WCW Blog

The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women's perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.

Quality Summer Learning In Action: Encouraging Dancers to Create and Learn

Kids DancingAbout 20 tweens pile into the unassuming studio space of their ballet school in mid-July. There are no frills here. The waiting area is small and a bit disheveled; the cinder block building has seen its share of life. But look closer: there’s magic inside.

The dancers are not exactly sure what to expect from this week of “choreography camp,” but are glad to be there and ready for anything. Starting from nothing, in five days they will create a 20-minute ballet for family and friends. The director says she has it easy this week because the kids do all the work. The dance choreography might be the most straightforward part; they are also charged with music selection, costume and set design, hair and makeup. They first choose which story they will perform, selecting Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, perhaps knowing on some level that the fun and magic of the story will parallel their own experience that week.

As a parent, I watched the final performance (criss-cross applesauce on the floor) with a huge smile on my face, amazed to see what these kids could accomplish in a week--without many resources beyond, of course, the staff’s and their own creativity, skill, and knowledge. I tapped my toe to the jazzy music they selected, laughed at the Oompa-Loompa’s pigtails and freckles, and the squirrels’ (who separate out the “bad nuts”) tails constructed out of cardboard tubes and old nylons, and was impressed by the level of dance, particularly of the older girls.

As a research associate of the National Institute on Out-of-School Time, I watched with a more serious eye, knowing that there were many best practices here in the room that could be shared with the larger field. What made the program seem so magical? How could the director, along with several other staff members, keep the youth so happy, relaxed, and engaged all week and guide them to create something wonderful?

The answer is simple: They do it by using many of the research-based quality practices that we know work, and are measured by field-tested tools (the APT Observation Tool, for example).

Activities were of a high quality and included:

  • Youth choice and decision making – Each decision was made by the students, so the ultimate product was theirs.
  • Project-based learning – The activities were all part of an ongoing project (the production of a ballet), designed to promote specific skills and concepts over time.
  • Opportunities for collaboration – Youth were organized into groups based on ability and age, and worked together toward a common goal.
  • Challenging activities – The week’s activities all provided challenges and stimulated thinking as youth learned and applied new skills and solved problems.

Staff were of a high quality. The director has a master’s degree in education and decades of experience teaching youth, and the assistant director is mid-way through her master’s degree in counseling. Leadership development, which helps youth and at the same time sustains quality staff, has always been built in; the small dancers hold the even smaller dancers’ hands at performances, older dancers assist the younger ones in classes, and the director offers a more formal leadership program, thus creating well-trained staff. In fact, the staff assisting at this week’s camp were former students.

But it’s what they do that counts. They:

  • Built positive relationships and supported individual youth by engaging in friendly conversation with youth, encouraging individual youth as they worked on their own goals, and listening actively and patiently.
  • Promoted youth engagement by being enthusiastic, actively engaging in the activities with youth, and helping youth think through problems themselves rather than just offering answers. They also engaged youth in reflection and feedback. The director even sneakily – and skillfully – used the time at the performance while waiting for each expected guest to arrive to engage the dancers in a discussion about what surprised them, what had been hard, and what they had learned.

At the end of the final performance, the dancers took a big bow and soaked in the well-earned applause. Was it really magic I witnessed, or simply high-quality out-of-school time programming in action? I think both – aren’t they the same thing, after all? Like any good trick, it only looks like magic.

Elizabeth Starr, M.Ed., is a research associate at the National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST) at the Wellesley Centers for Women since 2007. Her work focuses on professional development and system-building for the field of afterschool and youth development.

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Five Ways to Support Social and Emotional Learning with Children’s Books

Collage of children's book covers that are mentioned in this article.The fifth-grader’s voice was full of emotion as he shouted, “That’s not fair! What a mean thing to do!”

He wasn’t upset about an event on the playground, or on the school bus. This student was reacting to an incident described in a picture book entitled Yoon and the Jade Bracelet, by Helen Recorvits. As other students chimed in, the teacher took the opportunity to facilitate a discussion about peer mistreatment, how it feels to be left out, and the role of bystanders. Students expressed genuine concern for Yoon, the main character in the story. Throughout this time of authentic connection to each other and the story, the teacher and his students focused on some key social and emotional skills, such as recognizing and naming feelings, perspective-taking, and empathy. The combination of the book, the teacher, and the children created the equivalent of an electrical current that energized an authentic conversation about how people choose to treat each other.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) identifies the following social competency skills as keys to success in school and beyond: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness/empathy, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Social and emotional learning (SEL) skills can be taught to children in schools through programs such as Open Circle, a program of the Wellesley Centers for Women, which uses children’s literature as a vital part of its curriculum.

Whether books are shared in a classroom, a public library, or a living room, there are some specific ways that educators and caregivers can leverage the emotional connection between children and literature to reinforce SEL skills, including empathy. Some people may make a New Year’s resolution to read more books; I encourage us all to include children in this goal. Here are five ways to support SEL skills through children’s literature:

1. Help children build their feelings vocabulary.

The most basic building block for social competency is self-awareness, being able to recognize and name your emotions. Sharing picture books that highlight a range of emotions, such as Lots of Feelings, by Shelley Rotner, or Yesterday I Had the Blues, by Jeron Ashford Frame, helps children expand their feelings vocabulary and recognize that it’s normal to have many different feelings, including negative ones.

2. Model and reinforce self-management strategies.

It’s important for children to know that they can learn some ways to calm down when they are upset. Books such as Sometimes I‘m Bombaloo, by Rachel Vail, or Mouse was Mad, by Linda Urban, illustrate effective self-management strategies. As you read aloud stories like these, share your own experiences with challenging feelings and describe your coping strategies. Encourage children to find strategies that work for them.

