Moms: The Politics Of Balancing Work, Life

In our weekly parenting segment, "The Moms" regular contributors Jolene Ivey and Dani Tucker talk with host Michel Martin about their experiences with balancing work and family life and the role politics can play in their efforts. Connie Guy, a former mayor of Mountville, Pa., and a licensed practical nurse, also joins in.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Now I want here what our roundtable has to say about all this. Joining us are our regular Mom contributors, Jolene Ivey and Dani Tucker. Both of them are here with us in our Washington, D.C. studio. We'd also like to welcome back Connie Guy. She's the former mayor of Mountville, Pennsylvania. She's one of the voters we checked in with from time to time during the elections, and she's back with us now.

So welcome ladies, moms. Thanks so much for joining us again.

Ms. JOLENE IVEY: Hey, Michel.

Ms. DANI TUCKER: Hey, Michel.

Ms. CONNIE GUY: Pleasure to be with you again.

Ms. TUCKER: Thank you.

MARTIN: Well, first, I wanted to ask each of you how you react to Joan Williams' argument that both men and class have been left out of this whole work-life debate? And I wanted to ask if each of you thinks that that's true. So, Dani?

Ms. TUCKER: I do. I think that's true. I can relate especially to the young lady she was talking about with the shifts.

MARTIN: You're a single mom.

Ms. TUCKER: Yeah. I'm a single mom and...

MARTIN: With two teenagers.

Ms. TUCKER: ...there's two teenagers by myself in an urban area, raising them. And I've had that situation where, you know, the job I really wanted to keep, I couldn't keep it because we had, you know, times where I had to be places I didn't have a sitter.

MARTIN: Constant - so, sort of constant lack of control over your schedule...

Ms. TUCKER: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...unplanned overtime, too hard to wheel it around, make arrangements, never discussed.

Ms. TUCKER: Never discussed.

MARTIN: So, Jolene, what about you? You are a two-parent household. Both you and your husband are public officials. Do you feel that we don't talk enough about where men are? Do you think that that's true? One of the arguments she made is that men actually feel this work-life balance acutely, but they don't talk about it as much.

Ms. IVEY: Yeah. Absolutely. I do agree with her. In our case, I know that when my husband was with a private law firm some years ago and I was home, he was free to work as much as he wanted, and he did. He worked a lot of hours. It was kind of crazy. But when he wanted to do something extra, which was teach, he did it on Friday nights because then he didn't have to worry about if he needed to go back to the law firm for something. He had all weekend to do it.

MARTIN: But, you know, when you say he was free to work as much as he wanted to work, you know, I would wonder whether he would agree with your language there. Would you say he was free to work as much as he wanted to, or did he have to work as much as he had to?

Ms. IVEY: There's probably a mix of that. But when I decided to start running for office, he was really alarmed, even though at that point he was an elected official and I guess he hadn't really thought it through, but he did have more control of his schedule then. So he was worried about me not being available to the extent that I had been.

MARTIN: To back him up.

Ms. IVEY: Exactly.

MARTIN: Interesting. And, so Connie, what about you? Connie, you've been an elected official. You're also a licensed practical nurse. You have two kids yourself, who are grown. But do you think that it's true, that when we talk about work-life balance, that we don't talk enough about people who are not professionals, for example, people, and about men? What do you think about that?

Ms. GUY: Well, I think Joan Williams makes a very valid point as far as men and their thinking goes. I would think that in today's society fathers would probably like to be more a part of the upbringing of their children. However, I can't really speak for that because my children are 34 and 21, and I left my daughter - my oldest one is my daughter - and I left her father when she was less than a year old. So I raised those two kids by myself. I juggled...

MARTIN: And when - how did you do it, though? Particularly, working as a nurse and working shifts?

Ms. GUY: You know what?

MARTIN: Presumably, you had to work shifts.

Ms. GUY: Well, I put myself through nursing school while I was raising my son. And if it hadn't been for my parents, actually, I don't know what I would have done. Because I paid a lot of babysitters when my daughter was growing up, and I juggled a lot of different jobs to try and raise them to the best of my ability. And I have to say, I must've done something right because they both turned out so well.

MARTIN: Well, what do you think? And I wanted to ask each of you this, because each of you is a mom, but you're also very into politics. And one of the reasons that Joan Williams wrote this book is that her argument is that policy - government policy has not kept up with the realities of family life today. And she says that, you know - and I don't know how you feel about this term, you know, white working-class, but her argument is that people, like, white working people don't see the government as being on their side right now. And her argument is that, you know, the status quo is hurting this group, particularly people in families, as much if not more than anybody. So why do you think there is that disconnect?

Ms. GUY: I think that there are so many programs that really are beneficial to single parents and their families, their children. What I think some of the lawmakers have done is made it too hard for many middle class or lower class families to benefit from those grants and those funds. Unfortunately, I think some of our Republican lawmakers have made it very, very hard to get to those programs.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. We're having our weekly parenting conversation with the moms. We're talking about a new take on work-life balance. Just a few minutes ago, we heard from author Joan Williams, who's written a new book that says that the whole question of fathers and class has not really been adequately considered when we have our conversations about work-life balance. And now we're talking with our regular group of moms, Dani Tucker, Jolene Ivey, and we're welcoming back Connie Guy, who's a mom and a registered nurse and also one of the voters that we've checked in with from time to time.

