By Allison Stevens
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Since becoming a mother, Allison Stevens has stopped keeping up with the news. But with the launch of this monthly column, MomAgenda, she's determined to start talking about policies that affect all new parents politically silenced by sheer exhaustion.
(WOMENSENEWS)--I first got the idea for this column months ago--nine, to be exact--after reading a piece in The Nation about why women lose their activist zeal when they become mothers.
In her piece, Nona Willis Aronowitz notes that blogs targeting feminists tend to dwell on topics that have special zing with young women, such as reproductive rights, equal pay and body image. But they rarely delve into issues of particular concern to mothers, such as paid leave, affordable child care and work-life balance.
Mommy blogs, meanwhile, tend to be apolitical, Aronowitz notes, concerned mainly with the personal.
In her piece, Aronowitz asks why young women are deaf to issues of concern to mothers and gives a complex set of answers.
I'd like to respond to the flip question of why mothers ignore political issues that affect them. For me, the mother of a toddler and a baby (plus a crazy lab mix), it's a no-brainer: time.
Not long ago I worked as a reporter for daily publications. I used to hammer out up to three stories a day. Now it seems like I have lost all ability to write anything on the fly, other than an e-mail to my husband begging him to come home from work and help me get mac 'n cheese on the table before the 2-year-old melts down.
It took me nine months, for example, to get this piece into publication.
Before I had children I had heard about the challenges of parenting: the sleep deprivation, the round-the-clock nursing, the separation anxiety, the terrible twos.
But I had no idea that parents actually had trouble finding time to meet basic needs like eating, bathing and sleeping.
Now I know that parents--especially new ones--struggling for survival and sanity simply don't have the time (or energy!) to learn about or lobby for laws that would make their lives easier. On some days the biggest challenge seems to be fitting a 10-minute shower into a jam-packed morning; what new parent has time to write their representative?
I'm so out of touch with the news these days that I didn't know who was playing in the Superbowl until I happened to walk past the television--during the middle of the game. I even decided to cancel my subscription to the local newspaper. It was a gut-wrenching decision as a former journalist, but one that made sense in light of the knee-high stack of unread papers piling up next to the baby toys by the sofa.
What new parent has time to track legislation in Congress or cases in the Supreme Court that affect their best interests?
As a former Washington correspondent for Women's eNews, however, I know how important it is to stay awake politically.
During the four years I held this position I wrote story after story about women- and family-friendly bills that never saw the light of day because they did not have enough support in Congress.
Many of these bills, such as one that would grant workers paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child and another that would grant workers paid sick days to care for themselves or an ill family member, continue to languish. And this is happening despite a president (and a first lady) who support them and a Democratic Congress led by a progressive woman.
While I take this time out from knowing what's going on, it's good to know there are some watchdog groups out there.
The National Organization for Women, Legal Momentum, the National Partnership for Women and Families, MomsRising, MOTHERS (Mothers Ought to Have Equal Rights) and a number of other groups, headquartered in Washington, D.C., and around the country, work tirelessly to educate lawmakers about policies that would improve the lives of women and families.
But mothers can't job this out, however tired we may feel.
That's why I have decided to take the time--or make it if I have to--to fill this space with coverage of motherhood and politics. Even as I write this our baby, Owen, is screaming in the background as his father tries to put him to sleep (an especially difficult task for the breastmilk-less parent of a breastfed baby). It's the price we'll pay as a family to stay informed and active.
I'll watch legislation, court cases, political campaigns, other women with children writing about our issues. And I'll fill this information out with personal experience.
Today, nine months after the seeds were first planted for this column, I announce the arrival of my new baby: MomAgenda. Let's watch her grow together!
Allison Stevens is a writer in Washington, D.C. The former Women's eNews Washington bureau chief, she also writes for some groups that lobby on behalf of mothers' rights.
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