What Does It Mean to Strike From Child Care?

Photo: Bonfanti Diego/Getty Images/Cultura RF

With strikes called to coincide with tomorrow’s International Women’s Day, many mothers wonder about their participation. Strike organizers have listed ten ways women can join the day of action, including inviting those who are able to “leave care and housework for the day.”

For some, the concept seems impossible: Primary caregivers wonder who will watch their kids if they don’t, while some mothers point out they already share child-care duties with partners. Other women disagree with the strike completely, saying their children come first. Ahead of tomorrow’s day of action, many mothers are asking themselves: What would striking from child care look like?

“From what, Daniel?” laughs Louisa, a woman currently on parental leave, when asked whether she plans to strike from caring for her 6-week-old son. Louisa explains that her husband is out of town for work during the week — if she wanted to go on strike from child care, she’d have to pay someone to care for Daniel. Elyse, a hairstylist and mother of a 20-month-old, is in a similar position: “I’d like to, but my husband will be out of town. It’ll just be me and little man that day.”

An occupied husband is also what’s keeping Janat, the mother of a 5-month-old, from participating in the strike. Janat, who is currently on parental leave from her job as a special-education teacher, discussed the possibility of him taking the day off to care for their baby so that Janat could strike: “That day, he’s leading a big training for over 75 teachers, so it’s really impossible for him to get the day off of work.” Without someone to step in, Janat points out that she “can’t just stop being a mom for a day. My daughter is 5 months old and can’t exactly take care of herself.”

But not all mothers are primary caregivers — and some women who already share child-care duties with a partner say the need to strike feels less acute. Ali, a librarian with a 15-month-old, explains that on Wednesdays, her boyfriend is always responsible for their son’s care during much of her workday. Tomorrow, during after-work hours, she plans to ask him for extra help. “I’m going to write up a to-do list,” she says. “He’ll have extra chores.” Caroline, a part-time teacher and mother of a 3-year-old, has a similar arrangement: Her husband does most of the child-care work every morning, so she does not plan for Wednesday to be any different. “Plus,” she adds, “he comes back from work to pick up our daughter from school and has lunch with her while I finish up at work.”

While supportive spouses make the possibility of striking simpler for some women, not all mothers are keen to expect their partners to take on the extra work. Stephanie, a full-time caregiver for her 2-year-old son, says her husband is part of the reason why she’ll abstain. “It would be a slap in the face to say to him, ‘You don’t appreciate me or treat me equally.’ He is the reason I’m allowed to stay home and do my dream ‘job.’” Stephanie’s political beliefs also make her wary of involvement with the strike: “I completely acknowledge that there are women who experience inequality and sexism in the workplace. It’s wrong and that does need to be addressed. But because I’m not liberal enough or feminist enough, it always feels like my support isn’t wanted.”

Beyond relationship dynamics or logistical woes, financial pressures are also on the minds of many mothers thinking about the strike. Dana, the working mother of a 3-year-old, finds it “unrealistic for any women with a child or children under the age of 17 to go on strike.” She works hard, she says, to provide for her child and is dedicated to her paying job — to the point where neither she nor her husband take sick days. “Those are saved to be home when our daughter is sick. Being a mother comes first, not some bullshit strike.”

Other women would like to participate in the strike but feel abstaining from child care while at home would be impossible. One woman plans to confront this issue by peppering her participation throughout the day. Meaghan, the mother of a 3-year-old, says she’s not going to ignore her child when at home on Wednesday, but will not do “any mom labor.” She describes this work as “the normal, everyday tasks that keep the machinery of our family going. Like packing my son’s lunch, or getting him ready in the morning, or doing day-care drop-off. Running errands (grocery shopping, paying bills, following up on random family admin crap). Cleaning the kitchen, putting in a load of laundry!”

“This isn’t going to stop the world from turning,” she says. “But I am excited just thinking about it.”

*First names have been used to protect the privacy of interviewees.

What Does It Mean to Strike From Child Care?