Employment

The Dark Side of Socialized Motherhood

Austria gives women generous maternity benefits while shuffling them into the pink ghetto.

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skley/Flickr

In Austria, "virtually every mother … stays home for at least one year, if not two or three," following the birth of a child, thanks to generous maternity leave provide by the state. They also enjoy job-protection while they're on leave, government-subsidized prenatal care, and, after the child is born, subsidized daycare and free schooling. When American writer Abigail Rasminsky got pregnant soon after her husband accepted a job in Austria, she was psyched about how easy she would have it compared to pregnant friends back in New York. 

But a funny things happens when the state starts encouraging not just parenthood but a particularly gendered version of it—as Raminsky would soon find out. The dark side of socialized motherhood is the continued codification of "mother" as a woman's most important cultural role. 

"I didn't foresee motherhood derailing my career or my ambition," writes Rasminsky in New York magazine. But her husband was earning an OK salary, and the family could supplement this with the €12,000 she received in maternity-leave benefits from the Austrian government. There was no immediate need for Rasminsky to get back to work, and she felt disconnected from the writing projects she had been working on pre-Austria and pre-baby. Before long, Rasminsky writes, "I reluctantly turned into the Primary Caregiver" and little else. 

At first, Rasminsky feels "resentful" and "trapped." But then she notices that her "can I have it all?" concerns aren't at all echoed by Austrian friends. 

Virtually every mother in Austria stays home for at least one year, if not two or three — very few day cares accept children before 12 months and nannies are not the norm. All kids are guaranteed a subsidized spot at age three, but many kids start at 18 months or 2 years when maternity leave ends. 

Though she calls it "virtually impossible to criticize" such a system, Rasminsky—critical or not—does see its dark side: early parenthood in Austria is "particularly gendered." New moms are in fact required to take take 16 weeks maternity leave. Dads are allowed (not required to take) their own two months paternity leave, but few took it. Why would they when mom had so many months at home available? Even for fathers who wanted to spend time with a new child, the temporary pay cut it would bring (neither paternal nor maternal leave is subsidized at a person's full pay) was a deterrent, as they were largely the primary breadwinners. 

"But unlike my husband and me, my expat friends didn't struggle over the gendered turn their marriages had taken," writes Rasminsky. "The logic seemed to be: My husband had his job, and I had mine, which was culturally mandated and for which I was paid. What else could I possibly want?"

The fact that Austrian mothers could stay home with young children without financial worry became, in all sorts of ways, a mandate that they do so. Daycares were only open for limited hours. Nannies and other early-childhood care options were scarce. As a friend of Rasminsky's put it, "It's a country that protects mothers, not women."

The result, for Rasminsky, has beeen "fewer opportunities," less money, and not being "as far along professionally as many of my working-mom friends back home." One might think this would make Rasminsky re-think her affinity for socialized motherhood. But after initially finding it "problematic," she eventually learns to stop worrying and love her new culturally prescribed role.

"I now see that putting my daughter in full-time care at four months would have been wrong for me," writes Rasminsky. "It is, in fact, still wrong for me, and she's now almost 3." While Rasminsky imagines her New York City counterparts "racing home at 6 p.m., hoping to catch an hour or two" with their kids before bed, she gets to spend "long afternoons at the park" with her daughter whenever she wants. "For that, I only have Austria to thank," she writes. 

It's cool that Rasminsky has found stay-at-home motherhood to be more fulfilling than she expected. Ditto that she doesn't mind the tradeoffs in terms of reduced money and opportunities. Mandatory mommy-and-me time worked out well for Rasminsky, who was admittedly stalling in her career when she got pregnant, whose profession (writing) can be done much more flexibly than many others (allowing Rasminsky to effectively opt-in and opt-out at the same time), and who is apparently inclined to spend all day with a toddler and not go insane.  

