It Takes a Village to Raise a Child, But Does Anyone Care?

Child hiding her ears from parent's fight
Child hiding her ears from parent's fight

It takes a village to raise a child.

Does the proverb apply to families today? Are we rallying around our struggling parents like they did in the villages of yesterday?

If you ask Ashley Maddox I know what she would say.

Ashley rides a bus to her a job where she gets paid based on how many customers walk in the door. She's a single mom who has had a series of low paying jobs at Winn Dixie, Subway and now at a small restaurant in South Miami Beach. Each week her work schedule changes, making stable child care arrangements nearly impossible.

Fortunately Ashley has been able to leave her son in the care of his grandma or aunt. She has a small village around her. But mostly, she's on her own.

I found Ashley at a rally organized to support a proposed paid sick leave law in Miami-Dade County. For Ashley this law isn't about politics or work life balance, it's about survival. She cannot afford to lose her job for taking a day off when she or her son gets sick. She cannot afford to lose a day's pay. Ashley, 27, lives paycheck to paycheck and wants to make life better for her son and for other low wage workers. Her story is similar to others profiled in a recent report by Family Values@Work called Sick and Fired.

Ashley will tell you she has no village, but does anyone care? What happened to the communal view of parenthood?

Gabriel Presler's post on The Juggle says "Americans are divided about how much support we actually owe each other when it comes to education, to old age, to security, to health, and to social insurance. The experience of American parenthood is almost completely personal right now, a function of your company and your benefits package, your religion, your class, your education. Some people argue that all those things are your Village. And they're happy with it."

If today's village is a function of your company and your benefits, we need more employers to understand their role. We need them to comprehend that they have a stake in the village's future, and the young members who eventually will grow up and make a contribution. It makes the entire village stronger when parents have tools and support to be successful at work and at home. I think the employers on Working Mother's 100 Best Companies know this to be true.

During the recent recovery, the growth has been in lower wage jobs, traditionally those that lack benefits or regular schedules or access to flexibility or health insurance. More Americans are feeling the impact of raising children without a support system, without a village. Meanwhile, there has been huge resistance from the business community to recent efforts to pass family-friendly legislation on local, state and national levels.

Ellen Bravo calls the paid sick leave law like the one proposed in Miami-Dade County "a small but significant step." Bravo, who directs Family Values @ Work Consortium, a network of state coalitions working for paid sick days and paid family leave, says: "It doesn't seem like much, but a few days paid sick days are significant for helping people stay employed and pay their bills."

Bravo says what employers may overlook is that they win, too, when they prevent turnover and help a single mom like Ashley keep her job. For a worker earning the Florida minimum wage of $7.67 an hour, the extra cost of paid sick leave is less than 8 cents an hour, according to the Miami-Dade County Worksite Wellness Committee.

Can we get employers to understand they benefit when they help create village of support for parents and that the upfront cost is worth it for a more engaged and reliable workforce?

Mothers, fathers, CEOs or desk clerks....we are all the same worried parents at heart, just wanting what is best for our kids. We want safe neighborhoods, good teachers, readily available health care and someone we can trust to care for our kids while we earn a living. We want our kids to know we are there for them as much as we can be - in every way possible.

But we can't be there all the time and still earn a paycheck. That's why many parents and community leaders want and need the village back.

Ashley Maddox does. With a toddler on her hip, she is brave enough to show up to rally for a law that not only helps her, but other working parents, too. There are all kinds of small steps we all can do to create a culture that supports families. We just need more people to care.