Lean In or Lean Back? How about Bend Down?

These days, we have so much publicly-expressed angst among women and eminent advice-givers. But as we commemorate this National Work and Family Month, and as we hear demands to "lean in" with rebuttals to "lean back," I ask us as a nation to please stop moving back and forth, and to finally make a commitment to bend down.

Yes, bend down and look clearly at the needs of the people who are caught in the middle of our deciding which way to lean. Who are these people and what can we do to about them?

Well, bend down and see.

See the trusting eyes of these little people -- our children. Are we as a nation meeting their needs?

I can say with certainty that we as a nation do not make it easy for mothers and fathers who are trying to raise their children well, while providing financially for them and actualizing their own contributions to society through their work.

Here are four simple rhetorical questions. Rhetorical, because the answer to each is a terrible, shameful "no".

1. Is quality, affordable child care available to all who need it?

2. Is paid sick leave available to all workers?

3. Are flexible schedules widely available?

4. Is telework an available option, either in emergency or as scheduled?

These questions concern all parents, not just upper-middle-class mothers with choices and assistance, but working class mothers and fathers as well. In my career as a work-life balance consultant, I conducted a myriad of focus groups for my corporate clients. The results were always the same, especially for mothers. C-suite women at the tops of skyscrapers and women on assembly lines expressed the same issues, both with tears flowing. What was the effect of their lives on their children?

And I have seen children in fire-hazard basements made to sit in front of TV sets for hours by their "sitters". But I have also seen children happy and learning in high quality child care programs that challenge their imaginations, their brains, and their social and physical skills.

What if?

What if we, as a nation, dedicated ourselves to helping parents contribute to our economy, by enabling them to work in situations where they could stay home for a day if they or their child gets sick, and do some telework if appropriate to their job? What if they could come in later and stay later if that eased their day and let them get the kids off to school happily? What if parents could pick up their children at day's end and not be wiped out by worry, but instead would be ready to listen patiently about all the exciting things the child did that day -- even if the story told by the 4-year-old went meandering around for five minutes and never really got to the point? What if we develop a system where every single child who is in a child care situation is in a high-quality child care situation, where they are learning with the guidance of committed, educated teachers?

What if we as a country really understood that the 1950s are long gone, that most parents are working and need simple supports from their employer so they can keep their families running well? What if all employers understood the cost savings to them in terms of recruitment and retention from a family-friendly workplace? What if we as a country really understood the great importance of the first five years of life, and did everything we could to facilitate each child's success?

What if? Let's bend down and see.

©2013 Margery Leveen Sher

Margery Leveen Sher is an entrepreneur, writer and speaker with decades of experience as a consultant for major corporations and government agencies. She is the founder and Chief Noticing Officer of The Did Ya Notice? Project. Her motivational speaking is certain to draw many a laugh and many an aha.