On Friday, President Obama gave a speech on women, families, and the economy at Rhode Island College — and proceeded to put his foot in his mouth with a controversial statement directed towards stay-at-home moms:
“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 sometimes there may just not be any slots, or the best programs may be too far away. 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.”
OK, I think we can all safely agree that the President is badly in need of a new speech writer.
And while I am thoroughly horrified that the man whose views shape the policies that make up our nation doesn’t seem to understand that some parents — gasp! — value raising their own children, I am also going to go ahead and ask that we all calm the heck down about Obama’s latest slip-of-the-tongue.
I really don’t think he meant to insult stay-at-home moms. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he was actually trying to come up with a solution for inadequate daycare for low-wage working mothers – a large percentage of working mothers — and stay-at-home mothers living in poverty without a lot of other options — also the majority.
Of course, he went about it all wrong and he’s focusing on the wrong things — we don’t need to shove a bunch of three and four-year-olds in standardized schooling just because daycare is too expensive and more and more parents need to work longer hours just to make a living. We definitely need to make America more family-friendly and give parents real choices for family-career flexibility as well as not punish mothers who opt out of the paid workforce with lower lifetime earnings or through ill-phrased, ignorant remarks by the leader of our country.
But instead of focusing on what Mr. Obama meant to say, didn’t say, or should have said, many moms are honing in on his insult to stay-at-home moms. For example:
“So next time, Mr. President, please think about all women before you speak – not just the ones that fit your personal model. 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. After all, what could be a better choice than actively raising the next generation?” wrote Kristi Burton Brown, a self-professed stay-at-home mom.
At first glance, I agree with that statement — but in taking a closer look, it’s exactly women like Ms. Brown and I that are doing a disservice to stay-at-home moms everywhere. You see, Ms. Brown may claim she is a stay-at-home mom, but a second glance at her bio would tell you that she is an attorney, a regular contributor to The Christian Post, and a volunteer.
I am a woman like Ms. Brown — I call myself a “stay-at-home mom” but really, I’m not. I’m a millennial mom with a whole lot of privilege, an entrepreneur, and a flex employee who has formed a career that still allows me to be the primary caregiver for my family. And I’m not alone. There are many mothers like us — women who are clinging to the ideal of being a stay-at-home mom, but obviously finding other outlets through education, writing, volunteering, or working, that are not solely focused on the hands-on act of raising our children.
The knee-jerk reaction of “stay-at-home moms” like me may be to fall back on the stereotype of holier-than-thou moms who are devoted solely to raising kids 100% of the time, but it’s not exactly an honest glimpse into our lives. In fact, it smells a little like Obama’s stereotypical cracks at being a hapless husband.
If stay-at-home moms want to stand up to a clueless President who is somehow not aware of what parents want or need, we also need to be honest with what our lives as stay-at-home moms look like.
We need to recognize the deeper disparity that Obama alluded to, in that choosing to stay at home with our kids results in a very real economic punishment for wage-earning and financial security over a lifetime — and it shouldn’t be that way.
We need to admit that most mothers — by choice or by necessity — are not full-time stay-at-home mothers and that those that have a true choice are usually supported financially by a spouse.
We need to talk about the fact that the majority of stay-at-home mothers have lower incomes and less education, which may give us a little insight into what Obama might have been trying to say.
We need to demand that stay-at-home moms get more recognition for the very real work that they do, not only in raising the next generation of thinkers, dreamers, and doers, but also in the hundred different roles that stay-at-home mothers take on. “Staying at home” can also mean working in different capacities, like taking care of an aging mother or volunteering at school, or advocating for our special needs children. It can mean slapping a title on myself as a “stay-at-home mom” even though, technically, I make as much money as my husband. It can mean staying at home, but not really, as even Mrs. First Lady herself could technically be labeled a stay-at-home mom who doesn’t work, as Obama himself pointed out.
So, no, let’s not attack the President for his admittedly poor choice of words and instead, start a discussion on what staying at home really means— for our careers, for ourselves, and our children.