Guest blog by Karen Bell
I can pinpoint the moment when my debut novel, Walking with Elephants, sprang from the collective unconscious into my mind. The story’s underlying message hit me like a ton of bricks—but I’ll get to that later.
What drove me to write this novel was how much I’ve seen change in the way of families and family life. As my own laboratory experiment, I had seen life before and after the Women’s Movement. Women have definitely become contributors to society in force but there have been many sacrifices, which have changed the bucolic notion of the American stereotypical household. Working women become working mothers and life is now a juggling act, but kids demands remain the same and satisfying those demands are major challenges. Along with women becoming more powerful, the divorce rate is so high that I believe that before long, a large sector of our culture will do away with marriage. And there is no stigma today to being a single never-married mom. So the fight for empowerment of working moms has just begun.
I’m old enough to remember when most households remained intact, most women stayed home, and neighbors were friendly. We are isolated now from one another, overworked with demanding jobs and running households part time. In suburbia, after long commutes from work all week, mothers spend their weekends in their cars. Their discretionary time used up by carpooling or grocery shopping, etc. I applaud the working mother who manages it all.
But I think they need help.
I think that corporate America and women can be creative about being able to mother and find fulfilling employment that provides for baby and also the now necessary second income. How? Maybe job sharing is the answer. Maybe there is another idea out there. For starters, how about much longer maternity leave? In fact, my daughter is singing in an opera company in Germany for one year because the chorus member who she is replacing is on maternity leave. One year maternity leave. So civilized. And there are some countries where maternity leave is two years. Imagine that? Another idea might be creating a support group at work. Supportive and mentoring women who understand the needs of working mothers and can help each other. Help each other to understand that sometimes a kid needs mommy today, whether sick or in a play and mommy does not have to take a vacation day to provide that nurturing. Ya know—those without children helping those that have children. Filling in on projects so-to-speak.
Somehow we have to give a nod to yesteryear, stop for a moment and reassess. Raising children is so important. They are our future. They need to be nurtured by a parent along with a caregiver. We need to imprint on our children. Make them all they can be with mom and dad yelling their support from the sidelines at sports events not stuck in front of a computer somewhere. Let’s take back our families AND be workers but we have to figure out how to do it. And I really only have a few ideas about how to get it done. But if the young working mothers band together, I know solutions can be found.
What was my aha moment for this book? When I came upon a woman pumping her breast in the ladies room at work. I thought how sad that there’s a baby crying somewhere and mommy isn’t there to provide. Maybe we can come to a place in this country where mommy and baby could be at work together. Or better yet, with a lengthy maternity leave, mommy can return to work AFTER breast-feeding, and after early imprinting of family dynamics and morals has been brought to fruition. Two years should do it. I know you are thinking: How can I be gone from work for two years? Won’t I fall behind on the ever-moving target of how a company is run? Yes, that would be a challenge but not impossible. A woman on leave can be kept in the loop with Skype, go to an all hands meeting now and then and so on. And of course, working from home for a few hours a day. It’s your world mommies. It’s your choice.
Cubicle or baby?
What do you think?
Karen S. Bell Author
Walking with Elephants
Walking with Elephants is my first novel, although I am not new to writing. I was a theater critic and celebrity interviewer for a weekly tabloid in Jacksonville, FL, and I earned a Master’s in Mass Communication from Oklahoma State University. For 15 years, I worked in Corporate America as a technical editor/editor/writer. I experienced firsthand the politics and intrigue that goes with that territory and the balancing act that comes with being a working mother. I salute all those mothers who are the glue that holds their families together while pursuing the nine to five brass ring.