The Washington Post ran a column by Monica Hesse this week, The Unreasonable Expectations of Motherhood in America Today — and its Consequences. In it, Hesse talks about the falling birth rate in the United States and all the institutional reasons why she and other U.S. women feel forced to put off parenthood or forgo it altogether: the high cost of daycare; the lack of paid maternity leave; the absence of postnatal support for mothers of newborns; the restricted access to abortion; and the vilification of mothers who take advantage of the measly social programs our country does offer.
Most people who responded with comments about the article were women who agreed wholeheartedly with the observations and conclusions. A few men also expressed support. Predictably, most men who responded were less supportive. One man said that his mother raised two kids as a single mom; if she did it, then why are all these women today complaining? Others told the writer if she doesn’t like the U.S., she should leave. Shouldn’t we want to make this country more livable for everyone, rather than telling the people whose needs aren’t being met that they should go elsewhere?
I suspect a lot of the critics didn’t bother to read the article. If they had, I don’t see how they could dispute it. Everything in it is true. Many European countries offer mandatory paid maternity leave. The United States does not. They offer free child care. The United States does not. The author talked about choosing at one point not to have children because the average daycare cost in her area was $24,000 a year, and she was making about $40,000 and paying $30,000 in rent. Clearly that is not sustainable. Do her critics think she is lying about those numbers? Or do they have access to some special brand of mathematics that make this possible?
For this author, there was a happy ending. Eventually her financial situation improved, and she is now looking forward to the birth of her baby. But how many other women will never be in that position — or will be there, and wonder how the heck they are going to make it work? This country needs to take the needs of mothers and children more seriously.