Posts Tagged ‘ Amy Julia Becker ’

What the Fiscal Cliff Could Mean for Our Kids (OPINION)

Friday, December 14th, 2012

By Amy Julia Becker

Even though I’m the mother of three small children, I’ve never been a huge fan of child safety regulations. I often roll my eyes at warnings on labels. I think back to my own childhood, when Fisher-Price Little People were shaped like cylinders instead of marshmallows, and we still managed to survive. I think back to my helmetless bike riding days. I often tell my kids that I believe in germs and dirt, by which I mean I bypass antibacterial hand wash, and I allow them to play with other kids who have the sniffles (though I avoid stomach bugs like the plague). I also allow them to take calculated risks that sometimes result in skinned knees and sometimes result in greater strength, balance, and flexibility.

So I read the recent Safe Kids Report on the effect of sequestration (aka the fiscal cliff) on children’s health and safety with some degree of skepticism. And yet, despite my own laissez faire parenting, this report convinced me that our current budget impasse could lead to arbitrary and senseless cuts to government programs because these programs are necessary, appropriate, and largely cost-effective for ensuring the health and safety of children across our nation.

According to the report, “Unintentional injury is the leading cause of death for children ages 1 through 19,” and “programs with a direct programmatic relationship to child safety would be cut by $4,586,863,600 in the remaining months of FY 2013.” The report goes on to explain the effect of sequestration upon three government agencies, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (Injury Center), and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Each of these agencies (among dozens of others with some responsibility for kids’ health and safety) will receive sweeping eleven percent cuts if Congress is unable to avoid the fiscal cliff.

The report includes a helpful infographic that relates some of the potential safety risks to children. These risks include a reduction in the oversight of imported and domestic toys and baby gear that, statistically speaking, could mean “4.2 million more dangerous products for kids left on market shelves.” Highway deaths for kids under 19 have decreased by a dramatic 29% in the past decade, due at least in part to the NHTSA’s efforts to support car safety.

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What I Will Teach My Children About Our President (OPINION)

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

The editors of Parents.com have been reporting on hot-button election issues that American families face today, from healthcare to education. In the spirit of offering diverse perspectives on the election, we chose three moms from across the political spectrum to be guest bloggers on Parents News Now. Each one of them offered a unique take on the topics that they–and you!–are most passionate about. (Read the entire blog series.)

By Amy Julia Becker

Yesterday, I tried to talk to my kids about the election.

William, who is four, was setting out a game based on Richard Scarry’s Busytown. “So, William, do you know there’s an election tomorrow?”

He shook his head.

“Do you know who our President is?”

“Obama,” he said, without looking up, placing Huckle and Sally into their respective holders.

“Do you know what the President does?”

He shook his head again. “Mom,” he said, finally meeting my eyes. “I’m ready.”

I abandoned the conversation.

When Penny, who is almost seven, came home, I said, “Pen, do you know there’s an election tomorrow?”

She looked at me earnestly but also shook her head.

“Do you know who our President is right now?”

“Barack Obama.”

She went on to tell me that he should be president again because she loves him. She also made it clear that she has no idea what a President does, and when I mentioned that he lives in Washington, D.C., she promptly pointed to the state of Washington on the map of the United States. Clearly our family civics lessons are not up to par.

But then I thought back to my own childhood, and I realized that although I had a vague awareness of the Reagan/Mondale contest in 1984, the first election I can remember with any detail was in 1988, when I was eleven years old. One of my father’s best friends was working for the Dukakis campaign. My father is a lifelong Republican, so I was intrigued by the dinner conversations between these two. Up until then, I recall no interest in or even awareness of the political life of this nation. My kids may well be following in my footsteps.

After months of attending to this campaign, I plan to vote for President Obama today, and I hope I will have occasion to explain my choice to Penny and William in the years to come. I am voting for Obama because I think he is the more credible of the two candidates, given Romney’s history of equivocation on abortion, health care, and clean energy. I am also voting for Obama because I am liberal enough to support (in broad terms) his economic policies and health care reforms, and because I am conservative enough to think a transition will be more disruptive to our economy than a continuation of the past four years. Not only will I vote for Obama, but I think he will win, and I look forward to talking to my children about his victory.

