by Gwen Moritz
Posted 4/30/2012 12:00 am
Updated 2 years ago
Am I the only mother in America who thinks the whole "motherhood is the hardest job in the world" business is just a wee bit condescending?
A couple of weeks back, a Democratic operative whose name (Hilary Rosen) was unfamiliar to me went on TV and made an inartful comment about Mitt Romney's description of his wife, Ann, as his adviser on women's economic issues. Mrs. Romney, Rosen said, "has never worked a day in her life."
Well, you know how that went over. Everyone was horrified. Ann Romney called it "an early birthday present." President Obama's deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, proved her bona fides by saying that she personally believed that "stay-at-home moms work harder than most of us do."
I wouldn't know. I was in the full-time workforce for more than eight years before I became a mother in 1990, and I haven't been unemployed for a single day since. (The newspaper industry has been decimated by downsizing, so I'm lucky - and grateful.)
Here's what I do know: Women have been having babies since the beginning of human history, but extraordinarily few women have had the luxury of choosing to do nothing but devote themselves to childrearing.
My grandmothers - who each bore more children than Ann Romney's five - didn't work for paychecks, but those vegetable gardens and chicken coops they tended weren't hobbies, folks. Canning and quilting and sewing clothes were not creative outlets. Their day-to-day work contributed to their family's standard of living as surely as my work does to mine.
My mother was a stay-at-home mother when her four children were small, but even then she ironed for other people and took care of a little boy whose mother had a job. She paid for Christmas by doing seasonal work at the Sears store in Conway. And she went to work full time when I started elementary school because, even in 1967, my sister's college education required additional income.
Ann Romney married into a wealthy family, and her husband then made an even greater business success than his father. As a result, she could afford to do exactly what she wanted to do, and she chose to stay at home and raise her children. More power to her. I suspect that dealing with five sons might be more than 2.5 times more emotionally exhausting than dealing with my two. But surely Ann recognizes that her motherhood experience would have been even harder if she had also spent 40 hours a week practicing law or writing for a newspaper or waiting tables.
Ann has said that she doesn't feel wealthy, but surely she understands that most mothers in America have occasionally - or constantly - had to wonder how to pay some necessary expense. Surely she understands that Mitt's recent income of more than $50,000 a day stretches a bit farther than the median household income in this country of less than $50,000 a year. (In Arkansas, it's less than $39,000.) Surely she understands that most American mothers who work really don't have a choice, and those who opt to stay home with their children are making a financial sacrifice that will likely reduce their standard of living until the day they die.
(And since she was married to Mitt back when he was unequivocally pro-choice, I assume that Ann Romney understands that having access to reliable contraception is vital to women for whom an unplanned child could be the difference between financial stability and poverty. I rather doubt my grandmothers set out to have quite so many children, but at least they weren't faced with child care costs that rival rent.)
If there's anything that women, and especially mothers, have earned, it's the right to do what they believe is best for their families, paycheck or not. I don't question Ann Romney's choices, nor do I resent the wealth that gave her virtually unlimited options. But I do hope that she's not her husband's only adviser on women's economic issues.
The older I get, the more I appreciate King Lemuel's description of "the virtuous woman" in Proverbs 31. She runs a household and a manufacturing operation. She buys and sells real estate. She does charity work. (She likes nice clothes, too.)
"Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates."
(Gwen Moritz is editor of Arkansas Business. Email her at GMoritz@ABPG.com.)