THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Nashville, Tennessee) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release June 24, 1996
REMARKS BY THE FIRST LADY AT FAMILY UNION V WELCOMING FORUM
Tennessee Performing Arts Center Nashville, Tennessee
MRS. CLINTON: Thank you very much. I am delighted to be here and regretful that I will not be able to enjoy the entire conference. I want to thank the Vice President and Tipper for the work that they have done that has made this conference such an important part of what is happening in our country about our families. Their example, as well as their efforts to help families really inspires so many of us. And this conference is a terrific way of bringing together people to talk about what is really most important in our lives.
Shortly before I arrived I had one of my conversations with Mrs. Roosevelt, and she thinks this is a terrific idea as well. (Laughter and applause.) Because, you know, we've been worrying about families and children for a very long time in America. (Laughter.) But it wasn't until the Gores came up with the family conference that we figured out a way how to focus on family life that would bring people together to help solve the problems that all of us talk about privately.
I cannot count how many times I've had conversations about family and work, or the media, or the role of fathers and mothers. But now those private conversations are being made public, and we are all the better for it.
If one looks at what this conference has already accomplished, it's quite an impressive list, as Dr. Erickson has reminded us. We have seen innovations like new state initiatives that approach families as whole systems. We've seen the fatherhood initiative, Fathernet, and the mentoring program known as Father To Father. And during the past 12 months we've had really substantive discussions about the mass media's influence in our children's lives, something Tipper Gore has been talking about for years. And we've taken a big step forward with the V chip and the promise of a voluntary rating system.
Now, today, the conference discussion turns to work and family, a subject about which every parent -- and I would expect, every child in America, too -- can claim expertise. None of us, whether we are fathers or mothers or children, whether we work in or out of the home, is immune to the stresses and anxieties that come from trying to support our families financially and emotionally, raise happy and secure children, and enjoy productive and satisfying work lives.
I have worried about this issue, as the Vice President has said, ever since I knew that I would be a mother. And it struck me then as it strikes me now that so much of what we should be doing is common sense, but we can't act on that until we have a consensus in the country.
Some years ago I had the privilege of chairing a committee by the American Bar Association in its Commission on Women. We looked at family problems, the conflicts between work and family in the legal profession. I have to admit that when I was first asked to chair the commission, although I had my own child and I was worried myself, I wasn't sure what I would find. I assumed that in the years since I had started practicing law that many of the problems were being solved and that people were accommodating.
Yet I saw firsthand and heard testimony from legal secretaries and lawyers and others involved in that profession about how difficult it really was. And with increasing financial pressures on two-parent families and the extraordinary stresses on single-parent families, what a difficult balancing act so many mothers and fathers were attempting to do.
I'm even more concerned today because, as I travel around the country I hear stories from so many people and I know that for many of us, trying to figure out how we make sense of these stresses is not just a personal quest. We are attempting to bring our concerns into the workplace as well.
For those of us who grew up in the 1950s -- and Secretary Reich and I were talking earlier because today is his 50th birthday and we remember -- (applause) -- how life, whether it was or not, seemed somewhat simpler in those days. I thought about that when I wrote a column for Father's Day about my own father. And one of the things I said was that he could not have explained what quality time was, but he was always there. He was there for me and my brothers at meals, on weekends, during holidays. The routine of our life was set. He as the fixture around which the decisions and the timing revolved.
Certainly history and circumstance helped, because when I was growing up, fathers like mine had more set lives and, it seemed, had more time. The pace of life was not so hectic. Economic pressures after the second world war did not seem as great. And my father owned a very small business where he was the only regular employee, so he never had to worry about asking permission to take time off to take us to the doctor or for a school event, or to see us compete in a sporting game.
Today, though, meeting one's parental responsibilities is not so simple. Most parents have to work longer hours to make a living. Many have to commute farther and farther to and from their jobs. And nowadays, parents are less likely to have built-in support systems like grandparents and relatives and neighbors at home who can jump in and help out at a moment's notice.
The tradeoff between time and money has become harder and harder for many working mothers and fathers. And all of us worry, and most of us feel guilty from time to time.
One of my favorite sayings about this is from Golda Meier who served as the Prime Minister of Israel. She was the mother of two. She said one time, "At work you think of the children left at home. At home you think of the work you've left unfinished. Such a struggle is unleashed within yourself and your heart is rent."
I know on many occasions that is how I felt, and also how my husband felt. I remember very well one time having what was for me a nightmare come true. I was due in court at 9:30 a.m. for the beginning of a trial. Chelsea had been up all night with a fever. Bill was out of town on business. And there I was with a sick, unhappy little girl. I didn't know what to do. And I had a woman who was to come into help and then, all of a sudden, the phone rang and she told me she had the same symptoms as Chelsea.
No relatives were nearby who could get there within 30 minutes. My neighbors also weren't home, they were working. Frantically, I called a close friend who came to my rescue, but I still can remember how horrible I felt walking out that door.
At every break in the trial and during lunch I'd call home to see how she was, and as soon as the day was over I flew out that door to get to my house. When I arrived I saw my friend reading to Chelsea, who was clearly feeling better. And it was the first time all day that my head and heart stopped aching.
