Martha Graves gives a good answer: “There is no doubt that kids need moms. But they also need role models in the workplace” (Graves 1998 99). One problem now is that there are far too many single moms. That means they have to earn money to nurture their child or children. Even when there is a father around, today’s cost of living is high. Saving for college education often requires a two-wage-earner family. So, there is a key problem: is there a “right” or “wrong” for mom to stay at home?
Some years ago, there was a movie called “Mr. Mom” where the husband stayed at home while the wife worked. This is rare, but it happens. Why is it rare? Because there is gender bias that continues to exist. The majority of ordinary people feel that the mom is more important in the upbringing of children, especially at an early age. Even adults think of Mom first. Did you ever watch a sports event, where the camera zooms in on an athlete? He usually says “Hi, Mom” when he sees the camera is focused on him. Even so, Graves claims we still live in a male dominated world. Look at all the press given Anika Sorenstam when she “invaded” a men’s golf tournament, as if she were some weird creature being where she was neither wanted nor capable. It is a fact, of course, that men tend to earn more- even when women perform the same job or hold the same job title. Why is that? Frankly, one reason is that many employers feel uncomfortable with women. They somehow feel just as they get into an important job, they get pregnant, take maternity leave (now mandated by federal law) and may never return, or return only part-time.
There continues to be prejudice which has many people feeling that we are still living “in a world that was constructed around the ideal of the breadwinner dad and the homemaker mom” (99). Look at some of the old TV shows: “Leave it to Beaver”, “Ozzie and Harriet”, even Bill Cosby, and Homer Simpson are the family breadwinners while their wives stay home and cook and clean.
Graves feels no guilt about her working: “I work because I have to and because I want to” (99). She sees stay-at-home moms, whose main outside “occupation” is driving kids to school or soccer or little league games, as a detriment to the power and equality of women. Graves, as well as many other women, tend to feel that this bias in favor of stay-at-home moms creates guilt.
But, in all this self-importance, all this need for equality and recognition, the major question should focus not on moms but on the children. Are children affected when they don’t have mom waiting for them when they get home from school? Does it bother kids when there is a nanny or care-giver at home, until mom gets home from work? I have a personal feeling that many kids, especially younger ones, feel that mom doesn’t love them enough to devote all her time to their needs. Kids don’t understand earning a living, or overnight business trips. All they know is that they are not mom’s major priority. I wonder if kids really understand mom when she tells them she has to work to pay for food and clothes and rent and school. While money may be a reason for moms to work (even when there is a Dad) “Fully half of all families with a stay-at-home mom earn less than $47,000 a year” (Clark 2002 33). That’s barely above the current average for a family.
I also have found that “Women at the very peak of their careers are quitting to stay home with families- the first time labor force participation among new mothers has dropped in nearly 25 years” (Armour 2002 1). This trend is opposite to what Graves feels. But, moms who give up jobs to stay home are guilty, unlike Graves. Guilty about their inability to spend more quality time with their kids. As one woman who quit her job to stay at home, reported, in USA TODAY, “I missed first steps and a Christmas recital. Sometimes I’ll see people in business suits, and I’ll have a pang of missing the professional world. No matter what you do, you feel guilty” (Armour 2002 2).
What is my personal take on working vs. stay-at-home moms? Whenever possible, the kids MUST come first, even if it means quitting work for a while, unless it is a single mom who is the sole wage earner, and can afford a temporary care-giver.
Armour, S.: “More Moms Make Kids Their Career Choice”
USA TODAY, March 11, 2002
Clark, K.: Mommy’s Home: More Parents Choose to Quit Work to Raise Their Kids” US NEWS AND WORLD REPORT, Nov. 25, 2002
Graves, M.: “No Apologies Here” Los Angeles TIMES (1998)