The Marissa Mayer Controversy: Shift the Conversation from Mudslinging to Caregiving

iStock_000014371596XSmallMarissa Mayer’s decree leaked last week –that employees of Yahoo! could not work remotely or from home started a feeding frenzy of posts, commentary and of course, discourse; some extremely hostile toward mothers.

To paraphrase, many of the comments postulated that allowing mothers the flexibility to work from home was akin to having the company subsidizing childcare for these women. Others said women make the choice to have kids so they have to deal with it.

What? Wait a minute!

Somebody please tell me when this discussion about the rights of workers to be able to have flexibility if they need it, while still adhering to proper performance standards became only about mothers and their choices? To make this the conversation convolutes, confuses and somehow diminishes the issue–which is about creating draconian working conditions for people; and not accepting that most people thrive in positions that allow for flexibility when necessary.

The real point is that this is a corporate policy issue–one that can start to become endemic–if another company rides the admittedly unpopular wave and opts in to the concept and then another, and then another; soon it will just be accepted that employees need to be at their desks all day long, five days a week.  And we saw that happen this week with Best Buy.

This potential shift in corporate policy frankly will not suit anyone-men or women, gay or straight, young or old, married or single.

Why? Because we do have something in common. We are a nation of caregivers.

According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP:

*There are an estimated 44.4 million American caregivers age 18 and older who provide unpaid care to an adult age 18 or older. Ten million people are caregiving for those 18-50; over 34 million caregivers are caring for people 50+.

*Almost six in ten caregivers work while providing care, and 62 percent have had to make some adjustments to their work life…from coming in late and leaving early, to taking a leave of absence, to giving up work entirely.

*Nearly half of all caregivers say they provide eight hours or less of care per week, and one in five (17%) says they provide more than 40 hours of care per week.

*Many caregivers fulfill multiple roles. Most caregivers are married or living with a partner (62%), and nearly 40% have children under 18 living at home. The great majority of caregivers (83%) are helping relatives.

*Although the caregiving landscape is still dominated by women helping women, the proportion of caregivers who are men is substantial. Nearly four in ten caregivers are men.

This is what we need to shift the conversation to: the value of caregiving: whether it be children, aging parents, or, yes, taking that time to do errands, or get your cable set up without feeling that because you can’t give face time in an office that somehow correlates to your true performance at work. If you are working on a project at 3:00 am and accomplish what you need to do; that should be the measuring stick, not the “effect” of showing the boss that you are slaving away at your desk.

So let’s stop dragging mothers into this fray and keep the conversation where it belongs: on the value of caregiving and the value of having corporate policies that support those efforts.

Because one way or another we all have caregiving in our past or future. Shouldn’t it be visible and valued?

Estelle Sobel Erasmus is an award-winning journalist, columnist and author who writes a blog Musings on Motherhood and Midlife chronicling her often humorous, sometimes serious, but always transformative journey through motherhood and marriage. She is on the board of directors of the national non-profit Mothers & More, and was featured in the anthology: What Do Mothers Need? Motherhood Activists and Scholars Speak Out on Maternal Empowerment for the 21st Century (Demeter Press, 2013). A piece she wrote was included in the 2012 BlogHer Voices of the Year Anthology.

Image via iStockphoto

  • Mary Joan Koch

    Thank you for your excellent article. I was able to care for my four daughters full time from 1973 to 1987. My family matched my salary, and I was the 24/7 caregiver for my mom for three years. I helped take care of my grandson for two years. I am prouder of those 19 years of caregiving than anything I have achieved as an editor, librarian, or social worker.

    Elder care is more challenging than child care. It often cannot be anticipated. One unexpected call from the emergency room can change everything. Elders can need care much longer than preschool children. Aides are more expensive than babysitters, and Medicare does not cover what they call custodial care, activities of daily living. We all have parents. As families get smaller, we bear heavier responsibilities.

    My library colleagues and I defined middle age. “You spend more time talking about your parents than about your children.”

    Devaluing caregiving leads too many of us to exploit home health aides shamefully. My mother’s aides only got half of what we paid the agency. They didn’t have cars. We subsidized their commuting. I have heard heartbreaking stories from nannies and home health aides. “This job makes me heart heart,” one terrific nanny told me. She was called the night before and told the family didn’t need her anymore after caring for the children for two years.

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