Our Many Hats
By Michelle Obama on October 14, 2008
BlogHer Original Post
A few days ago, thousands of women from all across the country came to Chicago for a national conference on the major questions and concerns facing women today. For two days, they discussed many important issues facing our nation… from health care to energy to diplomacy and peace… led by women who are experts in those fields. And so many fantastic people gave speeches—including the men we are rooting for to be our next president and vice-president, Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
The conference was terrific—productive, powerful, and filled with a sense of shared purpose. I was just blown away by the energy and the excitement from the crowd. But I was also impressed for a different reason. As I looked around the room, I thought to myself, “How did this sea of women—with everything we have going on in our lives—all manage to be here?”
I thought about all the planning it took for these women to get here—the minor miracles they each had to perform to get away from their daily routines of work and kids and life, and spend a few days in Chicago. All the meetings that had to be rescheduled, the errands that were postponed, the appointments that were reshuffled… just so these women could come together to talk about the issues at stake in all of our lives.
No matter where we live—no matter our race, our socioeconomic background, or our political party—we women wear many hats. We’re daughters and sisters and moms. We’re professionals and students. We run errands and do laundry and shop for groceries. And to get it all done, we have another skill that we rely on. We’re jugglers.
I know that every other mommyblogger out there knows exactly what I’m talking about.
The work-life balance is something I think about a lot. I’ve struggled for so many years to get it right, and I still haven’t figured it out. Too often, when I’m with the kids, I feel like I’m shortchanging work. And when I’m at work… or these days, on the campaign trail… I feel like I’m shortchanging the kids. For many years, I felt a lot of guilt—and I still do, though it’s better now.
But I know how lucky I am. After all, I have help. My mother lives nearby, and is always ready to pitch in to help with carpooling or making dinner, for the nights when I have to be away. And of course, our family is lucky in other ways. My husband and I have good jobs, which provide our family with health insurance. And if we need to take a few days off when our girls get sick, we won’t be fired for it.
But so many women and families across the country don’t have this kind of security.
As we all know, our country is in the midst of a major economic crisis. And we’re all feeling the effects. We’re waking up every morning, worried about what bad news the day will bring… knowing that the security of our finances—our families’ future—may hang in the balance.
And folks feel it every day when they pay for gas and groceries… when they put off going to the doctor because they can’t afford the co-pay… and when they worry about how they’ll afford college for their kids and retirement for themselves.
And folks are feeling it at the workplace. Because right now, thousands of women across the country don’t have family leave at their jobs. And those who do can’t afford to take it because it’s not paid. And 22 million working women don't have a single paid sick day.
That’s just unacceptable. Families shouldn’t be punished because someone gets sick or has an emergency.
The work-life balance is a harsh reality for so many women, who are forced every day to make impossible choices. Do they take their kids to the doctor… and risk getting fired? Do they work weekends so they can afford to send their kids to better childcare… even though it means even less time with their families? Do they take another shift at work, so they can pay for piano lessons for their kids… even though it means they have to stop volunteering for the PTA?
It just shouldn’t be this difficult to raise healthy families.
As I’ve traveled across this country, I’ve met so many women who are struggling every day, just to provide the basics. Women like Gayna, who went to school, worked hard for years, did everything right—but still found herself laid off in a recent round of cutbacks at her job. Deanna, the mother of six, who worked hard to put herself through school for her family—and is now wondering if it was worth it, with all the student loans she owes. And Leigh, who swears that just a few years ago, she and her husband were middle class… but now, as they raise their three kids, they’re barely getting by.
These women are our neighbors and our friends. And they could use a little extra help from their country.
Well, Barack gets it. That’s why, as president, Barack will expand the Family and Medical Leave Act, so that millions of additional Americans will be able to take time off to care for a baby, or an elderly parent—or just to have a few hours to attend a school play or a parent-teacher conference or take a child to the doctor. And Barack will require employers to provide all their workers with at least seven paid sick days a year.
And as I’ve written about before, he will fight to ensure that women are finally paid fairly for our work, by ending pay discrimination once and for all.
The Obama-Biden administration will change Washington, so instead of just talking a good game about family values, we actually have policies that value families.
That’s why I believe so much in my husband’s campaign. And I know that women around the country feel the same way.
It’s time that the work-life balance becomes a little less dire… and a little more doable… for all American families.