The News Media & Working Moms

Two print publications devoted a lot of ink to working moms this past week, with the magazine The American Prospect dedicating a special report and nine articles to the challenges of working parenthood, and the Boston Globe in its Sunday magazine publishing an article about women who out-earn their husbands but still do the bulk of the childcare and housework.

However where The American Prospect presented a balanced, well researched, nuanced examination of the plight of contemporary working moms, the Globe advanced a perilous concept, cloaked in a velvet glove. Though the article lamented the fact that high-earning women are doing more household duties than their husbands (which is clearly troubling, as are the reasons for the disparity), it also advanced this idea without really questioning its validity: That if a spouse earns more money, that spouse should expect to have more power in the family and should be able to opt out of the unpaid household work.

But first, the Prospect's special report, "Mother Load:"

Though this is the same magazine that ran the divisive Linda Hirshman article in late 2005 (the piece that labeled women who scale back or alter their careers for their families as feminist sell-outs), their "Mother Load" package was refreshing and well worth the read. The collection of pieces covered myriad issues related to families and work including:

• An article about how families with working mothers and fathers face more intense career-home conflicts than did previous generations due to an increase in average work hours, while at the same time, the guilt-ridden parents are spending more time parenting. The essay, by Center for Economic and Policy Research economist Heather Boushey, also detailed the penalties women face by dropping out of the paid workforce to care for children and then try to re-enter the job market: "For every two years out of the labor force, a woman's earnings fall by about 10 percent and this 'mommy penalty' does not go away once the kids are grown. Earnings are lower for the rest of a women's working life."

•An examination of how American workplace policies negatively affect families and do not reflect the pressures placed on women who "have streamed into paid employment." The piece by Ellen Bravo, former director of 9to5, made the case that it's in business' bottom-line interests to enact flex-scheduling, paid time off to care for children's illnesses and part-time options that offer "pro-rated benefits, equitable hourly rates and equal access to training and promotional opportunities." If parents aren't distracted by their families and can attend to their needs, Bravo says, they'll be better employees and mothers would have incentives to remain at their jobs.