- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 13, 2001

Last week, commuters saw a young woman standing on a street corner on the Virginia side of the Key Bridge holding a cardboard sign. "Single woman with four children," it read in part. "Not able to manage financially without your help."
Since 1960, the rate of mothers who work while they have children under the age of 6 has gone from 18.6 percent to 63.5 percent. For mothers of children ages 6 to 17, the rate has shot from 39 percent to 76.2 percent. But if their husbands desert them, U.S. tax laws and employee benefits make it impossible for mothers like the woman at the bridge to stay at home, says author Ann Crittenden.
Miss Crittenden, a D.C. author whose new book, "The Price of Motherhood," is due out this week, is a former economics reporter for the New York Times.
She quit in the 1980s to devote more time to her son. The process taught her, she writes, that child rearing calls on the same qualities that characterize the best teachers, psychologists, coaches and ministers. Yet mothers, who are the most valuable producers for the American economy, are not compensated for their work. In fact, what they do is not even considered work by American society.
The author, who is married to John Henry and whose son is now 18, suggests a new way of structuring American family law. At-home moms would receive Social Security credits and visa requirements would be loosened to allow in more foreign nannies for women who wish to return to full-time work. She discussed her ideas with culture page editor Julia Duin.

Q: How are you different from [another local author] Danielle Crittenden, who advises educated women to marry young and have children right away?
A: I am the total opposite. We would make out like bandits being on a show together. We're of a different generation and have a different take on this issue. She is mid-30s and I am 20 years older, at least. Our interpretation of events is different.
What gets me is her [advice] to have kids young, marry young, as a formula for success. Well, what group of people actually do that in this age? Educated women are having kids later and later because of the way they have to organize their lives and their careers. So the people who marry young and have kids are usually poor and uneducated. We have another name for them: Welfare mothers.
Look at the statistics: What happens to people when they marry in their 20s? It's called divorce. Later marriages are much more stable. In every country, the age of marriage is increasing along with the education of women. They are putting off marriage and children because it's in their economic interest.
Q: You say that changing the status of mothers by gaining real recognition for their work is the great unfinished business of the women's movement. What new strategy can feminism employ?
A: One is to say if I choose to be a mother and spend a lot of time and energy on that job, it should have as much respect and dignity and not make me a dependent the way it always has; throwing you into dependency and second-class status. Today if you make these choices, you will be heavily penalized. And people know it, which is why they choose to put off having kids.
And what if your husband leaves you? It does happen, rather frequently. The wife goes into that court system and the judge says, 'Well, take care of yourself, baby,' and bam, she gets almost no support. He can walk off with the vast bulk of the family income. I think marriage laws are unfair to caregivers and no one is making a big fuss about it. Under the surface, there's a lot of female anger about it.
There is a ferment about this. A lot of smart women are going to law school and going into these firms. When they become mothers, they can't work those hours. So they drop out of the firms but not out of the law. They go into academia and start teaching law.
There is a whole lot of feminist family law being thought up and written and revisions to the state family laws are being crafted.
Q: What would these revisions look like?
A: Let's say you have a late marriage and a baby and give up your job. You've given up a very well-paying job if you want to raise your kid. Let's say 10 years later, you get a divorce. These laws would say you deserve some compensation for the loss of income you incurred because you were raising your family.
That could be done at the federal level, to have a minimal spousal-compensation law if a woman gives up income. We've done that with child support. We could do that with spousal support. I dream of a big coalition of women legislators, left, right and center, on this.
Q: How would it help working moms to give out more visas for domestic help?
A: We should be able to take child care as a tax write-off. What could be a bigger business expense, if you're a working woman, than having day care or child care? Without it, you can't work. But we don't get a write-off. It's not considered a business expense.
They've made the [immigration] quotas too low for trained nannies, who are defined as unskilled. And there are low quotas for unskilled workers. So people trying to find qualified child care couldn't find anyone legal.
In the early '80s, I finally found someone with a green card and she was the only one out of 70 people who applied who I found was legal. By defining it as unskilled labor, you don't encourage anyone to get trained in it. By getting training, you don't get any more status or money.
In Canada, they have a solution. The working mothers the professional women got together with the child care workers and they formed an alliance and they put pressure on the government and they got what they wanted. Women need to see their common interests. We really need some solidarity again.
Q: What are U.S. companies doing for new mothers?
A: We get 90 days unpaid maternity leave. I think it's brutal. The big companies give paid leaves. How long maybe two months. I got six months off at the Times, at least three of which were paid. One of the big horrible loopholes in the law is that even the unpaid leave applies only to companies with more than 20 employees. And a lot of women the majority of women work for small employers.
There's only six countries that don't have paid maternity leave and we are one of them; Australia, New Zealand, us and three tiny countries.
No one thinks it's a good idea to leave an infant in lengthy day care. But what is your choice if you have no paid leave and you're working and you need the money? It's cruel. I read somewhere that pediatricians say you should nurse for an entire year. I thought, what a sick joke. American mothers run back to work after a few weeks.
Q: What are other countries doing?
A: In Sweden, they have a year of 85 percent paid leave. Either parent can take it. And once you get back to work, you have the legal right to a 30-hour workweek up until your kids reach school age. Now wouldn't that make life better for families and kids? [In Sweden,] the businesses don't pay the whole cost of this. You can have tax revenues diverted; you can have all kinds of financing raised.

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