What’s the perfect Mother’s Day gift? A bouquet of tulips? Jewelry? Breakfast in bed? The National Organization for Women (NOW) has something a little more expensive in mind—universal childcare.
NOW’s vision sounds simple: “Excellent, affordable childcare and eldercare for everyone who wants and needs it with subsidies from government and employers.” It’s a dream that’s been echoed by many feminist icons, including a certain New York Senator with White House aspirations. In her bestselling book, It Takes a Village, Hillary Clinton wrote admiringly of France’s childcare system. She celebrates that more than 90 percent of French children between ages three and five attend free or inexpensive preschools and that many spend their days in these child care facilities before age three:
Imagine a country in which nearly all children between the age of three and five attend preschool in sparkling classrooms, with teachers recruited and trained as child care professionals. Imagine a country that conceives of child care as a program to “welcome” children into the large community and “awaken” their potential for learning and growing …It is no wonder that so many French parents—even mothers who do not work outside of the home—choose to send their children to these government-subsidized centers.
Perhaps France should mandate anti-riot instruction as part of the “awakening” and “welcoming” of children, mais oui?
Here in the United States, NOW wants Washington to subsidize daycare so women can achieve economic parity with men. Years spent away from the workforce slow women’s career progress and leave them dependent on partnerships with others (like husbands) for financial support. For the feminist gender warriors, this is intolerable outcome. And anyway, as feminist author Kate Millet argues, children are better served by “professional” caregivers: “The care of the young is infinitely better left to trained professionals rather than to harried amateurs with little time nor taste for the education of young minds.”
American parents disagree. Harried amateurs that we are, we tend to think that young kids are better off at home—and even many career mothers wish for more time with their children.
A Pew Survey of mothers with children under 18 proves the point. Overwhelmingly, the women surveyed cited “part-time” as the ideal work arrangement. Just three in ten preferred full-time jobs, although more than half were working full-time. In other words, two in ten would cut back work hours if they could. Parents instinctively feel that young children are better off at home. The Pew survey found that most all women, including those who worked, believed that to be the case.
Similarly, the polling firm Public Agenda asked parents of children under five which of an array of care arrangements were best during a child’s earliest years. Seventy percent of respondents thought it was best for one parent to be at home. Just six percent thought a “quality day care center” was superior. In another question, parents overwhelmingly listed daycare as their “least preferred option.” More than seven in ten agreed with the statement “parents should only rely on a day care center when they have no other option.”
Certainly parents thought there was a role for daycare. They overwhelmingly understood and sympathized with those for whom daycare was the only option. But the survey confirms that few parents are clamoring for government intervention in childcare and even fewer embrace the feminist vision of universal government-funded institutional care. For American families, a parent is the ideal caregiver.
What Americans want are policies that make it easier for families to keep a parent at home, not policies that facilitate daycare. (In fact, they support the former option by a margin of two to one.) If policymakers listen to families—and ignore organizations or experts claiming to speak on behalf of women—they won’t need to stack the deck toward work or home. Freedom—not welfare based on feminist social engineering schemes—is the key. Lower taxes, for example, make it easier for families to make ends meet on one income while also leaving those that need daycare with more to spend on it.
Sometimes daycare is a necessity, sometimes parents prefer it, but most often it’s not wanted at all. Mother’s day in America is about honoring moms and their varied choices. Let’s leave the grand social experiments and “universal childcare” to France.