Friday, October 14, 2011
Pipe Down, Moms - You're Already on the Payroll
Every once in awhile it rises to the surface again - the idea that moms should be paid, or at the minimum that were they paid, they would earn in the six figures, based on everything they do and all the hours they put in. These types of assessments are uplifting and empowering to moms, who feel overworked and undervalued and who, I suspect, are coming to grips with the harsh reality that the cost/benefit analysis of being a mom is slanted severely against their favor.
The most recent exhaltation of maternal worth comes from Wendy Luhabe, an influential South African business woman, who has taken it upon herself to publicly declare that mothers should be paid a salary equal to 10% of their husbands' income, to stay at home with their kids. You can read the article here (thank you to Cameron for sending me the link), but in summary, these are her arguments:
1. Paying moms a salary makes them feel valued, and therefore makes the choice to have children one which is free of resentment.
2. Motherhood is the most important contribution to the world and should therefore be valued. Since money is the currency used to demonstrate value, mothers should be paid 10% of their husband's earnings.
3. Women who choose to have children need support so that they can do so joyfully and not dump their children on nannies.
4. Creating a society where children are brought up properly by their mothers will create a much more stable and healthy society.
I cannot speak specifically to the value of motherhood in South Africa, but let me address Ms. Luhabe's arguments from an American perspective.
1. In America, as in most cultures, motherhood is not only valued, it is seen as as woman's ultimate achievement and the pinacle of her existence. In fact, in most cases, womanhood is equated with motherhood, so that women who cannot (or choose not to be) mothers are pitied, judged and made to feel that they are deficient, unwhole and unfeminine. If anyone has cause for feelings of resentment, it is the childless and childfree women, who are seen as much less than their maternal counterparts.
How is motherhood valued? Let us count the ways. Women are encouraged to have children. The moment a woman announces her pregnancy, lavish praise and celebration is heaped upon her. She instantly becomes the center of attention wherever she goes. She is repeatedly told how beautiful, glowing and radiant she is. Parties and thrown and gifts are showered upon her.
Once the child is born, she enters into the Mommy Club in which she has a ready circle of supportive friends who all validate her very existence. Adding a child to her family also bestows a number of financial benefits on the mom, not available to those without kids. She gets a substantial tax break on her income tax bill. She gets to fully utilize her local property taxes by using the public school system. She gets special treatment and discounts from businesses who go out of their way to be "family-friendly". If she lives in suburbia, her family can take advantage of any number of activities and events that are geared toward families with kids, while those without kids are unlikely to find many (if any) activities geared toward them.
And let's not forget the most important "pay" a mom receives - the joy of having a child. After all, women do not have children to selflessly contribute to the world. They have them for all the joy, love and personal satisfaction they believe they will get from the experience. Women who argue that they should be paid a salary to have kids are unknowingly admitting that the joy and satisfaction they enjoy from having children isn't enough to make the drudgery worth it - which, by the way, is the same argument I have been advancing in this blog from day one.
2. Being that the world is overpopulated, and there are already far more people on earth than the planet can sustain, I would have to disagree with the persistent message that motherhood is the most important contribution to the world. In fact, I would argue that what we need is a reduction in the number of women breeding. We need to encourage people to take care of the people already populating our world, instead of adding more destructive, polluting consumers to a planet teetering on the verge of extinction. Instead of paying women to be stay-at-home mothers, let's pay people to make meaningful, worthwhile contributions to the world that actually benefit everybody and the planet itself - for example, adoption, working to end poverty and homelessness, environmental activism...and the list goes on. Breeding is not a positive contribution to the world. It is a destructive detriment and it should most certainly not be rewarded with monetary compensation. In fact, I will go farther and argue that those who breed should be heavily fined, with the money raised by said fines going to people and organizations which better the world.
3. See my reply in #1 above. Women already receive an abundance of validation, support and financial incentives to have children.
4. While I agree that it is important for children to be brought up properly in stable households, there are many stay-at-home moms who have no parenting skills and no business raising children. It is not a given that all mothers are saintly, benevolent beings and that the best environment for a child is at home with his mother. Almost every day, in my travels to and from work, during my visits to the bank and supermarkets, I witness first-hand mothers who treat their children with an intensity of seething hostility that I would not wish heaped upon a convicted felon. Many of these women are stay-at-home moms who are boiling over with resentment, exhaustion and frustration (and I am sure regret) from the spawn they are saddled with.
Finally, a message to would-be moms. I have said this before, and I will say it again: If you don't like the idea of a job with endless work, sleepless nights, non-stop crying and screaming, financial strain, endless hours of overtime and no pay, it's very simple: don't have kids. Nobody is putting a gun to your head. You can choose to do something different. And ladies, if you do decide to have kids, do us all a favor and don't come back later complaining that you are saddled with endless work, sleepless nights, non-stop crying and screaming, financial strain, endless hours of overtime and no pay. You knew what the job entailed when you accepted it, so if you are resentful about the choice you made, suck it up and accept that you'll be living with that resentment for a long time.
And please, don't ask for a salary.