Friday, May 06, 2005

Mothers and careers...

Update (see the end of this post)
I recently finished reading 7 Myths of Working Mothers: Why Children and (Most) Careers Just Don't Mix, by Suzanne Venker, and found it to be a very enjoyable read. As we prepare to celebrate Mother's Day, it seemed timely for me to share my thoughts on Venker's book. To say that Venker has chosen a hot topic is an understatement. Indeed, our society seemingly lives by the mantra that a woman's ultimate fulfillment comes not from her children, but from her career - having it all - if you will. Venker categorizes the seven myths as such,
"Men can have it all, why shouldn't we?" "I could never stay at home full-time." "You're so lucky you can stay home." "I could balance work and family if I had more support." "I'm a better mom for working." "My children love daycare." "I have it all planned out."
How much time does a career take? For those who truly wish to move up a corporate ladder or simply make a difference at their place of work - how much time must be devoted to the task? Venker reminds us that such occupations are full-time endeavors. So... what of the snippets of time left for - the children? She states,
The basic premise of 7 Myths of Working Mothers is that raising children is a full-time job, one that dramatically alters the paths women were on prior to becoming mothers.
She presents three basic arguments first claiming that while the choice to bring children into the world is an inherent right, choosing to do so without the intent to raise them is not. Secondly, she claims that if motherhood were viewed as a full-time job it would not be considered something that can be done on the side. Lastly, she argues that those who get paid to watch other people's children (e.g., daycare) are, in fact, doing the actual job of raising other people's children. Venker lays most of the blame for the myth that women can have a full-time career, while also being full-time mothers, squarely at the feet of the feminist movement. of the reasons Betty Friedan, a founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW), won the support of so many women in the 1960s was that her organization appeared merely to support the idea that men and women should be treated equally. ...Every man and woman would be expected to earn an income, and children would not be raised in their own homes by their own parents, but would instead grow up in government-subsidized child care programs or in the care of come-and-go nannies. And, as it turns out, that's exactly what happened. But the women's movement went even further. Despite asserting that its platform was all about "choice," it simultaneously belabored the notion that full-time motherhood is not a worthy ambition, that children drag women down, and that women can only find true satisfaction in the workplace.
What are we to make of women who contend that they could never stay at home (with their children)? Venker leads off a chapter with a few lines of script from the television drama, Judging Amy,
"Mommy, I don't want you to work. Why can't you be more like Joey's mom? She stays at home with him." "Well, maybe that's because Joey's mother can't do anything else."
You got that, kid? You're not worth your mom staying home because she can do something else. The myth of "Oh, I could never stay home full-time." Venker relates the comment of one former working mother, who says, "It amazes me that women say this as though [being with one's children] were a punishment." Interestingly enough, on, there's an article exhorting career mothers to "lose the guilt" this Mother's Day. In Master the Working-Mom Shuffle, Sarah Max evidently considers her four-day work week a sufficient enough sacrifice to warrant placing her two daughters in daycare for 25 hours per week. She writes,
Like many working moms, I sometimes fantasize about quitting my job to spend all day every day doing art projects and play dates with my soon-to-be three-year-old twin daughters, Fiona and Isabel. Instead, I work four days a week, count on my husband to take on key parenting duties and "let someone else raise my children" about 25 hours a week. (Someone else, where were you last night? The kids woke me up three different times.)