But if Romney wins today, what I want my kids to understand won’t differ much. Although I suspect that Obama and Romney are more similar on many issues than their campaigns and fervent supporters might want, I know they are different men with different backgrounds and different policy positions. The reason my words to our children won’t change is that no matter who holds the office of the President, no matter their policies on economics or education or international relations, we will continue to live in the United States of America. And I will teach my children to be proud and grateful that they are growing up as citizens of this nation, no matter which man becomes the next President.

The wonder of American elections is that we routinely watch power transfer from one party to the next without fear of bloodshed. Sure, politics in America can look ugly. We’ve endured an election filled with attack ads that misrepresent both men’s positions. We’ve heard accusations of communism and racism and elitism. And yet Election Day comes, and each and every adult citizen of this nation has the opportunity to cast their vote, to participate in choosing the one(s) who will lead us for the next four years.

It will be a while before I’m talking with my children about the Constitution, or checks and balances, or the philosophical role government should play in the lives of ordinary people. But as a parent, I am relieved to think that I will go to bed tonight without fear. No matter who comes to power, our country will not erupt into civil war. No matter who comes to power, ethnic or religious groups opposed to the person in power will not be targeted for elimination. No matter who holds the highest office in the land, we will still share in common our constitutional rights, our declaration that each and every human being has a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

As my children get older, I hope I will do my part to educate them about American history and politics and economics and social issues. I hope they will watch Presidential debates and argue with me and with one another when it comes to defense spending and the minimum wage and abortion rights. But I’m also glad that they don’t need to pay attention to this election. I am grateful to be a citizen of the United States of America, and to rest secure in the integrity of this union, come what may.

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Everything Our Politicians Need to Know They Should Have Learned in Kindergarten (OPINION)

Friday, October 19th, 2012

Over the next few months, the editors of Parents.com will report on hot-button election issues that American families face today, from healthcare to education. In the spirit of offering diverse perspectives on the election, we’ve chosen three moms from across the political spectrum to be guest bloggers on Parents News Now. Each one of them will offer a unique take on the topics that they–and you!–are most passionate about. (Read the entire blog series.)

By Amy Julia Becker

“Use your words.

“You can’t always get what you want.”

“Take a minute to think about it, and then tell me the truth.”

“Remember to share.”

 “Instead of grabbing, please ask nicely.”

I repeat these phrases throughout the day, pretty much every day. I want my children to learn how to be kind to one another, how to think about other people’s needs in addition to their own, and how to work out problems. I want them to know how to compromise.

As I watched the second Presidential debate on Tuesday night, I wondered whether President Obama and Governor Romney remembered the lessons their parents had taught them in their early years. The debate heated up at times, with each man accusing the other of misleading or untrue assertions. They interrupted each other. They raised their voices. They gave us reasons to be disappointed. NPR called it a “town brawl” instead of a “town hall” meeting. According to the New York Times, both men exaggerated or misrepresented the other’s position (or flat out lied). And yet I also suspect that these m­­en–both pragmatic leaders with track records of centrist positions and a willingness to work with the opposition (Romney in Massachusetts, Obama as President)—would both be willing to compromise, to work it out civilly. If we still had a system in which the loser of the Presidential contest became Vice President, I could imagine it working out between these two.

            When it comes to civil government and common courtesy, it’s not Obama or Romney who need reminders. The people who need a reminder of putting the common good ahead of self-preservation, a reminder of compromise, a reminder of telling the truth and sharing, are our representatives serving in Congress.

President Obama, as he stated in the debate, inherited a mess. The economy was headed towards depression. The unemployment rate was on the rise. The deficit had soared as a result of fighting two unfunded wars. And Obama was prepared to tackle the problems through centrist solutions. He reached out to the Republican opposition. He advanced a health care plan based upon the conservative Heritage Foundation’s proposal (which, incidentally, served as Governor Romney’s blueprint for health care in Massachusetts as well). He initiated conversations about tax cuts for the middle class, a return to Clinton-era tax rates on the wealthiest individuals, and reductions in spending. He tried to pave a middle way.

And then the Republican opposition forgot what they had learned as little children. Instead of deciding that their job as elected officials was to serve the people of this nation, they decided to serve themselves. They decided that their primary goal was to defeat Obama. They worried that compromise would make him look good. They assumed that economic change that benefited us all would ensure his reelection. And so they nearly shut down our government on multiple occasions.

