The Press Secretary vs. The Homemaker

Will you join me in a  thought experiment? Imagine that I proudly identify as an artist. (I did say that this was a thought experiment and so it does require imagination.) If at the end of my days, my art lives on, carrying my values into the future, I will consider myself as having lived a worthwhile life. I consider my art to be so important that I spend time on it even when I am not paid for my work. Perhaps there will be tangible rewards down the road, but there is no guarantee of that. I create art because it is my passion. I also share my art with my city and nation, convinced as I am that the presence of uplifting art leads to a happier and more prosperous populace.

However, being an artist doesn’t consume me. There are other areas of my personality that vie for my time. I am also trained and employed as a lawyer. I certainly have material benefits from that job. Not only I am well paid, but I have good health benefits and a retirement account. There are also non-material benefits. I get to meet interesting people and stretch my talents and abilities by overcoming difficult challenges. I enjoy the intellectual atmosphere of the office. As with my art, I feel that my work is valuable and leads to a healthier and safer life for those in my community and city. Nonetheless, in the final analysis, I am proudest of being an artist.

There is one more part to our thought experiment. The government applauds my art and wishes to help me be successful in that arena. They value artists and agree that the city is a better place when artists feel supported and validated. To do so, the government will spend tax money to provide me with art assistants, whom I can direct to carry out my artistic vision. In this way, they predict, I will be less torn about leaving my art studio and spending more time in my legal office. In addition, they will require all businesses, including my employer, to give artists paid time off to work on our craft. What a wonderful perk of my job!

These assistants and the time off will be paid by increasing taxes on everyone (including my fellow artists).  Regulating businesses to pay for my time off will, of course, add a cost to business, but they have the option to raise the cost of all goods (including art supplies). The important thing is that I should feel comfortable working for a company that values my art.

Wait?  That doesn’t seem to make sense, does it? If the government deems that art is truly important, then why instigate policies that will raise prices and force artists to work longer hours in other occupations, leaving them less time to create art? Will an art assistant truly be able to fulfill my personal artistic vision? What if I want to do my own art? Wouldn’t it be better to form an environment with lower taxes and less regulation so that I can choose to work less at my non-artistic job? Then it would be my choice to give up the positives of my law career and focus on my art or to spend less time on art but keep my legal career alive.

Replace artist with mother and lawyer with press secretary and you will understand why I was confused by a small part of Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ memoir. Overall, I enjoyed the book recounting her years as President Trump’s press secretary. In that role, she was strong, articulate, and classy. Despite being treated despicably by many in the press, she stayed on target, didn’t cower and remained a southern lady.

Speaking for Myself: Faith, Freedom and the Fight of Our Lives Inside the Trump White House is a wonderful reminder of many of the successes of the Trump presidency as well as an inside look at the author’s childhood as the daughter of the Governor of Arkansas and her experiences serving in various political campaigns. All in all, it was an enjoyable and illuminating read.

There was only one place, a few sentences in all, that baffled me. That is the subject of my thought experiment. Since I respect the author and our views converge on so many issues, I truly would like to understand her thinking.

More than once, Sarah Huckabee Sanders speaks about the conflict between being a loving mother and also having such a high-tension, high profile job—one that often necessitated last-minute changes of plan as well as travel. One chapter in particular, focuses on that dilemma. She speaks of her personal challenge worrying that she was either short-changing her job or short-changing her children. I understand that and, as a United States citizen, I am grateful for how she served our country, recognizing the sacrifices she and her family made. I also understand when she says that her most important title is ‘mother.’ What I don’t understand is her conclusion:

“…I was so proud of the Trump administration for leading the fight to double the child tax credit and champion paid family leave. Four years ago Republicans were hardly talking about paid family leave at all, but thanks to the leadership of Ivanka Trump, also a working mom of three, there was now broad bipartisan support for it. “

I am not a fan of that bipartisan support. I think that government-directed paid family leave is a terrible mistake that will lead to fewer options for women while damaging the economy and family life. As in my example, if we truly value motherhood, then policies such as lower taxation and less regulation, allowing companies to keep costs down, seem to be the way to go. If couples could once again live on one salary, then they can choose for themselves who and how much to devote to a paid career. Mrs. Sanders seems to have a husband who valued her position with the president and, together, they made the decision that she should accept a grueling government position. Together, I presume, they then made the decision that she should step back in order to be more available to their family. Why should the government make that choice for us using economic incentives to promote one vision?

