Nurse the Baby, but Be Back in Time for a Staff Meeting

At first glance, Dan's Day Care, which will open in June in the Ramat Hahayal high-tech area of northern Tel Aviv, seems to be the right solution to an old problem: balancing motherhood and work.

At first glance, Dan's Day Care, which will open in June in the Ramat Hahayal high-tech area of northern Tel Aviv, seems to be the right solution to an old problem: balancing motherhood and work. It is difficult to think of any better way to combine the two. The day care center for infants will be situated near office buildings where tens of thousands of people work. When new mothers return to their workplaces after three or four months of maternity leave, which most claim is too early, their babies will be just a short walk away.

During the workday, the mother will be able to go down to the ground floor a few times to nurse, cuddle and make sure everything is alright with her baby. There is no need to be separated from the baby during the long hours of the workday. There is no need to leave the desk and the computer at 3:00 P.M. and rush home through the traffic jams to pick up the baby from the child care center in the suburbs. Now you can stay ? at work and with the baby ? until late in the day. It seems to be a straightforward, excellent idea. Just like in America.

Except that there is a catch, of course. This new kind of child care center, which joins other centers that have recently opened in high-tech zones in Rehovot, Petah Tikva and Haifa, symbolizes not only progress and development vis-a-vis the situation of women in the workplace. It also symbolizes a deterioration in our basic, substantive attitude toward combining family and leisure with work.

The employer ?provides everything

Dafna Adir, an executive at Danel Manpower, relates that the initiative to set up the child care framework in Ramat Hahayal ?(another Danel daycare center will be opening soon in Kiryat Atidim?) was conceived in the course of conversations around the water cooler at her own workplace in the Beit Gibor-Sport building in Ramat Gan. Both male and female employees were saying that workers could have nearly all of their needs met in or around the building: gym, kiosk, restaurants, cafes, pharmacy, supermarket, cosmetician ? "nearly everything but a day care center."

Adir says that Keren Baranes, another executive in the company, had recently returned from maternity leave, and had been perturbed by the lack of a child care framework. The two women approached other women working in the building, and learned that all of them had had to resort to a variety of convoluted arrangements to get back to their babies. They also mentioned feeling that they had gone back to work too soon after giving birth and suffered from being separated from their babies. Apparently, the majority would favor a child care arrangement close to the office.

Because they did not find a suitable space for the facility school in their building, Adir and Baranes decided to set up the child care center in the high-tech area along Habarzel Street in Ramat Hahayal. They surveyed dozens of the women employed in the office buildings on the street. Their average age was 31; most were mothers and some were pregnant. Most of those surveyed said they would consider moving their babies to a day care center near the office. Some said their decision would depend on the cost ?(Dan's Day Care costs NIS 3,100 a month; other day care centers in other cities cost up to NIS 1,000 less?). The majority also said they would want their baby to take part in an afternoon enrichment class. Most respondents earned above-average salaries, and most currently pick up their children from day care near their home sometime between 15:00 and 16:00, preferring a later pickup.

Adir and her colleagues studied the results of the survey, read up on the norms of day care operations in American workplaces, and also paid visits to other day care centers that operate in work areas, including Wizo and Naamat day care frameworks in the Matam business park in Haifa and Naomi Chapat-Sandziavsky's private day care, which has been operating since last September in the Nes Tziona science park.

Chapat-Sandziavsky says that she already has 50 children in the day care center this year, and will have 96 next year. "From the moment I advertised, the response was immense. The science park attracts female workers who live in Herzliya, Tel Aviv, Ramat Gan, Moshav Hodaya, for whom the day care center is a lifesaver. I myself opened the day care center because I used to work in a place where there was no arrangement for children, and I wanted my children to be close to me."

Chapat-Sandziavsky says that parents put a great deal of pressure on her to extend the children's day at the center. Next year, the day care center ? officially open until 17:00 ? will be open until 19:00. Similarly, Dafna Adir and child care professional Yehudit Hoenig, who will run the day care center in Ramat Hahayal, understand the need for a longer care-day. Their center will be open from 7:30 A.M. to 17:00, but enrichment classes will be offered after regular hours, and parents will be able to leave their children in child care until 19:00. In other words, the entire family spends nearly the whole day in and around the workplace.

Concentrating at work

By and large, this is not a new phenomenon. Integration of family and leisure with the workplace has been a well-established American norm for years. American business magazines recently reported on a competitive struggle between Microsoft and Google to entice new workers. In order to get the pick of the crop, Microsoft ?(in Seattle?) has tried to meet the standards of employment set by Google ?(in Silicon Valley?), including ? besides a good cafeteria and outstanding wage conditions ? laundry service and shopping delivery, housecleaning discounts and other benefits and perks, starting with day care service at the workplace.

D., who works at Microsoft in Haifa and is a father of two, talks about the years in which he worked at Microsoft in Redmond ?(a suburb of Seattle?). The company looked after all its employees' needs, he recalls, from assistance in choosing a kindergarten, housing, insurance, to high salaries and all sorts of other services, in order to concentrate at work without disturbances, worries, or diversions. The children spend their days in a day care framework on the Microsoft campus. The salary was high enough for D.'s wife not to have to work and she spent a lot of time with the children. As Microsoft preferred, D. was able to spend all of his time at work.

Conditions changed once they returned to Israel. The company is the same company ? he still works at Microsoft ? but Israeli employment norms are the rule. Here, the two parents have to work, and they therefore have less time to spend with the children. "Nevertheless," he says, "I'm not so sure I would want to send my kids to a nursery school in a high-tech area. The population is too homogeneous. I actually prefer that they be in a nursery school near where we live, where they will meet ordinary children."

Hoenig, the caregiver at Dan's Day Care feels it is better to operate a day care center than a nursery school in an office zone, for the same exact reason. "From age three and on, it is preferable for the children to be to close their home and their friends, so that they not be cut off from their social environment. In the first three years of their lives, it is better for them to be near their parents. Which is why it is so important for there to be day care centers in work areas."

A few young mothers who were asked about the matter expressed a desire to work close to their babies. The unavailability of child care at their workplace requires that they spend long hours far from their children, and at the same time greatly reduce the length of their workdays. Child care at the workplace is supposed to enable parents to spend more time with children. Nevertheless, when these mothers imagine day care at the workplace, there is a certain fear of work becoming the focus of their lives. The easier it becomes for them to be mothers at the workplace, the more demands their employers will make on them, and the less their ability to separate work and leisure.