There has been a lot of flap … and I mean more than the usual amount of flap over a comment Pres. Obama made last week regarding working moms and stay-at-home moms, and the meaning behind what he said. I have mostly stayed out of the flap, but after reading thru a comment thread on facebook about this topic, which only involved men, I wanted to say my bit.
Here is what Obama said, “”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. That’s not a choice we want Americans to make.”
Some people have felt it was a slam on stay-at-home-moms, some have defended the statement by saying that it was intended to help women who work outside of the home. I will tell you what I think and why.
Before I do that, however, I want to establish baseline so you can understand where I am coming from. In my former life, I taught high school social studies. My favorite subject to teach was economics (I know my three, yes three, BYU Econ 110 professors are laughing at that now, but anyway …)
The first thing I would always explain to my students was, opportunity cost. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines this as: “The added cost of using resources (as for production or speculative investment) that is the difference between the actual value resulting from such use and that of an alternative (as another use of the same resources or an investment of equal risk but greater return).” In every economics textbook I ever learned from or taught from they always used the examples of guns and butter to explain this concept. I know, because those two things totally go together, right? But the example explained that you have a certain number or amount of resources. You have to decide how many guns, or how much butter you are going to make from your resources.
Really, though, in plain English what opportunity cost means is, you can’t do it all, or have it all, or buy it all, because you have finite resources which will not cover everything. Those resources might be time, money, talent, or a number of other things. But the fact remains, we all make choices every day, all day, in which we sacrifice one thing for another. Guns or butter, you decide.
In the context of what Pres. Obama said this is important. In my observations of him and the things he says, he works off of some very faulty assumptions. First, that you can have it all, or you should be able to have it all. For women that means you should be able to have a fulfilling career outside of the home, which pays a lot of money, and if you leave for a few years to go and have children, and take care of your children, you should not be “punished” with lower wages or position for your choice.
I chose to be a teacher, which is a job that does not pay well to begin with, but it offered me flexibility to enter and exit the field as I wanted, to start and raise family. So far I have not gone back to teaching, nor do I have any plans to in the near future. But if I do decide to go back, I can expect to be paid where my years of experience and education fit into the salary rubric. I understood when I left teaching that I was going to stop advancing on the pay scale. I accepted that as the opportunity cost of my choice to have a family and stay at home. I do not regret it. See, I am owning my choice and the consequences, or opportunity cost of my choice.
The second assumption I see the President and the progressive-left make a lot of the time is that all women want to work outside of the home for a paycheck, and that, this is the most important thing for all women, and that government should do everything it can to make sure women are working outside of the home. Like the first assumption, they are assuming wrongly about many women. This goes back to opportunity cost. For me the value of raising my children is higher than the value of a paycheck, and any sort of professional betterment I might achieve at a job. The government also needs to step back and let people live their lives, and take responsibility for their choices and the opportunity costs that go with them. What kind of nation would this be if there was no safety net of government lurking below us, and above us, ready to keep us from having to take our medicine? It’s not the government’s job to provide you with your missed opportunity costs. When there is risk involved with choices it usually helps us make better choices.
This leads to the final assumption, which is that there is only value in work that you can earn a paycheck for. Sure extra money from a second job would be nice for our family, if I chose to work. However, that money would not be equal to the value I receive in raising my children, the value of my time to do what I want with it, and to order my days how I want. There are more important things than money for many people. The work I do mothering my children is not quantifiable with a dollar figure. No amount of government subsidies will change that. Every woman needs to weigh that if she decides to work or stay home. What is the value and benefit of my choice? Is it better than the alternative? Again, this is opportunity cost at work.
In the context of being a Latter-day Saint, it is very clear what the roles of men and women are. I realize, as well that not every situation is perfect. There are many women who are single parents, and who have no choice but to work. My grandmother was widowed at the age of 42 with 5 young children to care for. She had to work. There are many families who need two incomes just to survive. My own mother spent many years working to pay for missions and college for me and my siblings. I understand and I am not judging women who work outside of their homes. What I am saying is there is opportunity cost involved with all of our choices, and it is our responsibility to accept the consequences of our own choices.
In the end, I did feel Pres. Obama made a jab at stay-at-home moms and the important and vital work we do. I’m not going to let it bother me though, because that’s what he and his people like to do — jab at people who disagree with them. In the end I know what I do is important, and no amount of money or professional accolades will change that. When I view my choice to stay home thru the lens of eternity, I know I am doing great and important things, and my spiritual blessings far outweigh anything a job has to offer.