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An author speaks out for mothers at home

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Six years ago, after earning a PhD in linguistics, Deborah Fallows was anticipating a promising career. Before she was 30, by the time her son Tommy was 21/2, she had become an assistant dean in languages and linguistics at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. ``It was at a time when there was a lot in the press about being Superwoman,'' she recalls. ``It seemed like every week you could pick up a paper or a magazine and find an article saying all you needed to do was be a little more efficient, a little more organized. That was the key to the success of having everything.

``I thought, I'm efficient, I'm organized, what's wrong here? It wasn't working out. I didn't have the time with [my son]. I wasn't being the kind of mom, doing the kind of things I wanted to do with him. I didn't feel like he was having the kind of childhood that I wanted him to have.''

And so, just before the birth of her second son, Tad, Mrs. Fallows made an important decision: She would stay home with the couple's children while they were young.

``I had this sense that my children needed someone who was very strong -- and who cared for them beyond all boundaries -- to do well by them,'' she says.

In her new book, ``A Mother's Work'' (Houghton Mifflin, $16.95), Mrs. Fallows gives a thoughtful account of the reasoning behind that decision. She acknowledges the complex choices pulling parents between family and career. But she also offers a disturbing insider's view of the day-care centers she visited around the country while her husband, James Fallows, Washington editor of The Atlantic magazine, took his turn at playing primary parent.

``I find myself in this curious position of not being a fan of day-care centers,'' Mrs. Fallows says. ``But I feel in my conscience that since I care for kids, I have to care about having good-quality day care. There will always be kids in day care, and there will always be working parents. If you're a realist, you have to support improving the system.''

What she found in dozens of day-care facilities offers plenty of room for improvement. At a time when most public concern focuses on abuse, Mrs. Fallows worries about a different problem: benign neglect. Most centers, she believes, do not have the resources to provide the care babies and young children need.

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