It Needs To Be About The Kids

It seems I might have given the wrong impression. In a recent blog, I wrote about my shock in rules of the new gan system, where kids are forced to stay in gan (nursery or kindergarten) until 2 pm with no food. My major concern for my son (as a Jewish mother) was about the food. My secondary concern – too many hours for a three year old. And no opportunity for down time in the afternoon.

I am not alone in my horror, a Facebook group opposing the new system is growing steadily, as parents realise that hungry, tired and overstimulated kids make for a miserable afternoon. More and more are starting to think that perhaps this solution is not ideal.Yes it’s another hour or so of free childcare (which for some, is enough of an attraction), but it seems to be too much for the kids. They should be released in time for lunch at a reasonable hour, and those children who are there all day should also be able to have lunch at a reasonable hour, and some quiet time (far easier to manage if half the kids have gone home by 1 pm).

I also attracted a lot of comments along the lines of me being privileged, condescending, etc. Let me assure you – my husband is not a well-paid banker or businessman. We do not take holidays or eat meat during the week. I can count on one hand the items of clothing bought by me and my husband since our aliyah over 2 years ago. We very rarely have date nights and eat lots of lentils – do I sound like Mayim Bialik? In other words, my not working is a lifestyle choice, and yes, I made it so I could spend time with my kids. True, we are privileged in that I do not have to work just to feed and clothe my kids, and for many Israeli mums working is something they have to do to cover the basics. So I’ll admit I am “lucky” by that yardstick, but I feel it’s important to clarify that I am not spending my mornings playing tennis and getting pedicures (a concept almost unimaginable to most Israelis).

The point is, my issue with the gan is flatly not about me. Its about the kids. One mother recently told me that she is active on the Facebook group even though she knows that any policy change will probably come too late for her own child. But she cares enough to help other children. This should be the priority of both parents and policy-makers, above all else. Not what is convenient or even affordable for us, but what is right for them. The issue of whether working parents can work around a gan with reduced hours it not a decision for the Misrad Hachinuch. It is an issue of employment law, of maternity benefits, of cultural expectations.

And this is where Israel seems to get a bit confused. It appears that as a result of the 2011 social demonstrations, getting the ganenets more money and the right of women to work, the government now feels pressure to keep the working classes happy. My initial response to those demonstrations (connected to raising small children) was how incredibly short-sighted they were. Free childcare? The right for women to work (and essentially be treated like men). Cheap nappies? What is this – the 1980’s? Haven’t we moved on since then? For me, these demonstrators missed the point entirely (see my letter to the JPost).

Israel should be modelling its family-related policy on Scandinavia. Better maternity pay, better rights for women, and even more mummy-friendly policies. Flextime, working from home, 4-day week, these are all terms that have been banded around England for years. But most Israeli employers refuse to get into bed with that one. Forget it. Unless you are really lucky, or work for an international company, you are penalised heavily for anything that detracts from the stone-age 9-hour work day model. The fact that girls are outperforming boys academically, and are now taking up more than 50% of some the most respected professions (medicine, law, etc) seems to have had no impact of pay scales. I have an architect friend who works an 8-hour day so she can be with her kids. One hour less than her colleagues. She says she takes a massive pay-cut for this choice. She is far from alone. All over the country women who are hugely successful and very hardworking are simply to scared to fight for their rights. They are just thankful to have a job. And the employers love having them.

A pilot program was recently launched by the Israel Medical Association’s Scientific Council and the Health Ministry to help doctors complete their (very long) studies on part time basis. Doctor friends of mine inform me that 26-hour shifts are common. Hospital gynecologists working with only the briefest of breaks for hurried eating, on their feet delivering babies with no break? According to one doctor friend, a bus driver in this country has to by law take regular breaks, but its perfectly fine to cut someone open at the end of a 26-hour shift (and people wonder why I don’t like hospitals). Clearly, hideously long shifts are not conducive to pregnancy or caring for small children. And when the country realised it was losing over 50% of its potential future doctors, action was taken. Simply put, no state run by Jews wants to run the risk of ever being short of doctors.

My question is, why just medicine? What about the rest of the working women? Where are the tools to help them return to work without compromising their families?

The first step, may have to come from the working women themselves. They will somehow have to knuckle down and fight for their rights. It can be done – I recently watched the film I Don’t Know How She Does It with a mixture of awe and respect, as Sarah Jessica Parker played a woman trying to get the balance between work and family. It seems I have been living in a cave – had no idea they had made a film out of a book I really enjoyed starring one of my favourite actrresses! Anyway, I was cheering her on, willing her to make it all stick together. I am not sure she achieved the “ideal”, but what she did do was make herself irreplaceable to her employers, so she could have some sort of life outside work. Israeli women may just have to do just that. Protests and this sort of sheer bloody-mindedness will hopefully spur policy makers to work on the country’s (hugely outdated) employment law to enable women to make a “real” choice between work and home. For a country that prides itself on equal rights, this should not be too taxing. This is the same country that took refugees and grew successful kibbutzim out of dust and air. Surely it can shake itself up and be a leading light to the rest of the world? How did it get stuck in a time-warp?

But aside from a grass-roots and top-down collaboration there needs to be a real change in attitudes. Motherhood needs to become a respected profession. It should not be defined by stay-at-home mums vs working-mums, all mums are working mums. Nobody is lying on the sofa watching daytime television. Taking care of children takes time, patience and energy. My personal bugbear is having to hurry my little ones to Get to Places On Time. Very stressful, I have no idea how working parents achieve this. The country is in many ways child friendly, there are no signs up in restaurants saying “No kids”, shopping malls have gymboree’s, people on the whole like kids. But the value of caring and spending time with one’s children needs to become a right, not a privilege.

About the Author
Deganit made aliyah in 2010. She is a full-time earth-mother and an aspiring writer living quietly tucked away on a hilltop in Northern Israel. Her writing features encounters with Israelis, her advice (wanted or otherwise), living with small children and animals and her family's attempted eco-living against the odds. The views expressed are her own.