Friday, May 11, 2001

Wake up. Play patty-cake and peek-a-boo. Clang pots and pans. Stand up in the high chair. Throw Cheerios/peas/banana chunks onto the kitchen floor. Dance. Laugh. Clap. Crawl. Creep. Climb. Cry. Nap (very briefly). Wake up. Repeat!

This is how my 11-month-old daughter Veronica’s busy baby days are filled. And, blessedly, it is how my days are filled, too. After seven years as a young professional woman on the fast track, I left the traditional job market to have children. On my first Mother’s Day as a mother, I am unalterably convinced that staying at home — creating a daily environment of love, stability and nurturing — is the most important work I will ever do.

Many feminists who worship at the altar of choice will never accept my choice. They refuse to believe that any Modern Woman in her right mind would voluntarily put child-rearing above her career. They dismiss homemaking — cooking and laundering, wiping runny noses, changing dirty diapers and vacuuming graham cracker crumbs off the sofa — as menial drudgery that no self-respecting Professional Woman should ever do without financial compensation.

Contempt for women who happily embrace stay-at-home motherhood is at the heart of Ann Crittenden’s new screed, “The Price of Motherhood.” Like me, Crittenden left a large daily newspaper to raise a child and continues to write from home. Crittenden, however, harbors bitter resentment:

“After my son was born in 1982, I decided to leave the New York Times in order to have more time to be a mother. I recently calculated what that decision cost me financially. I had worked full-time for approximately twenty years, eight of those at the Times. When I left, I had a yearly salary of roughly $50,000, augmented by speaking fees, freelance income and journalism awards,” Crittenden reveals. “My annual income after leaving the paper has averaged roughly $15,000, from part-time freelance writing.”

This, Crittenden bellyaches, “seems a high price to pay for doing the right thing.”

As reimbursement for her “pain,” Crittenden proposes that former working professionals like herself be rewarded with European-style government subsidies including paid parental leave, free health care, universal pre-school and free-lending libraries of toys and games. She endorses a Nanny State that encourages institutionalized day care so that educated mothers won’t be “forced” to do domestic chores. She feels entitled to a monetary reward for doing what millions of moms do gladly for free.

Crittenden catalogues gripes from professional friends who were supposedly coerced by a patriarchal society to give up their hefty salaries as attorneys, business executives and journalists. “In my new job as a mother I had no salary and no professional contacts,” one former newspaper editor told Crittenden. “There were no more movies, no more dinners out, no work clothes … It was as if everything were being taken away from me.”

Me, me, me. Hasn’t motherhood taught these yuppie women that there’s more to life than a bulging Filofax, a tailored wardrobe and a corporate expense account?

Stanford economist Jennifer Roback Morse, a libertarian-leaning mother of two, warns against these self-esteem feminists and their obsession with career status and income in her lucid new book, “Love and Economics.” She writes: “The worst stereotype of capitalism is that the value of a person is reduced to his value in the market. It is ironic that the American feminists have done so much to indoctrinate women into this distorted view of themselves.”

Morse’s work focuses on a key ingredient Crittenden ignores: the unquantifiable benefits of selfless parental giving to both individuals and a civil society.

All the money in the world can’t compensate for our everyday rewards — the outstretched arms, the giggles, the secure attachment of children to parents who love them unconditionally and eternally like no paid caregivers ever could. Motherhood means never having to say “What do I get in return?”

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my baby just woke from her nap. It’s time to get back to work.

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