Downtown Working

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September 1, 2003 // UPDATED 11:03 am - April 30, 2007
By: Elana Centor
Elana Centor

Never mind Dr. Laura -- careers and kids can go together

My 19-year-old son Noah and I were headed to dinner at Babalu, 800 Washington Ave. N., two days before he was scheduled to return to his sophomore year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. We were having one of our rare conversations of summer; it was about parenting. "I don't need a parent to make my decisions anymore," Noah explained.

I silently congratulated myself. What more could a parent wish than to have his or her child feel independent and confident?

If raising Noah were a business project, I would report to senior management that I had met my objectives, completed the work on time, but, unfortunately, came in over budget (Noah was/is expensive). However, if Dr. Laura Schlessinger were my boss, I would never have been allowed to be a parent.

Hours before dinner with Noah, I caught some of Dr. Laura's radio talk show. A young man called in and asked her if it was a good time to start a family, since he and his wife both wanted to continue their careers. Dr. Laura's unequivocal response: "Unless one of you is willing to stay home with the child, you shouldn't become parents. Sorry."

Good thing the majority of Americans aren't paying attention to her. Nearly 60 percent of children under 5 do not have a stay-at-home mom, according to Prevent Child Abuse America, a Chicago-based nonprofit.

Not surprisingly, folks at the Downtown YWCA, 1130 Nicollet Mall, are no Dr. Laura fans. "People like Dr. Laura don't understand that quality childcare is really early childcare education -- it's not babysitting," said Katie Williams, director of early childhood education and public policy at the YWCA. "They have a curriculum. Our staff focuses on the children all day, every day."

A working parent of a 5-year-old daughter enrolled in the Y program said Dr. Laura suffers from "tunnel vision." Even if she could stay at home, this mom explained, she'd still send her daughter to this daycare "because she learns about empowerment and the betterment of women."

Extremists like Dr. Laura continue to fuel a debate long past its prime. As another parent with two children in the Y program put it: "I spend $21,000 a year on daycare -- that's more than my mortgage. The debate shouldn't focus on whether you should have childcare, it should focus on a public policy that ensures every child receives quality childcare."

According to a U.S. Department of State report, "The American Family," mothers in America -- including those who work part- or full-time -- spend almost twice as much time with each of their children as mothers did in the 1920s. Factor in fewer children and better technology, i.e. needing less time to cook and clean, and this makes perfect sense.

The report goes on to say that children do best when mom is happy -- regardless if "that satisfaction comes from being a full-time homemaker or full-time employee." The biggest problem facing families, the report concluded, is that institutions need to adapt to the needs of workforce moms and modern dads who want to be involved with raising their kids.

There's a concept -- have corporations adapt to employees' needs. This seems much more productive than pitting employed moms against stay-at-home moms.

And as far my son Noah goes, I congratulated him on his independence and confirmed that this meant he would no longer be asking me to call Denny Kemp Salon at 322 Hennepin Ave. E. for his haircuts or to iron his khakis and shirts.

Noah smiled, but he didn't say anything. That's my boy.

If you have a good workplace dilemma or just a good story to tell, please contact Elana Centor at ecentor@mn.rr.com, or leave her a message at 825-9205 (then hit 102 for her voicemail). You can remain confidential, as can your company.