Should Low-Income Moms Get The Chance to Stay at Home With Their Children?
Or is that only a privilege for the wealthy?
When I found out I that was pregnant with my second child, I was weeks away from transitioning from my part-time position to a full-time one within the same company. I had been excited about finally getting a decent paycheck, benefits, and paid sick/vacation time. It represented stability for my growing family.
But now that another child was on the way, I was concerned about the conversation I needed to have with my boss. I sat across from her, stumbling over my words, and finally just blurted out that I was pregnant.
She smiled and replied, "That's great news. Will you be coming back to work after the baby is born?"
I looked at her, puzzled. What did she mean? Like, will I be coming back to work immediately? A couple more seconds passed and I realized that she was asking me if I planned on being a stay-at-home mom after becoming a mother of two.
Until that very moment, I hadn't 't realized it was an option.
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Sure, I knew some moms were stay-at-home mothers, but I didn't know any personally. All the women in my family? We worked. Sometimes two or three jobs to provide for our families. We may have wanted to be able to spend the first year or two at home with our children, but instead we hauled it back to our offices when the company said so because we didn't have any other choice.
But for low-income women, perhaps that will be changing soon. The proposed Women's Option to Raise Kids (WORK) Act will allow child care to satisfy the work activity requirements for the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program. This act will give low-income women the opportunity to stay at home with their children for up to 3 years while still receiving welfare benefits.
Rep. Pete Stark (Calif.) told the Huffington Post that he and other Democrats decided to introduce the bill after some flip-flopping by presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. In January 2012, Romney said all women, even those with children younger than 2 years old, should be in the workforce to give them the "dignity of work." However, after the recent firestorm about his wife, Ann, having been a stay-at-home mother all her life, Romney seemed to change course a bit, saying, "All mothers are working mothers."
"Mitt Romney was for forcing mothers into the workforce before he decided that 'All moms are working moms,'" Rep. Stark said. "I think we should take Mr. Romney at his most recent word and change our federal laws to recognize the importance and legitimacy of raising young children. That's why I'm introducing the WORK Act to provide low-income parents with the option of staying home to raise young children without fear of being pushed into poverty."
At first glance, I'm all for it. If these women were to enter the workforce, they would find that child care is often cost-prohibitive, eating up much of their paychecks. They would probably need to turn to vouchers or other child care programs to help subsidize part of the cost. Either way, it is incredibly difficult for low-income families to both earn a living wage and find suitable child care options.
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Critics of the bill will undoubtedly say that mothers should plan better before having their children, claiming it isn't the government's job to provide for your family while you stay home. And you know what? I completely understand why some would say that. We don't value motherhood in this country. Not for those in the workforce or those outside of it. Mothers are damned if they do and damned if they don't.
I fully believe that all mothers should have the opportunity to stay home with their children for as long as it is feasible for their family. What kind of start does a family get off to if the mom is back at work months before she wanted to, or when a child is in a subpar day care because that's all that was available once maternity leave was up?
I applaud the legislators for introducing this act. But I hope it doesn't end there. Let's work toward eliminating the pay gap. Let's get mandatory paid maternity leave. Stronger policies for mothers means stronger families which creates stronger communities.