I don’t agree with Mitt Romney often, but his words to his wife Ann ring true. He told her years ago, checking in from the office while she was raising their children at home. “Ann, your job is more important than mine.” And he’s right. Raising children and keeping a household is very important for all of us. Indeed, social conservatives argue that the family is the bedrock of society. So let’s make sure our stay-at-home moms – who make up 23% of married-couple family groups with children under the age of 15 — are taken care of in their time of need.
My mother, Anne, stayed at home and raised three children. She did all the invisible work that women who have children do. My mom had no nanny, staff or help from family. She sent me and my two brothers off to school, made all our meals, washed all the clothes, did all the grocery shopping and was the glue that held our family together.
My dad worked in construction and often came home exhausted. He typically ate his dinner, watched the news, and went to sleep. He did not raise us. My mom never received any paid time off and we never went on vacations. We couldn’t afford it. We were the shining example of the American nuclear family that lived humbly and within our means. There were no grand birthday parties or presents, but there was no debt either. And we were told that’s how it’s supposed to work.
Sadly, things didn’t turn out for the best. My dad lost his union job in 1988, along with the meager benefits it afforded. He worked construction jobs until he no longer could perform the manual labor. He was never able to find another job with benefits.
Less than a year ago, my mom, who was 58 years old, needed help. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Navigating the health care system was a byzantine nightmare because my mom did not have health insurance. Thankfully, with the assistance of my mom’s amazing social worker and hospital staff, she was able to access some needed medical resources that saved her life. After a successful surgery, I started looking at my mom’s social security and supplemental security income (SSI) options and was appalled to learn that because my mom did not “work” enough quarters, she did not qualify for SSI. This is absurd. My mom’s been working off the clock since 1975, when she married and started raising a family.
Though Mrs. Romney and my mom both stayed at home to raise children and share the same first name, that is where their similarities end. It is assumed that women who stay- at -home are solidly middle class and can afford to do so. However, that is not the case. Census figures released in 2009 show that married stay-at-home moms tend to have lower family incomes. Twelve percent of stay-at-home moms live below the poverty line, compared with five percent of other mothers.
For many of these women, low earnings and high child-care costs are part of the decision to stay at home. Stay- at -home mothers are vulnerable and are falling through the cracks. All of their work is invisible; indeed, it’s not even acknowledged as necessary or valuable by their own government!
Not all married moms have the luxury of choice. Lack of affordable child care means that some moms are forced to take a job—any job– while a family member cares for kids or it can mean that a mom is forced to stay at home because there is no other child care option available.
Work is work. And work is demanding and constant. Stay-at-home moms have no mandated 15 minute breaks, paid sick days, or long- term disability insurance. The vast majority do not have rich husbands; some have husbands who, like my mother, ended up with little in the way of benefits or support. When will we as a nation invest our resources and make sure stay-at-home moms have a safety net they can call their own?
The government should start paying into a woman’s social security every quarter she stays at home and raises children. As a society we need to begin addressing the substantive issues surrounding motherhood, work, and support. How can we create a system that makes sure stay- at- home mom’s get their fair share in their time of need? Americans are leaders and innovators and we owe it our stay- at -home moms to lead and begin discussing this important issue that will not go away.. When will we pay our moms back and show them how much we value, respect and need the labor of stay-at-home moms to make our lives and in turn, our economy, function?
Photo Credit: Sunfox via Creative Commons