In our modern society, middle-class, dual-income families remain challenged with the decision of whether one parent quits their career to stay home with children. While the childcare debate commonly focuses on the most financially vulnerable parents, New Mexico is doing its part to change the archaic system perpetuating social injustices and financial instabilities that trickle down.
Macro-level policies around paid family leave, universal and affordable daycare, and family-friendly workplaces have long been social fights, and New Mexico is solving one piece of the puzzle. Yet social progress is hindered on a micro, interpersonal level.
A first-time mother, I have seen the social ideals of middle-class parenthood being reinforced and maintained through toxic positivity, silencing and public shaming. These, along with the maternity healthcare system and childcare labor market, reproduce a societal problem that is socially masked — an issue especially because people crave emotional intimacy in the throes of isolating experiences like parenthood.
Amid social class tensions around childcare affordability and the pressure to “do it all,” stay at home moms feel depressed, anxious, ashamed and guilty. They are encouraged to access medication or turn inward. Parent support groups, designed to be havens for mothers exchanging informational support, are spaces to exercise public shaming, social silencing, and toxic positivity when mothers deviate from norms.
The 1950s stay-at-home-mother ideology appears alive and well today, but are moms with established careers truly wanting to stay home and forgo mobility? To me, it looks more like a choice made in light of limited options.
“Our families deserve every bit of support,” said Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said when announcing free childcare for families with incomes at or below 400% of the federal poverty line. She pledged $10 million for “supply-building” grants to expand the child care availability.
But even the leading childcare option, daycare, has limitations. Parents feel distressed over transitioning their infant outside the home, and childcare centers face high staff turnover and waitlists. Some call on their own parents and move closer to family instead. One mother summed up the frustrations around that solution: “It’s free help with emotional baggage!”
During the pandemic, hiring a nanny became a necessity for parents clocking in remotely. My year-long search for a nanny revealed that this market is not tailored to the middle-class, which is expected to pay wages equating 30% their income despite concerns around safety and professionalism.
Daycares, scattered family help, and forgoing careers should not be leading childcare options. Private childcare (e.g., nannies) is a top preference and should be an affordable option that is regulated. Systemizing the nanny search process and offering governmental subsidies with higher taxation at the corporate level could relieve the burden so families need not become employers. This way, market values of nannies remain intact, and parents are provided financial and practical support. Private childcare subsidies should reflect a reasonable percentage of income while guaranteeing access to quality childcare.
Giving families more choices will contribute to a reconfiguration of parenting social groups and the maternity healthcare system. Ensuring families more authentic, emotionally skillful social support will resolve pervasive social deprivation struggles and better allow communities to support one another. In providing for the familial welfare of society, the so-called village required to raise children in modern society has a greater chance of becoming a fulfilled promise.
Andreea Nica, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of sociology at Western New Mexico University.