Friday, April 13, 2012

I am the Elite?

There is a chasm between stay-at-home moms and moms who work outside the home.  I’m not so naïve as not to recognize it.  I’ve (wrongly) bristled when working moms insist they “could never stay at home with their kids.  How do I do it?” and have been the object of polite oh that’s so nice statements followed by awkward silences after admitting I stay home with my kids.  What topics can one discuss with the stay-at-home mom?  Coupons, perhaps?  Toilet paper choices? 

Political strategist and pundit Hilary Rosen made a rather large flub when she accused Ann Romney, a (wealthy) stay-at-home mom of five boys of “never working a day in her life.”  She then said Mitt Romney has “very old fashioned views of women.”  Later, she clarified her statements, saying she wasn’t knocking stay-at-home moms, but rather exemplifying the large financial gap between working moms and Ann Romney.  I’m not going to linger on Rosen’s ad hominem attack on Ms. Romney- instead I’m going to transition to a blog post written by Hanna Rosin for Slate magazine entitled “No Apologies Necessary Hilary.”  I feel a comma before Hilary would’ve been appropriate, but whatever.  I generally enjoy Ms. Rosin’s writing- she writes for Slate and The Atlantic.  Last evening, however, she royally pissed me off when she wrote the following:

-there is no reason why we always have to use the "acceptable" formulation “work outside the home” every time we talk about mothers. We can admit that that’s an awkward phrase, and we can also admit that at this point staying home full time with your children is not only a choice but pretty much a luxury of the elite. And almost by definition makes it hard for you to relate to the average woman.

I, personally, had no idea that staying home with my kids was a sign of “elitism” on par with carrying a Prada purse and wearing Gucci sunglasses.  In my own experience, which I realize stands for nothing, many stay-at-home moms are lower-middle to middle class women who forgo higher-middle class status and “luxuries” in order to stay home with their kids.  They live in average neighborhoods, their husbands or partners earn average salaries, and they budget and buy from consignment shops and garage sales in order to save money. 

But since my personal experiences are generally worthless, let’s look at scientific data provided by the 2010 census:

Compared with other moms, stay-at-home moms in 2007 were more likely to be:

  • Younger (44% were under 35 compared with 38% of mothers in the labor force).
  • Hispanic  (27% compared with 16% in the labor force.)
  • Foreign-born (34% compared with 19% of mothers in the labor force).
  • Without a high-school diploma (19% versus 8% of mothers in the labor force).
Uneducated, young, foreign-born or Hispanic stay-at-home moms: the new definition of “elite.”  There you have it.

I can only guess that Rosin is implying that anyone who is not working-class, i.e. the lower-middle class to the uber-rich, is now a part of the “elite.”  And here I thought the middle-class families were the ones who were crumbling, the ones the presidential candidates are ardently promising to save. 

Truthfully, even if I wanted to work, the cost of daycare would not make that choice financially prudent.  Though my husband makes a lovely salary, when you take into account taxes and those pesky school loan payments, we are right smack dab in the middle of the middle class.  It’s still my choice not to work outside the home (I work part-time inside the home)- and that may very well change next year when the four rugrats are in school- but let me tell you what.  Having kids is expensive and emotionally taxing, whether or not you are a working mom or a stay at home mom.  We each wipe butts, worry about paying for college educations, stay up late nights when our kids are sick or have had a nightmare- we each have hopes and dreams for our kids, and none of us wants our daughters to become middle-aged divorcees struggling to make ends meet while raising three teenagers.  We are moms.  Why, Rosin, do you exacerbate the unnecessary rift between us?  Why do you make it sound like staying home is akin to yachting up and down the Mediterranean? 

For many middle-class moms, staying at home is a choice.  For others it is not.  Some days, staying at home with a cooing infant is a luxury.

Mostly, it’s just really hard work.


Kim said...

This makes me crazy. I've worked outside the home, I've worked inside the home, and I've been unemployed. The one constant was that I was always a Mother. No matter my job situation, I had to take care of my kids, make sure they were fed, scheduled doctor appointments, drive them back and forth to dance lessons, swim lessons, soccer practice, kiss thier boo-boos, wipe thier noses, and tuck them in at night. Regardless of whether I brought home a paycheck or not I still had to pay the bills and the mortgage, do the grocery shopping, clean the house, wash the clothes and the dishes, and plan and prepare dinner everynight.
To suggest that her staying home with her kids means she never worked a day in her life is absurd. She maybe didn't bring home a paycheck, but assuming she didn't have nannys doing all the heavy lifting while she sipped fruity drinks by the pool, she likely worked harder that a lot of people with "real jobs."

Grace said...

Elite? Not the word I would use! When God blesses people with children, especially when they arrive in multiples, someone had better take care of them! That was when I became a stay at mom, after the arrival of twins. Recently my 18 year old son thanked me for staying home and always being here for him and his siblings. That, I would say, is priceless. I am not elite, but I am blessed and thankful.

M Haag said...

I would have done anything to be the first face my kids saw when they got home from school. I forget who said, "on their deathbeds, nobody wishes they'd spent more time at the office."
your kids are amazing and that's the best legacy there is. I hate all the rhetoric and the way it gets worse in an election year. Hang in there.

Julie said...

So true, Holly! This needs to "go viral".
Like Kim, I've worked outside the home, stayed home, and been part time, and believe me being home was the lease "elite" and hardest of the three for so very many reasons.
And, wonderful for at least as many, if not more.

mama2boys said...

I am so fortunate that I have always had the option to work outside the home. I know that many moms would kill for this option, but just wouldn't be able to financially swing it. (In fact, many of my friends have had to significantly alter their lifestyles in order to justify staying home with their kids.) Being at home full time was *the hardest* job I have ever had. I now work part-time outside of the home and feel as though I've finally found a schedule that makes me happy. Bottom line is that being a mom in any capacity is a ridiculously hard job, whether it is accompanied by a (second) paying job or not. Shame on whoever believes (even for one second) that those who are home full time don't have jobs.

Jessica said...

I would love to "work at home" and hope and pray with all that's in me that I will be able to...however I think people thinking it is "elite" is rather crazy. Like you said, it is most certainly not "easy" nor is it a vacation. I think people just like to judge others or they feel like they are being judged. For instance moms feeling like stay at home moms look down on them for working outside the home, etc. It's like all the moms out there that feel judged for feeding their babies with formula. There is always SOMETHING out there where someone is deemed better than someone else. Guess that's just the way of our lovely planet ;) Elite or not, stay at home or not, YOU ROCK HOLLY ;)

Toaster said...

I don't disagree with you...but frankly, while Hilary Rosen's statement may have been stupid, I really don't think she was talking about YOU (or anyone posting here)--she was referring to Ann Romney, and Ann Romney IS the elite. (And in fact I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear that Ann Romney's own "stay-at-home" motherhood actually DID involve "yachting up and down the Mediterranean" or something quite similar.)

Holly said...

Rosen's comments were mean-spirited and irrelevant, but I don't think she would go as far as to accuse stay-at-home moms of "not working." Rosin's comments that we are all among the "elite," however, are so off the mark they had to be addressed!

Eileen said...

I'll never forget the "appreciative" comments I received when I left my job to care for our (at the time one) child, in part because I couldn't afford daycare on my meager salary. Our family of three lived below the poverty line and rented a one-bedroom apartment in center city, Philadelphia, but women of considerable means and material wealth would say, "It must be so nice to be able to afford to stay home with your children." I felt patted on the freaking head.

Since then, I've done most all the work combinations, and I agree with Kim: I was always a mother. Period. Will the Mommy Wars ever end?

Kick butt column, Holly!