3. Choose books with diverse content.

Emily Style, a co-founder of the National SEED Project at the Wellesley Centers for Women, has written about how curriculum serves as both mirrors and windows for students. Sharing literature that is culturally diverse ensures that all children can see themselves reflected in books, and can see beyond their own world and experiences. Encourage children to explore the perspective of characters who are different from themselves in order to build their capacity for empathy. Books such as the Anna Hibiscus series by Atinuke, or Jingle Dancer, by Cynthia Leitich Smith, can dispel stereotypes and pave the way for building positive relationships and making responsible decisions about how we treat each other.

4. Use an interactive approach.

Megan Dowd Lambert, author of Reading Picture Books with Children: How to shake up storytime and get kids talking about what they see, emphasizes the importance of “reading with children as opposed to reading to them.”

Lambert suggests asking open-ended questions, such as: “What’s going on in this picture? What do you see that makes you say that?” Open-ended questions also help children connect to their experiences and feelings. For example, you might ask: “How do you think the character feels? What are some things that make you feel angry? (scared, upset, happy, etc.) or, “What might you have done differently if you were this character?” To help children develop consequential-thinking skills, ask them to predict what might happen when a character behaves a certain way or makes a particular choice.

5. Choose books children can connect with.

Anyone who has read with one child, or a group of children knows that literature engages both the heart and the mind. Pairing the right book with a child, and helping her explore personal connections to the story completes the circuit to power up social and emotional learning. For inspiration, get started by looking at Open Circle’s list of children’s books connected to SEL.

Peg Sawyer is a trainer and coach at Open Circle, a program of the Wellesley Centers for Women, that provides a unique, evidence-based social and emotional learning program for grades K-5.

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An OST Quality Case Study

IMG 0427Photo courtesy of MELC

An OST Quality Case Study

My father-in-law used to say that getting old is not for the faint of heart. It takes a dogged determination to persevere while keeping on top of new issues that arise. I think the pursuit of quality in out-of-school time is similar. That effort is long-term and takes group effort, not just individual commitment. Just as there are services and doctors to help the aging, there are processes and assistance for those committed to improving quality in out-of-school time (OST) e.g. afterschool or summer programs. The process we promote at the National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST) is “continuous quality improvement” (CQI) and our clinicians are “Quality Advisors” or QAs. The QAs are councilors who offer resources, tips, feedback, and guidance. They can be working internally but more often they are occasional visitors from outside.

To best illustrate the concept of doctoring or coaching the CQI process I’ll share a story from Veirdre Jackson, director of Professional Development Dimensions, at the Montgomery Early Learning Centers (MELC) near Philadelphia. Several years ago MELC embarked on a quality improvement initiative in OST programs serving youth kindergarten through sixth grade in three counties. To support this work, MELC received funding for professional development and curricula and received state supported quality advising tied to quality improvement. MELC targeted improving Social Emotional Learning (SEL) skills as their overall goal and used the Assessment of Program Practices (APT) tool as their improvement gauge. The tool serves as both a baseline and a year-end measurement, but most importantly the scales are research-based best practices. The specific scales MELC looked at gave a rich picture of areas where staff should be supporting youth, building relationships, and guiding behavioral expectations. The results of the APT baselines gave a clear picture, for example, that routines were not working and wait time was excessive which led to disruptive behaviors and staff taking punitive measures in a cycle of frustration.

IMG 0428Photo courtesy of MELC.This scenario is not uncommon in OST (and among anyone with children). Jackson says her trainings that address youth behavior are routinely sold out. OST staff are often part-time and enter this field from a wide variety of career backgrounds that may not offer experience and training in child development that school-day teachers who work with children systematically gain. With an increase in challenging behaviors and a decrease in the presence of self-regulation skills by youth, staff quickly become mentally exhausted and get trapped in the cycle of reacting instead of responding to behaviors.

With the results of the APT, the CQI process began with visits from QAs. The QAs gave feedback on the physical environment and how to make routines such as transitions flow more quickly and orderly. Primarily the coaching addressed interactions between staff and youth and guided staff to de-escalate rather than escalate situations. Staff who asked, “When are you going to work with the youth?” realized their emotional status and behavior were key to youths’ behavior. Staff shifted away from punitive tactics to understanding what’s happening in a situation and addressing that need. Additionally, curriculum was employed to provide staff with appropriate strategies, and individual youth received focused skill-building that was age appropriate. Staff realized that their own social emotional wellbeing helps them be their best and that in turn helps youth be their best.

This experience points to the structure behind CQI: setting goals, using data to drive an improvement plan, making program adjustments, and using resources that involve staff in carrying out the changes and being part of the solutions while keeping a focus on engaging and supporting youth. NIOST has been a leader in advancing quality work for more than three decades and provides all the elements needed to begin this work. Training is available including Quality Advisor, APT tool use (now online), and how to use data for program improvement. Resources for adopting a CQI process and engaging staff, parents, and schools are also available.

Last month, my colleague Betsy Starr wrote about the importance of professional development to attain quality in out-of-school time programs. It is gratifying to hear of the MELC work, to learn of professional development successes, and know that OST is making a significant contribution to improving the lives of children.If our Quality Advisors are our OST “doctors” then we need to make sure that all OST programs have access to this important care.

Kathy Schleyer, M.S. is the Director of Training at the National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST) at the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College(Video: Ellen Gannett, M.Ed., is director of NIOST; Photos: Courtesy of Montgomery Early Learning Centers.)

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Seeking LGBT Parents in History

ssparentsSeeking LGBT Parents in History

Opponents of LGBT equality often try to make LGBT parents seem like a new and untested phenomenon, and therefore something to be avoided. The history of LGBT parents and our children, however, goes back further than one might think.

The Greek poet Sappho, whose island home of Lesbos gave us the term “lesbian,” may have had a daughter named “Cleis.” That would mean that the history of LGBT parents goes back to around 600 BCE.

The existence of her daughter is only attested through a few fragments, though, making it far from certain. It’s also anachronistic to apply modern identity terms to historical figures, even such a lesbian icon as Sappho. The possibility of her existence, however, should encourage us to reflect that the history of parents who fall under a broad LGBT umbrella (not tied to modern conceptions of the terms) likely goes back as far as the history of LGBT people as a whole. They may not have been “out and proud” like many modern LGBT parents, but we can still see them as their forebears.

