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Pity the Stay-at-home Moms

Reported by Judy - October 21, 2004 -

You can take the News Hound away from the blog, but you can't take the blog out of the News Hound. When I read USA Today's interviews with Laura Bush and Teresa Heinz-Kerry yesterday, I immediately knew what Fox and Friends would be twittering about today (Oct. 21).

The co-hosts raked Heinz-Kerry over the coals for her incorrect statement that Laura Bush has not had a real job, when in fact she was a school librarian and teacher for a few years. Heinz-Kerry later apologized but Karen Hughes said the campaign wasn't satisfied and that she had insulted stay-at-home moms because she did not count that as a real job.

Co-host E.D. Hill said that Fox's viewership is "pretty evenly split ideologically" and all their phone calls and e-mails had been critical of Heinz-Kerry. (Evenly split between what? Conservatives and radical conservatives?)

If stay-at-home moms are incensed at Heinz-Kerry's comments, they must really be insulted by federal welfare policies which reflect the same belief that staying home with kids is not a real job -- unless you are a white, suburban mom with a husband who supports you. Poor mothers can be forced into the job market by rules that limit lifetime welfare benefits to five years. If the federal government thought taking care of kids were a real job, it would be encouraging states to allow mothers to stay home rather than forcing them into minimum-wage jobs which can barely support them. Although Clinton went along with the policy, welfare-for-work (without adquate child care, job training, and educational programs to help with the transition) has long been a Republican priority. Some states have even tinkered with limiting welfare payments to two or three children. Now that's pro-life.

Raising children is important. No one disputes that. But is staying home with children a real job? I'm not willing to say unequivocably that it is. It depends.

Staying home with five kids, as my mother did in the 1950s, without air conditioning, a dishwasher, automatic washer and dryer, disposable diapers, permanent press fabrics, fast food, or even a second car -- that was work, for sure. Washing diapers for two children in a wringer-washer, lugging heavy baskets of wet clothes up the basement steps and hanging them on a clothes line while you are pregnant with the third child -- that is work. Canning tomatoes in a hot kitchen in August in addition to all the other responsibilities -- that is work. Mending clothes, patching the knees of blue jeans (who does that anymore?) in the evenings after everything else was done, that is work. Yet even my mom may have thought herself lucky compared to her own mother who raised five children in the 1930s while doing farm work on top of taking care of a house without running water, central heating, or few electrtical appliances.

In the twenty-first century, I can't bring myself to say that staying home with two or three healthy kids is work. It's important. But it's not full-time labor. Throw a load of towels in the washer and then the dryer, toss the dirty diapers in the trash can, pick up a couple bushel baskets of toys off the family room floor -- can you work up a sweat doing that? Sit on the floor with your pre-schooler and put puzzles together, read Dr. Seuss, and point at the pictures -- that's important. But it's fun, not work.

Buckle them in the mini-van and chauffeur them to pre-school, ballet lessons, piano lessons, soccer games, baseball games, swimming lessons. That's nice. It may keep a mom busy, but it's not work. Especially if you have time to run and get your nails done while they're practicing their scales.

What is work, is doing all that, or making sure it gets done, around the demands of a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job with the pressure of deadlines, nasty bosses, inadequate child care, arranging for care for sick kids -- that is not only work, it is work with stress piled on top of it.

I worked outside the home for thirty years but have stayed home the last three and there is no comparison. Parents who willingly stay at home today, with children they conceived by choice, are not oppressed. They are among the most privileged people in society. What they do is important. But it is not always work.

Having said that, I am going to hunker down in my bunker and wait for the wrath of non-working moms to explode.