Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Why is it always Working Mom v. Stay at Home Mom?

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On Anderson today there was a segment inspired by a recent article that claims working mothers are happier than stay-at-home mothers (read the BBC story here). The description of the show reads:
Anderson is joined by a panel of moms who discuss the controversial new study that says moms with jobs outside the home are healthier and happier, and debate the issue of who is actually happier. Also, Anderson speaks with a mom who works outside the home who shares her extreme point of view, claiming that moms who stay at home are “lazy.” (Read more and see clips here)
I think that shows which frame the discussion of motherhood and work outside the home in the manner of working mothers versus at-home mothers do a disservice to both. In watching the segment it quickly became apparent that it was preying upon the insecurities of both populations--working mothers are bad mothers and stay-at-home mothers are lazy and unfulfilled. It only serves to further segment the female population, rather than focusing on the real issues surround work and motherhood.

  • First, women are supposed to do it all. "You can have the career, family and time for yourself--and it's easy!" It sells magazines, but the truth is no one is perfect and at one time or another all of these areas will feel as though they are lacking. 
  • Second, generations of women have fought for equality, which means a choice. To simply label one choice socially unfavorable is to discount their struggle. For many single and low-income mothers there is no choice in the matter. Work or your family starves. Likewise, many low-income families find that the cost of childcare is greater than their second salary, usually the mother's salary, and she is forced to stay home. 
  • Third, there is a larger issue concerning the value of work in the home. Study after study show that women--regardless of their employment status--do the majority of work in the home. These are services that have real value, as anyone with an au pair, nanny, housekeeper, laundry service and/or personal assistant can attest. Why are they discounted simply because they are performed by a household member? If, in a "typical" (read stereotypical) husband/father in a relationship is only expected to have one job, why should the wife/mother be held to a different standard?

The is fact that the workplace is not built for women, in fact it is not even built for men who want to be more involved with the upbringing of their children. It is based on an old patriarchal system which does not work for most households. What we need to do instead of placing blame and accusations is fight for real change to the larger institutions. We need to learn to appreciate work done in the home, regardless of who does it--be it a stay-at-home mother, father or caregiver. We need to push for family flex time for all members of the family, in straight and same-sex households so that we do not have to choose between income and family. Foremost we need to remember why we work to begin with, for sustenance, personal fulfillment and to find happiness, regardless of where it lies.

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