Sticking with better documented cases, Oscar Wilde was the father of two boys with his wife Constance Lloyd, and apparently a loving one. His son Vyvyan, in his book Son of Oscar Wilde, wrote about Wilde’s relationship with him and his brother, “He was a hero to us both. . . . a real companion to us. . . . He would go down on all fours on the nursery floor, being in turn a lion, a wolf, a horse, caring nothing for his usually immaculate appearance.” Alas, when the boys were eight and nine, their mother took them to Switzerland after Wilde’s trial for “gross indecency” (having same-sex relations) and they never saw him again.

blogpullquoteLGBTParentsVita Sackville-West had relationships with several women, including fellow writers Virginia Woolf and Violet Trefusis, and had two children with her husband, Harold George Nicolson (who also had same-sex relationships). Her son Nigel Nicolson later used her account of the affair with Trefusis as the heart of a book about his parents, Portrait of a Marriage. There, he called his mother’s description of the affair “one of the most moving pieces that she ever wrote.” While he acknowledged both parents’ same-sex relationships, he also said their marriage “became stronger and finer as a result.” Their love affairs were mere “ports of call,” but it was “to the harbour that each returned.” Nevertheless, it is easy to see Nicolson as the product of parents who fall under the broad LGBT umbrella, and to place another brushstroke in our picture of LGBT family history.

Looking only at parents who had a more modern sense of their LGBT identities, out LGBT parents go back to the very start of the LGBT civil rights movement. Most still had their children within the context of different-sex marriages, but were more likely than in earlier times to leave those marriages, even though this often meant losing custody of their children. Del Martin, one of the founders in 1955 of Daughters of Bilitis, the first national lesbian rights organization in the U.S., was one such parent. Not surprisingly, her organization held some of the first known discussion groups on lesbian motherhood—way back in 1956. (See Daniel Winunwe Rivers’ Radical Relations, which I reviewed in the Women’s Review of Books earlier this year.)

Even the term “gayby boom”—referring to same-sex couples starting their families together—is already over two decades old, dating to at least March 1990, when Newsweek reported, “a new generation of gay parents has produced the first-ever ‘gayby boom.’” That means that many of the children from that boom are themselves now adults—while many of the first generation of out parents are becoming grandparents.

Think of it this way: the fictional Heather who had two mommies was in preschool in Lesléa Newman’s classic 1989 children’s book. If she were real, she’d now be in her late 20s.

Those who continue to insist that LGBT parents are not good for children have failed to realize that if that were true (even leaving aside the extensive social science research to the contrary), there would be many more maladjusted adults running around. Analyses from UCLA’s Williams Institute have found that currently, between 2.3 and 4 million adults have an LGBT parent. If they suffered harm because of that, someone surely would have noticed the connection by now.

As a lesbian mom, I believe that learning the history of LGBT parents and their children can also help us feel less alone, less like we are the first to face each challenge. Having confidence that others have succeeded before us can translate into confidence in our parenting skills, which in turn can positively impact our children.

Knowing the struggles—and triumphs—of LGBT parents in the past can also give us hope and strength in overcoming the challenges—legal, political, social, and emotional—that we still face.

And seeing how the early organizations for LGBT parents helped shape the overall LGBT rights movement of today (a story told in Rivers’ book and in the 2006 documentary Mom’s Apple Pie: The Heart of the Lesbian Mothers’ Custody Movement) can inspire us to keep contributing to that broader effort, even as we balance the demands of work and family.

LGBT History Month for this year may be drawing to a close, but the work of exploring our history must continue.

Dana Rudolph is the online content manager for the National SEED Project at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. She is also the founder and publisher of Mombian, a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and associated newspaper column for lesbian moms and other LGBT parents. She has a BA summa cum laude from Wellesley College and an M.Phil in Modern History from Oxford University.

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Is Stress Making Us Sick?

pensivewomanIs Stress Making Us Sick?

Recently, NPR, with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard School of Public Health, released a poll that found that one-quarter of Americans reported that they had experienced significant amounts of stress in the previous month. That level of stress is similar to levels found in earlier polls. But is this much stress making us sick? The poll found that 70% of people experiencing high levels of stress reported that they were sleeping less--not getting enough sleep can negatively affect health. Other research tells us even more about the possible health consequences of too much stress and our capacity to cope with it. One of the top three sources of stress in the NPR poll, for individuals reporting high levels of stress, was stress from work problems. We know that jobs that are very stressful, with too much to do, can contribute to health problems, but only when those demands or challenges are not offset by the resources and authority to make decisions about the work. In fact, jobs that are very challenging--and in which workers have the authority and resources they need--are good for our health. The bad jobs are those with heavy demands that you can’t address or that never end--or those jobs that have no challenge whatsoever, that involve repetitive or boring work, with no say over what work gets done when. Not surprisingly, in the NPR poll, people in lower-paid jobs, with annual incomes under $20,000, reported more stress from work problems than did those with incomes of $50,000 or more (64% of low-income individuals reported work stress, compared to 57% of higher income people).

Another factor in whether stress makes us sick is whether the stress is chronic or from a single event. Certain life events are very stressful, such as the death of a loved one or divorce; one-in-six people reported that the most stressful event in the previous year was the death of a loved one, and fewer than one-in-ten reported a life change or transition, such as divorce, was the most stressful event. However, ongoing stressful conditions, such as chronic health problems, being a single parent following divorce, or poverty, are more likely to blogpullquoteStressMakingUsSickwear away at our health and wellbeing. The NPR poll found that individuals with a chronic illness were more likely to report high stress in the previous month (36% compared to 26% overall), as were individuals living in poverty (36%) and single parents (35%). These chronic stressors tax our abilities to cope with stress. For those individuals with high levels of stress, problems with finances was one of the main sources of stress, and this was especially true for those living in poverty (70% reported financial stress), those with disabilities (64%) or in poor health (69%), and for women (58%, compared to 45% for men). Chronic stress can lead to wear and tear or allostatic load, which can suppress immune function and lead to susceptibility to disease.