But what about the undoubtedly countless women who start out feeling as Rasminsky does and don't have (or can't rationalize themselves into) a change of heart like she did? What about the women who won't ever have children, by choice or circumstance, yet wind up penalized by employer expectations regarding young women and motherhood? Myriad studies have shown that places with the most generous maternal-leave policies and other parenting-specific subsidies wind up with major tradeoffs in terms of women's workforce advancement: higher employment overall but less women in management or leadership roles. More women who eventually return to work after a pregnancy, bigger gaps in men and women's pay. 

I wish women like Rasminsky could see that just because something was palatable for her, it might not be for many other women. That these policies are likely to harm women's workforce prospects and equality in the long run. Instead, she notes that Austria is a country that values mothers but not women per se, and because Rasminsky herself is a mother, she says thanks.

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  1. + 1 Master Race

    Do they still give out medals to mothers based on the number of children they have?

    1. , and the family could supplement this with the ?12,000 she received in maternity-leave benefits from the Austrian government.

      Yes.

      1. [golf clap]

    2. I think it was a silver candlestick for every fourth child

      1. I was thinking this:

        1st Class Order, Gold Cross: eligible mothers with eight or more children
        2nd Class Order, Silver Cross: eligible mothers with six to seven children
        3rd Class Order, Bronze Cross: eligible mothers with four to five children

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C…..man_Mother

        The only reason I even knew about it is that I saw them for sale in a catalog recently.

    3. In Germany, you get 190 EUD/month/child for the first two, 196 EUD/month/child for the third, and 221 EUD/month/child for each additional child.

      Austria’s system is a bit more complex as it depends upon the age of the child, too.

  2. You know what other idea with a dark side originated in Austria?

    1. Taking steroids to enhance your physique and become a global celebrity and the Governator?

      1. OK, you know what two other ideas with a dark side originated in Austria?

    2. Check out the movie Look Who’s Back on Netflix. Hilarious and relevant.

    3. Economics?

      /some prog, probably

    4. Freudian psychology?

  3. This seems like another variation on the toasted ice problem.

    1. According to Google, you are the first person in the world to use the phrase “toasted ice problem”.

      1. I doubt it. But “toasted ice” is a reference to the intellectual and philosophical problem of figuring out what woman want.

          1. So, I should copyright it before it takes the world by storm?

  4. “I didn’t foresee motherhood derailing my career or my ambition”

    Ambition, OK. But I can’t imagine taking 2-3 years off my job and not having it derail my career. I’d be obselete regardless of whether my job was being held for me.

    1. What an idiot, if she is in any kind of competitive field whatever.

      Gosh, who would have thought that taking a big chunk of time off, and being consistently less able to work long hours on short notice or take on extra responsibilities, would affect my career?

      1. You meanie. Every woman has a right to have everything regardless of reality.

      2. “who would have thought that taking a big chunk of time off”

        If only the mother had chosen to have baby bunnies, she’d be back at the grindstone an awful lot sooner.

      3. Well, the ambition part is the remarkable one. With feminists telling women that their emotional reaction and attachment to children is just like men’s, there is room for being surprised by the truth.

    2. I’m not so sure I’d want a nurse or doctor as a caretaker when they’ve just returned from 3 years of leave.

      Without daily practicing the application of their knowledge and skills I can only wonder how much they forgot about what they should have known 3 years ago, let alone any new knowledge they would have otherwise acquired that might now be best practice.

    3. If something derails your ambition, it’s your fault, not something’s. Maybe what you thought was your life goal in fact wasn’t?

      1. Be fair to the woman ENB writes about. She apparently acknowledges that.

  5. The Dark Side of Socialized Motherhood

    Still looking for the bright side.

    1. I’m still looking for the ‘dark side’ – seriously, what evil is this likely to encourage? Oh, right, raising a child that you agreed to bring into the world. Oh, what a hardship.

      1. The socialized part is the dark side.

      2. The part where you don’t have a choice in how you raise it.

        1. The socialized side is always a, if not the, dark side.

          However, this meanie is not mustering much empathy here for the likes of Mama Rasminsky or the hypothetical Austrian moms for whom ENB whines.

          Besides, just because she is the full-time, at-home mom, that does not necessarily mean that Rasminsky has to become detached from writing or spending time on projects that require to interface with the google machine.

