May 29, 1998
By Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D.
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
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
Washington-based public policy research institute.
What Stay-At-Home Moms Do
Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D.
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