In Rhode Island last Friday, President Obama started to give a speech about government funded preschool. Instead, he ended up giving a speech deriding stay-at-home parents, especially moms.
Obama said that parents, usually moms, often take a few years off to be with their babies. But then, the President said these moms will never be able to get a decent job in the workforce. So President Obama says, staying at home “is not a choice America wants women to make.”
I’ve read a lot of excellent response articles touting the benefits that parents who stay home for 30 years provide for their children and society. But I want to come at this issue from a different angle. What about moms (and dads!) who want to take a year, or two, or three off to be with their baby, and then want to rejoin the workforce. Should we settle for an economy so terrible that this is not a viable choice?
Many would agree that America is polarized into extremes these days. I’d say this is just another example of extremes.
As the mom of a two year old, I talk to a lot of moms in person, online, at mom’s groups, and at the grocery store. While some moms love the idea of staying home for 30 years, and other moms are happy to go back to an 80 hour a week job after two weeks of maternity leave, the vast majority fall in the middle.
Moms are constantly expressing their frustration that they have no alternatives between staying home all day every day for years on end, or working long hours that limit their time with their child. Moms talk to me about wishing they could be home early enough to pick their child up from the bus stop. Or wanting to go back to work several days a week, but not being ready to leave their one-year-old every day.
But right now, part-time jobs stink. They don’t offer benefits and their pay is much less than just a percentage of a full time job. And all moms are frustrated that every week, month, and year they take off work to be with their child gets counted against them when they start applying to re-enter the workforce.
A family-friendly policy would be to 1. improve the economy, then 2. offer more job shares, flexible hours, and work from home options, and 3. stop penalizing moms and dads who re-enter the workforce after taking a few years off.
President Obama is not only presuming to know what children need, but also what women want. He is an expert on neither. Moms and dads know what their children need. And moms know what women want.
And can I just give a shout-out to the, primarily female, daycare workers. Their pay is lousy. The one summer I worked in childcare, I made less than minimum wage. Maybe if our economy improved, we could afford to pay our childcare workers a little better so that those women could climb the career ladder as well.