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The Politics of Motherhood and Economics: President Obama and Stay-at-Home Moms Where's the Beef?

Me with my baby on maternity leave

"And 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." President Obama

Our President has been on the attack from certain stay-at-home moms. These women have taken issue with the above statement he made at a recent rally in Rhode Island. In all fairness, I think that the statement is awkward and would have been more effective had it included a couple more words. The last sentence should have been, "And that's not a choice we want Americans to have to make." Adding those two words would have clarified what I believe was the President's intent and is more consistent with some of his prior statements.

For clarity, I support the President. I have volunteered for his two campaigns and attended both inaugurations. But that is besides the point, Regardless, of my support of the President, the criticism of his statement are overblown. He did not say, "being a stay-at-home mom is not a choice that we want Americans to make." Still, that has become the sound bite that has been heard around the world.

Me and my kids in Pittsburgh at the river

Supporting Working Moms Does Not Mean Insulting Stay-At-Home Moms

The statement itself, even without my correction, says that President Obama does not believe that we want any American to make a temporary choice that results in a lifetime of reduced earning potential. For some reason our country has accepted this inequity and have not responded with changes in legislation or policy. The reality is women earn 59% of all higher education degrees and are the only member of society who can bear children.  And we are lagging behind other developed nations having pro-family policies. It is shameful. Arguably, it is a contributing factor to our struggling economy and our failure to elect a female president.

These are problems that all women are should be united in fixing and they should not be political issues.

That said, I am not naive. I understand that Election Day was last week so even saying "hello" was political. I even understand that President Obama is struggling for popularity and people are capitalizing on that. If the criticism is simply political rhetoric, I don't like it, but I do understand. The problem is, I think the discussion is bigger than politics. It has become personal.

The kids and I at University of South Carolina School of Law

Working Moms Love Their Kids As Much As Anybody

The bloggers who have criticized the President have framed this issue in a really disturbing way. They have suggested that being a champion for equality in the workforce and the home is a de facto criticism of stay-at-home moms. They have suggested that stay-at-home moms are more moral, more feminine and love their kids more than women who work. They have portrayed working mothers as selfish, materialistic money grubbers who have their values out of whack. And have suggested that any husband who would have the mother of his children work isn't much of a man.

Talk about judgmental!

On a micro level or personal note, the articles have pissed me off! I am the mother of two young children and I take issue with anybody who suggests that I don't love them because I work. I admit that working and mothering can be hard on the entire family. I will also admit that when you first return to work after maternity leave leaving your baby in the care of someone else feels very unnatural. However, I think that we should work to make Corporate America more accommodating to working mothers and pass legislation requiring paid maternity leave. By supporting women in the workforce we will be able to determine whether those who are staying home are doing so by choice or because the workplace is intolerant to mothers. I also believe that we should create governmental policies that support working families like they have in other countries.

Supporting Working Moms Is Good for All Women

On a macro level, if these beliefs become mainstream the workplace will become even more hostile to working mothers.  Employers will also feel justified in discriminating against women who opt out temporarily. Last year the New York Times did a fairly compelling article about the economic, social and personal sacrifices made by women who opt out of the workforce. The women portrayed in the article are real and not fabricated. They discuss how they deeply regret their decision to opt out of the workforce and the price they paid personally and the cost to their marriages. The article was not political instead, it was an honest portrayal of their experiences. 

The critics have not responded to these women who faced economic hardship and career derailment for opting out, instead they act as if fighting for gender equality in the workplace is an attack on their personal choice. As if policies can afford to be that narrow. As a working mom, I want this country to value gender equality like it values the flag whether I remain in the workforce or take some time off. And more than wanting it for me, I want it for my daughter and her friends.

The family at my daughter's birthday's day party
Here's an excerpt from a prior blog post of that reflects my beliefs:

I believe that we should support women who stay home by choice. However, I think that we should all be outraged when women stay home because they believe that the workplace is hostile to mothers. I think that we should all protest when women are overwhelmed by household duties because their husbands and partners believe that everything within the confines of the home is “woman’s work” even though everybody eats, everybody gets clothes dirty and everybody uses the dishes.   
--Chaton's World International Woman's Day Post 2012

I apologize that this post is a deviation from my general focus. I've been staying out of political fights and not publicly disagreeing with other bloggers. I'm deviating from this practice because this issue is near and dear to what I am passionate about and this blog's purpose, which is to support working moms. I hope that you all join me in helping to improve the lives of working moms.

Why did I write this post? Check out the article linked below.

Concerning Statements from Dear President Obama, You Don't Need to Slam Stay-at-Home Moms to Support Women's Equality:
  1. Being Concerned About Career Advancement and Money Isn't Ladylike: "[A]s a stay-at-home mom myself, who is also an attorney, let me tell you that I want to choose my kids over my career. I honestly don't care if missing two decades in the work force means that I'll never make as much as a male attorney over the course of my lifetime."
  2. Mothers Who Work Have Unsupportive Husbands:       "I'm so grateful that the two most influential men in my life – my father and my husband – support the choices of women who want to stay at home with their kids, no matter the personal or economic cost to themselves."
  3. Women Who Work Care Less About Their Children: "Stay-at-home moms choose to do what is best for their children – whether that's putting them in a quality school or providing a quality environment for them at home."
  4. By Supporting Working Women, the President Devalues Stay-at-home Moms: "So next time, Mr. President, please think about all women before you speak – not just the ones that fit your personal model."
  5. Working Mothers Are Selfish Women Who Make Choices that are "Un-American":  "The choices of stay-at-home moms are indeed the choices we want Americans to make: the choice to put our kids first, the choice to value kids ahead of money, and the choice to spend quality, personal time with our kids."

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