The Price of Motherhood

I read this terrific book a couple of weeks ago, The Price of Motherhood by Ann Crittenden. I had intended to blog about it when it was still fresh in my mind, but one of the prices of motherhood is that that is a distant dream. (Although I guess I should be grateful that the fact that I am still f-ing breastfeeding this child means that I have time – during feedings – to read.) Another price of motherhood is that nothing, I mean nothing, stays “fresh” in your mind. Motherhood is like having the door to the refrigerator that is your mind always open. When I started reading articles earlier this year with studies “proving” that motherhood does not, in fact, make you more stupid, I started laughing. I suppose it doesn’t actually make you more stupid. It’s just like that device used in “Harrison Bergeron,” where smart people have to wear a device that sends blasts of horrible, thought-interupting noises into your head every five minutes, so you can never complete a really good thought.

But I have some time now, assuming my daughter stays asleep for another little bit, and Jason already went downstairs and I don’t think he knows I’m up, so there’s no one for me to take care of at the moment and maybe I can get this entry written already.
It was a really terrific book and made me very angry at several points. Fortunately, it also reminded me that, while, apparently, most men are evil, the men I know personally, like my husband and my father, are not. I guess it’s a good thing I already know them, because otherwise, after reading this book, I’d be starting a radical lesbian feminist army the intention of which would be to kill all men for having proved to be not only useless but damaging for several thousand years now.
“Oh, don’t be silly, Ricki. Most men are not evil.” Oh, really? And I quote: “. . . income earned or controlled by mothers is more likely to be spent on children than income controlled by fathers. ” Crittenden cites an article done for the Population Council and International Center for Research on Women. “Economists now believe that mothers are so much more likely than fathers to invest in children’s health and education that the surest way to promote economic growth in poor countries is to educate and empower girls.” There, she’s citing a working paper from Lawrence H. Summers, written for the World Bank Policy Research Working Paper. (Oddly, he’s the guy who stepped down as president of Harvard because he said that thing about women not being good at math. His name keeps coming up in my readings, for things other than that, and it becomes increasingly clear to me that that quote about women was taken way out of context and that’s not really what he meant at all. But don’t worry; he’s doing okay. He’s currently the director of the National Economic Council.)
I’m going to quote a couple of paragraphs in full:
“Studies conducted on five continents have found that children are distinctly better off when the mother possesses enough income and authority in the family to make investing in children a priority. As one survey put it, there is ‘considerable empirical evidence, across diverse cultures and income groups,’ that women have a higher propensity than men ‘to spend on goods that benefit children and enhance their capacities.’ (from Intrahousehold Resource Allocation in Developing Countries) Even more provocative is the considerable evidence that children’s welfare is enhanced not just when mothers have their ‘own money’ but when no man is able to challenge maternal priorities. Two researchers summarize this potentioal dynamite in the dry language of social science: ‘Evidence is growing that the internal distribution of resources in female-headed households is more child-oriented than in male-headed households.’ (from ‘Gender, Adjustment and Macroeconomics,’ in World Development 23) In other words, matriarchy, the original family arrangement, may turn out to be the optimal one after all.
Reserachers in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia, and the Indian subcontinent have all found that when mothers are educated and have some control over the family income, children are healthier, get more schooling, and will eventually have a greater earning capacity, with all that implies for economic prosperity. The sad truth is that quite a bit of income in the hands of men seems to find its way into bars and the pockets of cigarette companies, among other fleeing pleasures (from World Bank, Toward Gender Equality: The Role of Public Policy). ‘It is widely perceived,’ one report (“Understanding How Resources Are Allocated Within Households”) notes, ‘and supported by a mass of case study material that, relative to women, men spend more of the income under their own control for their own consumption. Alcohol, cigarettes, status consumer goods, even ‘female companionship’ are noted in the literature.’ “
Crittenden follows with several stories from across the developing world indicated that in female-headed households, all members of the household eat more and eat better, and that much more of the money in female-headed households goes towards things that will benefit the whole household.
“But, Ricki,” you say, “this is a developing world problem. The men in these countries do not have the sophistication to be good fathers like the ones in ours.” Okay. I will admit that, again, the men I know personally do not behave like this. Jason gets just as big a rush buying Zoe toys as he does buying himself toys, and his latest toy is equally used by both of them. My father spent lavishly on his children’s education. My stepfather has a few spendy hobbies but we were all well-nourished and well-educated. Even my uncle, who has no children of his own and, if he wanted to, could spend all his money on toys and pleasures for himself, instead invests in his extended family. The children of his brother and his cousin benefit from his money.
But increasingly I see that my own family is the exception, not the rule.
