When I was a child, the president and congress decided parenting (mothering) was not what American women should focus on. Single moms ought to work for every penny, and paying a daycare worker through government reimbursement was better than compensating parents for their own childcare labor.
The Personality Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act signed by President Bill Clinton codified the relative lack of importance of children and their parents. It declared poor mothers needed to get back to work, as if parenting wasn’t one of the most important jobs there is. A mother’s first job became earning money, with mothering squeezed in around it.
We did not at any point make reasonable allowances for how this change would impact children, or how it would change what parenting looks like. Mothers who are present in the home are “lazy” and mothers who are employed outside the home are “neglectful”. We’re all sinners here.
In many ways, moms today are busier than ever. They work more hours outside the home with no reduction of home life responsibilities. Moms living with the father of their children do over two-thirds of the family housekeeping and childcare, regardless of work hours. Single moms have even less help. Mothers today spend more quality time with their children than moms in the 1960s or 1980s. But you’d never guess it by public sentiment.
Yet we act shocked, outraged, and scandalized by the notion a child might slip away or maternal attention might lag at an important moment. How dare women not make childcare their absolute priority? How dare they over schedule and need to answer work emails from their phone at the playground? How dare they spend the most time with their children since surveys began?! Most isn’t ALL!
We’ve, governmentally, officially declared that being a mother is not a job, that it should not be compensated labor, and that a mother’s first duty is to earn money. We decided twenty years ago that mothering was supposed to fit in the margins of a work schedule, not the other way around. Yet we expect perfect job performance at all times or another branch of government will get called in.
I think parenting is important. I think it’s labor. I think it should be compensated. But the United States government doesn’t.