The January 14 Democrat presidential debate was the last before primary voting begins in the Iowa caucuses. When the questions moved into child care, each of the answers exhibited more concern for the workforce than for the children their proposals would push into an institutional child-care system. The message was clear: moms belong at work, cranking out capital, and kids belong in daycare.
Was it just me or did all of the candidates seem to think that the place for Mom is at work and the place for baby is daycare?
— Caitlin Flanagan (@CaitlinPacific) January 15, 2020
Des Moines Register chief politics reporter and debate moderator Brianne Pfannenstiel asked: “Many families don’t have the option of quitting a job, because that little bit of income is needed. That leads to families using whatever care they can find, and sometimes the results are deadly, as we’ve seen in Iowa over the last few years. How will you prioritize accessing quality, affordable, child care in your first 100 days in office?”
“I meet professionals who sometimes say that they’re working in order to be able to afford child care in order to be working,” Pete Buttigieg responded. “We shouldn’t be afraid to put federal dollars into making that a reality… And we can do that, and until we do, this will be one of the biggest drivers of the gender pay gap. Because when somebody like the voter asking the question has to step out of the workforce for that reason, she is at a disadvantage when she comes back in, and that can affect her pay for the rest of her career.”
As has been shown, much of the sexes’ pay gap is a result of women choosing to leave the economic workforce to enter the work of motherhood. They do this because in so many ways, raising a child is more fulfilling than either career-oriented work or wage labor.
Little inside baseball- some women want to be the primary childcare providers for their children and find joy and satisfaction in doing so
— Rebeccah Heinrichs (@RLHeinrichs) January 15, 2020
“I’ve been there,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren said, bringing in her own experiences. “I remember when I was a young mom… it was child care that nearly brought me down… And I think about how many women of my generation just got knocked off the track and never got back on. How many of my daughter’s generation get knocked off the track and don’t get back on. How many mommies and daddies today are getting knocked off the track and never get back on.”
The image that we are on tracks from the time we are very young, and don’t want to veer off them, belies the exuberance and real spontaneity of our ability to make choices and not stick with what we’ve been given. The consistent language about how hard it is to raise children makes it seem like kids are a burden. Raising children is not easy, but most moms would rather do it than foist off the responsibility onto someone else.
“Every psychologist in the world knows,” Sen. Bernie Sanders chimed in, “zero through four are the most important years of human life, intellectually and emotionally. And yet our current child-care system is an embarrassment, it’s unaffordable. Child-care workers are making wages lower than McDonald’s workers. We need to fundamentally change priorities in America. We should not be one of the few countries that does not have universal, affordable, high-quality child care.”
This is a call for taxpayer-funded daycare so moms can go right back to work after telling us that every expert agrees zero to four are the most important developmental years. Which is it, Bernie?
“There should be free universal infant care,” said Joe Biden. “Every child, from three, four, five years old, will in fact have full schooling, and afterschool, which will relieve some of the burden. Secondly, I think we should have an $8,000 tax credit which would put 7 million back to work, they could afford to go back to work, and still care for their children.”
Each candidate is so focused on making sure that parents can be away from their children for eight or more hours a day that they have completely lost sight of the fact that this is not really what moms want to do. Moms spend nine months carrying their children, and once those children are born, being away from them to earn a living pales in comparison to the urgent need to protect, nurture, and care.
This is not something I believed before having a child. Raised by an absent mom who pursued a career and a present step-mother who was dedicated to child care gave me a unique perspective on the value of both women’s choices. But as a mother myself, nothing could have induced me to return to a 40-hour work week, and while my income has suffered for it, my life is far richer.
Condoleezza Rice and Valerie Jarrett joined Leslie Stahl on her “Eye-Opening Women” series on CBS in 2013. Stahl remarked that “women need to tell their daughters they can have it all.” But both Rice and Jarrett, who served at high levels in the White House under George W. Bush and Barack Obama respectively, disagreed fully.
“Well, there are phases to life,” Rice said. “You can’t have it all in every moment, every moment cannot contain ‘it all.’ For every moment to contain it all every moment would have to be ten moments long.”
Jarret agreed. “I could not have done this job when my daughters were little, I just could not have done it.” She wanted to mother when her children were small, and when they were grown, she stepped back into a professional life.
That’s because yes, women can have it all, but we can’t have it all at once. There’s nothing wrong with that admission. We don’t want our lives to be exactly the same, day in, day out, from the first moment we step through those nursery school doors until retirement. We want to fill our lives with love more than we want to fill it with pay stubs. Parenting isn’t just for weekends, it’s for life.
There are more ways to find fulfillment and meaning in life than through pursuit of career or income, but you wouldn’t know that from any of the answers that came from the debate stage. Instead, the idea is that parents should give over their children to be raised by someone else, relinquishing those years that can never be replicated to chasing carrots of achievement that may pay off financially but never recoup the rewards of loving relationships.
These candidates want to legislate how we work, how we parent, and how we live, and they offer little in return but a set of tracks, from which we must not diverge.