Work, daycare and the absence of both Pt 2

I finished part 1 of this series by questioning why it was so hard for mothers to re-enter the workforce after taking time off to care for their young children. The previous post wasn’t strictly about daycare but the undervaluation of a mother’s role and experiences is an important consideration when discussing the interactions between women, daycare and the workplace.

In the Globe & Mail article,

I am quoted saying:

“Right now, I will be paying more in child care than I will make at work part-time, but I will keep my job, my benefits and my continuity of employment. The money that it is costing me to go back to work, I see it as an investment in my career.”

During our chat, I mentioned being lucky to be able to work for less than I pay in childcare. My husband and I don’t view childcare expenses as being tied to my income. In other words, it’s not about whether or not I can afford to go back to work with infant twins and a preschooler but whether or not our family can afford it. My husband and I throw all our income into a big vat known as a bank account and expenses are drawn from that vat, regardless of who wrote the cheque. But ultimately, family finances come down to dollars and cents and if our family didn’t have the resources to cover the difference between what comes in and what comes out, I would have to leave my job. Roma asked: “Would that be a big deal for you? What would this mean to you?”

What would this mean to me? I believe that in the realm of employment, my family’s immediate interest and long term interest are in conflict. I believe that a baby’s place is with its mother. I’ll even raise it one notch and say that for the first two years of life, a baby needs very little else than mama’s breast and comforting touch. Attached to their mothers’ bodies, babies want for nothing for their needs are deceivingly simple: they need food, care and affection and their mother is wired to provide all of the above, no matter how unappealing some women find it. Social imperatives in favour of women and the workplace are powerless against baby’s basic biology and neuro-circuitry.

Even past the first two years, the business of running a household full of young children requires a full-time presence at home. The working mom doesn’t have less housework than the stay-at-home mom, she just has less time to do it. We can all agree that a mother of 8’s place is at home. This is where my children benefit the most from my presence. My availability during this crucial part of their life is more important than my small salary. This is their immediate interest.

However, my family also has a long term interest in having me in the work force. My work gives us access to group insurance and prevents us from getting into debt to cover unexpected or large dental and medical bills. My work gives us access to a small pension that we would not otherwise have as my husband is self-employed. My family has a long term interest in the financial stability that a steady job offers. This is an intangible that we cannot monetize yet factors in the daycare equation.

Another intangible is continuity of employment and it ties back to my previous post about the value of raising children. I told Roma: “It would be better for everyone if I stayed home with my children right now. But it’s not only about the here and now. My husband is self-employed and our main provider. What if something happens to him? What if I have to start providing for my family tomorrow, with no experience, no contacts in the workforce and an outdated degree?” Maintaining my employability and my currency in the job market gives us a security that is not available otherwise.

The advent of baby formula, mainstream bottle feeding, painless and surgical delivery and infant daycare have all contributed to a view of motherhood as everybody’s job and the choice to stay at home no more than a lifestyle choice. The sturdy social safety net developed and legislated in the 60’s and 70’s hinges on high tax revenues and the presence of women in the workforce. We discourage mothers from staying home with their children through an advantageous tax regimen that benefits daycare users to the exclusion of stay-at-home parents.

I am not opposed to tax advantages for parents, after all, they are providing the tax-paying fodder necessary to maintain our expensive way-of-life. However, I argue that our measures to encourage and enable mothers of young children to become taxpayers have significantly eroded our appreciation and valuation of their role outside the workforce.

I have been in the workforce for 4 years now after 10 years at home (the 2 missing years, if anybody is counting, were spent at McGill getting a graduate degree in law with a specialization in biomedical ethics). I can tell you from experience on both sides of the mommy trenches that there is not job that a woman was qualified to do before she had children that she is no longer able to perform after. There is no office politics, meeting management or work ethics issues that she is not better able to handle. There is no professional qualification that she is unable to update quickly and efficiently. And yet, for all intents and purposes, she is viewed has having lost those years. Her experience is discounted, her family obligations held against her.

And so mothers drive everybody nuts by going back to work pregnant at the end of their mat leave. There is no incentive to taking time off to look after their children. And once lost, their job is lost forever.


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