The expectations that culture puts on a woman's ovaries are more exhausting than menstrual cramps, and no tampon is large enough to absorb the vast consequences. Regardless of what choice a woman makes regarding her reproductive life, she will be judged. If she has children she can't afford, she is a leech on the system. If she doesn't want to be a mother, she is selfish. If she is a stay-at-home mom, she is lazy and self-indulgent. And if she chooses to be a mother and pursue a career, she is abandoning her children. Unfortunately, the "Mom Wars" that have ensued in response have a way of distracting from the real issue at hand. If society and this nation's employers set up a system that actually honors parenting, the current paradigm could be obliterated.
Women have an expiration date on their eggs and, although they won't smell rotten, they are only good for so long. The prime baby-making years for a female is in her twenties and early thirties. Yet, those are the same years one is supposed to be getting established professionally. If a woman waits to procreate to focus on a career, she may come up against fertility issues. If she tries to do both, she will have to gestate the creature, eject it from her body and then make the decision whether or not to feed it while pumping her breast milk in the utility closet (a very involved process). Having a baby takes time away from work -- time women are hardly given. A three-month maternity leave means that a new mother has one month to stop gushing blood after the birth, another month for her brain to melt from the influx of hormones and the last month to appreciate her newborn before handing the baby into the arms of day care while they are still "mewling and puking," as Shakespeare so eloquently put it.
Even ambitious, successful women have the audacity to want to spend time with their child. And let's not forget the dads in this conversation either, who all too frequently have to use sick days to spend a few moments with their newborn infants because there is in general no paid paternity leave in the U.S.. They barely get a whiff of that fresh baby scent before being carted back to work and consequently preparing for the future "cat's in the cradle" moment with their child. Traditional gender roles are obviously reinforced when it is the mother who is the only one given any paid leave (the average in 2012 being a mere seven weeks) and the dad is left pondering the lyrics of Cat Stevens, car keys in hand.
We can point fingers and argue over the biological realities and psychological influences, but that is missing the point. Why parents are forced to choose is the issue that needs to be addressed. Moms and dads feel inadequate, as it were only their fault that they can't be two in places at one time, when in reality, they are dealing with a systemic problem. The current status quo utterly contradicts the concept of family values as a political priority. Considering that the US government provides subsidies of up to $30 billion annually to farmers of corn, cotton, rice, soybeans, wheat and other crops, and the oil companies get anywhere between $14 and $52 billion annually in written-in tax codes, there is definitely room to budget a more equitable system for parents. Obviously, businesses are impacted by extending maternity leave (and actually granting paternity leave), but if the government can afford to subsidize corporations, they could also afford to allocate funds for the people who are the backbone of these businesses -- since these issues affect the fundamental fabric of society.
From an economic perspective, if a person starts working at the age of 21 and continues until the retirement age of 67, they are devoting 46 years of their lives to their employers. If we take it as a given that the average U.S. family has two children, is it really rational not to provide more reasonable maternity and paternity leave? Even if mom and dad each got one year for each kid, that would be .92% of their entire professional lives spent being a present parent. Even Mrs. Duggar, with all her 20 children, would still commit half her life working if she had a job. And if major Fortune 500 companies think, "hey, we can't budget a decent parental leave into their spreadsheets," I challenge them to examine the discrepancy of the average CEO making 273 times more than the average employee. Right there is a pool that could also be tapped to cover costs beyond what the government could provide.
There are many excuses for why things are the way they are, but they are just that -- excuses. We have the power to change things by making this a priority, and supporting candidates who promote this type of legislation. There are thousands of parenting articles written by moms who are attacking moms, or dads who are attacking... uhhh... sports teams. This is wasted energy and pitting us against one another. We are all doing the best we can within the limitations set for us. By demanding a more reasonable support system, existing in most first-world nations, it would improve the lives of both parents and children. No parent should ever be asked to choose to between their baby and their job. Let's advocate a system that respects the fact that part of our humanity is the creating of more humans, and those humans need to be cared for.