Wednesday, April 04, 2007

All Mommies Care: the Daycare Thinky Post

During the run-up to Canada's last federal election, much was made of the Liberal party's recently signed national child care strategy as a key campaign issue. Discussion of the role of the federal government in supporting or managing the care of children seemed to split into mutually exclusive, strident, and passionate camps along ideological lines. Basically, the split was characterized thus: SAHMs espousing traditional values felt slighted, insulted, and overcharged for bossy socialist regulated day care in variously insitutionalized settings; working mothers dismissed the SAHMs as retrograde unenlightened housewives with no sense of solidarity. Of course, there was some nuance allowed: what about the expense of daycare for working families? what about the gap between minimum wage and the cost of care? what about the lack of available spots, at any price?

The letters published on this issue in my local paper seemed to indicate that moms (and it was by and large women self-identifying as mothers who wrote in) were indeed very angry with each other, very much split into two camps: one would hiss, "a child's place is in the home and why should the income tax structure penalize me for this natural desire to raise my own children?", while the other would sniff "my god almighty, you poor uneducated unambitious slob--just because you want to watch Young and the Restless all day doesn't mean us professionals can give up our lives."

It was pretty awful.

I can say I tended more to the latter position that the former: from what I read it seemed that the kind of SAHM who wrote to the paper was indeed very much opposed to things--career, autonomy, regulated institutional child care--that I hold dear.

Since I have started blogging, my world has greatly expanded, and my vision of what motherhood is has been enriched. GingaJoy is right: the SAHMs and the working moms seem to get along, by and large, just fine, at least in this little corner of the momosphere.


Well, it is clear from every blog that I read that every single one of you cares deeply about your child/children, is acutely conscious of the work involved in bringing a child into the world, and raising that child with love, with respect, and with skill. Every single one of you seeks to balance Woman against Mother, autonomy against partnership, personal growth against sacrifice for the greater good. Every single one of you, whether you stay at home with your children, have a nanny in your home, or drop your child off at formal or informal settings of care. You are each individuals, with different skills and interests, certainly, but I find that we share a fundamental care for our children, a commonality that is our strength in this bloggy space, the glue that holds us all to each other as readers and writers.

We are kind to each other, even in the very multiplicity of our choices and paths: when I wrote about how much I love my job, many of you who stay at home wrote to support me. When I wrote about being pressured into daycare, many of you wrote of similar experiences and how hard they were for you. When I wrote about trying to pump often enough for Miss Baby you were all very supportive of continuing that or mixing formula into the routine, whatever worked best in our individual situation. We all seem to be attuned to nuance and specificity, eager to support one another, to offer comfort rather than judgment.

Wouldn't our political debates about child care be so much more productive if we could all bring this kindness, this empathy, out into the public sphere with us? But how? I feel so very kindly towards you, internet mommies, because I have come to know you as mothers (and father, Denguy) and as people, and my understanding of family is thus enriched.

Can we tell our stories, and listen to others' stories, with this kind of kindness, in the real world?

This blog is my story, a meandering tale of one mom who works, one mom who is grateful to have lucked into a spot at her campus daycare, but who is now often found lying awake in bed, worrying about her baby girl! in amongst strangers! for hours and hours a day! A mom who barely made it to six months of maternity leave with her sanity intact, who is so grateful to be doing the work she loves while her husband stays home for the next six months of her daughter's life. Whose life and family is in so much better balance for the variety in her day.

I respect and admire the SAHMs I've 'met' by blogging. You are smart smart women, funny and caring. You seem happy to be at home. You are women I would gladly be friends with IRL. And the working mommies, oh how I begin to know your world too: the split between home and work, the fretting about the care of your darling darling children, the hard work of coming and going and balancing. The joy of coming home to be in your families.

My position is this: families need to have access--meaningful and ample opportunity--to supports for the care of their children. Families who forego one whole income in order to provide stable home care for their children need to have their sacrifices recognized, need to have this choice made more affordable. Families in which both parents need, for financial or personal reasons, to work outside the home--hey, families where both parents want to work outside the home--deserve to have access to competent, safe, loving child care so that this choice doesn't feel as though it entails sacrifice of children's happiness. As it stands, and from what I can see, one-income families pay a disproportionate tax burden for the choice they make for the good of their families. Also, families in which both parents work outside the home face severe stress, in an economy of scarcity, finding any kind of safe care at all for their children, let alone care of choice, or care that is affordable.

It seems to me that none of this is ideal. And that there's not much to be gained by pitting mommy against mommy. Not that that's what happens here, in the momosphere: far from it, in fact. But how to change the political debate.

I wish you and your families, children and significant others, all the very best happiness and security and satisfaction in devising the arrangements of home and work that suit you best. I wish this to be as friction-free as it can be. What I know is this: we love our children dearly, and wish the very best for them. But it's too damn hard to get it.


Mad Hatter said...

Great post. I attended a childcare rally at the Leg on Friday. Of all the people there, I was the one the TV camera singled out. I tried to choose my sound bite wisely but alas the media only ever allows sound bites--never thoughtful discussion. That's what fuels these awful binaries and once they are fueled, those who are drwn to polarities come out of the woodwork. It is a sad situation indeed. That's why this bloggy land works so well. We are permitted our full say in these matters.

