The National Organization for Women wants a truce in the Mommy Wars — the fight between women who stay home with children and moms who work. In response to a “Good Morning America” segment that weakly pitted a stay-at-home mom and working mom against each other, NOW President Kim Gandy wrote to Diane Sawyer and her producer, urging programming that advances women’s choices:
Here’s a compelling topic for a future feature: How can our society better support mothers and caregivers so that they can choose to work either outside or inside the home — whether it’s full-time or part-time — without additional guilt, financial strife or other barriers?
An enticing vision, to be sure. Many women want to stay home with their children, but others must work due to financial need. Some choose labor outside the home for the challenge and stimulation. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for families, and society should respect women’s inevitable tradeoffs.
So never mind NOW’s history of denigrating stay-at-home-moms. Forget the continued distain many feminists and women’s studies professors have for women who value raising children. Let’s assume all parties truly share the goal of fostering respect for women’s choices. Would the feminist agenda accomplish that aim?
NOW lobbies for regulations requiring family friendly policies at businesses, government funding for early childhood education, and giving stay-at-home moms greater access to entitlement programs. These policies would exacerbate the Mommy Wars because each favors one woman’s choice over another’s.
Individual women already overwhelmingly respect and understand the choices of other women. Sure, society could value more fully the contributions of stay-at-home moms and better respect working moms as mothers. As Ms. Gandy notes, society also should welcome stay-at-home dads. Most Americans get this. That’s why “Good Morning America” must struggle to manufacture conflict between working and stay-at-home moms.
It’s different when government gets involved. A government giveaway to working moms reduces a stay-at-home mom’s value to her family and vice versa.
Consider “free” day care — a favorite of many feminists. Much of fiscal value of staying home stems from the fact day care costs money. Even families who believe kids are better off with a parent at home would find it more difficult to forgo a second income if day care were free. The government may not charge users for day care, but someone — the taxpayer — pays for it.
Most perverse, tax dollars from families that sacrifice to keep a parent at home will go to pay for other people’s day care. Intentions aside, government-subsidized day care effectively enlists the state in the Mommy Wars and tilts the scales toward work outside the home.
Policies to benefit stay-at-home parents are equally misguided. Ms. Gandy, for example, proposes Social Security credits for stay-at-home moms. The justification is that stay-at-home moms provide services that have economic value and these women need support during retirement, too.
Yet consider what such credits would mean in practice. Government bureaucrats would have to assign a “wage” for the work of raising a child — no controversy there — that would determine how much Social Security pays at retirement.
Meanwhile, a working mom who earns the same wage assigned to the stay-at-home mom will lose more than one-tenth of her earnings to Social Security taxes. The working mom — who may lack the means to stay home — would earn no additional Social Security benefits despite thousands of dollars in tax payments. Working moms would rightly view this as unjust favoritism for those who stay home.
Peace in the Mommy Wars begins with government neutrality. Instead of funding programs or providing tax incentives, policymakers should free women to follow their own preferences. Lower, flatter taxes, for instance, would benefit all mothers. The after-tax pay of stay-at-homers’ spouses would increase. Working moms would also have more money to purchase childcare or cut back on hours.
NOW says it wants society to respect women’s choices, whether to stay-at-home or to work. It should start by advocating freedom, not social engineering.