I noticed that Michelle Obama lists the following among her critical issues:
a. helping working women balance work and family, and
b. encouraging national service.
She also mentions supporting military families, but I cannot speak intelligently on that, so I won't addresses it here.
These other two issues are crucial to changing how our citizens respond to President Obama's vision for change.
a. Work-life-family balance for women.
Unless women can fulfill their roles as mothers--nurturers, educators, mentors, role models for self-discipline, repository of cultural tradition, sources of comfort, family history and values--to our nation's children, we will not be able to raise the next Great Generation. We need to change the way we as a nation think of parenting (and, here I will acknowledge that men as fathers also play an important role--often in a uniquely masculine way and sometimes as nurturers in place of mothers). We must see parenting not in the short term as an inconvenient interruption from economic productivity (e.g. time not spent on the job) but as integral to forming our long term viability as economic and cultural world leaders (since I see no end to our global hegemony). Once we can change our vision of parenting--especially mothering, then "balance" will come to mean something--and that will be win-win: Women add value to the work force by bringing their feminine strengths to problem-solving, interpersonal management, governance, etc. Women also add value by nurturing healthy families, including themselves. This kind of "balance" will have the added benefit of growing our economy in the right areas. For, women with time (and knowledge--see below) to lead their families will likely be the leaders in changing how our children and parents eat and exercise (fighting obesity), as well as how we address and treat factors contributing to chronic illness (obesity leading to heart disease, diabetes, chronic back and joint pain) and addiction (addressing mental health / stress factors in the family). These women will also likely lead the way in energy conservation, support for local agriculture, and sustainable businesses.
For many, many women, changing our perspective and national consciousness about this balance will be enough to bring about change. Major employers already understand some of the benefits of flex time and flex space. Some employers are even moving away from the 40 hour work week to a strictly goals based performance / compensation model. This kind of structure will work for managers and other office workers. Where we need the creative, brilliant work to happen in with those living below the median income level and those living in poverty through 200% of poverty. These women need access to some of the amazing cutting-edge programs already happening in this country. And, those programs need a workforce of energetic Americorps / Peace Corps / Teach for
b. National service.
To this end, I think Michelle should be introduced to amazing programs that actually achieve these ends. Of course I would nominate Families Learning Together (particularly the program out of Middlebury /
Learning Together (and programs like it) also instills in participants a desire to give back to their community, and they do. This is how we want government to address those in need. This is the "Yes, We Can" approach. Through programs like Learning Together, government can not only "do for people what they cannot do for themselves," but actually can also change what people can and will do for themselves and others. Not only are valuable and established programs like Learning Together natural starting points for a national service program, they are also incubators for future corps members and community leaders. Let's stop the cycles of poverty and build cycles of service!