The name of my blog has been validated once again. It seems some members of our society really are mythical. Reportedly, you need a fairy-wand if you want a stay-at-home mother, because they probably don’t exist. And we’ve recently been told that we don’t want them anyway.
I could believe what I heard. But to be fair, I played angel’s advocate for a few minutes and tried to imagine what he could really have meant which wasn’t as bad as it sounded.
Nope. There was no way to make what he said mean something innocuous.
With a potentially paradigm-shifting election days away, President Obama pandered in late October 2014,
“And too often, parents have no choice but to put their kids in cheaper daycare, that maybe doesn’t have the kinds of programming that makes a big difference in a child’s development. And then sometimes there just may not be any slots or the best programs may be too far away.
And sometimes, someone, usually mom, leaves the workplace to stay home with the kids, which then leaves her earning a lower wage for the rest of her life as a result. That’s not a choice we want Americans to make.”
Notice he did not say: “That’s not a choice we want Americans to have to make.” It was an interesting set of words: “That’s not a choice we want Americans to make.”
He presented this option at the end of a descending list of bad options. As in: This is the worst possible option and only women who are desperate are forced to take it.
Speaking to the generic working woman, the President said that you want a great place to drop your kids off every day that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.
And to that generic working woman, this all might sound good if she doesn’t think about it for too long. And a lot of those who’ve bought into the Oppressed First World Woman motif could find themselves feeling thankful that finally some Understanding Government Hero is going to right our slights.
But only in Magic Liberal World can you demand a service which requires highly specialized expertise, competent education and professional commitment which also costs very little. You want high-quality staff, programming that makes a difference in a child’s development…AND you believe you are entitled to have it for very low cost.
You are outraged that our government is not making this happen.
Would you want to be on the other end of that exchange? Would you like to be the daycare worker who has spent money, time and energy in order to be qualified and then be expected to donate your services at low cost? Aren’t daycare workers entitled to be paid well?
Asking for the service while refusing to consider the reality of the cost is magical thinking. There is no getting around the cost. If someone performs a service, he or she is entitled to be paid for that service. And some one, or many someones, must pay. To deny the workers their compensation would be unfair and unethical, a social injustice of the highest order. How is it possible to imagine that the service ought to be provided but the cost ought not to be required?
Methinks your real estimation of childcare services is showing. It seems like you don’t think it takes a lot of anything to take care of the kids. You really just want to park them somewhere. And you don’t want to pay much for it. Your rhetoric talks the talk that it’s an important job, but your wallet walks the walk that it’s not worth much. We don’t want to pay highly for things we don’t value.
Be honest: if you really thought the job was highly skilled, noble, cutting-edge, or important, you’d want to do it yourself. Or you would highly compensate those who did it for you–you would want to pay them well, out of your own resources.
I don’t think the President’s pandering to generic people hits its aim much. I don’t think that most women actually ascribe to this stuff. Mr. Obama seems not to have heard that most mothers say that they would a thousand times prefer to be home with their kids if they could only find a way to make the economics work.
Women who work and look hard for the best daycare that they can afford know very well that the tension between staying home with your kids and earning wages is real. Most of them know the real costs to any balancing act, and that compromise means there are costs to every gain. Having it all at the same time is the mythical motif. I don’t think that many women believe in the simple Faustian government solution.
The President is comparing apples and oranges. To equate the dedicated care that happens between a mother and her children with a job-for-hire is addled, manipulative, and shallow.
If caring for children is someone’s job, we should expect job-level care. Expect that the child is seen as a warm body to be maintained and handed back in comparable condition at the end of the work day. Expect the employee childcare worker to leave her job at work when she leaves for home. Many childcare workers, to their credit, do much more than this. They really care about their charges and take real responsibility. But that’s an unpaid bonus. You have no business expecting more than what you are paying for.
We expect all sorts of intangibles and ideal benefits and then we want to plunk down minimal wages. This is magical thinking.
Let’s tick down the list of demands for government sponsored childcare: high quality childcare, programming that makes a difference in a child’s development, low cost, government mandated.
Except for the last one, this happens every day in homes where there are mothers and children, working or stay-at-home. Let’s look at just a few of the things a mother does every day.
- Takes full responsibility for all aspects of the child’s nurture, care, education, training
- Raises the child with a focus on the long term: his/her future
- Integrates highly specialized and customized teaching into everyday life from birth through adulthood
- Does not consider caring for her children a job or a career, but a calling, a vitally important lifestyle of service to her family
- Performs the service without expectation of actual wages
- Knows that this calling is inestimably more important and more rewarding than a career, in spite of the fact that it’s also tiring, other-centered, and all-consuming
- Sacrificially loves the child
I believe the requirements of daycare are met.
By the way, if sending them to daycare costs more than sending them to a public university, the obvious economic option is to skip the daycare and do your own childcare! Thus further validating the growing evidence that second incomes often cost more than they earn.
In our present economic climate, any mother who stays home to be with her children has already made an informed choice based on firmly-held convictions. There are very real sacrifices here. She has calculated the cost, compared it to the gain, and has chosen to be there. She understands the true value of what she’s doing.
The woman who works does all these same things while maintaining a career. When she is away from her children, someone else must be a substitute. She knows better than anyone that no sub can ever be Mom. No sub would be able to do the custom-designed, nuanced, organic care that Mom does. No one would be willing to pour as much interest, engagement, dedication or sacrifice into that task. It’s the living demonstration of a unique relationship between her and her child. She also understands the choice she is making, the losses and the gains, and she is not confusing daycare with mothering.
But I have experience with this confusion. I recently did some temporary childcare in my home for a friend. I came to understand very quickly that this friend was expecting a lot more than babysitting. She wanted a place for her kids to spend the day…and a teacher to oversee lessons getting done and to time music practice, and a nurse to attend health conditions requiring frequent washing and application of ointment. There were instructions for how much video was to be permissible for each of three children, requiring me to reinforce her discipline. There were dietary restrictions to follow, and we needed to make sure the youngest had a nap…all while keeping them entertained in an unfamiliar setting for approximately 10 hours.
This woman was expecting a Substitute Mom, but she paid me for child parking. It was nothing resembling enough. How could it be?
There’s a sentence in the President’s speech which puts this into perspective for me; it’s the Bizarro world view which makes it as clear as can be.
“Sometimes, someone, usually mom, leaves the workplace to stay home with the kids, which then leaves her earning a lower wage for the rest of her life as a result. That’s not a choice we want Americans to make.”
From Backwards World view, a woman who leaves the workforce to care for her children is earning lower wages for the rest of her life. Her career is damaged. She is taking an economic hit.
Like her proper and natural place is the workplace, and it’s unfair that she has to leave it to do something else (less important).
Take note: this is our government’s estimation of parenting.
We don’t want American women to stay home to raise their own children, because it means they will earn less for the rest of their lives. We don’t want people to choose between receiving guaranteed wages and raising their children full-time.
I’m afraid no government will ever possess the power to reconcile the two, but cynical social engineers will count on our hopes that magic wands are wielded by governments.