I am so glad that I subscribed to the comments at PhD in Parenting’s article - Dr. Phil Stay-at-home mom vs. working mom show because if I hadn’t I would have missed out an an a really interesting debate. And that’s one of the things I love about Annie’s blog is it almost always sparks intense debate, and there’s nothing I love more than a good debate.
Caroline’s comment sparked a big reaction, but I didn’t comment (yet!) I had so many ideas about it that I thought I could only do it justice in a whole (lengthy) post. Caroline also further commented here and here.
Firstly, she asserts that no-one needs to have children. I couldn’t agree more. If you don’t want to have children, you definitely shouldn’t. Don’t worry it gets alot more controversial.
Her second point was that employers bend over backwards to accommodate parents, but aren’t so flexible when it comes to non-parents (such as her example of taking leave for a year to do charity work).
Here’s where our opinion’s begin to diverge. I can’t comment on where Caroline is from, although it’s obvious from her comments that it’s either Canada or the United States. I can’t speak to the situation in those countries, but in Australia this is not the case. At my workplace, in certain situations you are entitled to maternity/paternity leave, but you are also entitled to up to 1 year unpaid leave for any reason. In addition, our Government offers a maternity payment for lower income families. However, I think it’s important to note that the Government payment is to do with encouraging people to return to work, rather than losing a good portion of the female workforce and is a Government policy decision. And yes, non-parents aren’t entitled to paid leave (in Australia maternity paid leave is 12 weeks and an additional unpaid period of 1 year), however, non-parents are much more likely to be eligible for long service leave (2-3 months) after 10 years of service. Effectively it is unlikely that parents who choose to stay at home would ever be entitled to this.
When I returned to work (part-time at home and one day in the office) I was given a flexible arrangement. However, anyone parent or not is entitled to apply for this and in addition it was less to do with accommodating me and more to do with my employer recognising the additional work involved in training somebody new with my niche skills.
I think that the flexible arrangements offered to parents including paid leave/unpaid leave/working from home are more to do with the importance placed on return to work by the Government than a sense of entitlement by parents. I firmly believe that if you have the requisite skills, anyone can secure the flexible arrangement they are looking for.
Thirdly, there is a concern that parents get time off for childrens’ activities/sickness while other workers pick up the slack
Again, I can only speak of the situation in Australia but all workers are given the same amount of sick leave. The benefit of parents with flexible arrangements is that if you have the ability to work from home you can do so, even if your child is sick.
And this is the one I have the most problems with: Sons of SAHM tend to have more sexist views towards women and daughters of SAHM tend to be less ambitious and feel less capable than boys. In one of her later comments, Caroline says that this is supported by empirical evidence, but doesn’t quote it so unfortunately I wasn’t able to check it out. This is also the reason she uses for arguing that anecdotal evidence is insufficient to refute this claim.
I read a great guest post on Raising My Boychick on the negative messages that can be sent to children when they are raised in a traditional environment, where the mother does all the nappy changing, cuddling, feeding and looking after. And I am in no doubt that if this was the case in ALL families, then this point would have some merit.
I’m going to persist with the anecdotal evidence anyway, because I can. I was raised by a stay at home mother (at least up until the point that we were in school) as was my brother. Once we were in school our parents divorced and my brother lived with my dad and his wife, and I lived with my mum (when I was around 7 or 8 and my brother about 5 or 6). I am one of the most ambitious people you are likely to meet, and I certainly feel capable. As for my brother, I think (given we have a family with ALOT of women), that if anything being surrounded (even outnumbered) he is more respectful, not less.
Although I currently work, my daughter is not in childcare and I work mostly in our home and so I identify more as a stay at home mother, than a working mother. That being said, we may live in a traditional construct, but don’t have a traditional dynamic. I do the bulk of our home renovations. My husband does the dishes and the vacuuming (because I hate both). He is the primary breadwinner (even though I would have the higher salary if I worked full-time), but I do all the budgeting and primarily decide where the money is spent. He often takes annual leave from his work to take care of our daughter if childcare falls through.
Caroline argues that sexism stems from our capitalist society which places a higher premium on paid work than anything else. However, from what I’ve read in Unconditional Parenting, The Complete Secrets of Happy Children and Raising Girls it is not these external societal influences that are a determining factor but the relationship a father has with his children and with his wife or partner. If these societal pressures where indeed so strong all men born to lower income families would be less ambitious and feel less capable than men born to high income families.
But Wait! It Gets Even Worse
Children raised by SAHM have a sense of entitlement and a lack of worldliness. Unfortunately not even a SAHM mother could protect their children from the world – it’s called High School. As to the sense of entitlement, I get the feeling that this is a criticism that is too often based on the idea that it is possible to give children too much love, too much attention and that this somehow spoils them for life. Empirical evidence would say otherwise, that this in fact leads to greater leadership, independence and the forming of healthy relationships (see Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting for the studies)
Women can make the world a better place if more of us are in a position of power. I would argue that it is the whole construct of power and hierarchy that would need to be changed to make the world a better place.
