academic, children, gender, USA

Stay at home or work? Hey, it’s your fault either way

In The Truth of the Mommy Wars, Nora Newcombe (professor of Psychology at Temple University), discusses how the debate is framed, so as to place responsibility (and blame) entirely on women. Many words are expended on women’s “choices” to work, when we know, as we struggle to raise families in the United States – which is, to put it lightly, not a welfare state – that a “choice” to work is rarely a real choice. Almost no thought or speech is wasted on how father’s choices related to career, childcare and (non)involvement in parenting, etc. affect how happy and smart children are.

(A related issue is abortion, the “choice” debate, how the single party responsible for any choice is always the woman, whether she is 13 or 40. She is the single responsible party who “kills” babies. Not her abuser, her rapist, her boyfriend, her guardian, her husband, her poverty, her employer, her unsupportive local or national community, or the masculinist culture of the workplace which reviles mothers as a liability.)

Women today may be more likely to work, but mothers certainly are not significantly likely to reach the top of their careers. It’s not that fathers and mothers work out these issues, and they “decide to choose” to allow Daddy to do his thing while Mommy takes care of the kids and the laundry and the dishes and the dog. Both parties already live within the fishbowl: they live and breathe the unspoken assumptions in society, that Daddy’s work and leisure are more important than Mommy’s work and leisure, that Mommy is more important (as in extremely more important) to the children than Daddy is, so she has to make the family, the meal, the quality of life, the Parent-Teacher meetings, and so on. Bourdieu lives.

But even apart from fathers, because fathers vary in quality just as mothers do, this article focuses on the uses of social science data to buttress our a priori beliefs.


“First, notice the framing of child care as a women’s issue. We speak of the Mommy Wars, not the Parent Wars. Nobody planned to gather data about fathers, marriages, or workplaces. If children were seen as an issue relating to both family and work, we would ask ourselves questions such as: How do children affect women’s and men’s ability to contribute their talents to society? How does fathers’ work affect their ability to parent? How do work arrangements affect marriages when child care is an issue, too? Of course no single study can assess everything, but it is naïve to pretend that the choices we make about what to look at are not deeply political.

“Second, consider the framing of child care as being about how children turn out. That is certainly important, but what about the lives of their parents? Are women who do not work happier than women who do? Are the husbands of women who stay at home more successful? And what do women who work contribute to society? Those are only a few of the many questions that we ignore when we focus only on children.

Third, think about the emphasis on individual choice. The implicit model in the Mommy Wars is that each mother, basically alone, makes the difficult decisions of whether and how much to work, and how best to raise her children. That framing means we do not question the lack of parental leave in the United States; the long hours that Americans work, with little vacation; or the recent fascination with the raising of perfect children. If we don’t have paid parental leave, for instance, we cannot study the effects it might have on families. Thus, recommendations based on the NICHD study will inevitably be conservative. The data reflect the ways things have been; they do not tell us if new social policies might enhance the lives of children, as well as spare women from having to make agonizing choices among bad options.”

6 thoughts on “Stay at home or work? Hey, it’s your fault either way”

  1. Oh, I could go on FOREVER about the mummy thing seen from the daddy who has been mummy perspective. Yes, I am a dad who gave up two careers (EFL teaching then Early Years teaching) to be a carer of my son, who is autistic, but no one suggests it was a matter of choice. No one would DARE!

    But I am aware that mothers of children with special needs who stay at home are sometimes seen as ‘choosing’ to do so, but there often is no choice at all. Try finding a babysitter who understands autism!

  2. All very true and a testament to patriarchy and the Capitalist value system which treats those that do not support it as second class citizens.

    Ya Haqq!

  3. I think it sucks both ways. If you’re a mom who “chooses” to work, you’re blamed for putting career before kids, neglecting them, allowing daycare providers to “raise them” for you.
    Then…if you’re a SAHM you’re told that you’re not contributing to society, your child will lack social skills from staying with you all the time, you’re lazy, sitting home eating bon-bons, YOU DON”T WORK. Like taking care of a baby and a home ain’t work.

    The whole thing is very frustrating.

  4. I just wanted to say one more thing. If you search for books about motherhood TONS of books show up. If you search for books about fatherhood, the same couple of books show up over and over. many of them don’t even deal with raising kids, but “dealing” with wife’s hormones during pregnancy.

    In this society, the entire burden of parenthood is placed squarely upon the shoulders of the mother. Fatherhood has been devauled completely. And, many men don’t even have any positive models of fatherhood to emulate. Even if you just examine television, what do you have? Most shows these days have the “loveable loser” model of fatherhood. Think Homer Simpson, the father on Home Improvement, he somehow manages to support the family financially, but most of the parenting is left up to the mothers. That’s a powerful message.

  5. hi. I miss the other blog.

    This topic, I’ve thought this, too, but never articulated it so well. I should read the book, but it would depress me, I think.

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