The whole “Stay-at-Home Mom” vs. “Working Mom” debate is back in the forefront of the media. It’s a stupid non-issue, but thanks to an election cycle full of such nonsense intended to distract us from “real” issues (for example–poverty, the economy, Afghanistan), it’s the “at this moment” issue in the race.
Like Bruno Gianelli so wisely proclaimed on The West Wing: “The biggest nonsense issue in the campaign will belong to the women. Does Abbey Bartlet love her children? Next week, Grandpa: friend or foe?”
Hilary Rosen’s comments that ignited this latest skirmish were offensive, snide, and condescending. She showed considerable lack of judgment in her word choice. But her overall point had nothing to do with putting down women who stayed home with their children. Of course, SAHMs work their butts off. I know. I am one. (Well, I suppose technically I am a part-time WAHM—work-at-home mom—but I am on mommy duty 24/7, so I consider myself a SAHM before I’m a WAHM. But I digress…) Only the most ignorant of either gender would deny that.
What has gotten under my skin lately is that, in trying to explain and defend Rosen’s comments, the left keeps trotting out the phrase, “the luxury to stay at home”. Luxury? Really?
I have tremendous respect and admiration for any woman who has to raise a family and work a full-time job. I honestly don’t know how these women do it. I only work a few hours a month, and I find it hard to keep up with both my family and my self-employment obligations. The irony of all these pundits and commentators purporting to speak on behalf of those women who don’t have “the luxury” of staying at home with their children is that each of them DOES. Does anyone really believe that Hilary Rosen and those of her stature would face debilitating poverty and become homeless if they didn’t work? They have a choice, and theirs is to work. The women they are supposed to be speaking for do not have that same choice.
To color the choice of staying at home as a “luxury” is disingenuous at best, and condescending at worst. One could just as easily say it’s a “luxury” to be able to work in a high-paying, rewarding job outside the home. For some of us, staying at home is the only option because the cost of decent, reliable day care is out of reach.
I’ve talked about my own journey from career to motherhood. Being a SAHM wasn’t my choice. Our plan was for me to continue my career, while my husband became a SAHD and worked on his education. Thanks to the Iraq War, that plan was shot to hell when my husband was recalled to active duty and sent overseas.
I could have found day care for my daughter. It would have meant someone else raising her for 14 hours a day, 5 days a week. But I could have done that, and I could have kept my career on-track. We would not have had to worry about making the mortgage payment. We could have made all the household improvements that, ten years later, we’re still trying to save enough to make. We wouldn’t have to beg, borrow, and steal to send our kids to a decent school; when someone needs new shoes, we wouldn’t have to make them wait until there was a good enough sale or I had a coupon; we would be able to buy the healthier organic/natural selections at the market without a moment’s consideration.
But while being a SAHM wasn’t my first choice, it was the only choice for my family. It’s not a “luxury”. Premium cable channels, a hybrid SUV, an iPad, a full-time nanny—those are luxuries. Staying home with my children, even though it can be frustrating and demoralizing at times, is a privilege. I haven’t always felt that way. I truly resented being forced into a position where I felt I had no choice. But my perspective has changed as my circumstances have, and it’s a privilege that my family and I suffer and sacrifice for. It’s a choice that many women work hard to make feasible.
Instead of focusing on the choices that women make for their families, how about we focus on the underlying issues that limit the options? How about we women—left, center, right—shake hands, respect one another, and then get down to work to make this country a place where someone doesn’t have to choose between buying their kid new shoes or paying for gas to get to work? Let’s make this a place where women who sacrifice to stay at home are regarded with as much respect as women who are their family’s breadwinner.
And let’s stop knocking each other down. Lord knows, there are enough men in this world to do that to us.For a more detailed opinion piece, check out Slate’s The Faux Mommy Wars.