Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Mothers are not 'opting out' - they are out of options

In the United States, mothers are increasingly finding themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place.

"The choice that is not really a choice" is one of the oldest tricks in parenting. Anticipating a tantrum or endless dawdling, the parent offers the child a limited set of options: "Would you like to wear the red shirt or the blue shirt? Would you like the carrots or the apple? It's your choice."

The child, being a child, feels empowered. He is the one in control; he gets to make the big decisions. But this deception only lasts for so long. Eventually the child grows older and starts to dream beyond his proscriptions. He realises there are not only two options, but a world of dazzling variety. He demands to be part of this world, but his requests are denied. He realises he never had options after all, but that choice itself was an illusion produced by the powerful.

If only his mother would realise the same.

On August 7, the New York Times ran an article called "The Opt Out Generation Wants Back In" - a follow-up to a 2003 story about highly accomplished, well-educated American women who left the workforce to stay at home with their children. Ten years later, the mothers are seeking work that befits their abilities but most are unable to find it, causing them to question their original decision.

The New York Times piece frames the mothers' misgivings as a result of questionable planning and poor marriage partners, paying mere lip service to the tremendous change in the economy over the past ten years. Whether to work or stay at home is presented as an option that has to do with personal fulfillment and childrearing preferences, divorced from fiscal limitations.

But for nearly all women, from upper middle-class to poor, the "choice" of whether to work is not a choice, but an economic bargain struck out of fear and necessity. Since 2008, the costs of childbirth, childcare, health care, and education have soared, while wages have stagnated and full-time jobs have been supplanted by part-time, benefit-free contingency labour.

The media present a woman's fear of losing her career as the fear of losing herself. But the greatest fear of most mothers is not being able to provide for their children. Mothers with high-paying jobs go back to work to earn money for their kids. Married mothers with low-paying jobs quit to save money for their kids. Single mothers struggle to find work that pays enough to support their kids. Self-fulfillment is a low priority in an economy fuelled by worker insecurity.

The assumed divide between mothers who work inside and outside the home is presented as a war of priorities. But in an economy of high debt and sinking wages, nearly all mothers live on the edge. Choices made out of fear are not really choices. The illusion of choice is a way to blame mothers for an economic system rigged against them. There are no "mommy wars", only money wars - and almost everyone is losing.

Motherhood as a financial burden Here is how raising a child in America has changed over the past decade. Between 2004 and 2010, the average out-of-pocket costs for delivering a baby rose fourfold, making it the costliest in the world. Two decades ago, insured American women, on average, paid nothing. Today the average out-of-pocket cost with insurance is $3,400, with many insured women paying much more, and uninsured mothers charged tens of thousands of dollars.

The average American woman begins the journey of motherhood paying off mountains of debt. One could argue there is indeed a "choice" at play: the hospitals and health insurance companies can choose to stop inflating prices, charging for unwanted procedures, or refusing to cover necessary ones.

But with the health insurance industry facing little accountability, the burden of "choice" reverts back to the mother. The skyrocketing cost of childbirth corresponds with the rise of the homebirth movement, which, while appealling to some women for personal, non-economic reasons, is also a way to try to dodge the hospital bill (for women with complicated deliveries, this "choice" is quickly curtailed).

Like so many movements born in times of economic ruin, homebirth is presented by the media as a lifestyle trend, a return to "natural living" much like the rise of bicycling (cannot afford a car), "shabby chic" (cannot afford new clothes or furniture), and gardening (cannot afford fresh produce).

Desperate or pragmatic economic decisions are rationalised with moral superiority. In the post-employment economy, "opting out" is often code for "cannot afford a job".

America is notorious for workplace policies that are unfriendly to mothers - we have among the shortest parental leave of any developed nation, with 40 percent of companies providing none at all. We also have among the world's most expensive childcare (although our childcare workers are paid a pittance). The average cost of daycare is $11,666 per year, with the average cost in some states as high as $19,000. This means that young parents, still struggling to pay off their massive college loans, are also expected to pay daycare costs equivalent to college tuition.

