In a recent address about expanding work opportunities for women, Obama said that staying home with children is “not a choice we want Americans to make.”
And sometimes, someone, usually mom, leaves the workplace to stay home with the kids, which then leaves her earning a lower wage for the rest of her life as a result. And that’s not a choice we want Americans to make.
This came as part of his call for expanded subsidized daycares and preschools. Now, I actually agree with many of his points about expanding parental leave. But nevertheless, this comment about staying home is something that needs to be addressed.
1. It would be okay if he simply said he didn’t want Americans to be pressured to make such a choice.
It’s true that we don’t want a lack of options forcing people (women or men) into something they don’t want to do. And if mom really doesn’t want to stay at home, then lack of child care is a problem. Every mother and father must make decisions for their own families and children. But if a mom (or dad) wants to stay home with the children, why would that be a choice he doesn’t want Americans to make?
2. This mentality assumes that money is the highest possible value and the purpose of life.
The answer of course is in his sentence. It’s because staying home with kids adversely affects lifetime earnings. Now this is indeed a problem if earnings and money is the highest end of life or highest goal to be achieved. But money is not the highest end, happiness is. Or so said Aristotle about this earthly life of ours. St. Thomas Aquinas amended the highest end to include eternal beatitude. Either way, money is only a means. If a choice brings happiness as such (such as the joy of raising children or family harmony), then it is far greater than numbers in a bank account.
I hope that the president of the United States does not diminish the value of life to nothing more than a monetary calculation.
3. Who is the “we” in that sentence?
He says staying at home is not a choice “we” want Americans to make. Who decides what choices Americans should make and if they are desirable or not? The President? The cabinet? The three branches of government? The intelligentsia? Who? The implication of that answer is more than a little bit scary.
4. Clearly, the “pro-choice” rhetoric doesn’t apply to all choices. Some choices are unpopular.
Mainline feminist rhetoric has long endorsed the value of “choice,” most obviously in the defense of abortion. “Choice” has also been used more legitimately in the women’s movement to affirm the value of work and of staying at home, but not in this case. This really pulls the curtain off of radical feminism and the president’s agenda. He’s not for a woman’s right to choose anything, especially not something as integral to her life caring for her children. Instead, he only supports the “right” to choose what he wants her to choose–an embrace of a particular ideology and the lifestyle that accompanies it.