As an independent voter with moderate views on both social and economic policy, I believe the best situation for our country is one in which the President and the majority in Congress come from opposing sides of the aisle. At least in theory, this scenario forces compromise, forces each party to give and take, to listen, to allow the ideas that serve all people to rise to the top. Instead, the Republicans have decided to take their toys and go home, and our nation has continued to wallow in a place of high unemployment, low growth, and increasing poverty.

Whoever wins this election is probably going to be lauded as a great leader, simply because the economy is poised to turn around no matter who holds the highest office in the land. But the mark of true and meaningful leadership in the service of our nation will come only if our president—whomever he may be—can figure out how to bring our nation back to a place where Republicans and Democrats alike can sacrifice their party’s ideology for the common good of the American people. If only our leaders could remember those basic lessons we try to teach our children every day.

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Are Romney and Obama Talking About the Things That Matter to Parents?

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

Over the next few months, the editors of Parents.com will report on hot-button election issues that American families face today, from healthcare to education. In the spirit of offering diverse perspectives on the election, we’ve chosen three moms from across the political spectrum to be guest bloggers on Parents News Now. Each one of them will offer a unique take on the topics that they–and you!–are most passionate about. (Read the entire blog series.)

By Amy Julia Becker

My day as a mom doesn’t involve much thought about our government. I think about packing lunches for school, wiping counters, getting our kids dressed in clothes that are somewhat appropriate for the weather outside. I think about how many minutes of television William (age 4) has already watched today. I think about whether I’m being consistent in my discipline and expectations for Marilee (20 months), our third child, who is rather inclined to get away with, well, everything. I think about how Penny (age 6 ½), who has Down syndrome, is doing in school–will she control her hands, will she eat her carrot sticks at lunch, will she make friends? I think about the dozens of emails in my inbox, our cat with hyperthyroidism, the rusty spot on the door of the minivan that really needs attention.

I don’t think much about tax policy, job creation, teachers unions, national defense, or public health. And I suspect that neither Romney nor Obama spends much time thinking about chores and report cards and rusty minivans. I certainly hope they don’t.

Although I don’t spend my days thinking about the government, I do have concerns about how the outcome of our next election will affect my family. At a luncheon hosted by CNN and Parents last June, I was part of a group of moms that discussed various election issues. It was clear that many of us care about having a president who can fix the educational system, address environmental hazards, and implement economic policies that enable job creation. Similarly, in a survey conducted by the Center for the Next Generation and Parents, “74 percent of parents say the government is not doing enough for children.” The authors of the report detailing the same survey called upon Obama and Romney to address the “concerns of parents” in tomorrow’s debate about domestic policy.

Neither Romney nor Obama has made educational reform or other issues related to kids the center of their campaigns. Both have instead made the economy the focal point of this election. They have different proposals for addressing economic woes–Romney follows his party line in calling for keeping both taxes and government spending low, although he is vague about the specifics of how to do so. Obama promotes the agenda of the past four years–raising taxes on the top income brackets and continuing to spend as an act of financial stimulus while “trimming fat” from the national budget. And although parents might complain that neither politician has focused enough on issues related to children, economic issues are what matter most to parents right now.

The recent survey showed that “91 percent of parents believe that the lack of jobs that pay enough to support a family is a serious problem facing America’s children,” and, in a departure from historical norms, “When asked to choose between an extra $10,000 per year or an extra hour every day of quality time with their children, two-thirds choose the money.” In other words, the biggest concern parents face is the economy, exactly the topic both candidates highlight every day on the campaign trail.

When it comes to our presidential candidates, the problem doesn’t lie with an unwillingness to address the concerns of parents and children. The problem lies with an unwillingness, on the part of the candidates and the American public, to address the real problems within our national budget. As Michael Grunwald recently wrote in a cover article for TIME (“One Nation on Welfare”), “The 2012 election is shaping up as a debate over Big Government, but it is only loosely tethered to the reality of Big Government. The vast majority of federal spending goes to defense, health care, and Social Security plus interest payments on the debt we’ve run up paying for defense, health care, and Social Security. Nondefense discretionary spending–Washingtonese for “everything else,” from the FBI to the TSA to the center for grape genetics–amounts to only 12 percent of the budget.”

The candidates don’t need to be talking first and foremost about education reform or child welfare. They don’t need to be thinking about the things parents are thinking about on a day to day basis. But in order to address the needs of the nation, which very much includes the needs of parents and of the next generation, the candidates need to do more than pontificate about reducing the deficit and providing sound economic policy.

