Today, Will and I went to go vote during his “lunch hour” period between morning and afternoon naps. As previously noted, I live in a neighborhood where it is unfathomable that one is not an ardent Obama supporter committed to preserving a Democrat majority in the senate. In fact, both Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter (the Democratic candidates for the Senate and Governor) live in my neighborhood. Though I don’t really consider myself a Republican, I end up voting that way the majority of the time because I find the the GOP platform to be slightly less offensive than the DNC platform.
I’ve seen a couple of friends posting this video of President Obama on social media:
(I hate political grandstanding and deliberate misrepresentation of people’s words, especially when they’re taken out of context. The media seems to do this every time Pope Francis speaks, so in the spirit of considering people’s remarks in context, this is the full text of the President’s speech.)
I do not think the President was deliberately slamming stay-at-home moms, if for no other reason than that I cannot imagine he and his speech writers are that stupid. But I do think that his words reveal a lot about the current culture we’re living in, what is deeply problematic about it as a whole, and how deeply engrained in the President’s philosophy is that culture.
President Obama was expounding the value of women’s participation in our economy. Yes, the participation of women in all aspects of civil society is a positive thing. A far wiser man already said the same thing, far more eloquently, but I’m glad the President shares Pope Saint John Paul II’s thoughts (at least on this matter, anyway). But what is not a good thing is the glorification of paid work and accumulating wealth as the highest good. President Obama said,
“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. And that’s not a choice we want Americans to make.”
Now to be clear, I agree with the President’s supporters who insist he wasn’t saying we don’t want mothers to stay home with their children, but rather that we don’t want people to have to choose between staying home and reaching their full earning potential.
Nonetheless, his speech leaves me absolutely convinced that he doesn’t understand economics, women, or the value of the family itself.
Here’s the thing, I don’t want to have to choose between a bigger house and new cars. Yet I must, because that is the nature of economics. We don’t live in a utopian fairy tale land. We live on planet Earth in the real world. And in the real world, goods are scarce and one must make choices about how to allocate resources. My former employer is no longer paying me my former salary because, you know, I’m not providing them with the service for which they used to pay me. And if someday down the road I return to teaching (perish the thought), I am not going to be paid for years of experience during the years I didn’t teach because, get this, I didn’t do the work. I did other work, work that my husband and I have decided is more important to our family than teaching other people’s children. We chose to allocate our resources to something other than bringing home a second paycheck.
The President also reveals just how out of touch he is with average American women when he assumes that there are all these mothers out there who are just dying to get back into their offices but who simply cannot find someone to pay to provide childcare. Um, Mr. President? I know many, many women who say they wish they could stay home but cannot afford to do so. I have never met a woman who says she wishes she could go back to work but there isn’t a daycare center close enough to her home. (I’m not saying that woman doesn’t exist. But I’ve never met her.) If you are really all about providing women with choices, how about abandoning the push for greater daycare subsidies and, get this, helping women who want to stay at home and raise their children? If Will was in daycare, or being cared for by anyone other than my husband or me, our family could get a tax credit to offset the cost. How about offering the same tax credit to parents (mother or father) who stay home to raise their child(ren)?
While it would be nice if someone sent me a monthly paycheck to care for Will and run our home, that’s not on the horizon. But I chose to quit my job and become a stay-at-home mom anyway because I believe that what I am doing has more value for my family than my job did. In fact, it has zero monetary value. But it allows Will to be in the care of his parent all the time. It makes successful breastfeeding more likely and much easier. It reduces stress for my husband because if Will gets a cold, he doesn’t have to worry about rescheduling a business trip. If Will is cutting a tooth and up all. night. long. I am not in a panic about how I am going to coherently work in the morning. Another family might find it makes more sense for them to both work outside the home. Which is fine. But I’ve never met a family for whom these decisions are purely financial. The value (to my entire family) of being a stay-at-home mom exceeds the value of the paycheck.
I want our family to be the center of Will’s life, and the lives of any future siblings he may have. I agree with John Paul II on this one too (he’s a smart guy, that one):
“As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.”
The family is the basic unit of society. Not the subsidized daycare or preschool. The family. If the President wants to make women’s lives and the lives of their children better, he can do it by allowing the family to take precedence in the lives of Americans, not by shoving the outsourcing of childrearing down the throats of American mothers.
It’s much easier and more realistic for me to make our family the little center of love, peace, and joy that I want it to be when that is my primary task each day. Admittedly, I still fail at this about 90% of the time. However, I’m pretty sure that I would move that right on up to 100% if I were responsible for a full-time job as well.
To be perfectly frank, “having it all” is a bullshit lie. No one can have it all, man or woman, parent or not. Saying yes to one thing means saying no to another. This applies to economics, personal relationships, time management, and lifestyles. We all make choices, and say “yes” to whatever we believe is more important or most valuable in our situation. Ultimately, I think President Obama’s failures here stem from a worldview that believes mothering and the family are less valuable than social occupation, financial achievement, and state-run facilities and services.
As Jenny said, President Obama here reveals “his deeply held position that children are a burden best tended to by the state, and that women need to be rescued from their femininity, lest they find themselves punished by a baby.” So today Will and I voted. We stood in line for an hour and half. Not because I have any great faith that the candidates for whom I voted are going to save the family, but because I think they might do a little less damage than the other options. And in the meantime, I just keep making our family the center of our world, trying to spend time with others who believe the same thing about the value of the family, and praying & working to become a better wife and mother every day.