NotSoSage said...

Excellent post. I am too damn tired to craft a thoughtful comment to your thinky post. But I think what Mad says is right. This is where everyone, not just the squeakiest wheels, get to have their full say. And that may explain the apparent lack of divide.

Omaha Mama said...

Right on. In my own life, women are supportive of each other's choices, as I have found them to be in the bloggy world. I think in the U.S., the media often plays up the extremes (as they do with EVERYTHING), so it would make sense that lobbyists would also be cut from that cloth. One from each end of the spectrum, none from the middle.

DO WHAT WORKS FOR YOU and your child will be happy, healthy, and balanced. That is what I believe.

Thanks for the post - I hope you will copy it as a letter to your government. It was great.

Em said...

I agree!

Beck said...

Excellent post. I have a friend who is perhaps the poster girl for the need for good, subsidized day care - she's going to nursing school full-time in an attempt to become financially independent from her abusive husband and is only covered for childcare expenses during the school year. During the summer - when she is working for minimum wage, her daycare subsidies stop because TECHNICALLY her family earns enough to cover daycare expenses, even though her husband refuses to pay for any childcare costs. Because she should be home, you see.
Enraging, no?

Really good post. I keep writing more and more comments but I think that instead of hogging your comment box, I'll write a post about being a stay-at-home mom at my place, later.

cinnamon gurl said...

Great post. I found myself having a judgmental thought about another mother in real life this morning (related to daycare in fact), and I wondered why I was being judgmental about her when I'm not in the blogosphere. My mind wandered to other things before I came up with an answer, and it was enough just to catch myself in the judgment and stop.

But I think it's because I have barely exchanged five words with this woman, and I suspect she was feeling uncharitably towards a woman I've gotten to know quite well. Knowledge is power in more ways than one I guess.

Oh, The Joys said...

All I can think to say at this hour is AMEN!

Jenifer said...

What great reading tonight. I am trying to catch up on all my fave's and I enjoyed the Q&A post as well.

I have so many thoughts on this post though. I have been both a working outside the home (3 years) and SAHM Mom (2 years) and I can say without question they are both hard. I was so fortunate that my childcare was grandparents, so I never had to worry about that part. That said, even though it was grandparents it was still not ME with them all day. That matters.

It is all so personal. I have friends who could afford to stay at home, but choose not too. For me right now being home is best for our family, but this is a fluid process and I expect it to change again one day. I hope the patchwork that is our childcare is a little more patched up by then.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

Journalists are trained to present all sides to an issue -- which often translates into presenting "both" sides, and means that a journalist looks for person A who believes one thing and person B who believes the opposite. In other words, they're trained in polarity. It sure doesn't encourage open & honest debate.

But you know, online we can ignore the fact that some of us work and some don't, esp. when we all mostly write about our kids. In "real" life it's not so easy. Whether friends work or don't often determines whether they're able to find time to get together... And the complaints that SAHMs have are often different form the complaints of working moms, both on large issues and small ones. Working moms want cheap, quality care for when they're working; SAHMs want cheap, quality, temporary care -- so they can go to the GYN, for example, or have their hair cut. And a SAHM won't bitch to her working neighbor about how her kids are driving her crazy, because she knows her neighbor wishes she had more time with her own kids.

All that said -- I do think that being a part of this kind & generous & thoughtful community is helping me to be nicer in other areas of my life!

Alpha DogMa said...

I complained strenously about the Liberal's proposal. I don't regret that.

That plan seemed to make the blanket assumption that working moms (regardless of gross income) deserve a financial break. While completely disregarding the fact that families with a single income earner (aka SAHMs) might also deserve some financial assistance.

The fractious debates of SAHM vs. Working Moms are all hinged up on the idea of 'choice.'

But for many woman there is no choice. Finances dictate they must work. Lack of education dictates they can not find employment. Husbands, ethnic backgrounds, personal ambitions, or the simple lack of affordable daycare also come into play.

I favour government assistance for childcare. But not for high income earners, regardless of what childcare option they use.

I've 2 friends who made the choice to return to work after they each had 2 children. The combined annual income for their households: one is over $100K, the other over $160K. Do they deserve a rebate. No Fucking Way.

Do I deserve a rebate? NO. It'd be nice, but it will not make break our family. But if the two women I mentioned above get the rebate: then I want it too.

Does Beck's friend the nursing student deserve the rebate? No Shit She Does. She should get it hands down. That is the very ideal circumstance of someone who deserves a break.

Like Beck, I could go on about the reason's I've made about staying at home (and never ever getting out again because it is so bloody cold) with my kids - but it is probably more appropriate to do so back at my site.

Her Bad Mother said...

Perfectly said. Regardless of which side one takes in this debate (if indeed one takes a side - I totally waver between the two), our interests really are the same: happy children, happy families. Banal, I know, but still.

slouching mom said...

Wonderfully written and spot on.

Thank you.

Denguy said...

I seem to have missed this post of yours.

You're right, it is a fine balance. We do what we can; we all do our best.

I'm a SAHF and the rebate goes to my wife. Hmm.

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