In another one of those statements that his Internet acolytes will spend weeks trying to stuff down the Memory Hole, President Obama delivered some controversial remarks on stay-at-home motherhood:
The full context of the President’s remarks involved universal daycare and preschool services:
In many states, sending your child to daycare costs more than sending them to a public university. True?
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 sometime there just may not be any slots or the best programs may be too far away.
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.
Now while this may be true for some individuals who cannot afford day-care, many women see it as privilege to be able to leave the workplace to invest in their loved ones, and, through the raising of the next generation, the future of their country.
It’s not the first time stay-at-home motherhood has been frowned upon by people in Obama’s orbit; the most famous previous example was the political effort to smear his 2012 presidential opponent Mitt Romney’s wife Ann as out-of-touch with middle-class America because she could afford to be a stay-at-home mother. While it’s true that Obama’s not dumping on house moms as a fundamentally inferior choice to Having It All, as some critics portrayed his remarks, he is repeating the notion that full-time motherhood is a luxury – a “privilege,’ as he put it, in a line that seems designed to cushion the blow of the preceding declaration that it’s “not a choice we want Americans to make.”
Let us be charitable enough to understand that the choice President Obama specifically views as undesirable is women who give up their careers because they can’t find, or afford, day care services. No doubt there will be some critics who bristle at the idea of a politician making any pronouncements about how our families should be arranged, but hoo boy, has that ship ever sailed. Every aspect of our lives is a political debate now, most definitely including anything pertaining to sex, marriage, and child-rearing. Sine the topic of discussion is compulsory taxation of everyone, including people who will never have children, to subsidize day-care services, it is a debate everyone should have a voice in.
In that spirit, let me propose that having lots of happy stay-at-home moms is something America needs.
For decades, social scientists have argued about whether day care is an adequate substitute for mothers raising their own children. I doubt that argument is going to end any time soon, and I have no delusions about being the person who would resolve it. It would seem silly to pretend that many women who can afford excellent day care nevertheless wish they were seeing to the children themselves, or even feel some degree of anxiety about not doing so. It would be even more foolish to propose that day care is a totally unacceptable alternative and mothers should be somehow compelled to abandon their careers to stay at home with the kids. The work flexibility made possible by the Internet lets some people have it both ways, a career and staying at home with the children, but that’s clearly not an option in some lines of work.
But as a general proposition, shouldn’t the choice to be a stay-at-home mother be celebrated, respected, and available to women comfortably ensconced in the Sainted Middle Class? Even when President Obama cushioned his remarks with a tip of the hat to home motherhood, he still made it sound like a luxury for the rich, and as noted, the Left has been explicitly describing it that way since the early days of their “War on Women” play for the single female vote. Obviously stay-at-home mothering is going to seem like a remote possibility to middle-class single moms. The political groundwork is being laid for single women to feel alienated, or maybe even insulted, by any suggestion of an alternative to comprehensive preschool and day care programs. This is also consistent with the feminist notion of child-rearing as a form of indenture, a burden that prevents women from realizing their true potential. It is not uncommon to hear even marriage without children attacked on these terms.
In a robust and prosperous society, however, a great deal of women should have the realistic option of staying home with their children. Granted, many of them would not exercise that option, because they wished to return to work as soon as possible. It’s nevertheless a sign of societal health that full-time motherhood is a realistic and honored choice, made possible by an economy that allows middle-class men to provide a decent living for their families while children are growing up, and a social structure that keeps middle-class men in the household. We’re not far removed from a time when such arrangements were the norm, and widely viewed as a desirable norm. We are now supposed to view those days as a stifling era of patriarchal oppression.
But how well can the new arrangement be said to work, from the standpoint of motherhood and childhood, if the option of staying home to raise your kids is widely viewed as a fabulous upper-class luxury? And many successful women would argue that the choice between career and motherhood is a false one, that it’s wrong to teach women of average means that they can’t do both, or afford to be full-time moms. One way or the other, as mentioned above, it’s a discussion everyone should participate in, because everyone finances the resulting system, and entire generations are shaped by the ideals we set for our families. With that in mind, it’s interesting how often we’re told the faintest whiff of “judgmentalism” from social conservatives is unacceptable, since social liberals have no qualms about not only expressing but imposing their judgments.