Since the recession began, the cost of daycare has soared while US median income collapsed, plummeting 7.3 percent. The average household makes $51,404 before taxes. A family with two children and two working parents could easily find over half of their income going to childcare. For the average married mother of small children, it is often cheaper to stay home - even if she would prefer to be in the workforce. It is hard to "lean in" when you are priced out.

Regardless of their reasons, all mothers who stay home with children are penalised later by the perception that they "chose" to neglect their career. When they attempt to return to the workforce, their years at home are held against them, considered a "blank spot" on the resume - a blank spot with a reason so obvious and laudable and often involuntary that it is sick we deride it as "choice".

Careers are not pursued by choice

Corporate feminists like Sheryl Sandberg frame female success as a matter of attitude. But it is really a matter of money - or the lack thereof. For all but the fortunate few, American motherhood is making sure you have enough lifeboats for your sinking ship. American motherhood is a cost-cutting, debt-dodging scramble somehow interpreted as a series of purposeful moves. American mothers are not "leaning in". American mothers are not "opting out". American mothers are barely hanging on.

Careers in this economy are not about choices. They are about structural constraints masquerading as choice. Being a mother is a structural constraint regardless of your economic position. Mothers pay a higher price in a collapsed economy, but that does not mean they should not demand change - both in institutions and perceptions.

Erasing stigma - whether of hard-working, impoverished single mothers branded as "lazy", or of wealthier mothers whose skills outside the home are downplayed and denied - does not cost a thing.

The irony of American motherhood is that the politicians and corporations who hold power do have a choice in how they treat mothers and their children. Yet they act as if they are held hostage to intractable policies and market forces, excusing the incompetence and corporate malfeasance that drain our households dry.

Mothers can emulate them and treat "choice" as an individual burden - or we can work together and push for accountability and reform. This option is not easy. But we are used to that.

Sarah Kendzior is St Louis-based writer who studies politics and media.

Follow her on Twitter: @sarahkendzior

Painting by Elisabeth Slettnes

Read the full post at

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”  ~James Baldwin

Sunday, August 25, 2013

“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”
― James Baldwin

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

“I can't believe what you say, because I see what you do.”  ~James Baldwin

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Their Future Lives

“It’s about what stories we tell our children, what they are taught in school and what they may dream of becoming when they grow up. All this adds up to the quality of their future lives.” ~Raffi Cavoukian

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


“People can cry much easier than they can change.”
― James Baldwin

Monday, August 12, 2013

People Pay

“People pay for what they do, and still more for what they have allowed themselves to become. And they pay for it very simply; by the lives they lead.”  ~James Baldwin, Go Tell It On The Mountain

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Point

"The point in personal growth and emotional healing work is not to become well-adjusted to an unhealthy culture." ~Raffi Cavoukian

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Definition of Addiction

Ad-dic-tion [noun] When one habitually and obsessively engages in mood-altering behavior that, despite the obliteration of every single thing in their lives they once held dear, they find they simply cannot stop.

Guts by Kristen Johnston

Friday, August 9, 2013

The War on Drugs has failed

"The War on Drugs has become a war on the American people. The War on Drugs has failed. We’ve lost.

When the War on Drugs is ended, resources, including those tens of billions of dollars a year misspent on interdiction, law enforcement, and incarceration, will be freed to support the development and implementation of prevention strategies and treatment. The more money that’s redirected from the war to prevention and treatment, the more the prognosis of patients will change.

There are 1.2 million American with AIDS. The total spent on AIDS research is $3billion—or $3,000 per infected person. We spend $29 per addict." ~David Sheff, Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

My mother passed on a very good recipe for accepting abuse.

By Carol Christ - exerpt from the magoism blog.

What happened to you really was bad. This should not happen to any child. It should not have happened to you.

In our culture there is often a rush to forgiveness that precedes acknowledging the harm that has been done. When I was a child and my father yelled at me or withheld love, I was told by mother, “He really does love you. He just does not know how to show it.” She sometimes added, “Even though he will never say he is sorry, you should forgive your father, because he did not really mean what he said.”

