Dear Mr. President,
This letter is coming a week late, sir. I hope you don’t mind that I’m behind the times. It’s just that, as a stay-at-home mother, my schedule runs on the demands of my four children and not the news cycle. I know better than anyone the inconvenience of this, and I appreciate your understanding.
I wanted to begin by commending you, Mr. President, for what you did in Rhode Island. I thank you for voicing your support for the working parents of this country. I appreciate your advocacy, in particular, for paid family sick leave. I applaud you, sir, for challenging the status quo, for recognizing that “while many women are working hard to support themselves and their families, they’re still facing unfair choices…”
I only wish, Mr. President, that your speech had recognized all of those choices. All of those women.
I come from a working class family, sir. My grandmother was, at one time, a single mother with four children and no degree. She was forced to leave her son and three daughters in the care of family members in her rural town while she went to the city to find a job where someone would hire a mother. My other grandmother was a school bus driver. My own mother, the third of five girls, was the first of her family members to receive a college education. She worked for over thirty years as a teacher-librarian in the public education system and is now retired.
I am proud of my heritage, sir. I am proud of the women in my family who have and who continue to work--whether alongside their husbands or alone--to support themselves and their families.
But, Mr. President, I am working hard, too. I am a stay-at-home mother and home educator. I, too, support my family. The difference, sir, is that I do so from home and receive no paycheck.
Please don’t mistake me. I’m not asking for a hand out. I consider myself fortunate that staying at home to care for my children is a choice I am able to make. I do not expect a pat on the back for simply doing what I know to be best for my family. I don’t know any mother who isn’t trying to do the same.
Nor, Mr. President, would I have expected your support in the speech you gave on Halloween. To tell the truth, I was as annoyed as anyone to see the political right use the Rhode Island speech as a platform to say anything at all about stay-at-home mothers, because that’s not what it was about. The speech was about fair conditions for working parents.
So, I must respectfully ask, Mr. President, why did you say it?
“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.”
It would have been so simple, Mr. President. You might have chosen to say, “This is not a choice we want Americans to have to make.” Two small words, sir. Two words that make the difference between a choice and chastisement. Two small words, sir, which might have shown your support for all working parents—the employed and unemployed alike.
If it were a mistake, I would understand. I spend my days in the trenches with four children ages 7 and under; I understand mistakes. But I believe, Mr. President, that you and your speech writers spent a great deal of time crafting the language you would ultimately use in Rhode Island. I do not believe it was a mistake when you said that opting to take a lower lifelong wage in order to care for one’s own children was “not a choice we want Americans to make.”
I do not believe I misunderstood you, sir, when you said the choice I made to lay aside my career for the good of my family and the future of this nation was wrong.
Perhaps—I hope—this is not what you meant. But you said it, sir. You said it.
I don’t want to argue, Mr. President. We are both parents; we are on the same side. We are all in this together. You and I, every American mom and dad, we are all raising the future of America. We are all doing our best, the only way we each know how. We are all giving our all.
I know you will continue to speak on behalf of families, and for that, Mr. President, I thank you. I thank you for caring enough to advocate change that will benefit American parents and their children. But I humbly request, sir, that you do not forget those families that happen to fall outside of your agenda.
I cannot speak from any position of expertise except that of an American mother. Ask American mothers what we want, Mr. President. I think you will find that for every mother who longs to return to a career she was forced to quit because she could not afford childcare, you will find another who desperately longs to remain home but cannot for one reason or another.
We have come a long way, sir, from the “problem that has no name.” Staying at home is no longer for women alone, nor is it a curse to bear in silence. This is our choice. Our choice, Mr. President. Please, do not set us back to a time without choice.
Please, do not diminish or insult the sacrifices that many American families like mine make to forgo an extra paycheck in order to do what is best for our children and, through them, the future of this country.
We mothers do need your support, sir. But we do not need anyone to define our choices for us. Nor do we need anyone to judge those choices we make for ourselves and our children. Believe me, we are hard enough on ourselves and on each other without that.
As women, we know ourselves best. As parents, we know our children best. We deserve to make our own choices, however difficult or unfair. We deserve policies that truly give every family the opportunity to make the best decision for their own children in the midst of these hard choices. And, Mr. President, whatever we choose, we deserve your respect in this.
Yours most sincerely,