SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA CAREERS / BALANCING WORK AND FAMILY : Champion of Working Moms : Pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton sees a hardening of attitudes against the needs of parents
Dr. T. Berry Brazelton has spent decades giving guidance and encouragement to parents confronting the mysteries of raising children. He has championed changes in workplace policy and was instrumental in passage of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which requires employers to provide up to 12 weeks unpaid leave for the birth of a child or to take care of family emergencies. The professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and chief of the Child Development Unit at Children’s Hospital in Boston has also seen firsthand the dramatic psychological changes in the American family stemming from the rise of working mothers and two-income homes.
But now, when he says public support is needed more than ever, Brazelton sees attitudes hardening against the needs of working mothers. “It’s all treated as a women’s issue, which is easy to shoot down in a male society,” he says. Brazelton was interviewed by Times staff writer Paul Loop.
What is the biggest problem balancing work and parenting?
The psychological one is the biggest. I think it’s the biggest issue in the public today, this split we’re asking women to make between work and nurturing. I think most women are in a lot of turmoil. And I guess my own theory is that it comes from having opened up the potential for success in both worlds, but we haven’t backed them up to help them.
And as we ask men to make the same kind of split, to get more involved in their families, I think this is what is creating so much furor.
What sort of evidence do you see of this furor?
Every time I lecture to parents, some get up in the audience and say they think women ought to be staying at home. They bring it out openly and with a lot of anger, which shows how hard it has been for [women] to make that decision to stay home. I don’t think it’s a time for women to be splitting up. We need women fighting for more support for whichever way they do it.
In your book “Working and Caring,” you set forth several goals the country should strive for, among them day care, paternity leave and flexible work hours. Do you think any of them have been met?
The Family and Medical Leave Act was a big step. It was so watered down, though, it was a terrible disappointment, because it only affected, in reality, 5% of families. But on the other hand it made every CEO in the country aware of what they were or weren’t doing for families in the workplace.
Do you think work and parenting issues have gone into the political background since the Family and Medical Leave Act became law?
I don’t think politicians pay any attention to it. Unless it’s a debate about welfare, there hasn’t been any thought about the women’s side of it or children’s side of it. I don’t think anything’s going to change any time soon, unfortunately. It’s just going to get tougher.
It’s not just a receding. It’s worse than that. It’s a real turning around in anger and in enmity. It’s a real male thing.
A male thing?
One of the deepest biases in American culture is that women ought to be home with their kids and if they’re not their kids are going to suffer, and they [women] ought to suffer for it.
What has been the impact on families of downsizing and the layoffs of the last several years?
Downsizing makes the situation more acute. I don’t think it’s changing anything in the core issues, but it’s emphasizing the fact that this is going to be harder and harder.
Have American companies, their owners, been educated to the need for providing a workplace that takes family concerns into consideration?
I guess it goes deeper than it even being education. It’s a resistance to being educated at all. You know, if employers were really concerned or didn’t feel compelled to resist they would become educated--because this split does affect the workplace. For instance, in Texas, where I come from, if I talk about child care they just say ‘Oh, that just gives women permission to get out in the work force.’ As if it were a matter of permission rather than a matter of deep choice and deep investment.
And a matter of practicality?
I think it is, and I think women are facing the issue more than men are. I don’t think it’s going to change either, so there’s no use in batting our heads against the wall wondering why aren’t we back to where we were. Most men run away from it, but the ones who face it are aware of what their spouses are going through at a deep psychological level. I think it keeps women more torn up than effective.
How do you try to counter that resistance?
I don’t think countering does any good, because you’re up against defenses, and defenses are necessary to people. No, I think the answer is I want to make people aware of their biases.
What would you like to see happen now?
I’d like to see us get on with it. I’d like to see us optimize child care all over the country, and that’s going to take some investment at a communal level. I’d like to see the workplace investigate possibilities like shared job opportunities, flex time, sick time when the child is sick, things like that.
We know the solutions, it’s just a matter of getting the national will and the local will to do something about it.