If you think about it, stay-at-home parents are the only individuals who work full-time with no pay. And although there are both stay-at-home mothers and fathers, mothers make up more than 80% of that population. I’ve often heard of the roles of parents as ‘the lord’s work’ growing up. They are expected to cook, clean, and care for the physical and mental well-being of their children without any pay. When women take on the responsibilities of being a parent, it becomes an automatic acceptance that she will give all of her time and strength to others. It certainly does not have to be that way.
The pandemic toll
The Covid-19 pandemic brought on unexpected shortcomings in the education system specifically. Forbes writer Holly Corbett interviewed Reshma Saujani, the CEO and founder of Girls Who Code. She talked about her experience as a working mother through the pandemic.
“The breaking point for me was when schools closed again in New York City. When most public school districts decided to do hybrid learning, they didn’t ask mothers if we would take this on. They just assumed that we would do it. You realize how little they value our labor.“
Mothers suddenly became a teacher, parent, cook, and employee without any external support. The unpaid work that stay-at-home mothers take on estimates to be about “$10 trillion in the global economy each year.” The sheer workload these mothers take on is inconceivable to me. Moreover, due to the biological nature of being a mother, it is extremely hard to balance work with a child. In addition, each state negotiates maternity leave; there is no basis of agreement. The expectation of one parent being able to financially support an entire family is not realistic and is rooted in misogyny.
The act of work is typically seen as a forty-hour workweek or more, working eight hours a day. No employer expects employees to work past that allotted time. However, stay-at-home mothers work 14-hour days on average or a 98-hour workweek. Mental health cannot be a priority when the average stay-at-home mother has just 1.7 hours of free time. Sure, working part-time as a mother is possible. However, the lack of acknowledgment from the U.S. government for homemaking labor strains mothers all across the country. Former U.S. presidential candidate Andrew Yang explored the true definition of work during his campaign. He talked about his wife’s experience as the mother of two children compared to his work:
“The question is: What do we mean by work? I know my wife is working harder than I am, and I’m running for president. And right now, the market values her work at zero. So we have to think bigger about what we mean by work and value.”
Child tax credit
President Biden passed child tax credit payments as a part of his American Rescue Plan. Families are beginning to see the benefits of that decision this month as the payments begin. Parents with children under 6 qualify for about $300 a month, while children aged 6 to 17 qualify for about $250. On average, a child costs around $795 a month. This depends on the socio-economic class and location. The credit does help with the time and money each child needs. However, it does not alleviate the real problem: the difficulty to work while caregiving. The credit also stops by the end of this year as an “emergency relief program.” Covid-19 spurred this action, but we have needed it for decades. If the extenuation of the credit is not approved, the outlook for the future can seem dire. Saujani spoke on the benefits of the pandemic:
“I always say, never waste a good crisis. Covid has shined a light on everything that is fundamentally broken. It has shined a light on the fact that we treat mothers as a social safety net. If we don’t invest now in getting women’s participation in the workforce back to what it was, it will dramatically affect our country now and in the next generation.“
The cost of living is always going up. Redistributive policies such as the child tax credit have a severe lack of permanence despite their financial urgency. Mothers still make 71 cents to every dollar a man makes despite the current financial crisis. In all, the credit is the bare minimum when considering the cost of being a parent. However, it is the start of a system that could reshape the recognition of parenting as a career.
Some would argue that since being a parent is a choice, the mother has to deal with the consequences. However, the issue of this opposition is not in the choice of parenthood. Although parenthood is often a decision that women make in their lives, the issue is in the discriminatory expectation of women. Parenthood should be a choice made by two people or a willing single individual, each taking on equal amounts of responsibility. And if anyone becomes a single parent, they should have the monetary freedom to be able to support themselves and their children. Women taking the brunt of this issue is inherently one-sided.
Some also say that paid stay-at-home mothers enforce the gendered stereotype of women staying at home. As an issue, this is past the point of partisan motives. I see this as an issue of unpaid labor for thousands of years. Not to mention, building a family is ingrained in women as the utmost priority. Society teaches to see motherly love as the overarching payment for countless hours of work. And although affection can come from a mother-child bond, it is one characteristic of this decision. Women in the workplace is an area that constantly needs development, not depreciation.
Mothers have no days off. We should at least recognize them for their work that goes unnoticed.