Dani?

Ms. TUCKER: Yeah, well, I liked what Connie said, and I want to add to that, because I've had this conversation at work because I work with a lot of white Republicans, who - and I just started to get into the HPAP program that helps middle-class, middle-income people get a house.

So talking to them about the program, they see it - this stigma of handouts. You know, I think everything is not a welfare handout. You all see me working every day. So if there's a program that will help me and the kids, why is that seen as a handout? And I think that is the problem that we have when they don't understand they've worked for theirs. I hear that a lot. Well, I've worked for mine, and everybody should be able to work for theirs. I said, well, everybody can't do that. Everybody can't go to an Ivy League school, get a CEO job and make a lot of money and then do this.

MARTIN: But you know what that ignores, though, is the fact that government policy is involved in all of that. I mean, the fact is the mortgage interest deduction is a...

Ms. TUCKER: They don't see that.

MARTIN: ...federal policy. So, you know, I don't know. I don't know what else to say about that. And I do recognize that our panel here today happens to all be Democrats. That's just how it shook out today.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: So...

Ms. IVEY: Thank you, Michel. We appreciate that.

MARTIN: Okay, well, everybody won't. But - so are their policies that you feel that we ought to be thinking about as a country that would make the lives of families better? And, Connie, I'll start with you, because you are a former elected official yourself and you have been a single mom and you also do have an eye on policy and government. Are there policies that you think that we should be considering?

Ms. GUY: Look at the health care issue. I know, personally, mothers who have raised and are raising children and have no health care. They can't go to the doctors themselves and, you know, their children, they can be seen in an emergency room or an urgent care facility, but when it comes down to it, that parent's going to get a bill. And then you have your Republican lawmakers standing up there going, see, they took that handout. They took that freebie. They wanted the welfare. They don't want that. They want dignity.

MARTIN: But when you talk to your neighbors about this, what did they say? Because you've run for an election in an area that's trending Republican. So what do people say about that?

Ms. GUY: We've had that debate, and it's now, their - in their mindset it's -many programs are still a handout, and I don't agree with that. I don't think they are a handout. In fact, here in the state of Pennsylvania, several years ago, they changed the laws on welfare. A woman can't just keep having babies and go on welfare. She is only allowed a certain amount of time, and then she has to go through a program to help her gain an education so that she can find solid work. But then we have the entire work issue now. There are so many people out of jobs.

I called our HUD office here in Lancaster, Pennsylvania just last week, and I said, you know, I'm in a situation now where I need a Section 8 because I need to find my own place to live. I'm basically homeless. I have a disability and I have no job. And she said we're not taking applications. The list is two to three years long, and we have over 2,000 families waiting for a Section 8. That is outrageous, and it shouldn't be. And that's the bottom line.

MARTIN: Dani, what about you? What's your final thought here about...

Ms. TUCKER: My final thought is, I agree. We do need - we have policies in place, and we do need more. But the biggest thing, and I always see statistics, that the people that are making the decisions for the policies don't need them. They don't need health care. They have it.

Ms. GUY: Amen.

Ms. TUCKER: They don't need Section 8. They've got a nice house. And that's when I say to the moms when I say why you have to vote, because it's, you know, as long as you've got people in there who are not affected by what they are voting on, then you get what you get. You know, I say we've got to make sure that we vote people in there who have been where we've been, who've walked through our shoes, who understand what we need and why we need it and won't stereotype us, won't put stigmas on things.

Ms. GUY: Right.

Ms. TUCKER: And that's the biggest problem in this country. The people that are making the decisions for others are not affected by what others need.

MARTIN: Jolene, a final thought from you?

Ms. IVEY: Well, a couple of things. One, clearly, Dani is...

MARTIN: Because it's interesting. One of the interesting points I would make is that one of the highest profile mothers in public life right now is Sarah Palin. I mean, she - and presumably, you don't share her politics. It so happens that none of the people in this particular group shares her politics, but, you know, but...

Ms. IVEY: No, I think that Dani needs to run for office.

MARTIN: Okay.

Ms. IVEY: But not in the 47th District in Prince George's County.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. IVEY: Thank you very much. And I agree with Connie quite a bit about the health care. I believe that that's really a human right. That's something that we need to look at as a more basic right. As far as policies that are going to help, and especially when I look at men, my husband has really gotten a chance to connect with the kids because he has a flexible schedule right now. But he's about to not have a flexible schedule. He's about to be thrown back into a private law firm and work a million hours, and we're going to be all stressed out again. And I think that it would really help if we had an increase in telecommuting, because if people could work from home a little more, they'd have more flexibility in their schedules - men and women. And I think it would make everyone happier. I think that's something that would help.

MARTIN: Jolene Ivey and Dani Tucker are two of our regular parenting roundtable contributors. They joined us from our studios in Washington. Connie Guy is a nurse and former mayor of Mountville, Pennsylvania. She joined us from member station WITF in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Thank you all so much for joining us.

Ms. IVEY: Thanks, Michel.

Ms. GUY: Thank you.

Ms. TUCKER: Thanks, Michel.

MARTIN: And we are going to continue this conversation on work and family life balance with a group of dads next week.

And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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