The other major contributor to stress, according to the poll, was having too many responsibilities overall. While this can mean different things to different people, it’s interesting to note that women were more likely than men to say that this was one of the reasons they were so stressed in the previous month. One life situation that can give us that overload feeling is combining employment with raising a family. While many men and women find that combination to be beneficial – would you give up your family or choose to stop working? – there are circumstances when the combination can be a negative. Women and men can experience strain from the stresses of too much to do at work and at home. However, because women tend to spend more time in family labor than do men, women with young children and not enough support or resources at work or at home are particularly at risk.

Poverty, bad jobs, too many responsibilities— these can all contribute to poorer health; these stressors are not randomly experienced by everyone, but rather fall more heavily on those with less advantage and opportunity in their lives. In a 2010 review of the latest research on stress and health, Peggy Thoits argued that the greater exposure of members of less-advantaged groups (women, race-ethnic minorities, lower-income and working class individuals) to chronic or high stress was one of the reasons that we find poorer health among women, race-ethnic minorities, lower-income and working class individuals. There are many possible responses to this reality, but central to that must be recognizing the health consequences of high levels of stress and addressing some of the underlying stressors, such as inequality and injustice.

Nancy Marshall, Ed.D. is an Associate Director and Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) at Wellesley College. She leads the Work, Families and Children Team at WCW and is an Adjunct Associate Professor at Wellesley College.

 

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Child Care and the Overwhelmed Parent

july29blogChild Care and the Overwhelmed Parent

Courtney Martin, a friend of the Wellesley Centers for Women, journalist, author of “Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists,” and one of the founding directors of the Solutions Journalism Network, is a regular contributor to the New York Times online opinion pages. In her July 24th article, she writes, "...what working mothers really need are systematic ways to find and afford safe, local care options for their kids. While many parents scramble to find care in the summer months, especially for older children out of school, it’s a year-round challenge for families with kids younger than preschool age."

Read Martin's full article,"Child Care and the Overwhelmed Parent">>

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A Case of Structural Racism

MIblogimageA Case of Structural Racism

For five years, from 2008 until 2013, I studied how Mississippi implements its child care certificates for low-income women who received the certificates as a welfare benefit. I brought to the work a racial lens and decades of studying the political right as a movement. I found a profound impact of both race and right-wing politics in my study of the Mississippi welfare bureaucracy and how low-income women and their children are treated. It has been a challenging and enlightening five years of travel, reading, conducting interviews, and mining historical and contemporary narratives.

Although Mississippi is majority white (60.6 % vs. 37.2 % Black in 2008), its poor are disproportionately African American (55% of low income households). Its overall poverty rate is 28%. Black people’s median earnings in Mississippi are about $10,000 less than whites. Approximately 13.9 % of children live below half of the poverty level, the highest percentage in the country. According to KidsCount, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Mississippi’s overall rank in child well-being is 50th out of 50 states.

Because many white people in Mississippi think of welfare as a “Black” program, its image is doubly stigmatized--by the negative stereotype of welfare recipients and by the widespread belief that recipients are African American. No Mississippi governor in recent memory has made the state’s low income people a priority. As a result, recipients of welfare services are viewed with suspicion and hostility.

Usually, some 6,000 children are on the waiting list to receive a child care certificate. This is no longer a matter of explicitly racial policies, but is a product of de facto racism in the implementation of Mississippi’s subsidized child care. By creating daunting barriers for low-income mothers in accessing subsidies for child care, Mississippi is disproportionately leaving their children behind.

blogpullquoteStructuralRacismIn Mississippi, advocacy for low-income women and children tends to occur only in the non-profit and non-governmental sectors, which are both relatively under-resourced in comparison with other states. No adequately powerful counter-voice exists to offset the public tone of hostility toward low-income women. Further, conscious and sub-conscious racism is so entrenched in Mississippi that even policies that would appear to address racial discrimination turn out to have no impact. Mississippi could be said to be “Ground Zero” for structural racism. So intractable is this form of racism at all class levels that the elimination of Jim Crow laws and practices has failed to eliminate structural racism. Neglect of poor children of color in Mississippi is but one outcome.

A symptom of the Mississippi Department of Human Services’ attitude toward welfare recipients is its latest scheme to fingerprint mothers each time they drop off their children at child care and when they pick them up. Only welfare recipients will have to use the fingerprint scanner. This scheme has cost Mississippi $8 million dollars and is intended to “reduce fraud and thus make more child care certificates available to others.” Child care providers and certificate recipients mobilized in opposition to the program. It has been temporarily stopped by the courts, but only because MDHS has been unable to complete the research the court required of it.

Mississippi is not alone in its pervasive structural racism. In every state in the country, race plays a role in the opportunities available to children and the likelihood of success for families. The perception by whites of the motivations of low-income people has been heavily influenced by a rightist campaign to demonize the poor as “dependent” and failing to take personal responsibility for their lives. This campaign has amounted to a war on the poor. Mississippi is but a shining example of that war.

For those of us who believe that improvement in the lives of Mississippians depends on empowerment of Black and white Mississippians from the ground up, child care is a crucial component. We learn more every year about the development of a child’s brain and what an enormous difference it can make to the future life of a child if that development is nurtured and expanded in the earliest years. Child care is not the only key to breaking through the barriers standing in the way of low-income Mississippians, but high quality early child care is an intervention that holds the possibility of changing outcomes for low-income children.

Jean Hardisty, Ph.D. is a Senior Scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. This blog draws upon the report, Between A Rock and A Hard Place: Race and Child Care in Mississippi.

 

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Learning from Amy

motherchildillustrationLearning from Amy

This article was originally published December 19, 2013 on Girl w/ Pen by Susan McGee Bailey, who served as executive director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and a Professor of Women’s & Gender Studies and Educationat Wellesley College for 25 years.