    2. Still looking for the bright side.

      The bright side is that your life is taken care of… as long as you know your place.

  6. How come there are no pictures of the “pink ghetto?” I feel mislead.

    1. Maybe you’ve got Google SafeSearch turned on?

  7. “Though she calls it “virtually impossible to criticize” such a system”

    Here’s an idea: Criticize yourself. It’s your fucking fault.

    I’m the primary care giver for my kids, and I make damn sure to make money and get shit done whenever and wherever I can. Boo fucking hoo.

    1. she calls it “virtually impossible to criticize” such a system

      Not actually, no.

      Although she may meant “Its virtually impossible for somebody feeding off of the system to criticize it.

      “Gosh, I feel so bad complaining that I only get three years paid leave. I mean, I’d ask for 18 years, but I’d feel like kind of a heel.”

      1. As far as I can tell, she’s just complaining that her life didn’t turn out exactly the way she thought it would.

        Who know having kids would involve sacrifice?!?!?

        1. That’s basically all it is – she’s whining. Fucking ridiculous.

          1. Well, that’s not ALL it is. I mean, ENB’s article is stupid even without the other woman’s whining.

            1. Makes perfect sense to me.

          2. That’s basically all it is – she’s whining.

            Who is? It seems ENB is, not so much the other woman.

      1. I thought that was going to be this.

    2. She actually has lots of criticisms of it:

      The result, for Rasminsky, has beeen “fewer opportunities,” less money, and not being “as far along professionally as many of my working-mom friends back home.”

      1. Yes, but all of which she seemed to accept as ultimate positives.

        1. “Yes, but all of which she seemed to accept as ultimate positives.”

          I agree, Diane.

      2. “It” meaning “her choice”.

    3. I agree with this. Everything this woman did was pure personal choice.

      1. Well, apparently staying home for 16 months wasn’t a choice. Though she and her husband did choose to move to Austria, presumably.

        1. Sorry, 16 weeks.

        2. 15 weeks. I mean 16 weeks.

  8. “I now see that putting my daughter in full-time care at four months would have been wrong for me,” writes Rasminsky. “It is, in fact, still wrong for me, and she’s now almost 3.” While Rasminsky imagines her New York City counterparts “racing home at 6 p.m., hoping to catch an hour or two” with their kids before bed, she gets to spend “long afternoons at the park” with her daughter whenever she wants. “For that, I only have Austria to thank,” she writes.

    But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.

    1. Oh stop it. Getting to be an integral part of your child’s upbringing as a stay-at-home Mom is hardly the stuff of Orwell.

  9. New moms are in fact required to take take 16 weeks maternity leave.

    What’s that quote about a government that is big enough to give everything you need and want?

    1. “Nobody No women *need* a choice when it comes to staying home with their children”?

  10. I haven’t had a chance yet to comment on the most important news story of the week. Haven’t any of the libertarians thought of how much extra the ink to print Harriet Tubman bills is going to cost? It’s another version of inflation as far as I’m concerned.

    1. Old bills aren’t immediately removed from circulation and destroyed.

      They do have a practical useful life before they get sent to the shredder.

      1. Not to mention it won’t be until 2026 that we start to see the Tubbies.

        1. the Tubbies

          Excellent.

      2. I was talking about the extra costs of printing black skin on the bill. Ink is expensive.

        1. We’ll use the blood of orphans?

          1. My orphans only have so much blood to give after my anti-aging baths and their toiling in the mines.

    2. Why, are they suddenly going to be worth $15.40 despite the $20 denomination?

      1. Well, through normal inflation, that was already going to happen, anyway. But do you really think white patriarchs are going to trade in bills that have a black female on them? They won’t even be worth the paper and colored ink needed to produce them now.

  11. “”I didn’t foresee motherhood derailing my career or my ambition,” writes Rasminsky in New York magazine.”

    Well I’m sorry you were raised to be a total moron who didn’t know having a kid would impact your career. Unless you have enough money for a nanny or daycare, or you have family nearby who can take on the responsibility, one of the parents is probably going to have to take time off work to serve as primary care giver. If you didn’t realize this, it’s your fault.

