This post could alternately be titled: “Math is Not Erica Jong’s Forté” or “Woe is We: Erica Jong Wishes Americans Were as Rich as the Chinese”.
If you saw Monday’s Room for Debate on the New York Times website, then you’ll know what I mean. The topic was Motherhood vs. Feminism and it included some spectacular responses. But one response was, I have to say, not so spectacular. Erica Jong may be an incredible feminist thinker, but that fact that she confuses Ann Romney for an Attachment Parent, shows that she’s seriously out of touch with parenting. More than that, her arguments betrayed a serious lack of understanding for the economics of childrearing, both at the individual level and on a global scale.
Consider her closing argument:
So let’s look at the whole picture, not snapshots. An affluent mom who doesn’t need to earn can afford co-sleeping, making pure food, using cloth diapers and being perfectly ecological. Let’s admit that it takes resources.
Ok, why don’t we look at that whole picture Erica? My whole picture, to be exact. With the exception of being perfect in ecology or anything else, that little statement pretty much fits us to a tee. My husband does earn enough from his job that I don’t ‘need‘ to earn additional income in order to make the mortgage payment. And yes, I stay home with our children. But where Erica’s math doesn’t add up is her assertion that I do so because I can afford to drain our resources for the sake of my chosen parenting style. It simply isn’t the case.
Because I stay home, I don’t have to earn $19,200 to put my children in a moderately priced daycare this year. (And let’s not even get me started on the feminist hornet’s nest that is cheap childcare provided by immigrant women, often forced to leave their own babies in another country in order to come here and earn a less-than-legal wage looking after our kids.)
Because I breastfeed my children, I don’t have to earn the $2,400 that formula would cost.
Because I tucked my children up into the bed we already owned, I didn’t have to earn the (minimum) $200 a crib, mattress and sheet set would cost. Nor do I have to earn the additional $100 for a Pack n’ Play to travel with. My husband and I also wake up well-rested (unlike this poor schmuck) so that the performance of our daytime tasks is less compromised.
Because I have cloth diapers and wipes, my kids’ bums cost me $600 instead of $5,200. Sure, it takes a bit of time to wash them, but obviously not that much, since my wage-earning husband takes on that chore in our house.
Because I don’t have to travel to a job every day, I don’t have to spend $1,440 on transit passes this year, or 10 hours per week commuting. Let alone the near $20,000 it would cost to buy a used vehicle, insure and fuel it if transit were not an option.
Because I don’t earn a wage, the tax man lets my husband keep $1,700 more of his every year.
What does it add up to? I would have to dish out at least $27,000 for the privilege of going to work this year. The job I left when I had my son paid me $31,200 after tax. I value time with my children a lot higher than that, and so does my husband.
Now, I expect everyone to point out that I did still forfeit $4,200 every year in order to stay home. And were I not affluent, I wouldn’t have been able to make that choice.
But hang on, Erica Jong! There’s still something missing from this equation. Oh yes: I earned my salary – more than TWICE the minimum wage (based on hours worked) – because I have a university degree, paid for by my affluent parents. In short, it’s only because I was affluent to begin with that there was even a snowball’s chance in hell that wage earn would be an option. Is it any wonder that so many families, especially those headed by women are forced (yes, forced) out of the workforce and onto social assistance?
Because I can afford to work, I don’t have to stay home.
You could pit one mother’s account books against another’s all day long though, so Erica did us the favour of applying her fuzzy math on a global level: namely in the ludicrous suggestion that the Chinese are somehow rolling in dough while Americans are in an economic shambles. Last time I checked, the United States had six times the per capita GDP that China did and it was 51% of the Chinese population, not the American population, that had no toilets.
It is true, that if we lived in China, our parents would probably be participating in the care of our children. But not because the Chinese are more affluent than (North) Americans. They would be participating because the Chinese, as a society, value children and child rearing in a way that America categorically does not. They understand that someone has to raise the children, whether it be their parents, grandparents or that poorly paid immigrant daycare worker. They understand that providing your aging grandparents with free housing so that they can retire and be loving and invested caregivers for the newest generation is a win-win situation.
So Erica, if Americans find they can’t retire, perhaps it’s time to rethink the math. It’s time to make sure that no grandparent is forced out of retirement because they had the audacity to get cancer without private insurance. It’s time to stop supporting a political party whose primary objective is to subjugate women into perpetual child-bearing. And it’s time that American’s, as a society, put a value on children and childrearing by demanding paid maternity leave.
Once you get that equation right, then parents can choose to stay home, or not; grandparents can choose to retire, or not; our children can get a little bit more of that perfection we all seek for them; and we can all stop bickering over whose diapers are better.