Heather Hewett’s December 5th blog post on Girl w/Pen, “What’s a Good Mother?” hit a nerve. My daughter Amy was born in 1970, the same year Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex and Robin Morgan’s anthology, Sisterhood is Powerful were published. Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique had already become part of my daily conversation. I read Firestone, Morgan, Germaine Greer, Our Bodies, Ourselves—everything I could find on ‘women’s liberation’. It all made so much sense. My husband and I agreed; we would share parenting. Our family wouldn’t follow the usual gender patterns, we’d be equal partners and we’d steer our daughter clear of sex stereotyped toys, clothes, and expectations. A huge cultural shift was underway; we’d be part of it.

We have been; but not in the ways I anticipated 40 years ago. Children complicate lives in unexpected ways. Amy was born with a variety of disabilities, some immediately evident, others less so. She tested our facile feminism; we chose different answers. I am a single parent.

Parenting a child with physical and developmental challenges is a politicizing activity. Mothering such a child alone is a radicalizing one. Mothering a child with disabilities requires not only the culturally sanctified female roles of caregiving and ‘traditional good mothering’, but aggressive independent action. You must lobby the legislature, pressure the school board, argue with the doctor and defy the teacher. And, oddly, while these ‘unfeminine’ behaviors might, in other contexts, be deemed deviant or too aggressive, performed in the context of mothering a child with special needs they are considered appropriate, even laudable.

blogpullquoteLearningFromAmyBut for a single mother, even this culturally permissible deviance is insufficient. My life with Amy is different from the lives of most of my colleagues and friends. I could not provide emotional, physical and financial support for Amy without re-envisioning motherhood. Amy and I have lived with a shifting assortment of male and female students, single women as well as married women with children. Work for me is not possible without round the clock care for Amy. This is true for all mothers and children, but it is a need that is normally outgrown. Not so in our case. Amy fuels my passion for feminist solutions; not simply for childcare, but for policy issues across the board. I know first hand too many of the dilemmas confronting women, from the mostly invisible, predominately female workers who care for others in exchange for poverty level wages to successful business women struggling to be perfect mothers, perfect wives and powerfully perfect CEOs.

While there may be no individual solutions, there are individual decisions. As a mother and a feminist, I long ago made the decision to work toward a society in which power and responsibility as well as independence and dependence are equally available to women and men.

But it’s a lovely winter day, snow is sparkling on the pine trees, and across the street children are sledding. To talk of the challenges of motherhood without sharing the lessons in joy Amy offers is only a part of the story. My particular good fortune is in Amy’s special way of seeing the world. Oliver Sacks in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat writes about people he calls ‘simple’. “If we are to use single word here, it would have to be ‘concreteness’--their world is vivid, intense, detailed, yet simple, precisely because it is concrete, nether complicated, diluted nor unified by abstraction.” Amy never misses a sunset, a baby or a bird. She notices and she insists that others notice.

“Mother, come here! Now!”

“Amy, I’m busy, I’ll be there in a minute, OK?”

“No, not OK, red bird will fly away, come NOW!”

I hurry to see red bird. What kind of silly person would think it reasonable to miss a cardinal in the snow?

This is only one of many joys my daughter has taught me.

It’s the Christmas season, a time of hope. Lately life has begun to look bleaker each day as we move further toward a nation of haves and have nots; but today I choose to believe in hope. Someday, not so far away, women and men working together will beat the odds. We will succeed in creating a more just and equal world.

Susan McGee Bailey, Ph.D. has received numerous awards for her research and public advocacy, is frequently quoted in the media, and has appeared on a variety of radio and television programs. In 2011 the National Council for Research on Women spotlighted her as a feminist icon. She has worked for more than 35 years with community organizations addressing the needs of disabled children.

 

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Is Grit Another Name for Resiliency?

cooktutorIs Grit Another Name for Resiliency?

Over the past few months, in my role as the Chair of the American Camp Association’s (ACA) Task Force on Non-Cognitive Skills, I have been immersed in the research and popular literature on what journalist-author Paul Tough calls “non-cognitive skills.” Numerous discussions, papers, books, and organizations have surfaced that are creating a great deal of confusion about what we are actually talking about. From Angela Lee Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania, who uses the term “grit,” to Ellen Galinsky’s Mind in the Making, to the Partnership for 21st Century skills, to CASEL's work on Social and Emotional Learning, I have become overwhelmed with the attention this issue is currently receiving. But what exactly are we all talking about? Is nomenclature getting in the way of a shared understanding of the “it”? Several labels or terms have been used (grit, life skills, applied skills, executive function, emotional intelligence, non cognitive skills, soft skills, character skills, leadership skills, and on, and on) but are they all same?

And more importantly are we missing something? Are we overlooking the importance of relationships and caring adults? Willis Bright, past director of the Youth Program at Lilly Endowment and a member of the ACA Task Force, speaks about “navigational and interpretative skills” thus adults helping youth to develop a moral compass in an increasingly complex society. That got me thinking about the work of Bonnie Benard and her colleagues at Stanford University on Resiliency Research.

blogpullquoteGritAccording to Benard, “we are all born with innate resiliency, with the capacity to develop the traits commonly found in resilient survivors: social competence (responsiveness, cultural flexibility, empathy, caring, communication skills, and a sense of humor); problem-solving (planning, help-seeking, critical and creative thinking); autonomy (sense of identity, self-efficacy, self-awareness, task-mastery, and adaptive distancing from negative messages and conditions); and a sense of purpose and belief in a bright future (goal direction, educational aspirations, optimism, faith, and spiritual connectedness)” (Benard, 1991).

But when faced with adversity, these inborn traits may not develop. Benard (1991) Werner (1993) and others have discovered there are “protective factors,” that can help young people develop resilience despite high levels of risk: caring relationships, high expectations and meaningful participation and contribution.

Our work at the National Institute on Out-of-School Time supports the resiliency research. The Afterschool Program Assessment System and its linked outcome tools, SAYO (Survey of Afterschool Youth Outcomes), are based on this framework. Our theory is that afterschool program can be the place where young people can learn social and emotional skills in an environment where caring adults, set high expectations and provide meaningful leadership opportunities for young people.

