posted by Gaia Bernstein
An unfortunate event took place this week. A six year old boy’s foot was run over by a school bus. As a result, the boy’s mother who sent the boy and his somewhat older brother unsupervised to the bus station was arrested and charged with child abuse and neglect. It turns out that in 2012, sending a six year old and his older brother to await the school bus by themselves is an unacceptable parenting standard warranting parental arrest.
This made me think back to the 1970s, when I grew up in Israel, and from the age of six walked by myself to the bus station and took the public bus – not even a school bus — to school. Luckily, my foot was not run over by a bus. But even if it had I doubt my parents would have been arrested or even blamed for inappropriate parenting. All my classmates either walked by themselves up to twenty minutes to school or if they lived further away, as I did, took the public bus.
There is no doubt parenting norms have changed since I was a child. Many now recognize that parenting has become more intensive, involved and monitoring. In an article titled Over-Parenting, my co-author Zvi Triger and I worried about the impact of these changes on legal standards. We recognized that while intensive parenting carries some advantages and may be a suitable parenting practice for some, embedding it in legal standards would impose it on those culturally unwilling or financially unable to endorse it. We recognized that intensive parenting is mainly an upper-middle class practice that for others could become over-parenting.
Is it a good parenting norm to accompany young children to the bus stop? probably yes. But aren’t the real questions: Is the specific child mature enough to be safely standing at a bus stop ? Is the neighborhood a relatively safe neighborhood traffic and crime-wise? And also, can parents afford to wait with their child in the morning or do they have no choice but to rush off to work for an early morning shift in order to support their families? These are questions to be answered by parents not by the law.
posted by Leora Eisenstadt
Although I am somewhat hesitant to add another voice to an already loud debate about the work-family conflict that has arisen again in the last month or so, I am finding it difficult to stay quiet. As the working mother of a 3 ½ year old and a 3 month old, this is the legal and policy issue that affects me most these days.
When Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote her piece in the Atlantic, arguing that women in top government and business positions are leaving because of the difficulty of combining work and family, she predictably drew loud praise and equally loud critique (including an interesting post by Sherilyn Ifill, linked to from Concurring Opinions). But then, Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s newly appointed CEO, added her voice to the debate (perhaps unwittingly) when she told Fortune that she was pregnant and that her maternity leave would be “a few weeks long, and I’ll work throughout it.” That comment brought a new onslaught of responses including criticism that she was doing a disservice to all working women whose employers would now expect them to “work throughout” their maternity leaves.
Whether this is a male/female issue or merely a parenting issue that cuts across gender, what is clear from the numerous opinions out there is that one size does not fit all. In fact, if I am any example, one approach might not even work throughout one person’s working/parenting life. As a first time mom and associate at a law firm, I took a 6½ month leave, made possible by a hefty pay check and 12 weeks of paid leave. Now that it’s my second time around and I am transitioning to academia, I chose to work from home through the first few months after my son was born and (mostly) don’t regret it.
The notion of privileging women or parents by building in options for them is not new and is, in fact, the dominant approach in many European countries and in Israel (which I have written about in the past). But it has not been the American way. Might we be changing? In my prior article, I wrote about the emergence of the Israeli approach as a function of the society’s overall collectivist culture and a national interest in promoting reproduction and the parent-child bond. I am wondering whether there is a chance that Americans could recognize this too.
Of course, that would not be the end of the debate. What would the privileging of women or parents mean for equality? If women (by law) gain options that men don’t have, do they come out equal, better, or worse? For example, if we mandate paid maternity leave as some countries do, will employers stop hiring fertile age women out of fear that they will exercise this option and be less productive than men? What if the option is non-gendered and open to all parents? Will men exercise the option or continue to feel pressure to return to work immediately after a child is born? Will women? While the answers to these questions remain unclear, one thing is obvious—this is not a problem that parents can solve on their own. Beyond the debate in the media, it is high time for a serious debate in government about remedies (beyond the Family Medical Leave Act) for working parents who are having trouble being good at both jobs.
August 9, 2012 at 1:09 pm Tags: feminism, gender, maternity leave, parenting, sex discrimination Posted in: Employment Law, Feminism and Gender, International & Comparative Law, Uncategorized Print This Post 3 Comments
posted by Gaia Bernstein
Benches in playground are deserted these days. Instead, parents are swinging their children while chanting the ABC. Raising my small children, I have observed that parenting has changed dramatically since I was a child – today’s parents are much more involved in their children’s lives than ever before. In our paper titled: “Over-Parenting,” my co-author Zvi Triger and I describe this new trend of parenting, which we call “Intensive Parenting.” We show that the law already enforces Intensive Praneting and argue that despite the advantages of Intensive Parenting, its norms should not be hastily incorporated into the law.
The intensive parent is on a constant quest to obtain updated knowledge of best child rearing practices and use this information actively to cultivate her child and monitor all aspects of the child’s life. Intensive parenting begins as the pregnant mother accesses an ever increasing amount of information instructing her on how to achieve an optimal pregnancy and does not end when the child enters college. Colleges and more recently even law schools have adjusted to accommodate a new generation of parents who insist on being in direct contact with administrators and professors in order to continue to monitor their children’s life.
But, Intensive Parenting is not just about social norms. We show that it is actually a socio-technological trend. Parents use new information technologies to enhance their ability to monitor and be informed. For example, parents use the cellular phone to stay in constant touch with their children. Commentators observing Intensive parents using the cell phone to communicate with college aged children about the smallest anecdotes of life, have called it ”the world’s longest umbilical cord.”
And what does the law have to do with it? We find that the law is already enforcing Intensive Parenting norms, and is particularly powerful in molding parental rearing norms during custody disputes. For example, courts determining custody allocations consider as a factor the parents’ pre-divorce care taking roles and division of labor. The parent who was more involved in the child’s life before divorce has an advantage in custody resolutions. In practice, attorneys are advising their clients on the eve of divorce to engage in Intensive Parenting. The time period before custody determinations becomes a race for involvement, particularly for the parent who was not originally the primary caretaker. Unfortunately, parents eager to gain custody and operating in a world governed by Intensive Parenting norms often become overly dominating in their interaction with children. For instance, by taking over sport practices leaving their child with no independent outlet or by overwhelming their child with constant messages and phone calls.