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May 29, 1998

What Stay-At-Home Moms Do

By

Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., proudly wears the mantle of "children's advocate." What this means is that he likes showering federal tax dollars on noble-sounding programs with "children" in their titles. But when it comes to actual kids-and the mothers who care for them-Dodd has a lot to learn.

Case in point: During Senate debate over daycare legislation that would give tax relief to families in which both mom and dad are working, Sen. Dodd argued against giving stay-at-home moms a similar break. He cast them as self-pampering socialites with a yen to "play golf or go to the club and play cards."

Of course, no one who actually knows what stay-at-home moms do and how much they sacrifice for their kids could ever characterize them as sun-bronzed clubhouse loungers.

Research by my colleague Robert Rector found that in 1996 the median income of married couples with kids was $57,637 when both parents worked outside the home. When the mother stayed home, family income fell to $38,835-hardly a sum to conjure visions of the idle rich.

Why do so many mothers endure this financial goring? Because the desire to nurture their young children is strong and heroic enough to override material considerations. Even today, when the Church of Consumerism sometimes seems the Republic's established faith, only 18 percent of preschoolers have mothers who work full time outside the home. Many do so out of sheer necessity because state and federal taxes take so much of what their husbands earn.

Dozens of Internet sites support stay-at-home moms-and not by sharing suntan secrets or canasta strategies. One listed resource says it all: "Miserly Moms: Living on One Income in a Two-Income Economy." Such a mom writes, "We are a family of five living on $25,000 a year. We spend $70 a week on groceries because we buy what we need, not want." Another enthuses about money-saving recipes for everything from fruit roll-ups to household cleaners.

Julie Hoffman of Mt. Clemens, Mich., gave up a good job to be with her three young boys. "The hardest thing," she says, "is giving them all individual attention. The oldest needs a playmate, but I have to keep track of the others at the same time." Julie feels "much more" fulfilled as a full-time mother, but admits "you never get a break from it." She has adapted her sleeping schedule to that of her youngest, who often wakes at 3 a.m. hungry as Simba the lion cub.

"Tennis?" she says. "I have three or four hours a month to do something for me." She lives this way because "too many kids today don't get the attention they need."

Beth Mixson of Jacksonville, Fla., traded a 60-hour-a-week public-relations job for her current all-consuming occupation in which she works "well, let's see, what's 24 times 7?" she quips. A successful deal to her these days is getting her 2 ½-year-old son to eat his next bite of potatoes. "Feeding someone with a spoon takes a lot of time," she says.

When her boys-she also has a 4 ½-year-old-were a little younger, Beth read them up to 20 books a day. Now she spends a lot of time on "socialization"-teaching them that words, not plastic hammers, are the best tools of conflict resolution. "Bridge?" she says. "To me that's something you make with blocks to drive little toy cars across."

These women aren't asking for medals-but what about simple tax fairness, Sen. Dodd?

Note: Edwin Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research institute.

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