Despite their similarities, grit emphasizes one's internal resources while de-emphasizing the important external factors that help contributes one's success--something that resiliency theory includes. The APAS system, which is based on this resiliency framework, highlights the importance of supportive adult relationships in the healthy development of youth--something we should keep in mind as we begin a new year of academic and out-of-school-time programming.

Ellen Gannett, M.Ed. is the Director of the National Institute on Out-of-School Time at the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College where she ensures that research bridges the fields of child care, education, and youth development in order to promote programming that addresses the development of the whole child.

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As this is a very emotional subjects it's sometimes hard to distance oneself to look at the whole picture. But besides having a ne... Read More
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Opt-Out Revolution 2013

Opt-Out Revolution 2013

NYTimesMagCoverLast Sunday’s New York Times Magazine article provides a follow-up on the women of the so-called Opt-Out Revolution that the Times first heralded in 2003. The Times rightly points out the price these women have paid--and the forces that pushed them out in the first place--the culture of Motherhood and an inhospitable corporate culture among them. Erin Gloria Ryan, at Jezebel.com provides an even more pointed critique of the “promises” of opting out.

But both articles miss the most important point–the Opt-Out Revolution was not a “revolution,” it was a media creation that took a drop in employment rates among mothers of infants in the 2000 Census, and the experiences of a few women with husbands with high salaries during an economic period when the haves seemed to have it all--pre-Great Recession--and used that mythology to suggest that the reason women don’t fare as well in the workplace is because “they choose not to” (see the cover of the original NYT article). In fact, a study by Sharon Cohany and Emy Sok published in the Monthly Labor Review reported that the labor force participation rates of mothers of infants, with husbands earning in the top 20 percent of incomes, had the largest declines in 2000, but their participation only declined nine percentage points, from a high of 56 percent employed in 1997 to 47 percent in 2000, and 48 percent in 2005. While the decline was real, at least for women with husbands who could support the family, it was hardly a revolution.

blogpullquoteOpt OutRevolutionMeanwhile, media and popular attention remains focused on the message that women should solve the problems we face--of unfriendly workplaces, long work weeks, glass ceilings, and some men’s unequal sharing of household and parenting activities (often justified by workplaces that still think all men have wives who will support their husband’s careers)--by their personal, individual actions, rather than by our collective action to challenge the inequalities built into our economy, inequalities of gender, class and race. Women in the professions and in managerial jobs, who are most likely to be forced out, need redesigns of their fields to allow women--and men--during their parenthood years, to parent in the ways they value. There are top employers who have already figured out how to do this, including American Express, Johnson & Johnson, General Electric and Bristol-Myers Squibb. These changes to support working families need to be combined with changes that address the growing income disparity between the top 20 percent and the bottom 20 percent, and the consequences this has for financial well-being, as well as for the best interests of women, children, and men.

Nancy Marshall, Ed.D. is an Associate Director and Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) at Wellesley College. She leads the Work, Families and Children Team at WCW and is an Adjunct Associate Professor at Wellesley College.

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“Having it all,” “Lean in,” or “Work-life Balance”-- Asking the right questions

WorkingMom“Having it all,” “Lean in,” or “Work-life Balance”-- Asking the right questions

Sheryl Sandberg’s recent book, Lean In, created a media frenzy. Before that, Ann-Marie Slaughter’s 2012 article in The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” was hailed as another round in the Mommy Wars. It’s time to call a truce.

I’d like to begin with a brief personal history. When I was ten, my parents divorced. While my father provided some financial support, it was not enough to support four kids. So, when I was 13, my mother put my four-year old brother in nursery school and went back to work. I learned at my mother’s knee that women do what they need to do to take care of their families.

By the time I was 25, I had worked as a babysitter, cafeteria worker, sales clerk, library clerk, passport adjudicator, child care teacher, community organizer, drug program counselor, and research assistant. As a child of the second wave of the women’s movement, I had sung along to Helen Reddy’s I Am Woman, hear me roar. I knew about women’s work.

blogpullquoteAskingtheRightquestionsWhen I was 39, I gave birth to my daughter. I took a few months off with her, using up most of my sick leave, because this was pre-Family Medical Leave Act, and Wellesley College did not yet have paid parental leave. While at home, I discovered that parenthood was hard work, work that required a different rhythm than my paid work.

All of these experiences have informed my teaching and research on women’s experiences with paid work and family work.

Over the years, I have seen the question, “Can women have it all,” raised repeatedly. These debates have never been satisfying, because I felt they were asking the wrong question. The reality is that almost two-thirds of women with children under the age of six are employed. Overall, women’s rates of employment are fast approaching men’s. Moreover, employed women are even more likely than women not in the labor force to have children.

According to the research, for most women, as for most men, employment has its ups and downs. Good jobs contribute to health and well-being, including self-esteem and feelings of efficacy, and provide opportunities to make a contribution to others. Bad jobs are exhausting, mind- and body-numbing and bad for our health and the health of those around us. One of the questions employed women and men ask is, “How can I find and keep a good job, a career that I enjoy and value?”

But what about “having it all?” I hear many young women concerned about whether their job and career choices will jeopardize their future family, and whether their desire for a family will inhibit their ambitions.

The research clearly shows that combining paid work with raising children is actually a positive for most women and men. Paid work provides working parents with the income to raise their families, and can provide a sense of well-being that spills over to home, while providing a balance in their lives.

Even when combining work and family is stressful, most workers report more benefits from the combination than drawbacks. For the majority of women, and men, the question is, “how can I manage the stresses, and what can my employer do to support me to be the best worker as well as the best parent?”

Based on the research, I second Sheryl Sandberg’s advice: “don’t leave before you leave.”

