posted by: mn.188 | December 4, 2007 1:08 PM

MN, I agree wholeheartedly that we need to "press employers to treat their employees politely, fairly and comply with applicable wage and hour and tax laws." Unfortunately, household workers and caregivers, as well as cleaners in office and other buildings, may not have the English language skills, education nor cultural background to stand up for their rights as eloquently as you and most everyone whho posts here can for ours.

Posted by: mehitabel | December 4, 2007 1:17 PM

I understand, mehitabel, but is it better not to hire them? How is being unemployed and unable to take care of your family superior to being employed in a safe place and paid regularly?

Posted by: mn.188 | December 4, 2007 1:20 PM

MN, isn't it more desirable for such workers to be able to obtain more education, so they can get better jobs?

Posted by: mehitabel | December 4, 2007 1:22 PM

«My husband is wonderfully supportive and does tons of stuff with and for them.»
«if either of the kids gets up in the night, he does night duty,»
«Priyadarshini Narendra lives with her family in Gurgaon, a suburb of New Delhi.»

O Mrs. Narendra, regular weather, your husband, it is good that he does these tons of stuff day and night. India, the hurricane, what happens when 150 mile an hour winds are near? The windows, who boards them up, best done with bamboo shoots? The ox carts, who lashes them down, so they do not blow away? Your elephants, when the storm is coming, who tethers your elephants?

Posted by: abu_ibrahim | December 4, 2007 1:25 PM

ProudPapa -- I really appreciate your advice. And I need more.

The reason I respond to negative posters, as reasonably as I can on any given day, is because when I don't, the more rational people on the blog feel I'm letting the negative ones dominate. I agree -- I have a responsibility here to try to reason with posters who dominate in a negative way. I agree I can't win in arguing with unreasonable people. But I'm in trouble if I ignore them, too.

Any more unpaid advice?

Posted by: leslie4 | December 4, 2007 1:25 PM

Once upon a different decade, I worked in a building with regular housekeeping staff.

When the winter holiday season was upon us, the suggestion went around for a gift for the woman who tended to the floor. The usual stuff was bandied about, but I carried the day.

We got a nice big card, signed it, and everyone kicked in money. That was given to her. I also wrote a letter of appreciation. Then I went around and got various demi-gods (lab chiefs) to write appreciation letters for the truly wonderful job she did. It's freaking thankless work and we all knew it.

I'm happy to report that not only was the money appreciated (she told me, later), but the letters got her a bonus and eventually a raise.

Cash never hurts. But taking it upon yourself to write a real letter detailing someone else's terrific job performance counts for more. At least until something better comes along.

Posted by: maryland_mother | December 4, 2007 1:26 PM

mehitabel,

It depends. As you know, I'm not persuaded that more education will enable them to get better jobs, if by better we mean, better pay and better hours. With respect to the undocumented, no amount of education is going to solve their illegal status. On average, I suspect that the employers who have better pay and better hours to offer comply with applicable immigration law and would not hire them if they were the best educated illegals on the face of the planet.

Fundamentally, I am most concerned that when we discourage people, by means of guilt or otherwise, from hiring the poor, we limit their job options and choices on their behalf. I suspect they would tell us to take our concern and shove it where the sun don't shine.

Posted by: mn.188 | December 4, 2007 1:30 PM

Mehitabel -- no one would argue that obtaining more education is a bad thing but I would say that many work as nannies, cleaning people, etc so that the next generation can be educated. Additionally several years ago I read that the Portguese community in RI had taken housecleaning up a notch -- like good salespeople they built "books" of business (regular weekly, bi-weekly, monthly jobs) that were actually bought/sold in a manner similar to a franchise. Many low skilled/hard labor jobs have the potential to be extremely lucrative.

Posted by: tntkate | December 4, 2007 1:35 PM

mn.188 -- thank you for your post.

Posted by: tsm | December 4, 2007 1:37 PM

tntkate wrote, "no one would argue that obtaining more education is a bad thing."

Were that so, returning education and higher education wouldn't be so durn expensive (with tuitions rising at a far faster rate than inflation, not to mention exorbitant textbooks).

Posted by: mehitabel | December 4, 2007 1:51 PM

What's so bad about being a nanny or cleaner? They should all get educations and do something else? Why? Maybe they get decent pay, don't have student loans, and have good hours and low stress. Or maybe they're all dumb as stumps. Not everyone needs to be "rescued." What about teachers? Should they be rescued from their jobs and go be investment bankers? Cops?

