Can Working Mothers Have It All?


Nov. 9, 2006 — -- My first week back to work after maternity leave turns out to be a historic one for women in this country.

With the Democrats winning the majority in the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi stands poised to be the first woman ever to be Speaker of the House and second in line for the presidency.

Standing in front of a malfunctioning microphone at a news conference Wednesday, she joked that she would use her "mother-of-five voice" instead, so reporters could hear her.

Regardless of your politics, this working mother and grandmother is a terrific role model for the 26 million working mothers in this country.

When ABC announced that I would be stepping down this past summer as the co-anchor of "World News Tonight," there were a lot of people who felt this was a bad precedent for working moms.

Women's organizations protested to my bosses at ABC, and columnists debated the message my job change would send.

For me, though, giving up the anchor chair at the evening news, and returning exclusively to anchor "20/20" was the right decision.

I loved my job at "World News," but the prospect of doing it well, and still finding time to be a good mother to 3-year-old Zachary and my new baby, Samuel, felt impossible.

Anchoring "20/20" gives me a lot more flexibility to be a good parent.

But all the controversy and debate about my decision got a lot of us working moms -- and dads -- talking: Why don't more of our employers offer paid maternity leave?

Why can't more parents have a little more flexibility at work … to stay at home with a sick child or catch that all-important school assembly?

And most of all, why is good, affordable child care nearly impossible to find?

We decided to do some digging into this for my first night back at "20/20."

We found that the United States lags far behind when it comes to family-friendly policies.

For example, of 168 countries surveyed in the world, only four offer no national maternity-leave program: Lesotho, Swaziland, Papua New Guinea, and the United States of America.

Many countries around the world offer fathers more ability to stay at home with a new baby than mothers get in America.

I am all in favor of dads bonding with new babies, but it is the mother, after all, who is recovering from childbirth!

And it's not just our European allies with histories of more socialized approaches to government that offer paid leave, flexibility and child care.

Japan, an economic powerhouse, has found that it's good for business to give parents benefits, too.

I talked to a lot of working moms about the struggle to pay for day care or baby sitters to care for their kids while they work.

If you have kids in day care, you know how expensive it can be. On average, it can cost anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000 per year to care for a young child, and in some areas of the country it can be much more.

One mother I met, Martha O'Connor, works for Verizon. Her husband works as a National Guard recruiter.

She told me their monthly child-care bill for their two boys was twice the amount of their mortgage.

And she pays it because, like so many Americans, the O'Connors need Martha's salary to help pay the rest of their bills.

Of course, the question is, if this is such an important issue for so many people, why hasn't more been done to help working mothers?

So many politicians have gotten up before a microphone to talk about how the government needs to do more to help working parents and their children. So why don't we have some sort of national policy mandating paid maternity leave, or affordable child care, or more flexible work schedules?

I listened to people who believed it was good for business, and bad for business, who believed government should have no role in mandating more laws for working moms, and what I found was that there were a lot of passionate feelings on this subject -- including my own.

I look forward to sharing this story -- and my own experience -- with you on Friday, and hearing from you about your experiences.

If you have a question or comment for me about parenting, child care, or trying to juggle work and family, click here.

I'll try to get to as many of them as I can.

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