Friday, October 9, 2009

The latest "truth" about Stay-at-Home Moms

Earlier this month, The Washington Post reported that stay-at-home moms are disproportionally low-income, young, non-college educated women, most of whom are Hispanic or foreign-born. According to the statistics, they are women who stay home with children because they have limited skills and limited child care options.

This picture is in sharp contrast to the reports of a few years ago, which depicted the typical stay-at-home mom as an educated, formerly career-oriented woman who, upon marrying well and becoming a mom, decided to quit her job to stay home with her children, nanny and housekeeper.

As in previous work-family discussions and Mommy Wars skirmishes, the theories and questions pour forth: Are educated women who leave the workforce to care for children "opting out," copping out, or being forced out? Are they spoiled rich girls? Are they women without the ability to do anything more than care for children? Are they women who can't participate in the workforce because they have children? (The truth is within all of those statements, and in many not said.)

New York Times blogger Judith Warner made many good points in her recent post "The Choice Myth" (October 9, 2009). I especially appreciated her acknowledgment of how the "all-or-nothing non-choices of our workplaces" often force women into stay-at-home motherhood. Here's a link to her article as well as to a Washington Post blog post of October 2 about the issue.

But my favorite comment among the many posted by readers of Warner's New York Times piece is #238, which was the second to last response before the blog closed for comments.

Herewith I quote "Jen," who sums up why women often feel they're damned if they do, damned if they don't.

You need to have a child before you’re 27 years old, because your fertility decreases after that time.


You should wait until you’re financially stable to have children. And in this economy, you’re not going to be financially stable until you’re at least 40, unless you’re very, very lucky.


Oh! You need to have a baby before you’re 35, because after that age the risk of birth defects really increases.


Don’t get married too young, because you might regret it. Also, don’t have a child on your own. Also, meet all these other conditions in order to be the perfect mother/woman/wife.

OH! And I almost forgot…

If you go back to work after having a child, because you genuinely enjoy your career and may be your family’s primary breadwinner, you’re a bad mother.

Also, if you choose to stay home and be with your child all the time and give up your education and all that you’ve worked for, you’re still a bad mother, for setting a bad example. Even if you’re married.

Have a nice day."
Thanks, Jen, wherever you are.

Image from


another Jen said...

I agree. Jen captured what we're up against! -- from another Jen

Anonymous said...

What a terrific post Melissa.

I am going to be giving a speech to a group of about 150 young women considering MBA's next month... I think that this could be a great lead-in!

P.S. Please tweet this so I can RT.

Whitney Johnson said...

Melissa --

The prior comment was from me Whitney Johnson....oops.

While I'm here... don't forget to sign up for the Naartjie kids $50 gift cert giveaway at dare to dream.

Enjoying your op-ed style pieces!


smart mama said...

I find this dicsussion very interesting- My graduate dec=gree is in family studies and work/home/domestic attitudes has always been an interest to me.

The view I always want to share is we do we let cultural specific messages define us so? as with jen's comments, people are looking to public/popular opinion to determine the course of career and family. We believe or let ourselves be directed oto much he "truth" or judgements of popular opinion.

I think we have come to expect it all and expect to make no sacrifices. Life is like a resteraunt though- the time comes when you have to order and you can't get to everything on the menu...

I recently wrote the following on recent NYT piece on women and happiness...

Amy Baldwin said...

Time Magazine had a great article about this very thing a few years back and I wrote a letter to the editor that said this exact thing: "As a mother today, you are damned if you do, and damned if you don't. It's highly annoying. Why aren't dads ever damned for their decisions?"


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