Posted by: atb2 | December 4, 2007 1:58 PM

Meesh, to answer your earlier question I was not refering to slavery when I posted about the choice to go to work or not, but now that you bring it up, I would have to say that if a person does not have the choice to refuse work, that situation in itself would constitute some form of slavery. Economic slavery perhaps?

Posted by: GutlessCoward | December 4, 2007 1:59 PM

Agreed ATB -- Part of the insidious problem here is that too many people look down upon individual, manual labor traditionally performed by women, such as cleaning and childcare. I've done a lot of both, paid and unpaid, and it's work that is valued and sometimes even well paid!

Posted by: leslie4 | December 4, 2007 2:07 PM

What's so bad about being a nanny or cleaner? They should all get educations and do something else? Why? Maybe they get decent pay, don't have student loans, and have good hours and low stress. Or maybe they're all dumb as stumps. Not everyone needs to be "rescued." What about teachers? Should they be rescued from their jobs and go be investment bankers? Cops?

Posted by: atb2 | December 4, 2007 01:58 PM

atb2, LOL. About once a month, I'll overhear an attorney suggest to one of our secretaries that she should consider law school - with the implication that it would be a big step. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the target secretary laughs and responds, "Why would I want to trade my current (good) salary and benefits to work like a dog -- like you?"

Posted by: mn.188 | December 4, 2007 2:19 PM

Leslie and atb, one problem beyond the esteem in which such work is or is not held is when a worker is trying to support or help support a family on a menial laborer's wage. It's a whole additional dimension beyond doing the same work in one's own home.

Posted by: mehitabel | December 4, 2007 2:19 PM

atb asked: "What about teachers? Should they be rescued from their jobs and go be investment bankers? Cops?"

Maybe teachers and police officers should be better paid, in recognition of the value of their work.

Posted by: mehitabel | December 4, 2007 2:21 PM

atb asked: "What about teachers? Should they be rescued from their jobs and go be investment bankers? Cops?"

Maybe teachers and police officers should be better paid, in recognition of the value of their work.

Posted by: mehitabel | December 4, 2007 02:21 PM

And nurses, firefighters, linemen (electrical kind, not football player kind!)...

Especially nurses. 2/3 more work done for 1/3 the pay.

Posted by: maryland_mother | December 4, 2007 2:27 PM

Leslie I think it is good that you call posters out for personal attacks. My general observation is that personal, destructive, let's set the whole blog into fight or flight response attacks are a waste of everyone's time. Speaking from my own experience, blogs can be a great opportunity to learn how to disagree with others without letting knee jerk defensive responses take over. Learning to keep you left brain in the driver's seat when your right brain is screaming ATTACK turns out to be a pretty useful skill outside of the blogosphere. And sometimes, if you keep your cool, you might even learn something from someone else.

Maryland_mother, I liked what you said about your immigrant family. The longer I'm a parent the more I think the whole balance thing is made so much more difficult by the fact that extended family is not a regular part of the picture in my life (my entire family lives in the proverbial BFE where my husband and I have zero job opportunity). I hope to be able to help my daughter out with her childcare issues someday, if she ever needs help, and I will move wherever she needs me to go (unless it's Utah, I'm just scared to live in Utah...). For now, I worry about what my daughter is missing out on by not having extended family involved in her life on a regular basis, and whether its possible for neighbors and family friends to fill that gap.

Posted by: pinkoleander | December 4, 2007 2:28 PM

Well PinkOleander,

There's families and then there's families. My family will argue a point until it's gasping on the floor, but we'll stay at the table and eat (and argue). We all know that we can *ahem* vigorously disagree and still love and respect each other. Occasionally we even come to an agreement, or cite our references and table it. Then we move on to cut-throat cribbage or pinochle or Scrabble.

My husband's family don't hang around and argue. They get up from the table and run away, or grit their teeth and refuse to eat then leave, and aren't seen for years. Meanwhile, they simmer their resentments and disagreements into a fine broth and dish it out to others.

He doesn't understand why I don't find it delicious. Mmm-mmm! Heartburn!

Friends & neighbors can be great too. Sometimes, better. A little less blindly loyal. I mean, they didn't wipe your tears when you were little, so they have a bit more perspective.

Posted by: maryland_mother | December 4, 2007 2:38 PM

Friends & neighbors can be great too. Sometimes, better. A little less blindly loyal. I mean, they didn't wipe your tears when you were little, so they have a bit more perspective.

Posted by: maryland_mother | December 4, 2007 02:38 PM

aint't that the truth.

Posted by: mn.188 | December 4, 2007 2:43 PM

MN: LOL on the attorney/secretary comment. To me it speaks to that fact that some people want to own their job rather than have it own them! Just another form of balance that certain type A workaholics will never understand.