    1. Those loans have to be… paid back?

  12. “Though she calls it “virtually impossible to criticize” such a system, Rasminsky?critical or not?does see its dark side: early parenthood in Austria is “particularly gendered.” New moms are in fact required to take take 16 weeks maternity leave. ”

    That’s an extraordinarily retarded policy. What happens if someone has a kid and is a single mom? Oh hey, have fun earning no money for 4 months while the government precludes you from working.

      1. But not at full pay.

        1. Well, considering that not working usually nets you no pay…

          1. Yes, which contributes to the outcome that fathers do not choose to take advantage of the time off when they are not required to. Absorbing an additional cut in income when you have new expenses is always something people go for.

  13. I am so glad this woman reproduced and is able to bring her enlightenment to the next generation.

    1. THAT is the dark side of socialized motherhood. But ENB couldn’t actually find it.

  14. “she was psyched about how easy she would have it compared to pregnant friends back in New York. ”

    I’m an idiot who assumes left-wing policies are great until I realize how much they fucking suck. It’s too bad I was too dumb to think through the consequences of these policies and just assumed they were great because they were ostensibly ‘compassionate.’

    Oopsie.

    1. She was doopsie(d).

  15. It’s cool that Rasminsky has found stay-at-home motherhood to be more fulfilling than she expected. Ditto that she doesn’t mind the tradeoffs in terms of reduced money and opportunities.

    I mean, maybe. Or she is rationalizing.

    I’ll use an admittedly extreme analogy – I’m sure some people who are forced into prison come out finding ways in which they have grown or benefited from the experience.

    1. Countless? You didn’t even bother to try to find ONE.

      Of course there is a dark side to socialized anything. Go find what it is instead of just hypothesizing about “countless women”.

    2. I saw that then. I tend to comment as a I read — that way I’m pretty much guaranteed to jump to conclusions.

      I’m open to the possibility that she really is happier this way. But I still find it sad, and more than a little frightening, that the government had to take away her choices by force before she might have figured out what made her happy (and that a lot of the people who read her piece will see that as a good thing).

      1. that the government had to take away her choices by force

        What choices did it “take away by force”?

    3. Or is it she thinks she is supposed to say that she wanted the high powered career but that turned out to be not as important to her?

      The only thing we know is that she says she wanted both and the policy edged her on one track that she decided not to get off for whatever reason. I am not sure even she can fully articulate why she chose what she did.

      1. Because it was the easy option? I mean, you need to consider the source here. It’s really easy to stay at home for a year and get free money when you already don’t have a job and you’re already pretty pregnant.

        That being said, she was a writer which means in todays age she could have worked anywhere. I think the more important issue is that apparently she had nothing meaningful to say until now. That isn’t a criticism necessarily it’s just the way I see it. The world is full of writers who almost made it, why should she be any different?

        If anything, kudos to her for finally putting something out there. The sad thing is, from what I can tell, even on a subject where a person could say a lot she waffled and shows herself to be the rather typical “I want it all” modern feminist who’s slowing coming to terms with the fact that all she ever wanted was to get married, lose her job, and pop a few out. She just didn’t realize rationalize that until recently.

    4. The whiff of rationalization is ridiculously strong throughout her piece. As someone in the office pointed out, this is a woman who admits her career was still seriously going nowhere at 34-years-old and who was having no luck finishing the book that was supposed to change that.

      ENB, rationalizing her accusation of rationalization.

  16. The left will take the exact opposite from these sorts of stories. They will mandate paternity leave. Males can’t have a leg up if they are forced out of work, as well. And we’ll just mandate employers pay or give stay at home parents welfare. See? Problem solved with another common sense law.

    1. The left will take the exact opposite from these sorts of stories. They will mandate paternity leave.

      Welp, mandatory maternity leave is a bad thing, but since we have it, we might as well make it equal with mandatory paternity leave!

      Once you let equality trump liberty, you are screwed.

    2. or they’ll just take the kids and raise them the proper way.
      they’re not really “your” kids anyway.

