In a country that proclaims its love of both family values and hard work, I feel that many of the readers who admonish my family’s choice to work fewer jobs/hours and spend more time together, as a family, see either one or the other, but for whatever reason, do not see how the advice to “get a job” conflicts with the idea of “family values.”
If my husband and I worked enough to make up for the gap in income that puts us below the poverty line, we would not be able to spend time together, both of us with our child, very often, and probably only while sleeping. A commenter recently suggested that we work “staggered schedules,” presumably meaning that one of us should be working, while the other cares for our child, in order to enable us to “get off” public assistance. This advice troubles me, because in order for a family unit to remain strong, we must experience that family as a unit. If my husband and I were too busy or too tired to communicate effectively, we would be risking our marriage. If we worked “staggered schedules,” we would each miss out on a large portion of our son’s first years. We choose not to do this, and the state does not ask us to do this. Why does the state not ask that we do this? Because the state cannot mandate that only parents whose family incomes exceed a certain amount are allowed to stay home. Do you see the problem, here? If it is wrong to accept government assistance only when working every available hour at a paid job does not provide “enough” (who defines that, and how?), then that means that it is only ok for parents who can make “enough” on one income to have the other parent “stay home.”
Our society does not to force families like mine to choose childcare provided by someone other than a parent. To suggest a that accepting public assistance is wrong, when we could choose a “staggered” division of time and labor, assumes that my family does not deserve to care for our own child, at times together, with all three of us in one room. It also assumes that jobs with appropriate schedules are readily available to us, which is another unfair assumption. What saddens me further is that this insistence that we are taking something we do not “need” values only paid work that takes place outside the home and does not consider parenting to be valuable work, or hard work.
I would like to point out that parenting well is exhausting work. It is a rewarding and difficult CAREER that our society embraces my right to choose as my only career, should I wish to make that choice. It is not a choice that only families who earn above $X/year are allowed to make. Every family gets to make that choice. If you value hard work, please value what my husband and I do when we are parenting. If you believe in family values, please value our choice to spend time as a family, even though we could probably be working low-paying part-time jobs without benefits, instead.