Two months ago, I wrote a post called The Short Game: Taking the “Work” out of “Working Together" about a community event that included a congresswoman and about a dozen mothers and daughters. I described how the act of women gathering together, to support each other and enjoy themselves while also doing important work, might be just as vital as more sustained efforts to solve the systemic problems facing women and families. In fact, I recently had a conversation with an old friend who I hadn't been in touch with for awhile. We had a great time talking, and I remembered how much we like and respect each other. After discussing parenthood, politics, fair pay, and finding money for different programs in the community, she said:
"Girl, why have we not been hanging out? Together, we could solve half the world’s problems."
She was right of course. Not only are women unbelievably hard working and capable, when we band together, we are better and stronger -- and we have a good time besides.
Since that conversation, the Shriver Report, detailing the economic challenges faced by women, mothers, and families, was released. And in an Atlantic Monthly article about the report, Maria Shriver pointed out: “the truth is that for so long, America’s women have been divided: women who are mothers versus women who are not, women who work at home versus women who work outside the home, those who are married versus those who aren’t…It’s time to come together again.”
My take-away from the report -- combined with recent work updating my ebook, Lean On and Lead, Mothering and Work in the 21st Century Economy, and various other experiences over the last two months -- is that while we have big problems to solve, there are also smaller easier wins that we can achieve in the meantime – if we work together and support each other.
During the last few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to work with child care workers, parents, and organizations on a bill in the Hawaii State Legislature that would change zoning laws to allow child care on agricultural land without requiring a special use permit. This kind of bill does not get the same attention as bills concerning minimum wage or paid leave, yet its passage will have an enormous impact on children and families in our community. Rural caregivers in Hawaii, many of whom provide early learning and nurturing on our neighbor islands (Maui, Big Island, Kauai), represent a vital source of support to working families.
However, these providers' ability to support working parents is at risk because many do not have the funds, time, or expertise to apply for a permit to continue to provide child care services. Yet many parents prefer the family-style atmosphere of a child care home and the wide open spaces of agricultural land; most current providers are highly qualified and have been providing care from their agricultural locations for years; and there are currently not enough child care options available for island families.
From my recent research on families and the economy for Lean On and Lead, I know that laws like this can have a domino effect. The unintended consequences of policies that discourage qualified individuals from offering care to working families are numerous. In addition to reducing earning opportunities for child care providers (in a still difficult economy) and creating barriers for parents to work, reduced child care options means that our community also loses out on the "intellectual capital" of our residents.
The good news is that even though we only had two days to get the word out about this legislation, parents, providers, and other stakeholders worked together to submit more than forty pages of testimony this weekend. The bill passed its first hurdle, and will continue through the state legislative process. Providers and parents have reason to feel confident, but will need to work hard and be vigilant to ensure that the bill gets signed into law.
I know that the story of a child care bill on an island in the Pacific may seem somewhat insignificant compared to the battles for paid sick leave and pay equity that we are fighting for on state and national levels. Yet bills like this one are voted on all over the country year after year, and they provide examples of how citizen involvement can directly and concretely impact our day-to-day lives. They also provide a chance to work together for our common interests – the shared desire for our children to be cared for in safe and nurturing environments while we work.
Hopefully, if bills like this pass, our successes will encourage us to work together beyond “fixing problems.” Perhaps our next goals can include working to pass innovative legislation supporting positive structural changes: for example, policies that encourage more people to become child care providers and to provide care at diverse times, or creative employment and child care policies that reduce parent commutes.
There are numerous ways that we can support parents and children, and thus improve the lives of women -- both those who need child care and those who provide it. And if we find those ways by working together collaboratively, we can transform the "work" into building community, and find solutions that serve us all.
Photo: Author's son at a family child care home on a small farm a dozen years ago.