Remember that article by Linda Hirshman that caused the fury late last year? The one about the feminist elite choosing to ditch their executive jobs for motherhood? The “Opt-Out Revolution” where women were now choosing to stay home with their kids instead of continue on the fast track for their careers? I thought you might remember that. It sparked a lot of debate over SAHMs vs. WOHMs, including bringing up the dreaded Mommy Wars.
But I have something different to say today. Another aspect of the debate, one that is less often talked about.
For some women, there is no debate, no choice.
The role of motherhood in the United States is that of a second-class citizen. Oh sure, we have Mother’s Day, but for those who aren’t privileged, being a mom makes life more difficult for those other 364 days a year.
To begin with, the United States has a reprehensible parental leave policy. 12 weeks unpaid leave is granted to us through FMLA, but even that only applies to those working for larger companies. That’s unpaid leave, meaning all they do is guarantee you’ll have a job to come back to in 12 weeks. Of the industrialized nations of the world, only the US and Australia do NOT provide paid parental leave for the birth of a child. (And Australia provides one year of job protection.)
What woman who lives in a tiny apartment, works for just over minimum wage, and struggles to pay the bills has the luxury to take 12 weeks off of work unpaid? Many of these women have to give birth and then get right back to work. For those who do have the ability to take 12 weeks, is that really enough time? Do we as a country really feel that our young are ready, at 3 months old, to be handed off to someone who is only paid to care for them?
And then there is daycare. $1,000 a month is the average cost in most cities for full time care at a licensed daycare center. It’s even higher in many places. For a family with two adults making minimum wage, that cost is more than 2/3 of their monthly income. Even for a family making $50,000 a year, that’s just under 1/3 of their monthly income (figuring in taxes). Even for middle-class families, the cost of daycare is a struggle.
If you can’t afford a daycare center, there’s always private babysitters. But now you’re taking a bigger risk for your child’s care. Many babysitters have no licenses and no specialized training in child care. Plus, it’s a private home, so you have no one to check in to make sure your child is being cared for properly.
Some might argue that we have the Flexible Spending Accounts in place to help with daycare. Well yes, but it’s just a savings account – you still must have money to put into it in order to reap the benefits. If you need every last cent from your paycheck, a FSA won’t help at all.
So then there is a choice. If you can’t afford daycare, then stay home and it’ll balance out. Ah, it’s not that simple. For this case in point, I shall use myself. Aaron and I made decent money together working full-time. Cordy joined us, and due to work screwing me out of benefits, I took my 12 week leave and then was forced to put her in daycare at 3 months old. The mental and financial costs were very heavy on us. Sure, we were still paying the bills, but suddenly we were no longer able to devote any money to future savings, and unexpected expenses went to the credit card.
We looked at our finances. Two people working full-time with daycare was getting us nowhere. But if I quit working, we wouldn’t have enough to meet the bills. Some would argue that if you really wanted to do it, you could. Sure, we could sell the house we just bought and live in a small apartment, but again, we would be getting nowhere. And thanks to the quirkiness of the Columbus market, rent is nearly as high as our mortgage payment. We were stuck, and there was no good choice.
Thank goodness we have family. Our current situation is I work part-time, and our family pitches in to help watch Cordy the days I work. We’re still financially at the same place we would be if we both worked full-time, but the advantage is that we’re not paying strangers to care for Cordelia. And I would consider us privileged – just think how much harder it is for those who have no choice at all, due to finances or being a single parent.
So to those fighting the Mommy Wars, I want you all to stop for a minute. Stop fighting over your choice to be a SAHM or your choice to enjoy your career. Stop arguing for the fact that thanks to feminism we women have the choice to work or stay home with our kids. Think for a moment about those who have NO CHOICE. Those who would love nothing more than to spend more time with their child, but due to financial constraints and a lack of laws protecting them, must instead hand their child over to someone else who they hope will care for that child properly and return to their low-paying job whether they want to or not. They have no choice. Feminism, and the United States government, do not protect them and do not give them choice.
Shouldn’t we be fighting for them? Shouldn’t we be arguing for parental leave reform and greater assistance with child care? We know it can work – it’s already working in so many other countries. It’s time that motherhood be recognized as something valid and worthy of this country’s time, assistance and appreciation. We are the ones raising the next generation, and yet as mothers we are treated as second-class citizens.
We know mothers are fierce. Now let’s turn our attack towards those who see no value in motherhood (or parenthood for that matter – you dads out there deserve just as much respect). It’s time to make sure we all have CHOICE.