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Lori Rivas: The value of a stay-at-home mother’s work

Posted: June 5, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: June 5, 2012 2:00 a.m.

When Hilary Rosen remarked that Ann Romney “has actually never worked a day in her life,” the national debate about the value of motherhood largely bypassed Santa Clarita. Such a fact is practically an understood truth in our town: Stay-at-home mothering is valuable work and a noble use of time.

It’s no secret that families are big business here in Santa Clarita. It’s one of the city’s main selling points. Much of our development, our activities, our venues, are geared toward serving families with kids.

Even our predominantly conservative politics support the work of motherhood: For the last 30 years, the Republican party has shaped itself around a theme of family values.

Patricia McKeon has listed motherhood as a qualifying credential for public office. Laurie Ender parlayed her PTA mothering duties into civic leadership. Heck, I’m a stay-at-home mom, too — a home-schooler, to boot! — and embrace the financial sacrifices, in order to make that happen.

Remember the backlash when Hillary Clinton said, “I didn’t just stay home and bake cookies?” Made me want to bake cookies every day!

“All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” — Abraham Lincoln

A recent Facebook meme translated motherhood into marketable positions — personal chef, childcare, cleaning service, laundress and chauffeur — and tallied a total estimated annual value of a stay-at-home mom at more than $100,000. No doubt stay-at-home mothers deliver a worthwhile service. No doubt they work as hard, if not more so, than their partners, who work outside the home.

Don’t we all agree that stay-at-home mothers perform valuable labor? That the children, and, by extension, society, as a whole, benefit from the work of stay-at-home mothers?

I think we can reach an easy consensus on that one.

Except if the mother is poor. Then the stay-at-home mother is a welfare queen, right? Then there is no value in the work she does, no value in the time she spends with her kids, no benefit in the cooking, cleaning, laundry and shuttling she performs.

In the case of poverty, it is more important for a welfare mother to work, right? That her children, and, by extension, society, benefit more from her absence, than her presence.

How does that follow, exactly?

Too often, welfare moms are dubbed “lazy” parents who are “milking” the system.

Are the stay-at-home moms you know “lazy?” Are they “milking” their husband’s paycheck? Would you ever, publicly, and without apology, categorize middle-class stay-at-home moms as leeches on society?

But what about the welfare kids? Isn’t that what most government aid is based upon — improving the lives of children?

If your children benefit from having a stay-at-home parent, why wouldn’t a poor child benefit from the same?

Don’t you see the contradiction?

Do you really value stay-at-home mothers, or only those who can afford to do so, independent of outside help? Is there, truly, inherent value in a parent staying at home, or isn’t there?

Why, in the name of all that is sacred, is there even a debate about whether poor children, and caring for them, have worth beyond measure?

One of the biggest arguments for dismantling the welfare system involves demonizing poor people: If we can label the poor as “other,” then we do not empathize, and society does not have a moral responsibility to help. It is a haggard device, to label “others,” in order to relinquish responsibility. Same argument was used to support slavery. For the slaughter of indigenous Americans. For the Holocaust.

How about that good Samaritan story? Which neighbor are you loving?

“Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses.” — Proverbs 28:27

My theology makes it abundantly clear that I am responsible to care for the poor, as I would care for myself. All parents should have the choice of staying home to care for their own children.  I’d gladly pay more taxes, if it meant that all kids could have a stay-at-home parent.

Put your tax dollars where your mouth is, and support the mothers of poor children, in the same manner that you purport to support mothers of middle- and upper-class women. Value the work of all stay-at-home mothers.

An economy is just only if each citizen is comfortable with, and would switch places with, those on the lowest rung. Would you be willing to trade your child’s comfortable Santa Clarita life for that of a child dependent on welfare?

Increasing the work requirement for single parents who receive welfare does not benefit children, and does not benefit society. It may benefit the taxpayer’s pocketbook, but at what expense? Is your moral duty to save money, or is it to support children?

One might argue, even, that a welfare mother who struggles to make ends meet on a tight budget, to keep her kids safe in a dangerous neighborhood, to create a healthful menu while living in a food desert, and juggles the gauntlet of government red tape, works even harder than those who parent in the lap of luxury.

Does Ann Romney work? For sure. But she doesn’t work as hard as a poor mother. None of us do.

Lori Rivas, amateur opinionator and recipient of zero awards, lives across the border in Newhall, and is hoping that the voices in her head will bother you, too.


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