There are things I love in this message. I love the idea of devoting yourself to something greater than yourself. I love that some things, like parenthood, are more important than prestige or money or any of those other things so many of us chase hoping to find happiness. I love that her faith gives her strength.
I believe that parenting requires tremendous sacrifice. But I have a problem with the idea that many seem to hold--that just because something is motivated by altruism, it should never be rewarded or recognized. Some might argue that we don't want people to be parents if they want some kind of compensation for the job, as if giving parents credit for their work would remove their love for their children. I disagree.
We pay doctors to do their work. We pay nurses. We pay people who work at non-profit organizations--maybe not as much as a Fortune 500 CEO, but still, something. I bet even the cathedral builders were paid.
Obviously, people have good motives. They genuinely want to help each other, or we wouldn't have volunteers or parents or preschool teachers. Of course, they get paid little or nothing for what they do and continue doing it. So people aren't motivated purely by money.
But the problem, in my mind, isn't just that parents (most typically mothers) don't get paid. It's that they get punished for what they do.
If you decide to have children, you're taking a great risk that you will end up poor. Why?
- Even if you get a degree or two, quitting your job means you're giving up not just your income now, but future income that would build upon your current salary.
- Several years at home (and, many studies show, the mere act of having children) endangers future job prospects.
- Forget social security. If you're not employed, you're not earning it.
- If you get divorced, most judges will consider the income your spouse earns as "belonging" to him, even if you've given up your own income to support your spouse's career and care for his children.
- Even though a SAHM spends those first formative years keeping a child safe, taking care of its physical needs, teaching it life skills, and preparing it for school and eventually helping it become a productive member of society, this work is invisible to the government. Any unpaid work such as caregiving is not counted in the GDP and is not recognized and therefore cannot be valued, since it is not measured.
I don't mind that I do good things that nobody else sees. I don't expect a chorus of cheerleaders to clap for me every time I clean up a mess. But I do resent the idea that just because my work is mostly invisible, it doesn't exist. Praising mothers with hollow words is not really recognition.
We can romanticize motherhood all we like, but the truth is, it's not very romantic. Cleaning up puke and telling the kids to stop fighting twenty times a day isn't very entertaining. So we don't want to hear it. And we certainly don't want to pay for it.
Most of the social messages women get about motherhood consist of making it invisible. That's what a good mother does. She's supposed to shush her children so other people don't hear them. She's supposed to clean up the evidence of their play. She's supposed to deal with the noise and the mess and the stress, all the while erasing them from public view. And she's supposed to do it in such a way that no one notices.
She's considered a dependent if she doesn't have any income, but she's not supposed to need anything. So if the tables turn on her and the income she "depended" on disappears, who's there to mother her? Unfortunately, the answer is usually "no one". She most likely won't get enough from an ex-husband to provide for her family's needs. She probably isn't eligible to collect social security. She's lucky if she can find an employer that won't think she won't be dependable or dedicated because she has a family. Her ability to collect welfare will be limited.
I'm not saying women shouldn't do anything to protect themselves on their own. I'm a big believer in preparation, especially financial preparation. But I do believe that motherhood is work. Hard, intense, rewarding, but difficult work. Being a good mother takes a great deal of skill, preparation, and ingenuity and provides the human capital the economy needs to sustain itself (probably a lot more than say, a fast-food worker, who has many more financial entitlements and legal rights than a mother).
All I'm saying is that motherhood is work. We ought to be more consistent in recognizing it rather than punishing mothers and calling it choice.