They need instead to articulate reductions in defense spending and policy changes to our longstanding and beneficial entitlement programs–Medicare and Social Security. The boldness to ensure security and health for the next generation of children rests upon conversations that have very little immediate connection to my car that needs to go to the shop or Penny’s behavioral chart at school or another box of macaroni and cheese. I’ll be tuning in on Wednesday night to see if either Obama or Romney has any concrete solutions to the economic problems that concern us all.

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Where are the Moms in the White House? (OPINION)

Monday, September 17th, 2012

Over the next few months, the editors of Parents.com will report on hot-button election issues that American families face today, from healthcare to education. In the spirit of offering diverse perspectives on the election, we’ve chosen three moms from across the political spectrum to be guest bloggers on Parents News Now. Each one of them will offer a unique take on the topics that they–and you!–are most passionate about. (Read the entire blog series.)

By Amy Julia Becker

The political conventions of 2012 made one thing clear–both parties want to woo the moms of America. As Lisa Belkin pointed out in the midst of the Republican convention, in his convention speech, “Mitt Romney used some version of the word ‘mom’ 14 times.” Romney’s mom-laced speech came after both Paul Ryan and Ann Romney had courted the moms of our nation as well. Ann Romney explained that the moms “always work a little harder” than anyone else, and she said there are some things the men just can’t understand. The Democrats followed with Michelle Obama’s powerful words about what it means to be an American, which ended with a proud declaration that her most important title is still “Mom in Chief.”

Both Ann Romney and Michelle Obama praised their husbands, and they painted similar portraits of family life. They described marriages that began with some degree of financial duress–the Romney’s dining room table was an ironing board, Barack Obama’s most prized possession a coffee table he had found in a dumpster. They both called upon memories of their husbands years ago to help us imagine these men without the trappings of fame and power and fortune. They extolled their husbands as fathers, and then they returned to their appeal to the mothers of this nation. There was something in those speeches for everyone, but it was the moms who were praised, and the moms who were being courted.

Moreover, both women implied that there is wisdom in being a mom, that moms know something about leadership, about values, about what matters to this nation, and about how to work hard to achieve goals.

Of the 15 members of Obama’s cabinet, four are women, and two are mothers. Hillary Clinton, one of the moms, has already announced her intention to end her tenure as Secretary of State after the election. And both she and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius have grown children. The dads on the cabinet include at least four who have school-aged children. Romney has begun preparations to form a cabinet, although he has not named his choices yet. But his transition team and circle of close advisors rarely include moms.

So why are there so few moms on Obama’s cabinet? And why so few advising Romney? If moms are so great, and so valuable, to both parties, why aren’t more of them in official positions of influence?

In the Atlantic a few months back, Princeton Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote an article in which she explained her decision to go back to Princeton rather than continue working for Hillary Clinton in the State Department. In Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, Slaughter describes the cultural and societal forces that make it difficult for women to be involved in the lives of their children and climb the ladder towards professional success, particularly when it comes to jobs within the highest reaches of the federal government.

Slaughter identifies practical solutions: changing the cultural expectations surrounding when and where both men and women work, placing a higher value as a culture on time spent with children, and recognizing that influential positions within government might only be possible after children have left the nest.

But she also concludes that including moms in the highest reaches of government is not up to moms alone: “If women are ever to achieve real equality as leaders, then we have to stop accepting male behavior and male choices as the default and the ideal. We must insist on changing social policies and bending career tracks to accommodate our choices, too. We have the power to do it if we decide to, and we have many men standing beside us.”

Ann Romney and Michelle Obama spoke on behalf of their husbands when they praised the moms of America and extolled their own roles as mothers. And yet neither mentioned social policies like paternity leave or incentives for flexible work that might allow more moms to faithfully raise their children while also advancing their careers. Government policy alone will not change the number of mothers in the halls of power. But both parties have an opportunity to couple their rhetoric about moms with policy measures. Both parties could offer policies to support a stable family structure in which women are not on their own to raise their children as well as an economic system that provides means for women to advance their careers even in the midst of PTA meetings and baseball games.

This election centers on the economy and the role of government. But both parties should also pay attention to the moms, not just through rhetorical flourishes at the conventions, but also by championing their involvement in structuring governmental policy. Whether or not Michelle Obama remains the Mom in Chief, we can hope the election of 2012 brings more moms into positions of power within the White House.

Read more opinions from Amy Julia Becker

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