Trapped by European-style Socialism—And I Love It!

Maybe working moms can have it all—in France.

By |Posted Friday, Nov. 2, 2012, at 7:07 AM ET

The coming presidential election represents a choice, says Mitt Romney: a choice between evil European-style socialism and good old American can-do capitalism. As a new mother in France, I’m here to argue that he’s wrong. Neither candidate represents actual European-style socialism. And it’s a damned shame they don’t. The women of America would have a much better shot at having it all if they did.

Thanks to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s excellent article in the Atlantic, everyone’s talking once again about the continuing difficulties American mothers face juggling work and family. I just took my 10-month-old daughter on her first trip to the United States, and while we were there, I heard a lot from friends and family—most of whom also have young children—about what I’m referring to as The Child Care Question: Can a double-income couple make enough money to pay for full-time child care? Or would it be, bizarrely, a wise economic move for one of them to quit his or her job and become a stay-at-home parent?

But since my husband and I moved to France two years ago, this child care question isn’t one that we’ve had to think about. Why? Because of three very progressive child care policies instituted by the French government. In brief, the French government provides: 1) inexpensive municipal day care, 2) tax breaks for families employing in-home child care workers, and 3) universal free preschool beginning at age 3. Together, these make quality child care so affordable—even in expensive Paris—that we’re actually considering extending my husband’s work contract and staying in France until our daughter is school-age just to take advantage of them. While I don’t see the United States turning into France anytime soon (certainly not with Paul Ryan’s budget), these ideas merit serious discussion. Even instituting one of them would revolutionize the lives of middle-class U.S. families.

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