Now, I had so much more support and far more resources than most mothers and fathers. When I was pregnant with Chelsea in 1979, my law firm did not have a maternity policy, and every time I raised the subject with my male partners I was met with an embarrassed silence. Over the months I noticed that as I walked down the hall they would not even look at my growing body. They rarely said anything and kept me locked in an eye-to-eye contact. When I'd go to court I found judges asking more frequently than usual whether anybody needed a recess. (Laughter.) And on one memorable occasion, a judge just looked me straight in the eye and said, "Hillary," he said, "you just can't have this baby in this courtroom." I said, "Judge, I'm not planning on doing that." (Laughter.)
But I did get a maternity leave. And when I went back to work I always had a lot of help, a great support system, and a very, very supportive husband.
Yet I look around and see what happens in so many families today. Many employers penalize rather than help parents who need to adjust their schedules to try to provide for pressing family concerns. Most workplaces don't have any alternative for the worker who, like me, faced a sick little child, but had to be at work. There are so many difficulties that come up that tax the capacity of parents to be both good workers and good parents.
Until the President signed the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, many parents rightly feared they could lose their jobs for taking time off for a family emergency. Complicating the situation, child care options usually are not available on weekends, at night, or during the hours many mothers and fathers have to work.
Not long ago, at a roundtable that I had of working women, a 42-year-old mother of two who works in an auto factory said to me, "What am I supposed to do with my kids when I'm assigned to the 4:00 p.m.-to-midnight shift?"
Last year the Department of Labor surveyed 250,000 women, and those women, speaking from every region of America, from every kind of perspective and experience, made it clear that they were not getting enough support as they struggled to meet the competing demands of family and work. Today, three out of four working women have school-age children, and the vast majority of such women make less than $25,000 a year. They rank stress as their number one problem.
I remember reading about one of the worst cases I ever heard involving a woman in New Jersey, newly divorced, struggling to make ends meet, who had a weekend job and no child care. She left her five-year-old daughter locked in her car while she went to that part-time job on Saturdays. She told the public officials who found her daughter there, after she was discovered, she did not know what else to do. The car seemed the safest of a bad set of options.
The stress, anxiety, guilt and confusion as to how to manage as working parents is not confined to single mothers. I recently spoke with a woman federal judge who had four children. She described her experience this way: "When I was a lawyer, all of the partners had wives who were able to run errands for them. They didn't have to worry about picking up the dry-cleaning or picking up the kids. I did it all."
An assistant vice president of a bank I met in Atlanta told me she rushes so fast to get to her child's day-care center before it closes at 6:00 p.m. she worries she's going to have an accident. And an intensive care nurse I talked with in Santa Fe summed up the feelings of many parents, particularly mothers, when she said, "We have to be a wife, a mother, and a professional, and to be ourselves, which usually takes last place."
Well, it doesn't have to be this way. And many families and workplaces are proving that we can change the conditions under which we try to be faithful both to our families and fulfill our obligations at work. You will hear today about more examples of businesses, communities, and parents who have worked together to make workplaces and neighborhoods more sensitive to the needs of employees and parents. We know that as we look around the country there are examples of what can make this tradeoff seem less stressful.
Even at a place as hectic as the White House we've tried to offer flexibility to working parents. One of my administrative assistants was encouraged, and did bring her newborn to the office, and if necessary, nursed him. Another member of my staff worked from home during the final two months of her pregnancy, and still adjusts her schedule to take the time she needs with her twins. We also keep toys around the office in case those unexpected emergencies arise and we find ourselves with a two- or a four- or an eight-year-old keeping us company.
And across the country I have visited so many workplaces where employers understand that taking care of their workers makes good business sense. In San Francisco, a group of businesses, unions, and community groups have joined forces to establish a 24-hour day-care center for airport employees. In Northern California, and in Washington, D.C., businesses are joining together to establish hotlines so employees can call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for pre-screened, in-home emergency child and elder care.
You will hear many, many more examples. But what we have to do is create a partnership -- a partnership between mothers and fathers, between workers and employers, between the public and the private sectors. A partnership which puts our children first.
We can make more progress together if we respect each other's needs and concerns, instead of retreating into tired stereotypes about who is supposed to do what and who isn't. Making our family and work lives happier and more productive is a win-win proposition, not a zero sum game, as Dr. Erickson said. We'll have lots of ideas and examples emerging from this conference. The challenge will be for all of us in our respective roles as parents and grandparents, as workers and employers, as public officials, to put our minds and our hearts and our hands to this task.
Our children need us to do a better job in giving them the time they require. And we need it. There's that old saying that no one on his deathbed ever says he wishes he had spent more time at the office. And for many Americans today, they're being put into a position where they have no choice. That is not what has to be.
You will hear about choices and options that are good for business and good for families. And I think if all of us in the private and public sector were to make up our minds that we would not make any decision, we would not make any comment on TV or the radio unless we thought it was good for children, we'd see a change in our public and private priorities. We would be able both to make a living -- (applause) -- and to make a life.
So I look forward to hearing what comes from this conference, as I have from the previous four, because I know that with the combined leadership of good fathers like Bill Clinton and Al Gore, and the encouragement -- (applause) -- of caring and concerned mothers like Tipper Gore, and with all of the energy at this conference, by this time next year we will be able to say, as we could say about the media conference last year, that starting here, today in Nashville, we've begun to put families and children first. And that is where they belong.
Thank you all very much.