Sharon Lerner is an American journalist who specializes in writing about women and politics. The War on Moms: On Life in a Family-Unfriendly Nation (Wiley, 2002) -- a meticulously researched book that should be considered required reading for every mother or mother-to-be on either side of the border -- is her first book. I had the opportunity to interview Lerner via Skype earlier today. What follows is the second part of our interview.
Sharon Lerner's book is filled with stories about the fallout of what she calls "life in a family-unfriendly nation." During our interview, I asked her which of those stories would be most likely to stay with her over the long run. She told me about her visit to a childcare center in Florida.
I asked Lerner whether moms need to become more political in order to make change and, if so, what that might mean, given our crazy/busy lives. (I told her that I had multi-year-long blank spots in my political memory, corresponding with the years when my children were very young.) She pointed out all the various ways in which people can be political.
While Lerner devotes a large chunk of her book to documenting the need for more family-friendly policies, she continues to believe that change is possible. "Sometimes people think my outlook is bleak," Lerner says. "But it's not. I think there are great possibilities for improvement." That's one of the reasons she wrote her book, after all: to hint at the possible in an effort to inspire mothers and lawmakers to action.
In the Epilogue of her book, she stresses that "this rare political moment" provides reason for optimism:
"While families across the country carry on with their own shifts and struggles, the most important change that's taken place nationwide is a political one. With a swing-set behind it and dozens of parents of young children working within, the White House is now more receptive to family issues than it's been in years."
At the same time, Lerner is all-too-aware that, in the wake of the global economic crash, families could be asked to put their needs on hold once again:
"Even as the floundering economy has made some of the problems facing families worse, some lawmakers have worried about spending our much-depleted public funds to "bail out" American families. As we wait to see whether this potential turning point will be squandered like previous ones, the gap between us and the rest of the developed world should remind us that, even if it's hard to scrape up the money to move forward, we can't afford not to do it."
* * *
It would be easy for those of us in Canada to act a little smug: to assume that, because we have universal health care coverage and that $100-a-month payment that has been sold to us as a "universal childcare plan," that Canadian families will never experience the same dire poverty as American families who lose their jobs or experience a health crisis.
To some extent, that may be true (we may not bottom out to the same degree or quite as often); but what about the Canadian families who end up selling their homes - or couch-surfing - because a particular drug or therapy that their child needs isn't covered (or isn't fully covered) by the provincial health plan? And what about those families who can't afford to work, because their childcare costs are so high; but who can't afford not to work, because their rent and living expenses necessitate that they hold down a job or two?
The War on Moms isn't just a US phenomenon. It's happening here, too. It's simply much more under the radar right now. Consider this your wake-up call - unless, of course, you're already wide-awake and on mother-alert, like many moms and dads have been for quite some time. In that case, we're happy to have you join us. It's going to take some time to turn this situation around and create a Canada that works for all families.
Elizabeth May. Losing Confidence: Power, Politics, and the Crisis in Canadian Democracy: See this book review penned by Tom Graff of the Vancouver Observer for an overview of what the book is all about.
Marci McDonald: The Armageddon Factor: An expanded and up-to-date version of this October 2006 article that McDonald wrote for The Walrus. If you're wondering what this has to do with your life as a mother, read Antonia Zerbisias' no-holds-barred analysis from earlier this month.