However, for some parents, work and family is difficult to manage. Because mothers still do more of the day-to-day work of parenting young children, mothers of babies sometimes face more work-family conflict than they can manage, especially if they have very demanding jobs, or very demanding home lives, such as a baby who is sick more than other babies are. Parents with larger families, a serious illness or crisis in the family, or with one or both adults employed in demanding jobs, may find that home demands cannot be met while maintaining demanding jobs, and something needs to give.

For these people, the question is, “how can I manage caring for my family?” For Anne-Marie Slaughter, and others like her, the answer to that question was to make changes in their paid work. Dr. Slaughter chose to leave the Washington D.C circles of power for a full-time job as a professor, where she could be more available to her family; others choose to take time out from paid work, or to leave completely.

It’s time, then, to stop the media fascination with the “Mommy Wars.” No one wins in the current climate. Instead, we need to step up to the challenge of creating good jobs for all workers, and providing parents with needed supports, including family-friendly workplaces, as well as affordable child care and health care.

Nancy Marshall, Ed.D. is an Associate Director and Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) at Wellesley College. She leads the Work, Families and Children Team at WCW and is an Adjunct Associate Professor at Wellesley College.

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Women, Employment & Health

WomenEmploymentHealthWomen, Employment & Health

This commentary appears in the Research & Action Report, Spring/Summer 2013 Volume 34 • Number 2 (forthcoming), published by the Wellesley Centers for Women.

When we think about employment and health, we often think about high risk jobs and occupational safety. The recent deaths of first responders in Massachusetts and Texas highlight these serious concerns. However, many workers are exposed to unhealthy conditions that, while not lethal, seriously affect their health.

Trends in the new economy of downsizing, job instability, increased workload and longer hours have led to rising concerns about the health consequences of occupational stress. While both men and women experience stress-related illnesses, women are twice as likely as men to suffer from these consequences due to unhealthy working conditions. Jobs with heavy demands and little latitude in managing or meeting demands are particularly stressful, and women of all races, as well as men of color, are more likely to work in jobs with this combination.

blogpullquoteWomenEmploymentHealthWhile women’s participation in the work force is quite similar to men’s, the occupations and environments vary greatly. In 2009, 44.6 percent of women worked in just 20 occupations, and most of these occupations were heavily female, such as nurses, teachers, maids and housekeeping cleaners, health aides, and clerks—most of which have higher emotional demands. We need to ensure that researchers are examining the effects of emotional work so that employers can identify and implement ways to reduce the stress of these emotionally demanding jobs. In addition, women in the health and education field experience more nonfatal occupational injuries than would be expected in the general workforce; typical injuries include low-back pain, asthma, and exposure to infectious, biological, or chemical hazards.

How can employers and policymakers protect women’s health?

Women need the same protections that men do—standards for workplace health and safety, regular inspections and monitoring of injury rates, and research to develop health and safety practices. However, all too often, women, and women’s occupations and health concerns, have been left out of the funding priorities for research and innovative practices.

But other workplace factors have negative health implications for women employees, too. For example, as women are so concentrated in a select set of occupations, this results in some workplaces where women are not well represented and where they may be less empowered. Research shows that these women are more likely to experience sexual harassment in the workplace—nearly one-quarter of women report having experienced sexual harassment and 58 percent have experienced potentially harassing behaviors at work. We know that sexual harassment affects psychological well-being and increases psychological distress. Since we know that women are at greater risk for sexual harassment, especially in workplaces that have a climate in which workers believe that reports of harassment will not be taken seriously or will not have consequences for the harasser, it’s essential that employers implement and enforce policies that create a climate that promotes equity and respect and does not tolerate sexual harassment.

Additionally, workers—women and men—have families. Their responsibility to care for young children or aging parents does not end when they enter the workplace. However, despite the increasing involvement of men in caregiving, women still bear a greater burden. For example, married mothers take on almost twice the hours of married fathers each week to address family and home responsibilities. Caregiving for children and aging parents also falls more heavily on women’s shoulders.

How does this affect women’s employment and their health?

Work and family balance issues are a health risk for women with children... Read more of Marshall's commentary>>

Nancy Marshall, Ed.D. is an associate director and senior research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. She leads the Work, Families and Children Team at WCW and studies women and employment, with a focus on working conditions and health and work-family systems, as well as child care policy and early care and education. She authored the chapter, “Employment and Women’s Health,” in M.V. Spiers, P.A. Geller & J.D. Kloss (Eds.), Women’s health psychology (46- 63). New York: John Wiley & Sons.

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What Is A Woman Worth?

PayEquityBlogWhat Is A Woman Worth?

Are you paid what you’re worth? How much do you earn? Is your paycheck fair?

These are the kinds of questions we don’t talk about in public, or even with co-workers. We might broach them with close friends or family, but many Americans don’t like to talk about whether our paychecks are fair. However, when women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns, and this gender wage gap holds at all levels of education, we have to ask what’s at play here. For Black and Latino women, the gap is even greater; Black women earn 70 cents for every dollar earned by men of all races, and Latinas earn only 60 cents.

Is it that women put family and children first, and that affects their pay, because they work part-time or take time out of the workforce? While women who work part-time or take time out of the workforce to experience a “motherhood penalty,” the majority of mothers are working full-time. Working mothers are as serious about their employment as are working fathers, in an economy where a second income is essential to maintain a standard of living that, decades ago, could have been supported by one income.

Perhaps the pay gap is because women “chose” to go into jobs or professions that pay less? Women are concentrated in relatively few occupations, such as nursing, teaching, administrative assistants, health aides, customer service and the like. This concentration of women in a few, predominantly female, occupations does hold wages down, because more women are competing for a more limited range of occupations. However, even when women work in the same occupations as men, they often earn less than the men.

These kinds of arguments about why women earn less than men are grounded in old ideas about what a woman is worth, and about women’s place in the world. When we devalue women’s family and community work, we also devalue the paid jobs that support families and communities, such as teaching and nursing. When we ask whether it's women’s choices that drive the pay gap, we’re ignoring the effects of discrimination enacted by others with the power to hire and fire.

