Posted: Aug 22, 2013 1:00 PM
 
We often hear people talking about a woman "choosing" to stay home with her kids versus "choosing" to work outside the home. But is it really a choice? Or are women merely controlled by economic needs?

I have always been surprised by the smugness, ignorance and hate that rolls off the tongues of people who judge mothers for working outside the home or "choosing" to stay home with their kids. This surprises me because the judgment is rooted in the assumption that all women are blessed with the choice to leave or stay home, as if we all just wake up one day and say "You know what, I'm not going to work anymore. I'm going to stay home with my kids."

Or that women who give birth and three months later return to the office do so because it's what their hearts desire, as if money plays no part in these decisions. It's as if all these myopic character judges forget the fact that some of us leave the home or stay home as a matter of survival.

The costs of childbirth, childcare, health care and education have soared, while wages have stagnated and full-time jobs have been supplanted by part-time, benefit-free contingency labour.

So when I read Sarah Kendzior's article, "Mothers are not 'opting out' - they are out of options," I had one of those weird out-of-body experiences where you realize somebody is saying the thing you've been thinking for years but have never quite put into words. Kendzior asserts that some (in this case, writers at The New York Times) blame a woman's decision to return to work after staying home with kids on her own "questionable planning" and a "poor marriage partner." She states that they "[pay] mere lip service to the tremendous change in the economy over the past 10 years," which she summarizes as follows: "The costs of childbirth, childcare, health care and education have soared, while wages have stagnated and full-time jobs have been supplanted by part-time, benefit-free contingency labour."

Kendzior astutely points out that this mentality frames the decision to work or stay home as "an option that has to do with personal fulfillment and childrearing preferences, divorced from fiscal limitations."

And as such, it is a false and limited picture.

One of the arguments I hear often is that if a family were willing to "make sacrifices," the mother could stay home. If they were willing to live a smaller life and not be quite so selfish and materialistic, they could figure it out. Well, now, this is also not really true, because let's think about reality: If you "live small" in a poor area, the schools are generally worse than the wealthy town next door. That's a fact. Further, if you can't afford "character-building" activities such as music, sports and camps, your kid doesn't have the stuff required to get into good colleges, which is also somehow seen as the parents' job these days. So my choice to "live small" materially affects my child's chances to receive the best education to "get ahead," which is the American way, right?

So if I work, I'm neglecting my children and should be less selfish.

But if I don't work, I'm neglecting my children and should be less selfish (I mean if I'm choosing not to work, it's obviously because I don't want to, right?). That was a joke.

Ever heard of a catch-22?

If I work, I'm a bad mother because I'm not with my kids. If I don't work, I'm a bad mother because I can't provide for my kids all that they need to compete with rich kids.

If I work, I'm a bad mother because I'm not with my kids. If I don't work, I'm a bad mother because I can't provide for my kids all that they need to compete with rich kids.

And then there are those of us in the infinitely enjoyable position (sarcasm font) where we must make at least $30 an hour to even make working worth it once you factor in gas and childcare, but jobs that pay that well really aren't available on a part-time basis. That's fun. What do we do?

Well, we try to work from home. We do what we can. We look for part-time work after Dad's home from work. We scramble. We strive. We run hard for our kids and ourselves and our homes.

Because it's fun?

No, because there are no other options.

Because we didn't "plan well" or "marry well?" Maybe.

But how "well" does "well" mean? My husband is a union iron-worker, a foreman. He works hard, full time, day in and day out, but he hasn't seen a raise in five years because the union keeps absorbing them for "healthcare costs."

The funny thing is that same union (which runs our PPO health insurance) denied my baby's well baby appointments. Said they had a "cap" on what they'd pay (and I don't even give all the shots). So yeah, that's right, we paid $1,000 for immunizations, for care that would have been free at any clinic, had I known they randomly and suddenly imposed this cap. And we paid this to a company that we've been paying into for six solid years.

This is nonsense, and this is the crap we're up against.

The public schools in our area fall well below state standards. We can't afford private. The "small life" we can offer our kids isn't a very good one.

So do I get a job? Do I get out of the home? Do I leave my kids? Or do we keep on like this, with me writing part time, struggling to keep afloat, already living a limited life?

It often feels that no option works.

It's an age-old tactic to pit people against each other so they become so distracted by their smug superiority they forget they're getting screwed.

In the end, we've got to forget these "mommy wars." As Kendzior says, "There are no 'mommy wars,' only money wars — and almost everyone is losing."

It's an age-old tactic to pit people against each other so they become so distracted by their smug superiority they forget they're getting screwed.

Could that be what's happening now? Are we too busy battling each other to notice our own subjugation?

I'm not saying we're victims. I'm just saying we've seen what we can do pitted against each other, and it isn't much.

I wonder what we could do together.

And I wonder how bad it has to get before we give it a try.

More on motherhood and work

From stay-at-home mom to work-at-home mom
Pregnancy discrimination is alive and well
Working mom's guide to quality time

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