May 14 2012

Keeping Politics Out of Mother’s Day

Carrie L. Lukas

It’s easy for moms to feel taken advantage of.   We are pulled in many directions, asked to fetch milk, tie shoes, find lost socks, make snacks—often when it’s unnecessary.  Mother’s Day is supposed to be a break from that, while Dads pick up the slack.

But Mother’s Day has become increasingly political.  The White House is using it as an opportunity to bash on insurance companies and celebrate the constitutionally-dubious health care law, which they say ended the practice on treating womanhood as a pre-existing condition. 

That’s a loaded way to describe it, of course.  The practice insurance companies engaged in was just accounting for the potential health costs, based on a person’s demographic characteristics.  Women tend to use more health care than men do, and therefore are more expensive to care for.  To make up for those costs, insurance companies typical charge women more for premiums. 

That’s the same process that leads auto insurance companies to charge women less:  Men tend to get in more expensive accidents and therefore pose a greater risk for insurance companies.   Preventing insurance companies from taking into account someone’s sex may sound noble and like a nice thing to do, but let’s be clear that it’s cost shifting plain and simple.  A ban on gender-ratings in health insurance will force men to pick up part of women’s health tab.  It’s regulations like this which would make the requirement that individuals must have insurance necessary—otherwise many men wouldn’t buy insurance that costs more than it should.

Yet motherhood isn’t just a political topic when scene through this explicit policy lens.  The whole idea of what it means to be a good mother is under constant debate (most recently in this meant-to-shock-us picture of a nursing preschooler).  It’s worthwhile for women, and society in general, to hash out how best to raise healthy children, so it makes sense for there to be numerous studies and debate about child-rearing topics.   But it’s important to put this all in perspective.  Yes, we should all try to do right by our children, but we should also recognize that there is a lot we can’t control and we may tend to over-estimate our impact.   

Debates about what it means to be a good mother would be much less heated if government were limited to its proper role.  The problem is that because of government’s overreach many feel that they have to pick up the tab for others’ parenting decisions.  Tax breaks for daycare slight the contributions of stay-at-home moms; subsidies for stay-at-home moms are an offense to all those parents who have to work and wish they could stay home. 

It would be nice if we could get government out of the business of micromanaging our lives and rewarding some decisions over others.  That way we could stick to appreciating the wonderful role of motherhood—and mothering—in our lives.

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