It was hard for me to decide which chapter pissed me off the most, the chapter I quoted above about the degree to which money in a female-controlled household was allocated to the household whereas money in a male-controlled household was allocated to the head male, or the one about child support in this country. Which, it seems, men don’t want to pay. For instance, she tells the story of the changing of the law in 1992 in California so that, basically, mothers would be awarded more in child support. And men protested. Actually, men’s second wives protested, which I guess is understandable, but the men stood around doing nothing. Except, you know, not paying up. And it’s not just California, it’s everywhere. Men apparently do everything they can to lower their child support payments and to pay as little as the can get away with, legally, and then, when that fails, to simply not pay. And I just don’t know how men justify this to themselves. I know in their heads, the money is not going to their children, but to their ex-wives, who, by virtue of not sleeping with them anymore (or possibly more legitimate reasons than that) are heinous bitches who don’t deserve it. But, dude, that kind of emotional reaction should be what you work to tamp down because you know deep in your heart that your CHILDREN, of whom you are the FATHER, need your financial support and frankly, deserve to be living the same lifestyle you are. But it’s not just that vaguely shameful emotional reaction that, as adults, they work to suppress; it’s the basis of entire political movements. Men – even wealthy men who can easily afford to pay for their children – ORGANIZE POLITICALLY in order to not pay for their children. It’s so disgusting I can’t handle it. (Of course, I do know men like this, who I will not mention here, because it’s not nice. But fortunately, the men most directly concerned with my life are not like this.)
One of the more interesting stories related to this was a story in which an economics professor was asked to be an expert witness for a divorce case for a lower-middle-class family, and turned over to her class the assignment of figuring out how to fairly allocate resources after the divorce. One thing they learned is that, even if resources are fairly allocated, everyone’s standard of living drops rather dramatically. They decided that everyone should have the same standard of living post-divorce, and that to make that happen, the husband would have to turn over 3/5 of his income to his ex-wife and THEIR four children. And the point, I believe, is not so much that the husband and wife should share the financial burden of a divorce equally (which, without children, is debatable – and I mean sincerely that I can see both sides of an argument about that) but that the CHILDREN should not suffer disproportionately financially when they will already be suffering in other ways. The students were shocked to learn that all their economic wrangling over who should get what was for naught – the court decided that the husband should get to keep most of his income and that the mother who was being left with sole custody of FOUR CHILDREN, including an infant, could get by on $15,000 a year. It’s one of those cases where what you learned in kindergarten about fairness is more useful and morally supportable than how adults who run things do it.
Which brings me to the next point. Not only are men evil, but the government is evil, too. The total lack of support for the job of taking care of children is astounding. It’s almost overwhelming to get into a rant about it now, but seriously. Judges routinely sneer at stay-at-home moms in divorce cases, arguing that they should simply get jobs, but a) employers don’t like looking at “blanks” in your resume caused by you doing the work of motherhood, and b) there’s no or limited government-sponsored, affordable child care. Unless you’re in the military. And I don’t want to be the kind of person who’s all, “Why do our troops deserve this kind of support but not the rest of us,” because I think that if you volunteer to be in the military, to train your body the way they do, to put yourself in physical danger the way they do, and to put your life in the hands of the government, letting them tell you where to live and for how long and what use your skills will be put to, then the government damn well better make the deal as sweet as possible for you. I’m all for extra goodies for military personnel. But I bring up the military’s excellent day care system because it proves that it’s doable – training day care workers and subsidizing day care so that everyone who’s able and wants to work in fields other than child care can, and everyone who wants to work in the field of child care can be well-trained and reasonably paid. It can happen; that it doesn’t happen in the non-military world is evidence that the government doesn’t really give a shit about children. Or mothers.
Reading about France and Sweden really made me sick. In France you get a YEAR of paid leave. And if you’re a single mother, you get all kinds of subsidies for nannies and stuff. AND government-sponsored FREE day care starts when the kid is THREE. In Sweden, the workday is being cut back to resemble the school day, and both mothers and fathers get A FULL YEAR. PAID. They live in this dreamland. It’s unbelievable. And, yes, I know they pay a lot of taxes. It doesn’t matter. It’s so worth it. My husband had to argue with his company for them to allow him to take ONE UNPAID DAY (in addition to five paid days) to stay home with me. “We really frown on you taking unpaid vacation time,” they said. “Unless it’s for something really important.” “The birth of my first child?” he said. “Well . . . if you must, you must.” Honestly.
All of this really made me want to do something. Start a political organization. I mean, I already want to; I just don’t know how. But I’m still stuck on this idea of, like, a Real Family Values coalition, which would fight for things like government-subsidized day care, and enforcement of child support payments and equity in divorce, and all the other things I like, like more playgrounds and gay marriage and stuff. How do I do this?

One thought on “The Price of Motherhood

  1. RebLeah18 says:

    Wow. I mean, just wow. Have you read Half the Sky? They discuss the same statistic about women and money and children, but more in reference to developing countries. I work at a RELIGIOUS institution and I only get eight weeks unpaid leave, which is actually two weeks LONGER than the state requires, and that is only because one of the women in the office pointed out that daycare won't TAKE your children until eight weeks. You should totally start an org. But at you may find some NGOs who do what you want to support. Just not in the U.S. where we're in complete denial that we have a problem!

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