At the same time as I read Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ account, my daughter shared a book published in 1924 with me. The Homemaker, by Dorothy Canfield Fisher, is a surprising book for its time. (Totally off-topic: If you have not read her book, Understood Betsy, as a read-aloud with your 8-11-year-olds, do that immediately.) While the book has been described as a “feminist novel,” it is actually a ‘protection of children’ novel—those very little people whose needs are often ignored when the importance of women in the workforce is promoted.

The protagonists of the book are Lester and Eva Knapp, both of whom are miserable and causing great misery to their children. In order to get married to Eva, Lester took the first job available. Years later, he despises his work, and is, not surprisingly, quite bad at it. Life is a burden. Meanwhile, the ambitious and business-minded Eva immerses herself in a hated life of cleaning, cooking, and child-rearing. She does those with technical competence and frighteningly resentful vigor. The three children suffer emotionally as one would expect, and the entire family has physical ailments directly connected to stress and unhappiness.

When an accident confines Lester to bed, Eva goes out to work. The family soon discovers that Lester is a loving homemaker and father while Eva thrives at her job. Everyone is happier and their economic situation is vastly improved. At the end of the book, a crisis unfolds as there is a chance for Lester to recuperate and both adults worry that the expectations of society will force him back to the workforce and her back to the home.

However, the primary theme through the book is society’s neglect of the importance of a loving, dedicated figure in children’s lives, one who delights in their growth and makes a true home for the family. Lester and Eva need to make the best choice for their individual family, but caring for that family means that someone has to be devoting his or her intelligence, time, creativity, and talents to the children.

For a few decades now, we have been telling people with disastrous results that raising children is a boring, unfulfilling, and tedious job. We hold up the mirage that if only it didn’t cost so much, parents could find that magical being who will love their child as much as they do and guide them exactly as they would. Then they could do the rewarding and important work of earning money. The person raising their children will be earning money as well. That is, after all, what really matters! Or is it? Mrs. Sanders didn’t accept her job because of the salary and she didn’t quit her job because she couldn’t afford help. She accepted the press secretary position for well thought out reasons and she left because she made a well thought out decision that her family needed more of her presence.

Insisting that companies have a certain proportion of women in their workforce reduces opportunities for men, taking the choice away from husbands and wives as to which one of them will work out of the home. If my husband can’t get a position, while the company is begging me to come to work so that they can show how “woke” they are, then we are less free to run our own lives. If the government provides paid leave so that I won’t step away from my career, they are declaring that the career is more important than my family. They want me to think that having a family won’t interfere with my work, but work is what they are truly holding up as the highest value. If we look to Europe as a role model, we see that there is a serious danger of below replacement population growth. There is generous family leave time—and there are fewer and fewer children. When family and children are not valued, people do not establish families and have children. America is already seeing the result of attitudes that remove the concept of marriage and children as a blessing and vital part of life. As I see it, family leave will be one more nail in the coffin.

Few women or men get similar professional or business opportunities to those that Ivanka Trump or Sarah Huckabee Sanders did. Many, many women work because of economic need rather than for fulfillment. Given a choice, they would rather have more children and take care of them. Perhaps they would homeschool or volunteer in their children’s schools and in their communities, activities that tended to coincide with healthier neighborhoods. Policies that increase the cost of living or constrict the economic choices of husbands and wives, such as paid family leave or quotas for female workers, diminish these options. I know that forcing women into the workforce is a dream of the Left, presented as allowing women to reach their full potential and contribute to society. What I do not understand is why women who recognize the importance of motherhood are pushing conservatives to jump on the bandwagon. The government never works with a light touch; it tends to function with an increasingly heavy fist that leads to all sorts of unintended consequences.