According to the official blog of the U.S. Department of Labor, “Economists generally attribute about 40 percent of the pay gap to discrimination--making about 60 percent explained by differences between workers or their jobs.” That’s right, almost half of the pay gap is attributed to discrimination. Two bills that would address this discrimination are currently in committee and not likely to go further. The Fair Pay Act (S.168, H.R.438) is designed to end wage discrimination by requiring equal pay for comparable work. The Paycheck Fairness Act (S.84, blogpullquoteWomanWorthH.R.377) would strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963.

However, we don’t have to wait for Congress to act to address the issue of discrimination and pay equity. As workers, we can start talking to each other about what we earn, and whether we think that’s fair. As employers, we can reconsider the wage structure in our firm, and evaluate its fairness. As citizens, we can challenge the old ideas about what a woman, and women’s work, is worth, and encourage our daughters and sons to not limit their dreams to the old dreams, but to explore a wide range of occupations and follow their own interests.

Nancy Marshall, Ed.D., is an Associate Director and Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. She leads the Centers' Work, Families & Children team and teaches courses at Wellesley College on gender, employment and the sociology of children and youth.

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Helping Children Deal with Traumatic Events

holdinghandsHelping Children Deal with Traumatic Events

A message from Open Circle, the elementary school social emotional learning (SEL) program at the Wellesley Centers for Women:

"In light of the recent shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, we are writing to share some resources that school communities might find helpful at this time. This tragedy touches all of us, both near and far, regardless of whether we are educators, parents or students. Open Circle would like to offer its assistance during this difficult time by helping schools support students who, understandably, may have questions or concerns in response to this tragic event.

"Children may need reassurance that their classroom and school are safe places for them. It is important to recognize the needs of individual children who might have a harder time coping with this event than others. Often children who are blogpullquoteHelpingChildrenprone to anxious feelings or those with their own trauma history can be triggered by another traumatic event, even if it did not directly happen to them. In addition to the positive, supportive classroom climate and the social and emotional learning tools that Open Circle provides, some students may need additional time with a school psychologist or guidance counselor to help them manage their fears.

"It is also critical that adults get the support they need to help students with their questions and feelings about this tragic event. Modeling how to stay calm and knowing when to ask for help yourself will help reassure students of their safety and remind them that the adults in school will be there to take care of them.

"During difficult times, safety, consistency and predictability are critical to helping children maintain a sense of stability and psychological comfort. Open Circle provides a classroom routine and climate that is safe, consistent and predictable. Continuing to do Open Circle, as usual, is very important. Revisiting and applying the following skills and concepts may be one way to help students and adults as they deal with this traumatic event.

"Calming Down ...
Understanding Feelings ...
Speaking Up ...
Listening Skills ...

"Additional Resources
We recommend the following additional resources from the National Association of School Psychologists and the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration:

  • A National Tragedy: Helping Children Cope
  • Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers--English
  • Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers--Korean
  • Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers--Spanish
  • Coping with Violence and Traumatic Events: Tips for Talking with Children (by age group, in multiple languages)
  • Coping with Crisis--Helping Children With Special Needs
  • Tips for School Administrators for Reinforcing School Safety"
  •  

    Open Circle is a universal social emotional learning (SEL) program focused on two goals: strengthening students' SEL skills related to recognizing and managing emotions, developing care and concern for others, establishing positive relationships, making responsible decisions, and handling challenging situations constructively; and fostering safe, caring and highly-engaging classroom and school communities.

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    Caregiving across the Life Span

    elderlymotherdaughterCaregiving across the Life Span

    November is National Family Caregivers Month, a time to recognize those who care for family, friends, and neighbors, including the elderly, sick and disabled. While the elderly are healthier now than in previous generations, about 17 percent of Americans 65 and older need assistance with one or more daily activities, such as bathing or dressing (Himes, 2002); many more need assistance with chores, errands or transportation. Family members in the community provide most of this assistance; for example, 26 percent of adult daughters and 15 percent of adult sons report spending at least 100 hours/year caring for or helping their older parents (Johnson & Lo Sasso, 2000).

    While important, these numbers obscure the many ways in which we are each embedded in networks of care. Some of us are directly involved in hands-on caregiving, but care also encompasses “caring about” – paying attention in such a blogpullquoteCaregivingAcrossLifeSpanway that one sees and recognizes the need for care – and “caring for” – responding to other’s needs by taking responsibility for initiating caring activities (Fisher & Tronto, 1990).

    I think of my 88-year-old mother, living independently, even though she is vision-impaired and cannot drive. Her children, who do not live nearby, call her regularly, provide financial support and make sure her bills are paid, and take responsibility for ensuring that she receives the care she needs. When they do visit, she has a list of chores ready for them. Her friends provide rides to church and occasional lunches out. Her neighbor calls her daily, takes her food shopping and to doctors’ appointments. Another neighbor brings her books on tape, and helps her figure out the technology to listen to the audiobooks. But my mother is not just a receiver of care. She calls friends who need to talk, makes sure that someone is checking on others living alone, provides advice and labor for activities at church, as well as advice to her children, neighbors and friends. In her younger days, she was the one providing transportation to others, visiting people in the hospital or at home, or providing housing and financial support for her adult children.

    These networks of care are often invisible, but they are essential to our communities. As our population ages, and those who provide care are increasingly employed outside of the home, caregiving demands are potentially in direct conflict with employment responsibilities. This reality demands recognition of caregivers not just this month, but year-round, by employers who can provide workplace flexibility – to accompany someone to doctors’ visits, provide transportation, or help with food shopping – and paid family and medical leave for intensive caregiving when needed.

    Nancy Marshall, Ed.D., is an Associate Director and Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. She leads the Work, Families & Children team at the Centers. For more than 20 years, researchers on the Work, Families and Children team have studied the lives of children and adults, and the workplaces, early care and education programs and families in which they live, work and grow. The Team applies an ecological systems model to the study of the lives of children and adults. From this perspective, individual lives are best understood in the context of social institutions, such as families, the workplace, and early care and education settings.

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