This Thursday is Take Your Daughters And Sons to Work Day but I will not be taking my kids to the office. I’m not officially boycotting the event but my thinking on it has morphed.
Before coming to JCCF, I was a writer and public media consultant who worked from home. When I was invited to present at Career Days at my daughters’ elementary schools, I introduced students to the exciting world of radio by passing around audio equipment, interviewing them and playing funny stories. During my brief work-from-home stint, my kids didn’t participate in Take Your Daughters And Sons to Work Day; it would have been boring to watch me hunched over my laptop all day. And, I might just have asked them to make me a sandwich, let the dog in and out of the house and put away their laundry. Instead, they went to school and later reported that their classes were barely half-full. Where did their classmates spend the day? Which students were left behind and why?
This weekend, when my family went out for Chinese food, I struck up a conversation with the Latina woman who filled our water glasses and cleared our plates. She complimented me on my Spanish and I asked her if she was learning English. “No tengo tiempo,” she lamented, “I don’t have time. I work here six days a week, 12 hours a day.” The restaurant feeds her three meals during her shift, but she only earns $5.50 an hour to support her 16-year-old son. I suspect she won’t bring him to work on Thursday, either.
A few years ago, when my father’s health was declining from lung cancer, my parents hired a home health aide, an immigrant from Ghana. When I visited, Helonia and I talked about our kids. She was very loving to my daughters. I never met her children; she didn’t bring them to the house during Take Your Daughters And Sons to Work Day. I know she wanted more for them than emptying bed pans, mashing medications and bathing dying men. Helonia eventually sent her kids back to Africa because she concluded they stood a better chance being raised by their grandparents in her village than in the troubled schools and dangerous West Philadelphia neighborhood where she lived.
When the Ms. Foundation launched Take Your Daughters to Work Day 20 years ago, the goal was noble: to empower girls and open their eyes and imaginations to the widest range of possibilities for their adult professional lives. Eventually, the idea of exposing girls to the male-dominated world of work was seen as anti-boy, so the annual event started to include sons. No harm done.
However, I’ve come to believe that Take Your Daughters And Sons to Work Day is largely a feel-good exercise for the privileged. Sure, this annual kids-to-work pilgrimage gives children a window into – and hopefully, an appreciation for – what their folks do all day to sustain the family. But parents who work in factories aren’t bringing their kids to the assembly line. Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, isn’t participating. Women who clean homes during the day or offices at night aren’t invited to bring their kids along with them, although some children of immigrants have recounted how they curled up and slept on leather law firm sofas while their mothers dusted, vacuumed and emptied trash cans in fancy office buildings after dark.
And don’t forget migrant farmworkers (the people who put food on our table) who all too often must schlep their kids into the fields, as originally reported by Edward R. Murrow and more recently by Dateline NBC. The Child Labor Coalition estimates that nearly 500,000 minors are working in U.S. agriculture. (See In Our Own Backyard).
It’s the children of farm laborers, home health aides, waitresses and janitors who should be able to spend a day in the science labs, architecture firms, government agencies and other American workplaces where higher education is the stepping stone to a better life. And perhaps my children and their privileged peers could benefit from a day of hands-on experience in service industries. “Trading places” would offer a reality check and valuable lessons to all about the nature of work and reward and struggle.
So, back to the students who spend Take Your Daughters And Sons to Work Day at school. Surely some of their parents telecommute or work from home. But many others are probably unemployed in this harsh economy. Is Take Your Daughters And Sons to Work Day a cruel reminder their jobless parents aren’t able to model the glorified American work ethic?
Take Your Daughters And Sons to Work Day belies other unpleasant realities. For example, what happens to working parents when their kids are sick, or when they themselves are ill? According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, more than a third of women workers get zero paid sick leave. They can be fired for staying home to care for a sick child; or they may not be able to buy groceries without that day’s pay. Three-quarters of workers in female-dominated service jobs do not receive paid sick days.
With so many kids visiting workplaces around the country this Thursday, chances are some grown-ups are going to catch something that someone’s little germ carrier brings to the office – a cold, a virus, lice. My guess is that very few of these parents will lose their jobs (or even a dollar) if they call in sick Friday morning.
So, will you be taking your child to work on Thursday? What do you think could be done to bring equal opportunity for all to Take Your Daughters And Sons to Work Day? Join the conversation. Share your ideas and experiences on JCCF’s Facebook page.
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