So I watched the State of the Union Address last night with my husband. It is a miracle I made it over half of the way through as most years I bail after 10 minutes. This has nothing to do with my political leanings and everything to do with my frustration with politics in general.
But for a while last night Barack Obama really had my ear. It was during the section in which he addressed economic measures to help the squeezed middle class. He spoke about sick leave, which is great. If you read this blog regularly you know I am a fan of actually taking a day off when you are ill. He addressed paying women equal wages as a man for her equal work. Of course. This should be a no brainer. He issued a call action to increase the minimum wage. As one who just quit a part-time job as a barista where I worked my butt off for $7.25 an hour, Yes! Please.
But there’s one measure he offered that I am still wrestling with today. He spoke about making childcare more affordable for families with two working parents and families being raised by one parent who has to work. In theory this is a great idea. Of course childcare is ridiculously expensive and working families shouldn’t have to loose the majority of their check just to pay the sitters.
But what if you have made the decision not to work while your kids are young? What if you don’t pay someone else for childcare?
I know there are some families out there that do this because one member of the family makes so much money that the other spouse can comfortably not work. The families with nannies and country club memberships and beach houses where they summer.
But then there are others of us who make the decision to stay at home not because we are rich, but because it is what our heart mandates.
Now I don’t want to get into the whole mommy war arena. You work and raise kids. That is great. The beauty about being a woman in America is we get to make choices.
I personally chose to stay at home with my kids as much as possible. We were infertile for years. We tried desperately to conceive a child. Then we made the decision to travel half way across the world to China and adopt. We promised China to do a good job raising their daughter. And then I immediately got pregnant, gifting us with two children under 2 years.
Then two things happened. One, I started having a nervous breakdown trying to work a full time professional job with two babies. And two, I realized I had moved mountains to be a mom. Once it finally happened for me I decided I wanted to relish every moment I could.
So I made the decision to quit work. We are responsible, planning kind of people so we tried to do this strategically.
We moved closer to family (free childcare in emergencies) and bought a small, simple house way below the mortgage rate we qualified for. We drove our already paid for cars until they were dying and then bought modest, affordable replacements. We cook simple food at home. When we visit the beach we stay with friends near the coast and drive in each day. Our few actual vacations are weekend short and spent in our surprisingly affordable and lovely State Parks (Go camping!).
My point is this. We are a family that manages to have a stay at home parent by scrimping and saving and living very simply. We squeeze blood out of pennies so I can pick up our kids from school each day, hear all the good gossip a 5th and 6th grader can offer, and then tutor my daughter in algebra and quiz my son on his spelling words. Of course I do more than this. I teach a handful of yoga classes a week and write while my kids are in school. I try to contribute to our family’s finances while caring for our family itself. But flexible, part time jobs are usually not big money makers. We are still squeezed middle class. Our choices make things tight some times, but they are choices we feel are worth it.
So, when I hear Barack Obama offering a $3,000 tax rebate for childcare, my mind does a double take.
Why just for outside childcare? What about the people who supply their own childcare for their own kids at the loss of larger wages?
Can’t we just offer the extra $3,000 tax rebate to all people with kids at home and let the families use it in whatever way is best?
$3,000 would allow us to pay for my daughter’s braces. $3,000 could go in a college fund ensuring my bright children have a good future ahead of them. $3,000 would prevent a lot of worry and agony over making it month to month.
And $3,000 might just allow another Mom or Dad who works outside the home (not because they want to but because they have to) to stay home or shift to part time and spend more time with their own kids.
When did paid work become the idol in our nation?
When did economic vibrancy become more important than raising our next generation?
When did the only work that had value become paid work?
When did strengthening the economy become more important than strengthening families?
If Barack Obama really wants to look to Europe for inspiration, maybe he will look beyond just health care and outside childcare. In the UK, Sweden, and Norway, moms get one full year of maternity leave. The amount of time which is paid and what percentage of the salary moms get varies from country to country, but it is WELL beyond what we do in the US. Slovakia aand Czech Republic offer 3 years of maternity leave for moms during which the state pays them around 250 Euros a month.
Since I am already on my soapbox and ranting, who exactly do lawmakers think is going to take care of our ever increasing population of elderly people? America is going to get significantly older and sicker the next few decades. We can talk health care and Medicaid all we want. But let me tell you I bet any aging American would give their right arm for a good daughter or son to look after them in their last years.
But oh yeah, they are too busy trying to get ahead in the workforce working long hours far from home. Too bad.
I know the economy and the workforce is important. But my God, families and people are important too.
Put that in your next State of Union address and maybe I’ll make it through the whole speech.