It's been a couple of weeks since the overheated media fight about whether Ann Romney, wife of presidential candidate Mitt Romney, has ever worked—so by the rules of American elections, by now nobody will even remember what I am talking about. (And if you do, you'll be sick of hearing about it.)
But bear with me. For some reason, it's been hard to get the words "never worked a day in her life" out of my head. Not because they're inflammatory, but because I wonder how true they are, for Mrs. Romney and for most women today.
I'm not talking about whether parenthood is hard work. I think we all know it is, and that's a different argument. I'm talking specifically about working for pay. Think about your friends and family members who stay home to take care of their children. Do you know anyone who has literally never had a paying job?
But even though they may have stopped working full-time, the majority of stay-at-home parents I know do some part-time work, whether it's working from home on freelance projects or working in a store for a few hours while the kids are in preschool.
The point is, being a stay-at-home mom is not a zero-sum game. Whether out of financial necessity or genuine interest or both, women seek out work for pay and they fit it into their schedules. And when the children reach school age, back to the office goes mom, whether to pick up where she left off or to embark on a new career.
This, of course, leaves out the millions of people who don't even have that choice in the first place. They must work for pay or they will lose their ability to provide food and shelter for their children.
I did a little research on Ann Romney and found (as everyone else already knows) that even though she had five children, she did a lot of unpaid work on her husband's campaigns, the Olympics, and various charities. So even her picture is nuanced—she wasn't taking care of children to the exclusion of everything else. It's virtually impossible to do child care and nothing else. But apparently she never worked for a paycheck, even before kids, even after they were grown. She never had to. And that truly does make her different from everyone I know, and from most Americans.