Posted by: tntkate | December 4, 2007 2:59 PM

Pinkie, thanks. I am all for discussion and disagreement. But personal attacks, on me or by me, just don't cut it.

Posted by: leslie4 | December 4, 2007 3:03 PM

tntkate, I think many people overestimate the value of job-prestige and have difficulty understanding that others may prefer predictable work hours, job security and not paying off education debt into their fifties or sixties - as I will be doing, LOL. Believe me, the people saying it mean it as a compliment (generally), but the statement and the surprise at the reaction reveals an inability to comprehend that many people choose less-prestigious, but decent-paying jobs for a reason -- balance.

Posted by: mn.188 | December 4, 2007 3:12 PM

"What's so bad about being a nanny or cleaner? "

I don't really feel qualified to answer this question, since I care for my own kids and clean my own house. I don't think it's bad.

I suggest that the question be asked directly to those who DO think it's bad to spend their days taking care of their kids and cleaning their homes. That they're not challenged enough intellectually, are bored, and/or would go stir crazy if they had to do it. Maybe those people could give us an idea of why it's so unappealing to them - then maybe we'd have the answer to our question.

Posted by: fake99 | December 4, 2007 3:21 PM

I am just so confused as to why one should feel guilty about providing an opportunity for honest work to another, which is what mehitabel seems to be saying.

Mehitabel can you clarify? I guess I just don't see the problem of employing a nanny and/or cleaner if it brings balance in to your life.

Posted by: atlindc | December 4, 2007 3:29 PM

mehitabel - I might have shared your point of view, line for line, a few years ago. Then I went to work for a construction company, ended up as the de facto safety manager and got to really know the guys who laid their lives on the line every day in order to keep families' basements from flooding. The stuff they did was dirty, exhausting and dangerous and sometimes downright disgusting work. And yet, whenever I visited them on the job sites, they were singing, laughing and enjoying each others' company. I asked guys on more than one occasion if they didn't like the tediousness or the difficulty of the job, and on more than one occasion was given a funny look. "Give me a shovel and my best friends, and I'm happy," said one. "I can't think of anything I'd rather do." They took pride in their hard work. They demanded respect and did not see the fact that their work was blue collar or their migratory status was questionable as a reason to allow themselves to be exploited or looked down upon. And every one of them was working for a better future for their children.

I think it's way too easy to see things in black and white terms, and sometimes without intending to, we (well-intentioned advocates) can be very condescending. A friend of mine said it best: he prefers collaboration to advocacy because collaboration gives equal voice to those you are working with; advocacy involves speaking on behalf of those you are working for.

Posted by: JEGS | December 4, 2007 3:54 PM

Leslie and Mehitabel's series of comments raise a question that has yet to be addressed in "On Balance." It's a given that women have, and should have options. All women. It's also a given that children need caregivers -- either SAHPs, family members, or hired help. What's never discussed is what is the real economic value of that presumably valuable service. What is that value? Why does it seem that such an incredibly important job is always given to the least paid, least educated worker? And that people mostly seem to complain about how much it costs. I really don't understand that; alas, I don't have an answer either...

Posted by: gottabeanon | December 4, 2007 4:25 PM

gottabeanon has hit the nail on the head!

The situation ultimately boils down to the fact that, although in the eyes of the Constitution we all ostensibly have equal rights (unless we're women, vis-à-vis men, since there's still no ERA), in reality the household that employs the domestic worker or caregiver more likely enjoys the upper hand. It presumably has a lot more money than what its employee earns, can hire/fire at will, wields the power to give a positive/negative reference, etc. In other words, it's an unequal relationship in which the employee is typically on the short end.

Posted by: mehitabel | December 4, 2007 4:32 PM

And if the employee is a non-citizen, especially if an illegal alien, that person may have less legal recourse if s/he feels her/his employment rights have been trampled upon (sorry 'bout that dangling preposition, MN!).

Posted by: mehitabel | December 4, 2007 4:36 PM

When is that not the case? Unless you work for yourself, you have a boss who has all those powers.

Posted by: atb2 | December 4, 2007 4:39 PM

A couple comments -- first Way to Go Leslie. Personally I find exactly zip to criticize in the post that upset Mehitabel. You have a right to speak up when snarked at.