How can a women be respected when her children see her serve a man and ask for an allowance instead of two people working as a team and equally contributing to chores, money, and parenting? In no way do I serve my husband and we do work as a team and equally contribute. My contribution to the money? Even should I stop working part-time? My contribution to that part of the equation is that I take care of all the budgeting, forecasting and planning. Given different people have different skill sets an equal contribution isn’t always 50/50 of each thing. We play to our strengths. And an allowance? That’s just offensive.
Being a hard worker and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is noble and something to be admired. This is why working mothers get more respect from society and their children. This is why their children are better to deal with in the real world as adults than stay at home children. Stay-at-home moms must realize this at some level and this is why they tend to get upset and bent out of shape by working mothers.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say the reason that we get ‘bent out of shape’ is not that we have an intrinsic understanding of our own inferiority, but that you have here basically said that staying at home is not to be admired or respected, and that our children are kind of crap. If a child’s respect for his or her mother is dependent upon how much she earns then I would say there are bigger problems! Working can be over-idealised though. People work because they don’t have the financial capital to have other people work for them. So they sell the only thing they can – labour. It is great to have fulfilling work that you are passionate about and I fully support women who opt to return to the workforce after having children. But staying at home is not a holiday and from my personal experience it requires every shred of intellect, imagination, negotiation, time management and problem solving skill that I could possibly throw at it. For me, the day I go into work, now that is a holiday.
How are we to have women senators, presidents, ceos, directors if mothers stayed at home? I respect a women’s right to self-determination but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with their choice. There are plenty of women with children who are senators, presidents and CEOs. In fact, you could say that having children was an excellent apprenticeship (but no better/worse than a non-child business related apprenticeship). Also, my driving force isn’t to take over the world.
Now on to the point “I am not paying someone else to raise my child”. This is something you hear a lot. I am a firm believer that it takes a village to raise a child not just two (or one parent) and that children benefit and are more well adjusted when they have the influence of many adults. Children should be free to think for themselves and develop their own ideas and views on the world not just be carbon copies of their parents. How self-important are you to mold little mini versions of yourself? These children, who get so much attention from just their parents, develop a scewed self esteem and find it harder to relate to adults outside the famiy unit. We all have to deal with your “special” children when they become adults and trust me it is not a picnic working with these entitled, self-important individuals who lack key social skills. I included the whole quote here, because it’s something I feel passionately about. The idea that young children gain social skills in day care is a falsehood. Jay Besky (quoted in The Complete Secrets of Happy Children) conducted a study that found young children (under 1) in childcare exhibited attachment problems, heightened aggressiveness, non compliance and social withdrawal. Indeed, it was found that the perceived benefits of childcare, in particular improved social skills, was found to be more likely a coping mechanism to deal with a challenging environment.
I remember watching Jewel’s mother being interviewed on Oprah (years ago) and her saying that she never had a preconceived notion of who her children were, but that she was always excited to find out. That’s something that really resonated with me and I feel the same way about our daughter.
As described by Alfie Kohn in Unconditional Parenting, self-esteem is far more an issue of whether self esteem fluctuates based on external influence rather than whether it is considered low or high. He argues, based on various studies conducted that this has far more to do with parenting style than anything else. That children who are shown that they are loved and accepted regardless of success or failure, will in turn accept themselves.
I’ve had the opportunity to see my daughter in various social situations and despite the fact that she isn’t in child care, she has no fewer social skills than any other child her age. I think that by engaging with playgroups, swimming lessons and extended family gives her plenty of ways to engage outside the family unit.
I think the fear that too much affection will spoil children for life is one of the saddest things I’ve come across since becoming a parent.
SAHM are setting the women’s movement back. The women’s movement should be for all women. If SAHM are setting it back, then the women’s movement needs to evolve. Do it, women’s movement! Do it now!
Western children are bad for the environment due to their consumerism, intense lifestyles. Also I do not believe in pass the buck living. The old “I am having children and making the world a better place”, what about you? How are your children making the world a better place? What are you doing besides raising more spoiled western children with an over inflated view of themselves? What if your children don’t make the world a better place? So are Western people, lets get rid of them too. I’m not having children to make the world a better place. That seems like way too much pressure, for me and my child and future children. Does my child make my world a better place? Of course, she enriches my life in all ways. Will she have an inflated view of herself? I don’t know, she’s only 21 months old. I certainly hope she respects and loves herself enough to strive for whatever it is in her heart to do. She has brought joy into the life of all of her extended family. But my aspirations for her are not that she makes the world a better place. They are that she is empathic, kind, generous, moral and finds joy whether that be in a board room or at home with her children or some other great adventure that I haven’t even thought of. I am of the belief that I’m giving her a start on this journey by staying at home with her. Although other mother’s might begin the same journey by returning to work, because that’s what is right for them.
If this is the face of a spoilt, “special”, socially inept, self-esteem skewed, over entitled, under ambitious, less capable and disrespectful daughter, sign me up.
In all seriousness, thank-you Caroline, for all your passionate commentary which gave me the chance to express my own.