    3. That seems to be the meaning of that “particularly gendered” nonsense, that the problem isn’t the mandatory leave, it’s that only mothers and not fathers are bound by it.

      1. It also seems to assume that mothers and fathers are on different sides in this decision making process rather than partners making a rational decision about division of responsibilities in their families.

      2. Yes. It was phrased in such a way as to make it sound like she just wanted her husband to enjoy time with their child, but also it will help women reenter the work force.

        There’s also the bit about how Austria’s policy isn’t pro-women as much as it is pro-mothers. Then there are some of the comments. Whenever there is a problem caused by their interference, these people will never come to the conclusion that they were wrong. Only that they didn’t go far enough.

        1. wouldn’t it stand to reason that a socialized child care program be pro-mother cause….y’know…..child care?

  17. But all of my friends!!!!! Waaaaaa!!!!

    1. Cue Nelson Muntz laugh track.

  18. I’d be interested in learning more about the roots of this policy. It wouldn’t shock me if it was cooked up as a way to decrease female participation in the workforce and enforce traditional gender (not unlike the minimum wage).

    1. The trouble is biology is getting in the way of social policy. Women have to bear children because – plumbing. The only reasonable solution to this is for the state to raise children so that women who have children will not be absent from the workforce for an extended period of time.

      At least until science comes up with a way to do away with evolutionarily created gender roles.

      Don’t you fucking love science???

    2. Although this policy seems to have removed the agency of this particular woman.

  19. “Particularly gendered”…..give me a fucking break.

    1. No no no you troglodyte – gender is a social construct of the patriarchy and has nothing to do with genetics and evolution! What, don’t you fucking love science???

  20. With its free health care, subsidized day care and generous financial aid to families, Austria seemed to be everything the U.S. wasn’t ? an ideal socialized haven in which to get knocked up. When the offer came in, I had just finished graduate school…I got pregnant almost immediately after our arrival, and the Austrian goods started pouring in.

    It is virtually impossible to criticize a system as generous as Austria’s,

    Nope, how could one possibly criticize a system that uses guns to ensure job protection, medical care and child care and forces a woman to take maternity leave? And by the way, the system isn’t generous, it’s the productive Austrians you narcissistic parasite.

    1. With its free health care, subsidized day care and generous financial aid to families, Austria seemed to be everything the U.S. wasn’t ? an ideal socialized haven

      You know what other Austrian was a big fan of socialism?

      1. Werner Faymann?

      2. Franz Kafka?

      3. The guy whose birthday you celebrated yesterday?

  21. Was the child vaccinated? WAS IT?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!??

      1. The only vaccination I approve of.

      2. But was it particularly gendered?

  22. What’s the greatest trick the Austrians ever pulled off?

    They managed to convince the world that Beethoven was Austrian and Hitler was German.

  23. It never ceases to astound me that women were so easily tricked into believing that spending 8 hours a day away from one’s home and family doing the bidding of some jerkwad boss was ‘fulfilling’.

    At home, you set your own schedule, you do the work that you think needs to be done and at the end of the day, every single thing you’ve done has been for the betterment of you and your loved ones.

    And they threw that away.

    1. they threw that away

      Shhhhh! They might get wise to this patriarchic strategy to have them work more than us!!

    2. They also never figure out that the gap in life expectancy might have something to do with stress levels.

      1. Hilarious. NPR reporting that white women’s life expectancy has decreased by *one month*. Greatly worried. Meanwhile, in the same report: black men’s death gap: 10 years.

  24. This is why so many progs are now arguing for mandatory parental leave for both parents. They know if given the choice men will continue to work and women will look worse in comparison, so now they are trying to force men to take a few months off as well. It might actually work. Assuming that feminists can resist making the female side of the deal better than the male.

    1. One of the real reasons that European governments are so keen to implement these policies is to increase birthrates because demographics already spell the doom of their welfare state.

      I suspect what you’ll see with mandatory paternity leave is that younger couples simply put off having children longer and have less. In the name of helping women, but running counter to the initial reason these plans were approved by the bureaucrats and politicos in the first place. It may actually make the single bachelor a more attractive job candidate.

