Well, lookie-hoo: The Pew Reseach Center recently published the results of survey that reveals the following: A full four in ten households with kids under age 18 have mothers who are the sole or primary breadwinners. (That’s 40%, folks!). Drill a bit deeper and you discover that 37% of that number are married mothers who make more money than their husbands; the greater majority, 63%, are single moms. But either way, it’s a large jump. The figure was 11% in 1960, when my grandmother was about 6 years shy of retiring from the full time job — sewing dresses in a factory — she’d held, in one place or another, since she was 13, being a mother notwithstanding.
My point being, well duh women always/often have worked. In my nonscientific analysis, it seems to me that the heyday of stay at home mothering was probably in the post-World War II years, when Rose the Riveter went home and families (thanks to the GI Bill among other things) could actually create a decent middle-class life on one salary. These days, while it’s not impossible to raise a family on one salary (particularly if the one salary is a nice one), it’s not easy for most people, and it’s not desirable for a lot of us, for a whole host of personal, professional and economic reasons.
Now, I know plenty of modern mothers (and some fathers, a growing minority) choose to stay home and I am not against that choice — though I have trouble, in our fragile, shifting economy and in a time when the middle class is basically a dying notion, with the thought of one person giving up earning potential, given that marriages end and people get hurt and die and lose their jobs. I was there, my husband was out of work for ay ear and a half at one point. What if I had to restart a career from scratch at that point?
These are just realities, so what is the point of wondering how we all feel about mothers working? Seems to me that finding out, via Pew, that half of respondents say “that children are better off if a mother is home and doesn’t hold a job” is unhelpful information. Worse, the information as reported all over the place seems designed to stir up mommy-war-style guilt and infighting, and aren’t we all sick and tired of that by now?
The survey reports that we (Americans) are “conflicted” about how it’s possible that the fact of working mothers puts stress on families and make it harder to raise children and keep marriages strong. As if it’s the very fact that they work that messes up a nicely functioning, if fictional, notion of how society should work. I mean, how about wondering how the working world itself, and policy makers, could effect changes that would make it easier for working mothers and fathers to raise children?
We can’t go back to Donna Reed, people; and she wasn’t real anyway. My point, really, is this: I’m annoyed and dismayed that the Pew also wondered, and reported on, how all us Americans feel about the woman-as-breadwinner phenomenon.
I read this opinion piece by writer Connie Schultz that nails it, for me. In it, she writes:
I don’t fault anyone for reporting that part [the 51% part] of the study. I do wonder why Pew feels the need to keep asking how many people approve of women who exhaust themselves by raising and financing their families, but hey, it got me out of bed.
This time, I want to assure all you hardworking mothers out there that this latest round of mom-shaming will be over soon. Until the next round. If I could give you anything, it would be my hindsight. We get only so much energy each day, and any minute you spend on guilt over what you do to support your family is a wasted investment. You’re doing the best you can, and your children are better for it.
Well said. Guilt is useless and wheel-spinning. And Pew, seriously. Leave that question off next time. It’s so not useful, not for me, not for other working mothers,not for stay at home parents, not for anyone, anywhere who has a hand in shaping workplace policies. Think about this: If large companies get it stuck in their heads that “half” the country thinks mothers should be home with their children, will that motivate them to create more family friendly policies?
What do you think?