I may not work in pastels or oil paint, but for years I was privileged to use my creativity and intellect, my passion and talents, in raising my children in partnership with my husband. Other women made different choices. I would like for my daughters to have the same options that we did.

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21 thoughts on “The Press Secretary vs. The Homemaker”

  1. I read Understood Betsy every summer before I make plans for the (home) school year. I could write a book about that book!

    I agree with you on paid family leave; like all other “government” programs who is paying for it? It seems like a vicious cycle that will require people (including mothers) to work more because they are being taxed more. A smaller, less intrusive government means less taxation, more freedom, and a fairer market.

    And also, as my family has gotten older I have realized that children need a full time *someone* not just for the first few weeks or months or years of life. My teenagers have needed me every hour of the day at one time or another. I became a single mom of 6 after 18 years of marriage, so I understand the struggle to make ends meet and so on. I’m not insensitive to how hard life can be when the unexpected happens and you have to live with the consequences day in and day out. But that’s kind of the point; I don’t want the government poking its nose into my life “day in and day out.” I had to make life workable for us, I had to say yes to some things and no to others. I don’t want a nanny state making my choices for me, even if it’s by making one choice easy while making the alternate seem foolish (for example, not taking advantage of “government money”).

    I apologize for the length of this comment. There are many things I could “write a book about”! 🙂

    Maybe a book club might be in order for We Happy Warriors. I suspect there are many of us who could talk books all day!

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    1. Kristyn, you’re comment isn’t too long at all – I wish you had written even more! I fear that no matter who is president for the next four years, family leave will be seen as an area of ‘bipartisan cooperation.’ Historically, over the past few decades that means that Republicans go along with the ideas of the Democrats. On this one, women like Sarah Huackabee Sanders, can be very influential and that is why her comment in an otherwise agreeable book disturbed me so much.
      And yes, I could talk books all day!

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    1. Tom, I am very conflicted about this. Incentivizing giving birth (which the government did by aid to unmarried women with children) is not automatically a good thing. On the other hand, recognizing that raising children properly (which is a wide category) helps the nation, matters. I think we need a cultural rather than a governmentally-led revolution back to appreciating marriage and children. So many people today have never seen a successful marriage or know mothers who get great joy from making a home – and often doing much else at the same time.

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      1. I just posted my comment and then I read the comments. Often, I read all of the commentary and then posted a comment. Alas, it’s late in the day and though I wrote the following to go along with my previous comment, I decided to not include it. Editing one’s writing is a beautiful process! It seemed fitting after reading this commentary to write it down for you here:

        We’re passionate the development of our spiritual lives in this physical world. Raising children to value more important things than money and social status is not merely about meeting their physical needs. To this end, we do recommend living on a single income with one parent staying home, if there are children to raise. We also suggest life long learning by setting examples of it before your children as they grow up.

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  2. I was a working, single father of a 2, 4 and 6 year children. Try as I may I was unable to provide a ‘mother atmosphere’ to my children. There is something built into women that help children to develop properly. As a man I just did not have the femine touch. My regards to all stay at home mothers that nurture their children and shame on our government for creating an environment where it almost forces women to leave the home to go to work.

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    1. Jim, I have been unsuccessful in finding reviews of the book, The Homemaker, from the time when it was published. I have only found more modern reviews. It must have seemed revolutionary at the time. I agree that there is something unique about both mothers and fathers and that, more often than that, mothers are the best ones to spend the most time nurturing, especially young, children. But, there is always room for individuals who recognize that they, in some way, don’t fit the majority pattern. I hope your children appreciate you and what you did for them.

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    2. Jim, I appreciate your viewpoint. I do my very best as a single mom to a bunch of boys but I realize my limitations. No “masculine touch” here! One thing I do is try to be honest with my sons themselves about where I fall short, and try to point out good men and dads when I see them. It has definitely gotten more difficult as they have gotten older. I pray a lot 🙂

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  3. As a mother who chose to stay at home to raise children, I didn’t like the bi-partisan, paid leave policies that Ivanka Trump and others suggested and championed as a way to help working families. Financially and socially they made no sense to my family and me. Emotionally charged policies are often promoted over rational policies.