As a child I “learned my lesson well.” I came to the conclusion that women must “read between the lines” of the behavior and words of men, because men cannot and do not express their true feelings. This “lesson” did not serve me well in my life. Quite the opposite. When I loved a man and he did not treat me well, I remembered my mother’s words. “He does love me,” I told myself, “he just doesn’t know how to show it.” My mother passed on a very good recipe for accepting abuse.

“Hold on,” I can hear you thinking, “Your mother was only trying to protect you.” Of course she was, but her words had exactly the opposite effect. Instead of helping me to deal with life, my mother’s words confused me. My mother taught me that where men are concerned the word “love” does not have its ordinary meaning, the one I learned from her love for me. Where men are concerned “love” is complicated and mysterious: what does not look or feel like love really is love. Sorry Mom, but that was bullshit! I know you wanted me to find love and happiness and were often puzzled when I didn’t. You wondered if it was anything you did. Despite your best intentions, it was something you did.

Read the full - very powerful - essay here:

Monday, August 5, 2013

“People who treat other people as less than human must not be surprised when the bread they have cast on the waters comes floating back to them, poisoned.”  ~James Baldwin

What a Father Owes

"At any rate, as my lawyer explained, the law then was the same as the law today; the courts would surely award me a reasonable amount of the father’s income as child support, but the courts would also insist that they could not enforce their own decree. In other words, according to the law, what a father owes to his child is not serious compared to what a man owes to the bank for a car, or a vacation." ~June Jordan

For as the child goes, so goes society

"For as the child goes, so goes society. Formative—it’s a word for everyone to understand. For what’s forming in early months and first years is not just the physical body but also a person’s sense of self. Both of these are the very basis for a lifetime of health outcomes.” ~Raffi Cavoukian, Lightweb Darkweb: Three Reasons To Reform Social Media Before it Re-Forms Us

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Refuse to feel Ashamed

"I refuse to feel ashamed of who I am. I most certainly won’t be embarrassed that I’m an addict. So screw my career or my privacy or other people’s sensibilities. I’ll tell whomever I damn well please.
I don’t think we should be told to stay silent, locked away in church basements." 

Guts by Kristen Johnston

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Imagine the suffering that could be prevented

"Imagine if we treated young kids’ depression before they treated it themselves with marijuana. Imagine if we helped kids with learning disabilities before they checked out and found solace in drinking. Imagine if we could identify a child experiencing his parents’ difficult divorce, bullying, abuse, or other trauma in his life and get him effective counseling before drugs appear as a solution, and before use leads to abuse and abuse leads to addiction. Imagine the lives that could be saved. Imagine the suffering that could be prevented". ~David Sheff, Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy

Friday, August 2, 2013

Mild Manifestations of Violence

Moreover, women are conditioned to pretend not to hear/see the constant and violent bombardments of obscenity, for we have been taught the lesson that since verbal violence is a “substitute” for physical assault, we should be grateful for such seemingly mild manifestations of misogynism. (1) Thus, spooking from the locker room, the unacknowledged noise of omnipresent male obscenities, constitutes the “background music” which continually confuses and fragments consciousness. Exorcising this invasive presence requires acknowledging its existence and refusing to shuffle. This has the effect of bringing the spookers out into the open. Exorcism requires naming this environment of spirit/mind rape, refusing to be receptacles for semantic semen. As we become experienced in detecting the patterns of this apparently passive aggression, we become aware of its more sophisticated forms.

~Mary Daly,  GYN/ECOLOGY

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Dark Night of the Soul

"I’m convinced that the only people worth knowing are those who’ve had at least one dark night of the soul…Recovering addicts and alcoholics sometimes refer to this as their “bottom,” but it happens to almost everyone, at some point or another. It’s that life-changing moment when everything you’ve always wanted to become, everything you actually are, and everything you know you’ll never be, all slam into each other with the deadly force of three high-speed trains. It’s the night of your reckoning, the terrifying moment when your mask falls away and you’re forced to see what’s actually been festering underneath it all these years. You finally see who you really are, instead of who you’ve always pretended to be." 

Guts by Kristen Johnston