      1. On fertility and equality: Catherine Hakim

    2. That stuff is bound to be unconstitutional in a number of places. Not that judges would necessarily rule that way. And when you give men parental leave, they (the few who take it) write a book, or take it during sports events.

  25. Remove the mandatory 16 weeks of not-working after pregnancy. Finance women and men. What you’ll end up with, is women who stay home. You will get the very same effects, though less pronounced. These aren’t externalities.

    The fact that Austrian mothers could stay home with young children without financial worry became, in all sorts of ways, a mandate that they do so. Daycares were only open for limited hours. Nannies and other early-childhood care options were scarce.”

    So they’d have to pay more for nannies. Where’s the market failure?

    Given the EU’s anti-discrimination laws (including formal and informal pressure for quotas [“gender parity”]), any woman who doesn’t act like most women do (accurately stereotypical) gets a massive competitive advantage, as employer set aside spots for women, for which no men can, and few women do compete.

    1. The fact that Austrian mothers could stay home with young children without financial worry became, in all sorts of ways, a mandate that they do so.

      I don’t think she understands what “mandate” means.

      Daycares were only open for limited hours. Nannies and other early-childhood care options were scarce.

      What the hell do you need daycare and nannies for when you are home with the kid all day?

      And, do you think that maybe, just maybe, the fact that mothers are home with the kids all day might effect the supply of these services?

      1. “And, do you think that maybe, just maybe, the fact that mothers are home with the kids all day might effect the supply of these services?”

        She thinks so. And sees that as a problem (stuff isn’t cheap enough). I see it as market economy. And the women who stay home and don’t pay for day care (“economy of small size”?) don’t owe other women anything (no externalities).

  26. This is very good.

    1. Socialized maternal care?

  27. I love listening to the controversy that these policies inevitably bring. What it sounds like American progressives want is paid maternity leave of course, but at the same time they want to be able to continue working through the pregnancy and the first years after the birth. And then they want to be a full time mommy and work a high pressure professional career, and also have a full social life, with plenty of time for social activism, and probably also go back to school to get that PHD.
    It is nice to want all these things, but at some point you are going to realize that although as a child you wanted to be a ballerina and an astronaut and a firefighter and a mommy and a veterinarian and a deep sea diver and a spy and a test pilot, you are probably not going to be all of these things.
    Being a parent is a big deal. If you are not going to put the well being of the child ahead of your other interests, you would probably be better waiting a little while longer to have kids. Countries like Austria have a common consensus that the best thing for a baby in the first year of life is to have a full time mommy. Since the vast majority agree with this, there is not as much demand for industrial baby care facilities. If you want to stick your newborn into a depressing, soviet style daycare, you can maybe live in Romania or Kazakhstan.

  28. Just wait until Slaughter and fickle feminists mandate higher pay for “care professions”. Now that’ll be a nicely paid “pink ghetto”, virtually “mandating” women to work in it.

    1. A summary of Slaughter and that current.

  29. “But after initially finding it “problematic,” she eventually learns to stop worrying and love her new culturally prescribed role the bomb.”

    This is like a case study in the gender wage gap.

  30. The normalcy of it all is eerie…

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  32. I maybe libertarian in the majority of my thinking and while I wouldn’t tend to agree with any of these govt funded social support schemes , this one here isn’t such a bad one as others I’ve seen. Despite believing in equality I do feel that the most important role for a women who has chosen to have kids is motherhood and their raising, not to say that you can’t both work and raise children , but 1 will always suffer to an extant. If the father is involved as much as he should be then everything can work out well in the end , but if the govt is going to do something it should be in support of parents. To criticize govt for wanting to promote the development of the bonds between mother and child is just ridiculous and its bs that u complain about it only because you feel it is some kind of sexist trap against women. Having children is a choice and if your going to make that choice then u should understand and accept the consequences, stop looking for a scapegoat for your failure as a writer.

  33. Oh God bless you for this. I’m still conflicted as to how I’m going to balance things when the time comes, but this was a good read.

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