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Spring 2001 Forum - The Lowell Sun

Forum Pushes for Greater Balances in Work, Family Life

By Vanessa Hughes, Sun Staff

Lowell With diaper bag in hand and her 9-month-old daughter strapped to her back, Casey Murphy was one of about 70 attendees at the University of Massachusetts at Lowells annual.

As the university's campus minister, Murphy said her job allows her the flexibility to integrate her family life into her professional life. She and her husband don't want to put little Kayla Rose into daycare, Murphy said, so she brings her baby with her to class as much as possible.

Its a struggle, but shes a joy, and my students can share in that joy, Murphy said. I do work, but I have a life, too.

Most parents are not as fortunate, and panel members agreed that the answer to the seminars title ¨C Can Women work and Have a Life Too? ¨C is still no. not yet. Lotte Bailyn, author and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technologys Sloan School of Management, said American culture doesn't allow workers to have lives outside of the workplace and unfairly penalizes women who try to combine their domestic and economic roles in society.

We need some cultural change at all levels, Bailyn said. Institutions and individuals need to value peoples activities outside of work.

American workers are made to feel guilty when taking time off for birth or to care for sick relatives, and this contrasts with the attitudes and policies in other industrialized countries, Bailyn said. While American women are often pressured to return to work quickly following childbirth, its normal for parents in Norway to receive 42 weeks of paid maternity leave, she said.

And while the problem usually plagues female workers, men are also affected, Bailyn said. The notion of separating domestic and economic spheres is constraining on both sexes, she said. If a man wants to go on a flexible schedule, he's seen as a wimp.

Randy Albelda, author and professor of economics at UMass Boston, and vice president of the International Association of Feminist Economics, said the situation is especially hard on low-income single mothers who are faced with Catch-22 situations.

Those who don't work are seen as lazy welfare mothers, but the only jobs available to them pay minimum wage, Albelda said. By taking these jobs, mothers lose welfare benefits yet cant afford daycare. They also aren't able to care for children, she said.

Middle-class white women are now feeling the crunch, but it has always been there for poor mothers, Albeda said.

Low Brady, chief operating officer at the Lowell Community Health Center, said caring for self, family and work is challenging for everyone, but employee availability is imperative and parents who miss work are bound to be resented. He said the best solution is compromise.

When one of his employees couldn't make an after-hours meeting because she had to care for her son, Brady said he realized her input ¨C not her presence ¨C was most valuable to the company. By speaking with her before the meeting instead, she could be with her son, and the organization still benefited from her ideas, Brady said. Beyond compromise, panelists agreed that Massachusetts needs more affordable after-school programs, office daycare facilities and mandated vacation time for workers. Theres lots to be done, Bailyn said. And its not going to happen overnight.