The Congressional mental giants who brought us the Family Medical and Leave Act (FMLA) have finally realized that few Americans could afford to use the act's benefit of 12 weeks off without pay. What sounded mighty fine to the six-figure income types who passed the FMLA is simply a pipe dream for a family of four living on $27,000 in a double-wide. Twelve weeks of unpaid leave to them has a one-word synonym: bankruptcy.
But Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., has found a group of wealthy Americans he is going to nab to foot the bill for making FMLA leave paid. The group he's targeted are those blue bloods of American society: families with a mother who stays at home with her children. Dodd's speech during a debate on FMLA amendments reflects his disdain for these uppity broads, "It is one thing to have the choice, that is a wonderful luxury, but for the 13 million children who are in child-care centers, their parents don't have the choice, they have to be there. It is not a question of I would like to stay home. I have another spouse that is earning enough. It is not a question of I want to play golf or go to the club and play cards."Straight from the annals of Senate history a cruel social injustice: stay-at-home mothers golf and play cards on the backs of working couples. Mothers who stay at home have made a choice, but it is not a choice made in quite the fashion the single Dodd describes. Their choice was made despite the fact that one income was not enough.
I've seen the stay-at-home mother and she's not Dodd's vision. One of her sons rides a hand-me-down pink Barbie bicycle from his sister because the family budget won't permit a new male version bicycle purchase until at least next Christmas. This woman of luxury hasn't seen a new pair of Sunday church shoes since Saturday Night Fever debuted in 1978. The life of leisure of a mother at home means clipping coupons, shopping only on double coupon days, and switching long distance carriers every month to afford a call or two to her parents.
She hasn't had anything but generics in the way of breakfast cereal in two years and she's had a craving for a good bagel for the last five. Faithfully each week she walks her little charges to the library for the wonder of story hour and the world of free books. The family went to one car in 1992. Vacation for the last three years has been a camping trip. She stretches one ham into four evening meals and one set of clothes through three children. She saves on bills by keeping the house at 65 degrees while the kids are at school. But she's there when her bundles of energy burst through the door each afternoon in their PayLess shoes calling, "Mom, I'm home." She's there to help with homework and referee intra- and inter-family disputes. She's there and ever ready with a bottle of Bactine and a kiss for the war wounds of afternoon play. This is your woman of luxury. This is the demon who wiles away the hours while two-income families slave away.
Dodd would impose a tax with an impact on net income that would drive the mothers in these families of sacrifice back into the work force. And then Dodd would impose more taxes to offer "quality day care." This evil social inequity of day care in a home by a child's mother must and will be eliminated.
A mother who stays at home has indeed made a choice. It is a choice Mrs. Clinton ridiculed in 1992 with "I suppose I could have stayed at home and baked cookies." Mrs. Clinton and Dodd don't understand that you bake cookies only if you have a coupon for the Nestle's chocolate chips. These mothers at home have surrendered a paycheck in order to nurture tiny lives. These women knew instinctively, before recent studies confirmed, that children who stay with their mothers in their early years do better in school and are better adjusted socially. This choice means placing personal desires on hold for repetitious days that bring no honors and only begrudging appreciation.
It's a life not unlike Bill Murray's monotony in Ground Hog Day with the added challenge of several tag-alongs who are sticky, demanding, unreasonable and loud. Their choice recognizes that the importance of raising decent human beings is worth the sacrifice of time, income and the luxury of those quiet days at work. The stay-at-home mother is indeed a blue blood, but only because of the sheer elegance of her choice. May she stay right where she is.
God bless her, Dodd, but don't tax her.