Outlawing Stay-At-Home Moms?
Mar 30, 2017 | Trevin Wax; KINGDOM PEOPLE
Should it be illegal for mothers to stay at home and raise their children?
Believe it or not, this is an actual topic of discussion in Australia, after the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development issued a report suggesting that moms who stay at home are a drag on the economy:
One of the areas of greatest untapped potential in the Australian labour force is inactive and/or part-time working women, especially those with children… There are potentially large losses to the economy when women stay at home or work short part-time hours.
Pushing Women Outside the Home
Responding to the public outcry, Sarrah Le Marquand, writing for The Daily Telegraph, defended the report and went further, proposing a legislative solution:
Rather than wail about the supposed liberation in a woman’s right to choose to shun paid employment, we should make it a legal requirement that all parents of children of school-age or older are gainfully employed.
According to Le Marquand, we should strip away tax concessions for one-income households. The path toward equality looks more like this:
Only when the female half of the population is expected to hold down a job and earn money to pay the bills in the same way that men are routinely expected to do will we see things change for the better for either gender. Only when it becomes the norm for all families to have both parents in paid employment, and sharing the stress of the work-home juggle, will we finally have a serious conversation about how to achieve a more balanced modern workplace.
One reason why many Australians had a visceral reaction toward the idea that stay-at-home moms should be pushed out of “the kitchen” and into the workplace is because Western societies value human autonomy and personal choice. How dare someone tell a woman what to do with her life, right? What about a woman’s right to choose her own life’s course?
But Le Marquand doesn’t fall back on autonomy. She demands a particular vision of equality.
Only when the tiresome and completely unfounded claim that ‘feminism is about choice’ is dead and buried (it’s not about choice, it’s about equality) will we consign restrictive gender stereotypes to history.
So much for choice! Commenting on the irony, Albert Mohler writes:
One of the other things we need to recognize is the constriction of autonomy and choice. This is a society that actually worships personal autonomy, but it worships choice only to the extent that people make the right choices in the view of the cultural elites.
Mohler is right. Apparently, cultural elites believe economic output in the workforce is the greatest good we should seek to achieve.
A Flattened Imagination
To imagine your country “losing out” because moms stay at home with their kids only makes sense if you have a flattened-out vision of reality, where the primary purpose of life is materialistic, or where quality of life is judged mainly in terms of efficiency and productivity.
To think that dads and moms are interchangeable as mere “parents” or that a government-run daycare is just as good for a child as attention from a mother or father is another indication we have a flattened imagination.
“Leaning In” At Home
Many women, including those who embrace the label of feminism, resonate more with the groundbreaking work of Mary Tyler Moore than with Gloria Steinem. In an interview before she died, Moore explained that her divergence with Steinem came over the question of motherhood:
I believed that women—and I still do—have a very major role to play as mothers. It’s very necessary for mothers to be involved with their children. And that’s not what Gloria Steinem was saying. Gloria was saying, “Oh you can have everything, and you owe it to yourself to have a career.” And I didn’t really believe in that… I just had to say no.
Not surprisingly, we continue to see many women choosing to stay at home with their kids rather than reenter the workplace. The way they apply Sheryl Sandberg’s instruction to “lean in” is at home, not the office. They don’t believe the old idea that it’s the duty of a woman to stay at home. But neither do they believe the new idea that it’s the duty of a woman to work outside.
Committed to Home
Now, we should not romanticize the role of a mother who chooses to stay at home. There are sacrifices involved. The job can be lonely. In an age where women are saddled with so many expectations, many stay-at-home moms will feel frustrations and wonder about paths not taken.
But neither should we romanticize the life of a career woman either. The idea that the life of the office is a thrilling adventure of ladder climbing is a myth. As Chesterton once quipped: “Ten thousand women marched through the streets shouting, ‘We will not be dictated to,’ and went off and became stenographers.”
Furthermore, Christians recognize complexity in family situations. We should not respond to patronizing, condemnatory comments of feminists who oppose stay-at-home moms with similar comments against women who remain engaged at one level or another in the workforce.
What society needs most are people whose deepest commitments surface in the mini-societies that occupy the houses on our streets, those tiny nation-states of fathers, mothers, and children. The responsibility for cultivating the culture of a home belongs to fathers, too, not just mothers. As Jen Pollock Michel writes in her excellent book, Keeping Place:
God calls each of his children to a life that coheres in love. In the ambitious choreography of our days, we must fully consecrate every bead of sweat, wherever it falls—home or office, factory or school—to the glory of Christ and the good of our neighbor. Each of us, male and female, shares in the responsibility for home.
That’s a good reminder. Our “beads of sweat” may not be measurable to a society obsessed with efficiency and workplace productivity, but we see what the world does not. Should society outlaw the stay-at-home mom? No. We should rise up and call her blessed.