We Don’t Value MotherhoodBy: hawkgrrrl
There was a fascinating post at FMH in response to Hillary Rosen’s statement that SAHM Ann Romney hadn’t worked a day in her life. For the record, Ann did not employ a nanny as some have assumed although it’s clear that the Romneys weren’t living hand-to-mouth despite their evident frugal streak that I demonstrated ably at By Common Consent. From the excellent FMH OP by founder FMHLisa:
We invest time and money and energy and resources into things we truly value. . . We invest almost nothing in making sure that mothers are secure and have the time energy and education they need to do the (MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL) work of mothering.
I do realize that this is an incredibly complex and difficult problem . . . But it’s a dirty darn lie that “we” collectively value mothering. It’s a lie if you’re a Democrat and it’s a lie if you’re a Republican. Mothering is all about individual sacrifice, individual risk, individual success or failure. Society benefits greatly for that individual success. Society suffers greatly from that individual failure. In return society gives us: “your work is the MOST valuable”, which is hard to make soup with.
I’d like to take a closer look at a few of these assertions. First of all, we need to bear in mind that we are talking very specifically about not just parenting, but motherhood. And not just motherhood either, but stay-at-home motherhood. Here are 3 assertions I think don’t bear out on closer examination:
- Society benefits greatly for that individual success. Does society benefit greatly from parenting (and specifically the SAHM parenting model)? I’ll hesitantly say yes to society benefiting from parenting (although I don’t agree that SAHM parenting provides a unique advantage to society at large). Even limiting it to parenting, I would put one big fat caveat on it: who defines success? If we’re talking about literally putting our money where our (collective) mouth is, that success has to be defined as raising adults that contribute economically to society. The most direct benefit of a stay-at-home parent is to the immediate family. It’s usually an economic sacrifice a couple makes that enables the one working parent to have more freedom and support while the one providing that support has freedom to focus on the home and children. The equation trades time for money. It centralizes resources by dividing responsibilities into two categories.
- Society suffers greatly from that individual failure. We (as society) suffer when parents (whether they stay at home or not) raise criminals or people who cost the system more than they contribute. Of course, does that mean that we should turn like rabid wolves on the parents of criminals? Are parents always the cause? How do we measure it and reward it with any standard of fairness? And does SAHM parenting provide an advantage? Are there more criminals being raised by working parents? Are children of working parents more likely to be an economic drain on society. Here, studies would say the opposite is true, that working parents statistically produce less future economic burden. However, correlation is not causation. It’s an unfortunate truth that many SAHM households (not necessarily in the church) are also low income households, and poverty creates the disadvantage. The higher income of a dual career household improves that situation.
- In return society gives us: “your work is the MOST valuable”, which is hard to make soup with. Lastly, I’m not sure “society” does this. I actually think society is pretty ambivalent on stay-at-home motherhood at this point. This pseudo-quote sounds a lot more like what the church tells women (not contemporary Republicans or the Democrats or Americans at large). I think politicians and government folks are more likely to agree with Mitt Romney’s statement that welfare recipients (including single moms) should have the dignity of work (meaning directly contributing back to the economic system that is feeding them). Creating a system to provide care for the children of single working parents is the lynch pin to making this possible.
Because this model (and role division in general) builds more dependence, church retention rates and engagement may be highest among those who rely on the church community to support the family. And there is social support for SAHMs within the church: play groups, activities and hobbies to keep women feeling connected to the adult word, and a cadre of sisters to provide emotional and social support.
The church will benefit (just as nations do) if parents raise children who become full tithe payers which perpetuates the viability of the economic system. Being a SAHM creates barriers to exit the church by making it more compelling to stay with a strong support network rather than lose that support for one’s chosen lifestyle. This is similar to (but less effective than) polygamy. If you were practicing polygamy, you had some pretty high barriers to exit. It was a lifestyle that carried a lot of advantages inside the system and nearly insurmountable disadvantages outside of it.
Perhaps a better question is whether the church puts its money where its mouth is. Many women (or those who share personal stories in online discussion) who’ve requested financial assistance from the church have been told by their bishop to get a job (for which their time as a SAHM has left them very disadvantaged) or to rely on other family members (which, depending on the situation can feel like a further degradation). Whether these stories are typical, I can’t say. But that they happen at all feels unnecessary.
For the church this also becomes an economic calculation. Church welfare is a socialist system. We all donate (in tithing), but individuals in need receive payments from that pool. Of course, as with all socialist systems, those that contribute the least financially need and receive the most financial benefit. Which is why it feels like a slippery slope to advise women to make decisions that reduce their individual economic independence unless a complete safety net is assumed in how the church handles our collective donations. Personally, I don’t mind fully supporting displaced, divorced, or widowed SAHMs who don’t have great economic choices, even though my choices have differed from theirs.
What would you propose to solve this problem? Should the church do more for women in these situations? Should society? Should we encourage more financial independence and resilience and change our rhetoric toward women in the church? Are SAHMs the modern equivalent of plural wives? Is the church’s rhetoric primarily designed to create retention through fostering dependence? Discuss.