    These policies make families (quoting from your post), “less free to run our own lives.”

    I believe that I have mentioned this point here before, but I have a degree in Economics and studied Chemistry alongside it. My husband also has a degree in Economics and he studied Computer Science alongside it. He’s currently employed as an Economist, but we’ve lived on one modest income throughout our 28 year long marriage.

    It would be nice if more people of every ideological background (Dem or Rep or Ind or Green) used better discernment and considered the actual implications of passing dumb laws. Society is made worse if there is a “norm” established that families must have two working parents or that a woman has to work or she is not going to be fulfilled. The fact is that the employers will ultimately choose their bottom lines.

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  4. I do support tax credits because they are at heart tax reductions. But mandated family paid leave is yet another burdensome regulation on companies that otherwise might make the same decision to offer to their valued female employees. For many decades I worked for a company that allowed six weeks of maternity leave and one more month if breastfeeding. They did not offer part-time or any other maternity benefits. The problem was that the company also had a seniority system that determined the schedules, days off, and transfers. So, if after working one’s way up to a “good” schedule that worked for the family you decided to take off a few years you would have to come back as a new employee starting at the bottom of the seniority list.

    You are correct, that most of the young women working at my company did so out of economic need, a somewhat flexible schedule – for example, some chose to work at nights while husbands worked days in order to minimize childcare needs – but most would have preferred to be able to stay home and live on one salary.

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  5. It would seem that Congress is paying attention to the views of voters in both parties. Below is a headline from a BUSINESS INSIDER piece from 2017, followed by an excerpt from the long story. The “real reason” was cited as “cultural differences” between the U.S. and other nations, which are further described as having changed on this issue.

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    Most people in America want paid parental leave — here’s the real reason the US is the only developed nation that doesn’t have it

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    While 96% of Democrats say mothers should get paid leave, a whopping 88% of Republicans agree. When it comes to paternity leave, things are more split — while 93% of Democrats think fathers should have it, 77% of Republicans agree. And as for adoptive parents, 94% of Democrats think they’re entitled to paid leave, and 81% of Republicans concur.

    More Democrats than Republicans support paid leave — but the divide isn’t huge, and the majority of Republicans are on board.

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    1. Anne, President Reagan said that his greatest regret was signing into law no-fault divorce in CA. That opened a floodgate for other states. People wanted it and it was a blessing to some. But it hurt many more including future generations by weakening marriage. I know that “the people” support family leave. That is why it would be so important for women with a platform to explain how it will certainly help some, but it will cause damage to many more and to society down the road as a whole.

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  6. So well written, Susan…you’ve persuasively laid out how American society is being nearly coerced into toppling the family unit upon which a strong and unified nation is built. I decided to buck the urge by colleagues to put my education and training in the workplace a priority but as the eldest of eight I knew that my own mother’s decision to do the same thing to the detriment of the family was not an option for me. I’ve worked in a home office for over forty years and raised three happy, healthy and well adjusted children. Unrevised history will tell the folly of this sorry story someday. God bless.

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    1. Kristin, I truly don’t think that the majority of 18-year-olds today have any idea that marriage and family can be fulfilling. Few of them have seen good examples and the cultural message certainly doesn’t say so. Having made a mess, we keep on moving down the same road instead of asking where we might have made mistakes. I don’t see a happy, joyful generation yet we keep following the same path.

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  7. I think religious and conservative woman (not all) are somewhat hypocritical because they’re all expecting that man take more responsibility today. But at the same time they’re not giving man authority that should come with that responsibility. And I’m not even started to talk about system that is totally rigged against man in courts.

    Yeah, I really want more responsibility. But not without authority. Woman can say they’re not feminist, but they sure act like them when they demand so called equality. They only choose and pick what suits them best. 

    Either both authority and responsibility or none of them. You like ships; if a man is a captain of the ship (marriage), then woman should not be it’s first officer but a passenger! 

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    1. Ivan, I agree with your argument about responsibility and authority needing to go together. I am befuddled about your boating comment.

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