Category Archives: Homeschooling

A Choice We Don’t Want Americans to Make

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Vision vs. Seeing

I am on the local train toward my suburban home. I am with my adult son, my third child. I’m thinking about the days when I travelled this same route twice a day to go to my college classes at the art school. It simply cannot be as long ago as it was.
But it’s undeniable, because this son of mine was a far-off dream in those old days, and he’s 24.
My husband and I met in high school and, after some minor bumps in our road, we both knew we were meant to be together. We decided to attend art school together. We were impatient to get married.
We imagined our life together, and our flights of anticipation were based on a vision. All we wanted was to finally get married, eventually have a big old house like the one I grew up in, and have several children. I would probably be a stay-at-home mom. Oh, and we would be very cool artists.
(Notice what is missing from these plans: a solid idea about jobs or careers. But I digress.)

The vision for our future was rather specific. We wanted a house very much like the Victorian-era Arts and Crafts house I lived in as a child, even though it might be much lived-in and in need of a little work. And we wanted to fill that house with six children.

Our vision, our purpose in life, was to be married and raise a family. It seemed the perfect life. It was what was really important. It had everything we could ever want. The how would work itself out.

Vision is crystal clear and very fuzzy. It is specific and general. The important elements are chiseled in stone, but the less detailed variables are taken on faith. We were content to let a whole lot just happen, as long as we had each other, and we shared our vision.

On the train ride, I’m comparing the vision with the hindsight. Have I seen with my eyes what I saw in my vision?

It turns out that the vision we had was remarkably accurate. We graduated from college, we got married and we have had a blessedly successful marriage. We eventually bought a house on the same street as that house I grew up in, and it’s basically the same house.
We have six children, three boys and three girls.

I’m freshly struck with how close the outcome has been to our vision. Could we have made it happen, by hook or by crook?

We did not hold out for these exact specifications; this house fell into our lap at the right time. And the six kids? Believe me when I tell you that we deliberately didn’t micromanage that outcome. I really don’t think we could have arranged this life deliberately.

Could we have made that vision happen? No, but Someone could.

We saw the big things; we let the rest happen.  We learned on the curve as we went along. We saw the important things, and our pre-vision was clear as day. We never doubted and we are living our dream.

But there were things that we did not see in our innocent vision.

In our youthful optimism and energy, we did not see how hard the work would be. Our 20 to 22 year-old selves could not have conceived of the sheer work required to maintain this life, the perseverance required to steward this family.

I did not see how ill-prepared I was for the overwhelming role of motherhood, how badly I would handle those stresses. How I would struggle, vainly for awhile, with being a patient, even-tempered mother.

How that would impact my children.

We did not expect that I would be doing this job while managing a chronic illness.

We certainly could not expect to be given the children that we got.  Let me get the negative-sounding part out before I gush.  They are brilliant, but we live in a fallen world.  They struggle with genetic perfect storms of acronyms which are just debilitating enough to make life interesting, but not enough to make them dysfunctional. You could make the case that even the imperfections serve to make us better people than we’d be without them. Let’s just say they are not boring people, OK?

The house, though we love it, will never be as we’d like to see it.  If only we had the money, we often say, this place would be the most beautiful house ever. That will never be. It will always and forever be in dire need of repair or renovation somewhere. Or almost everywhere. The kids’ rooms will not be done until they are long gone.

The one part we could really have planned, even micromanaged, is the one part we blissfully ignored. We both graduated into adult life with degrees which were as useful as gladiator degrees.  We had no specific plans for how to make a living. To my undying gratitude and admiration, my husband has faithfully and conscientiously persevered at a career he did not plan to be in at all.

Our vision did not include great wealth and financial ease, and that part has been remarkably accurate as well.

There are yet more things our young vision could not predict.

We could not have planned for the truly awesome people that each one of our children are. I watch and believe for the things they will do.

We could not have known or imagined, in a million years, how good marriage can be, and has been.

We have lived enough life to begin to see God’s goodness.  How he really does work all things, not exactly in our personal favor in a superficial sense, but toward a pure unalloyed whole Good which we become participants within.  We receive good reflected back upon us from His perfect Good Work, and that good works its way into our broken lives and resolves things in ways we couldn’t have imagined. And if we are just this side of humble-enough-to-learn, we see that His Good is better than our “good.”

Projects, Pets, and Full Plates

If you are a woman with a child, don’t look for projects. You already have a project that requires all your attention and talent. You already have a built-in full-time career.

We all feel more comfy with tasks or jobs. They come with objective measures for how well the job is done.  The measures tell you when the job is completed and you can move on. These jobs are things to do which have a finishing point, about which we can feel a sense of accomplishment. Things which we can exert our power over and receive no willful resistance. Things for which we receive feedback about our performance from coworkers and superiors.

But if you have children, you have an ongoing task built into your life which calls for different methods. That person, or those people, require that you engage with them, act toward them, behave around them. They require that you constantly acquire wisdom about how to teach and guide them. You need to learn on the job.

This task is never done; it is life-long.

You will receive a lot of resistance to your work. You are struggling with an autonomous being who is your equal in will, and hasn’t yet learned to be master of himself.  He is still learning self-control, other-centeredness, and courtesy. You may have several of these beings to relate to, each different from the others.

There are only subjective and open-ended measures for your work; you can never know whether you are accomplishing your job well. Results are as permanent as sand beneath the waves. In fact, you will probably get the worst resistance and hostility when you are doing your job best.

I understand why women with children opt for careers rather than staying home full-time; in some ways it’s easier.

But I find a puzzling thing among women with and without careers.

Working women with demanding jobs and children find themselves stressed and obsessed with a third task.  It can be a ministry, a demanding pastime, or a demanding pet. The notable thing about these third tasks is that they are optional.

Women who believe that it is preferable to be full-time stay at home mothers, and even homeschool, because that lifestyle allows them to be engaged in their children’s lives…who have chosen to be the primary teachers and disciplers to their children…also find themselves engaged in a third task.  It might be a ministry, a family hobby, or just the need to be involved in the endless opportunities available to a woman who has complete prerogative over her schedule, and who has a car. With these optional tasks, these women are also adding stress and distraction to their already-full plates.

Any and all of those things will crowd out the real eternal task you have in front of you: raising your child. Loving your child takes everything you have.

Raising a child offers little reward in a material sense. Many times you will feel very alone.  You will not feel a sense of accomplishment so much as an awareness of how badly you have done the job compared to how it ought to have been done. You will not be paid or be treated to any system of job reviews. There is no system to provide you with feedback from co-workers or superiors. And you cannot quit this job, ever.

It’s relationship you are tasked with.  Building a relationship with each of the children you have is your responsibility. You are called to it the day your child is born. It’s open-ended, subjective, unpredictable, exhausting, and thankless. It’s humbling and absolutely necessary.

And please don’t mistake pet ownership for relationship. Pets are not eternal beings who will forever be influenced by the quality of your discipling. You are not answerable to Almighty God for how faithfully you lived out your calling to bend them toward a lifetime of faithfulness. Pets do not have an eternal destiny. Preferring pet training to the call of loving and shaping your child is so sad I don’t know where to go with it.