Monday, November 3, 2014

That Decision Mothers Make

Our president said something better not said—no surprise. But sometimes these misspeaks (accidentally) reveal what he truly believes, so they’re worth looking at. Here’s what he said last week at Rhode Island College on women and the economy: 

Obama speech on women and the economy
at Rhode Island College

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. That’s not a choice we want Americans to make. [full speech here]
We could get rid of some of the indignation here if we assume he misspoke and meant to say, “That’s not a choice we want Americans to have to make.” In other words, if you take some years off to care for children, you face the reality of a lower wage, and he thinks that’s unfair.

That does in fact seem to be what he means, because he goes on to offer the solution of governmental institutional daycare—to solve the problem of women having to leave the workforce at all, which leads to what looks like uneven pay.

But he is, in fact, saying it’s a bad decision to choose to stay home and raise your kids. It’s bad because it could cost you the wage level rise you would presumably get if you didn’t take time off to raise those bothersome children. He doesn’t want you to make that wrong choice. That’s revealing.

We might be better off if we had a president who offered this in a speech instead:

The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only—and that is to support the ultimate career.—C. S. Lewis
Or there’s this, from the last paragraph of historians Will and Ariel Durant’s The Lessons of History about perpetuating civilization:

If a man is fortunate he will, before he dies, gather up as much as he can of his civilized heritage and transmit it to his children. And to his final breath he will be grateful for this inexhaustible legacy, knowing that it is our nourishing mother and our lasting life.
And let’s add this bit of wisdom:

Women who make a house a home make a far greater contribution to society than those who command large armies or stand at the head of impressive corporations.—Gordon B. Hinckley
The president seems to misunderstand what life is about. Certainly he misunderstands what civilization is and how to get there and then stay there.

The purpose of life is not to achieve some arbitrarily defined world equity by earning money for yourself that is equal to whatever anyone else can earn. It is not even to earn a valuable life by doing paid work. A mother, who dedicated her career years to raising children who have grown into successful contributing members of society and gone onto provide her with grandchildren to love—can you imagine this woman, in the wisdom of age, on her deathbed saying, “If only I’d spent more time at the office! If only I hadn’t wasted my career years on children—the government could have handled them, and then I would have made an equivalent amount to the men in my career!”

Life is bigger than that. We want to live a life we can enjoy with those we love and want to be with, through the good times and trials. There isn’t a better way to live than in a marriage and family, raising children in love. Family is the basic unit of civilization—in which people thrive, and in which social capital is built and passed on. It is possible to live a life otherwise, but civilization only happens when a critical mass live in functional families.

There is an interrelated economic component. We need income for housing, food, shelter, and all the other things needed for raising and educating our children. But the most economically sound way for that to happen is in a family with a mother and a father. No government program works as well. It isn’t a matter of tweaking policy, or getting the right leaders. It is a matter of allowing families to do the work of caring, providing, and civilizing—work that families are brilliantly designed by God to do.

If you care about civilization, you will consider the value of a parent, probably the mother, doing the long-term daily work of caring for them. Anyone who has done it knows it’s a lot more than feeding, clothing, and managing the children in a way that keeps them from wandering into the street or other dangers. It’s about loving them, responding to them as valuable human beings with their own personalities, gifts, and potentials. No daycare—no matter how well run—can offer a child what an abundance of time with a loving mother offers.

Not all women get to offer that. Some can’t make it financially without working. Some feel called to do a specific life’s work in addition, and choose to balance the mothering and other career. I do not want to demean any woman who makes a choice to work when she has children. But it is absolutely unconscionable to shame women for choosing to mother at home. It is especially wrongheaded to demean her choice by turning it into a math equation about earnings she’s expected by the state to work for.

It’s also wrong to blame natural economic laws that reward continuous years of work in a particular career more than fewer disconnected years in that career. And it’s more than wrong to claim government can or should override this economic natural consequence by taxing people more to institutionalize our children at younger and younger ages.

Did the president make yet another speaking gaffe? Yes. But we can make good progress even with a president who lacks speaking skills. Moses lacked speaking skills and still managed to free the Israelites from enslavement. Speaking skills are helpful (see Reagan for many examples). But what is better is good thinking—and believing the right and true things.

What we need is not a president who manipulates power to control women’s choices. We need a president, along with the rest of government, who appreciates the value of mothers and fathers working together to raise their own children—and gets out of their way.

Stop holding us down with variations of tyranny, poverty, and savagery. And let us move up to freedom, prosperity, and civilization.

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