Are We Entitled?
Introducing . . .
Hi, I’m Miriam Peskowitz, and starting now, I’ll be blogging here at MomsRising.org. I’m the author of a book called The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars: Who Decides What Makes a Good Mother. I also write a blog of my own, Playground Revolution.com. My dreams about motherhood, parenting, and families share quite a lot with those of Kristin and Joan and the whole team behind MomsRising and the Motherhood Manifesto. Like them, I see the big picture. I’m confident that political and cultural change could make family life and work easier.
I’m excited to be adding my voice here at MomsRising, and glad to be on board.
Are We Entitled?
Several months ago I was part of a panel at the Virginia Festival of the Book called “Work and Family: A Candid Discusssion,” alongside Barbara Ehrenreich of Nickel and Dimed fame, and Andrea Buchanan, author of MotherShock. The audience was lively and a terrific conversation ensued. The cameras from C-SPAN 2 were running the entire time, and the panel was broadcast for all to see on Book TV.
During that discussion, I dared to suggest that the costs of childcare shouldn't fall on workers alone. I may even have paired that outrageous statement with an announcement that California now offers twelve weeks of paid family leave, that it's a good thing, and that other states, such as New Jersey and Massachusetts, might be following suit.
At the panel, lots of people nodded. After the broadcast, these suggestions provoked one viewer to write in and call me an “entitlement whore.”
That's right. Who, we must ask, needs us to be at work so many hours of the week? Not hardworking moms and dads. Many of them would prefer to work fewer hours for more decent wages, and see their kids more. A heavily guarded truth about our society is this: it is not those of us who work who care the most about our jobs, it's the employers. It may seem counterintuitive. It may take some time to get it, but ultimately, that's right, it's those who make a true profit from our work who have the most at stake in our working. They care more than we do. Without all of us working, there is no productivity. Without productivity, there are no profits. You don't need a PhD in economics to figure that out.
One of the many mystifications about caring for young children in our country is the belief that it should be a private cost, a cost shouldered by an individual mom or dad who also holds a paying job. Businesses have lobbied long and hard to keep us believing that. The result is our god-awful system of childcare that's often not so great for kids, anxiety-producing for parents, and pays its own workers barely livable wages. Those who have access to and can afford good childcare, consider yourself lucky. Consider yourself among the top 20% of income earners in the country. Then look around at those other childcare centers, the ones you would never ever consider putting your kids in, and ask about the other 80% who use them. If this sounds harsh, know that I mean it in the best, most generous and caring sense. It can feel unsettling to reflect on what one can afford that others can't; it can be angering to think about what you can't afford that others can. I think this looking around can be uplifting; those of us--myself included--with some economic and cultural privilege in our nation need to keep our eyes open, even when it hurts. Even though we often feel alienated and silenced and powerless, we're the ones who are closer to having a political voice in our nation, and my new goal in life is to help us figure out how to find and use those voices.
But back to topic:
We've been persuaded that childcare is a private cost, kind of like a yearly vacation to Disney World. It's something extra.
Well, it is something extra, and it isn't. The question of who shoulders this extra cost should be up for question. Currently we think of childcare as an extra, not a necessity. K-12 education is seen as a necessity, still, and funded collectively. I'd like to see us debate which category--extra or social necessity--childcare falls in. I think it belongs in the latter category, and that we need to shift from seeing it as extra to seeing it as a necessity. In the long run, childcare costs should be shared by all who pay corporate taxes in America. After all, they're the ones who really, truly need us to work. And they're the ones who have been getting quite the tax cuts lately. Childcare should be seen as part of the employer's cost of doing business in our country. If that cost is shared, then each of us and each of them would barely feel it.
If that makes me an entitlement whore, so be it.
I'm sure I'm in good company.
(And for those who complain about the cost of such a shifting in tax priorities, and are sure we can't afford it, repeat after me ten times: billions spent in Iraq, billions spent in Iraq, billions spent in Iraq.....)