Sustainable Motherhood

Carla: This is worth talking about.

It turns out that when it comes to the working mom/at-home mom conversation, we have been dealing with a “straw woman” of sorts. It seems to be news to the people who write the news that the majority of stay-at-home moms are there not because of some deep-seated value about the family but rather because economics sometimes make working a non-option.

I think this survey has the potential to be a conversation changer for women because it challenges the image of the stay-at-home mom, the one that has us pressed and dressed and busy and satisfied because, while we could have chosen to work, we love our children and don’t want to leave them in the care of strangers. The census survey suggests that far more women stay home out of necessity than out of moral superiority. Unless a second income (and we might need to do a whole other post on the problems with calling one person’s job a “second income” like it’s a slush fund) brings in enough money to cover childcare, the increase in taxes, transportation, and the expenses that come when all of the adults in the family are working all day (more meals out, hiring someone to clean the house, less time for bargain hunting, etc.) or it’s your life’s calling, it’s hardly worth it.

And this false image leaves all kinds of women out of the picture altogether–poor women, single parents, women with limited education, women with limited access to suitable childcare. That these are often the women staying home is the big news of this survey, but I know lots of the women reading this blog fall into at lease one of those categories. Many of these women might very well be home because they really want to be. But others want to be able to work, want to be able to finish a degree, want to do everything they can to build a better life for themselves and their children.

The reason that’s a problem is that when it comes to public policy about issues that impact families, the prevailing image wins. So policies get made with the assumption that women have health care, that if they need more money they can just go get jobs, that quality childcare is readily available and affordable. As long as that’s the person we think we’re talking about when we talk about at-home moms, we won’t really be able to move forward and create a culture in which women have real choices about how to support their families emotionally, physically, and financially.

Caryn: Of course, I too heard about this study—and had been meaning to write about it but I was too busy getting “pressed and dressed.” NOT! (Great image, Carla. Nice one.)

But I loved how this study shattered the image of the at-home mom, why we’re here, what we look like, what language we speak.

In fact, my own decision to “stay home” had a lot to do with economics. Still does. Since non-profit Christian publishing pays less than just about any other profession on the planet, when I was pregnant with my oldest son, it wasn’t too difficult to see that my salary wouldn’t cover all those things you mention.

But where you lose me, Carla, is when you start talking about “public policies.” You know those words make me itch and twitch when I’m pressed and dressed. Because I think you’d like to see all sorts of social programs spring up to give free or cheap or paid-for-by-rich-people childcare and (whatever else to make it easier on moms to work if they want to. I’d love to see programs like this pop up—run by churches and non-profits. But the government having their hands in this, you know, gives me the heebs.) (Note: Isn’t it nice that my husband is RUNNING FOR OFFICE and I show such public disdain for the government…. Think is a problem?)

And clearly, we need to CUT taxes on working families. Give us HUGER deductions for our massive health care bills. Stop taxing our food, our wine (please), our cars, our pizza, our parking.

And what I’d REALLY like to see is instead of mandating all sorts of rules and regulations that companies have to abide by regarding maternity leave and family-friendly policies and the like for moms everywhere to boycott companies with crap policies, give our patronage to family-friendly businesses, and, really, have us start our own businesses, make our own rules.

It’s still a man’s world, baby. Let’s make it a mom’s world. That’s how we create that culture where motherhood is not only sustainable but flourishes. So sayeth the weirdo Libertarian Feminist.

Carla: This is the sort of thing that’s going to come back to bite you when you’re running for president .(Would a libertarian run for president? I don’t understand you people at all.)

I don’t think public policy should necessarily be relegated to the government–local, state, or federal–but it seems like that’s often where these sorts of decisions play out. It took the federal government to ensure that a woman can stay in the hospital for more than 12 hours after she has a baby and that her job can’t be taken away if she takes a maternity leave. It would be incredible if the church or non-profits had that kind of power and influence.

At the same time, I’m totally with you that we can be agents of justice by asking questions, setting aside assumptions, pushing for change, and putting our money where our values are. And really, that’s what I’m getting at here. The Mommy Revolution isn’t just about the airing of grievances, it’s about making life sustainable for all mothers regardless of their circumstances. So what can we be doing–what kind of things are we doing–that help make life better for other moms. Big picture, grassroots, small steps, whatever it is, please share your ideas!


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