• Fri, Apr 13 2012

If We Value Stay-At-Home Moms, Why Don’t We Have Paid Maternity Leave?

Ann RomneyIf we’ve learned one thing this week, it’s that the country values stay-at-home moms. We value the hard work they put in to raise our country’s children and care for our country’s families. After Hilary Rosen‘s serious political gaffe this week where she said that Ann Romney had “never worked a day in her life,” literally every political pundit or media personality in the country rose in agreement to defend the difficult work that goes into raising children. It was a pretty unifying moment on the Mommy Wars.

But this discussion about the value of stay-at-home moms has made a little confused. While everyone’s quick to leap to Ann Romney’s defense, as they definitely should, our culture rarely seems to put financial worth behind the actual work she dedicated much of her life to. In fact, we care so little about raising children, we don’t even support the mothers who want to take a short break from their normal employment to do so.

In plenty of discussions about maternity leave here on The Grindstone, our commenters have asserted that motherhood is a choice and therefore those women don’t deserve financial compensation for that choice. In fact, plenty of people believe that working mothers don’t deserve the promotions or career advancements that go to their childless peers, because these women have made a choice to honor other commitments.

The United States is one of few countries that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave supported by the government. Other countries provide new parents of up to a year or more of paid parental leave, wanting to encourage parents to bond with their children and help their development from the earliest stages.

Chris Hayes, the host of MSNBC’s Up With Chris Hayes, pointed out this rather hypocritical conversation going on for many opponents of working mothers while appearing on Lawrence O’Donnell‘s The Last Word.

“And there’s something fascinating at the core of this. There’s a huge a of uncompensated labor in the country by men and women, mostly women, who stay home and take care of their kids. And there are countries where that labor is compensated by the state. So I would love to have that conversation, if they actually think it is work and they feel it’s work, why isn’t there any wage for that kind of work? Why is that uncompensated?”

Wouldn’t the logical beginning on that conversation start at paid maternity leave? It seems like a way to put some money where our collective morals seem to stand, in a place where stay-at-home-motherhood should be valued and respected? How much actual value were all these politicians and pundits talking about? Maybe we should ask them to put their money where has been all week long.

If we all value Ann Romney and her work raising five boys so much (which we should!), how much should that value cost us?

(Photo: GOP USA)

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  • Diana Lee

    Yes, yes, yes! Thank you for this. Paid maternity leave is something we desperately need in the US.

  • Lastango

    “If We Value Stay-At-Home Moms, Why Don’t We Have Paid Maternity Leave?”

    Perhaps it is precisely because we value families that we have not yet chosen to further federalize the family by providing government-paid maternity leave. Let’s take an example. Dependency on government has everything to do with the dissolution of black families. In 1950, the rate of out-of-wedlock births among American blacks was 17%. It is now about 75%. This was made possible by widespread and ever-growing entitlements, which undermined work ethic and destroyed a major reason why people marry, stay together, and work toward financial stability. Once the state was the surrogate parent, biological parents no longer needed to assume that role. So they didn’t — and we’ve got results to prove exactly what happens. For another example of the outcomes of dependency culture, consider life on the aboriginal reserves in the US and Canada.

    Inquiring minds will want to do some background reading. They might do well to start with this piece:

    http://www.pbs.org/fmc/segments/progseg12.htm

    Let’s be careful what we wish for; the current economic upheaval sweeping Europe ought to remind us that no society is permanent, and that, sometimes, we tamper with foundational institutions at our peril.

    • suchende

      My goodness do you make a lot of unwarranted and unsupported conclusions in this post!

      In Eastern Germany, the entitlement-heavy socialist government designed their programs to support marriage and children while discouraging divorce. Sure enough, after the Wall fell, divorce skyrocketed and marriage rates (along with the birthrate) plummeted.

      There is nothing inherently anti-family in entitlement programs. The fact that ours are poorly designed certainly does not show your conclusion.

    • suchende

      You’ve got your facts right, but your conclusions do not follow from them.

      There’s nothing “anti-family” about entitlement programs. In fact, the elimination of entitlement programs lead to divorce and a reduced birthrate in Eastern Germany post-reunification.

      It’s not our entitlement program that’s to blame, it’s the way we structure it: in Germany, marriage and having children were incentivized. In the U.S., single motherhood is incentivized.

    • Lastango

      Suchende,

      I hope you recognize that East Germany was a political, social, and economic disaster, and utterly collapsed under the weight of statist policies like the one you endorse. The entire nation was de-incentivized, and simply stopped functioning because there was no reason or reward for becoming a productive, responsible person.

      We have our own example of paying people to have children. It’s called welfare. Doled out on a per-child basis, it was spectacularly successful at increasing the number of inner-city children. Combined with other ward-of-the-state subsidies, this produced the crowning achievement of the drive to nationalize the family: the city of Detroit… now a fraction of its former size, and a wasteland of lost people and empty, ruined buildings.

  • Jane

    Wow, I’m glad I live in Canada. A year off to care for your child (with benefits split between parents as they see fit), and many employers top up the Employment Insurance benefits as well.
    Around me, I see happy parents who have the flexibility to spend time with their new children without having to be forced to choose between returning immediately and quitting altogether. Myself included. I didn’t miss out on my child’s first year, and my career is waiting for me when I return. They will have my contribution for decades to come.

    Families and children are a normal part of society, and though many choose not to have them (which is fine), many do. It’s foolish to act as if families don’t or shouldn’t exist along with developing meaningful careers over time.

  • Avodah

    I would like to travel for three months, may I be paid to leave work?

    I have said time and time again. If people want to start families, then they can plan for it and pay for it.

    I do not wish for my tax dollars or possible salary dollars to go towards someone else’s life choice.

    How would you feel about paying for my graduate degree? It brings value to society…

    Didn’t think so…

    • Nica

      I am a mother and I agree with you wholeheartedly. Having a child and being able to stay home with that child is a privilege, not a right. I chose to raise a family and I’m living with the consequences of that choice – positive and negative.

      I think 6-12 mo paid maternity leave is an unfair burden on businesses and taxpayers.

    • Mel

      I do not have kids (yet – maybe in the future) and I think that is a really short-sighted comment and mindset. Who do you think will be paying for your medical care when you’re retired? On average, medicare beneficiaries get hundreds of thousands of dollars more in benefits than they pay in over their lifetime – the balance comes from people still in the workforce.
      In fact, who do you think will be providing your medical care, and doing a whole host of other things to make your life easier in your retirement, like fly the planes that take you where you want to go and grow the food that you eat and make the products that you will buy? That’s right – other people’s kids. If everybody decided not to have children, our society would very quickly become a mess, unless we made up for it through massive immigration. Several European countries whose birthrates have dropped below replacement level are dealing with this very problem. There is a clear societal benefit to having kids, and it is in all of our interests to make sure they grow up healthy and well-educated.

  • Avodah

    @Nica- Thank you! A lot of people think “no paid maternity leave”= anti-family. I am not “anti” anything. I simply think that people must take responsibility for their life choices (good and bad).

    I went to grad school, and now I have debt. I value this life choice, but it is my responsibility. I wish more moms like you would speak up.

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