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May 18, 2022

Bronwen Hale Dearden: Bridging Political Divides So All Families Win

Heidi Stevens

Bronwen Hale Dearden was one-year into her Teach For America contract when she gave birth to her son.

She planned to go back to work and fulfill her dream of teaching high schoolers, but when she and her husband looked at the daunting labyrinth of child care bills, the scant support she’d receive for continuing to breastfeed and the speed with which her principal turned down her request for a flexible schedule, they decided Dearden staying home made the most sense.

Family policy should reflect a diversity of parental preferences.

“The decision was gut-wrenching,” she wrote in a first-person essay, America’s Family Policies Failed to Keep Me at Work.

Dearden belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a long, proud tradition of stay-at-home mothers, including her own. She loved and valued their model, but still felt conflicted about stepping away from her career.

“If you work full time, you deal with burn-out and mom guilt,” she wrote. “If you step out of the workforce, you feel sidelined and isolated.”

Her first year home coincided with the onset of the pandemic. She found herself increasingly frustrated — incensed, really— by the way parents were left struggling on their own, exacerbating the lack of family-friendly supports she noticed pre-COVID-19.

In response, she founded a group called Economic Equity for Moms to advocate for policies that would benefit moms in every phase — full-time work, part-time work, an at-home period. The group pushes for expanded paid parental leave, more workplace flexibility, and a universal basic income and full social security credit for parents who pause work to raise young children.

“Many of my friends are also members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Dearden told me, “and I would say we feel this crisis acutely in our faith community. While previous generations of women were content to get an education in case their husbands were unable to work, what I’m seeing now is that more and more of my LDS friends are wanting to combine work and family in a more substantive way—and are becoming frustrated at the dramatic lack of support and options in that process.”

She feels (and witnesses) frustration with Republican policymakers for failing to vote in family-friendly legislation, and with Democratic policymakers for failing to engage and support at-home parents.

“Family policy should reflect a diversity of parental preferences, and not unduly penalize families who want a parent more present at home,” she said.

Dearden has been out of the workforce for three years now, and is grateful for her once gut-wrenching decision.

“Choosing to take time out of the workforce can create slack in the line of a busy household, lowering the stress level and allowing women to build community through volunteer activity in schools and elsewhere,” she said. “Having a parent at home can also be a critical vehicle of cultural transfer for ethnic or religious minorities who wish to continue their traditions. Families with an at-home parent may also increase the number of children a family has, contributing to the overall birth-rate and providing the workforce of the future. However, though these outcomes are the lived experience of many families, stay-at-home parents are often maligned as doing nothing, left out of polite conversation and ignored by policy makers. We can be more creative and inclusive.”

In our dialogues and our policies. Our future depends on it, after all.


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