Shanman’s recent guest post about Nadya Suleman, “the Octomom,” got me thinking about media portrayals of single mothers. Kate Gosselin, of “Jon and Kate Plus 8,” has recently joined the ranks of single moms. She, too, has a passel of children to take care of – and I wonder if she, like Suleman, will be seen as exploiting her children if she continues to allow her family’s life to be broadcast on “reality TV” in order to pay the bills.
As pro-choice advocates, I think we need to seriously consider what choices Gosselin and Suleman really have. Mrs. M recently blogged about the high levels of poverty amongst single moms. She brought up the fact that 28.3% of families that live in poverty are headed by single mothers, while 13.6% of families in poverty are headed by single fathers. Clearly, women’s choices are constrained by the economic realities of their lives.
Although Nadya Suleman is currently unemployed, she was a medical student when she became pregnant with her first child. She dropped out of med school so that she could become a mom. Suleman has garnered a lot of criticism for choosing to become a single mother when she doesn’t have a job. All of her children have been conceived via in vetro fertilization – it’s not like she got knocked up on accident. Going back to med school is obviously out of the picture for Suleman. So what other options does she have in terms of employment? Child care for 14 kids would bankrupt her. So who can blame Suleman for capitalizing on the media’s coverage of her case in order to buy diapers and pay rent?
Kate Gosselin‘s story is surprisingly similar to Nadya Suleman’s. Gosselin is a registered nurse, although she doesn’t currently practice. Gosselin has one set of twins, and a set of sextuplets. The Gosselins didn’t utilize IVF to get pregnant, but they did use fertility drugs both times in order to conceive. Although she was married when she got pregnant, she and her husband Jon are in the process of getting divorced. Jon Gosselin has pissed away his earnings from the reality show by wining and dining younger women and buying a Porche, while Kate has put all of the money into a college savings fund for the kids. She has been criticized for milking her family’s unique situation for fame and fortune, but what other options does she have at this point?
Both cases bring up the issue of affordable child care. Every parent that I know has had to grapple with this dilemma. Quality child care is hard to find, the spaces are usually limited, and it’s often very expensive when it is available. Many couples opt to have one partner stay home, because it’s often more cost effective to lose a salary than it is to pay for day care. But single parents do not have this option. The single moms I know have had to make tough choices in order to finish school to be able to better support their children in the long term. However, these choices shouldn’t be so difficult. As a society, we need to make sure that all mothers are supported, whether they choose to stay home or not.
Unfortunately, single mothers who choose to stay home are dubbed as “welfare queens.” They’re vilified in the press and in politics, and they’re usually depicted as women of color. But the criticism isn’t limited to conservatives who just want to eliminate welfare. I recently had lunch with a friend who is a confirmed liberal and a die-hard Hillary supporter. She was complaining about women who just sit at home all day while she busts her ass at two jobs just to pay the rent. She doesn’t have health care, and she’s angry that she makes too much money for public assistance. “It would be so much easier if I just sat at home all day,” she told me. “Then I could get a government check.” While I understand her frustration, I think it’s a little unfair to say that women who stay home with their kids are just sitting around. All mothers are working mothers – being a mom is a hard job, and it needs to be fairly compensated.
France has its act together where child care is concerned. According to a new study by the French-American Foundation:
France is ”a country at a level of economic development similar to that of the United States, but far ahead of us in insuring that its young children are well and safely cared for.”
The report describes a system largely financed by tax revenue: a blend of child care, education and health services based on free full-day preschool programs, subsidized day-care centers and licensed care in private homes for infants and toddlers. The noncompulsory preschool programs, which serve nearly 90 percent of French children 3 to 5 years old, offer language arts, exercise, crafts and play.
The report says the system also features intensive training and fair compensation for preschool teachers and others who take care of younger children, a free preventive health program for all young children, and attention to the architecture and safety of day-care centers . . .
Nearly 80 percent of the cost of French child-care services are covered by public funds. Parents provide the rest. The French manage to finance their child-care system ”because of their priorities and political leadership,” said Barbara R. Bergmann, a panel member who is Distinguished Professor of Economics at American University in Washington.
If you take a purely capitalistic view of the issue, it’s in the government’s best interest to provide subsidized childcare, because more mothers in the paid workforce means that the government can collect more income taxes. From the point of view of an employer, child care benefits make sense for the same reasons – mothers (and fathers, for that matter) are valuable members of the workforce. Is it really that radical of an idea that parents should be able to afford child care?
I know that the examples of single mothers that I’ve chosen for this article will stir up controversy – but that controversy is exactly what makes the images of Nadya Suleman and Kate Gosselin worth discussing. They’ve been criticized for choosing to have so many children. And they’d been criticized for exploiting the media hype surrounding their situations. But honestly, I think that when we don’t make affordable child care available so that it’s easier for women to balance their work and family responsibilities (because let’s face it, men very seldom have to face this issue), then Suleman and Gosselin wouldn’t be such vilified figures.
(A big thank you to Firecracker over at Poponthepop.com for helping me with the research on this story, as well as for the photos of Gosselin & Suleman!)