Second, I've worked as a nanny and it was the right job for me at the time -- and I was good at it. No domestic abuse involved. I've worked at higher prestige jobs where I had less control and felt more *abused* so while I'd advocate for protections for childcare workers, I wouldn't throw the jobs out with the bathwater. I've never worked as a housecleaner nor would I hire one because I've been taught to clean up my own messes. If I was God, I'd impose that ethic on everyone. But I'm not so y'all can make other choices -- if you have the money.

Posted by: anne.saunders | December 4, 2007 4:44 PM

mehitabel, with all due respect, I believe you are advocating some kind of a quasi socialist system. Please correct me if I am wrong. I lived under the socialist system and the best testament to that system is that most of Eastern Europe is now part of the EU and NATO. Most of the employer-employee relationships are unequal, by definition. I don't like my boss. I think he should give me more opportunities to telework and give me a raise. He does not. He is the boss. I can't convince him nor can I go to a management above him b/c they will never overrule him. True, my job is a lot better paid and more prestigious than a day care worker but our choices are still the same. In the end, if this is not the work environment that I like, I have an option to look for another job, which I don't do because for all my griping this is not a bad gig that allows me to work 40 works a week and have a day off every other week. We know a family who has had 5 nannies since their oldest was born. They pay well, not less than anybody else in Bethesda, BUT the nannies don't like the environment so they leave. I also know a family who has had the same nanny for the past 7 years. And last time I checked, it was against the law to hire undocumented workers. Plus, why would you want to enthrust your CHILDREN to somebody on whom you can't even run a security check?

Posted by: tsm | December 4, 2007 4:48 PM

mehitable in reference to your 4:32 post all employer have the upper hand. They will always have more money than the employee, always have the right to fire and hire, and can always give bad references.

Posted by: noname1 | December 4, 2007 4:49 PM

"Unless you work for yourself, you have a boss who has all those powers."

Often true if you work in the private sector -- though some people still belong to unions, or have tenure or are partners at their firms, etc. And Civil Service employees enjoy a certain degree of protection, as several Federal employees who participate on this blog can attest.

Posted by: mehitabel | December 4, 2007 4:49 PM

Thing is.. and I am sorry to use inflammatory language, but you may think you're better than someone else if you don't hire a nanny, but unless you are not eating meat, not eating fast food, not eating vegetables and not drinking coffee, etc, etc, you are still living off the same principle as those who hire nannies: you are using your money to buy a service based off of the hard work of (often exploited / often grateful) labor.

Posted by: JEGS | December 4, 2007 4:57 PM

"It's also a given that children need caregivers -- either SAHPs, family members, or hired help. What's never discussed is what is the real economic value of that presumably valuable service. What is that value? Why does it seem that such an incredibly important job is always given to the least paid, least educated worker? And that people mostly seem to complain about how much it costs. I really don't understand that; alas, I don't have an answer either..."

The only answer is for people to provide childcare for their own children.

Think about it - if a childcare worker was paid what they're worth and made the same as a lawyer, then the lawyer who employees the childcare worker would have...well....zero money left over after she pays said childcare worker. And the reason that people complain so much about childcare costs is because unless you're making six figures, childcare costs are a HUGE part of your paycheck.

And just for the record, the "real economic value" of a caregiver is discussed all of the time. That's why they come out with those silly studies that say a SAHP is worth $150K a year. What needs to happen is to STOP thinking of childcare in economic terms and to recognize that the value of childcare is completely intangible.

Posted by: fake99 | December 4, 2007 6:20 PM

mehitabel- I recognize you're trying to outsmart me in particular, but I'm hardly the only one who sees holes all through your ridiculous statements on this topic. Try answering some of their points.

Posted by: atb2 | December 5, 2007 7:38 AM

My first experience as a working mom was in Bangalore, India after which we moved around the world. At times, my husband worked in US while I worked in different countries in Europe and my son stayed with me during that time...we loved the experience and were able to pull it off due to the "extended family" traditions in India - my mom was able to take time off from her work to come stay with me and my son.

If I were to look back and pick that one place where I had the best quality of life as a working mom, it would be Bangalore, India.
Ofcourse, this is based on that unique experience I had in those 4 years I worked there...but boy, were they fabulous! I was treated like a queen, got 4.5 months of paid maternity leave, moved to a company housing one mile off my workplace, was given an extremely challenging assignment at work when I returned, was offered childcare support when I was trasnferred...the list is endless.
Life was also much more balanced and I'd say more meaningful in Europe as compared to here in US.

All in all, hats off to working moms in America - this is a man's world, and preferably one who's single and unencumbered...I am trying to figure out why I am still here...

Alien_mom33 writes regularly at bloggermoms.com

Posted by: alien_mom33 | January 1, 2008 1:06 PM

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