Max is clueless. Ask any full-time mother if she gets to spend all day every day doing art projects and play dates. Drop in on this full-time mother and you'll most likely find the house littered with piles of yet to do laundry which, after they're being processed, are replaced with new piles of yet to do laundry. If the mother is home schooling, then expect to find her explaining grammar to her 4th grader while guiding her pre-K child through a kindergarten level workbook, keeping in mind that she's also figuring out how to get the grocery shopping in after fixing lunch for her and her kids. More to the point, though, is the fact that the full-time mother, regardless of whether or not she is engaged in art projects all day every day with her kids, is the one who gets to impact their character formation. Despite the obvious nature of this point, it is lost on those who have bought in to the I could never stay at home full-time myth. Max writes,
Like a lot of working moms, there are days or weeks when I feel guilty and completely overwhelmed. Take recently, when I overheard Isabel tell Fiona, "When the little hand gets on the five, then you can have your mommy." I was heartbroken. I deconstructed that sentence a hundred times. "I pick them up at 4 o'clock, so why would Isabel say 5 o'clock?" ...I talked to my editor, came close to quitting my job, and then decided I wouldn't be happy expressing myself with construction paper. I also decided I'd wasted so many of my precious work hours obsessing about my issues I better turn the experience into something productive. So in honor of Mother's Day, I've been frantically researching the working mother's struggle to balance children, marriage, household, career and selfish indulgences, like showering and sleeping. (emphasis added)
The three year-old already understands (even if Mommy can't) where she sits in Mommy's list of needs. It's beneath Mommy to relate to her child at the construction paper level, so the child - her child - becomes simply one more category on her list of items in her life that she needs to balance in order for her life to be fulfilled:
Children Marriage Household Career Selfish indulgences (e.g., showering, sleeping)
Venker gives some very practical advice in her chapter on Myth #5, "I'm a Better Mom for Working." She relates that our society is fast-paced enough without having to add to it the stress of being a working-mother. Yet this added stress of trying to add a full or near full-time work schedule into the week can only wreak havoc on the well being of our children. And how can one consider themselves a better mom if, by their very choice of actions, they are depriving their children of a lifestyle conducive to healthy growth? Venker outlines the detrimental effects that a fast-paced schedule can have on a child's sleeping, eating, and exercise habits, as well as considering how effective one can be in disciplining a child when they only get to spend a few hours with them at the end of the day. Other aspects of the fast-paced lifestyle she touches on include how important consistency is with regards to school and homework, and how detrimental a lack of presence can be with regards to life after school. Perhaps the most disheartening chapter is the one which deals with Myth #6, "My Children Just Love Day Care." Max's CNN article reiterates this mantra with,
Research shows that children who go to "day school" are no better or worse off than those who stay home. "Whether a child is in childcare or not doesn't seem to make a difference," said Sarah Friedman, project scientist and scientific coordinator for the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development study of early child care and youth development, which began tracking infants in 1991. Although children who spend long hours in daycare may be slightly more prone to behavior problems -- just as adults who spend too much time at the office may be prone to behavior problems -- "the majority of children are in a normal range," said Friedman. "The worries that people had are not well-founded for the majority of the children." A better predictor of how the child will do is the family environment and -- interestingly enough -- household income. "More income seems to create conditions more favorable to development," said Friedman, explaining that this could be for any number of reasons, including that kids pick up on parents' stress over money matters.
It's truly amazing, isn't it? A supposedly well educated adult believing the statement, Whether a child is in childcare or not doesn't seem to make a difference. Do you really believe that placing a child - your child - into a group setting, to be cared for by adults who are performing the task for payment, compares with an environment in which the child - your child - is under your loving care? Are we to expect that a child - your child - will experience healthy emotional grow what with the multiple and temporary bonds that form with paid caregivers who periodically move on to other endeavors? Or are we to expect that a child - your child - will experience healthy emotional growth within the consistency of a stable environment at home? Never you mind, however, for the justification is complete with the line A better predictor of how the child will do is the family environment and -- interestingly enough -- household income. What better reason for positing the working mother myth? Venker closes the chapter with,
It is disturbing that we have become so used to day care that we do not appreciate that mothers are our most vital resource. Children do not raise themselves, and they do not "thrive" in day care. They just get used to it. CHildren will get used to anything we ask them to; this is why our power is so frightening. And it is the reason we have a responsibility not to ask our children to get used to anyone but us. Regardless of how a working mother explains to her children her reasons for being gone all day, the only thing her children will take from her explanation is that there's someplace else she would rather be.
Some mothers have to work. If they don't, there's no food for dinner. But many mothers have either bought into the myth of having it all, or they've been coerced into a lifestyle they'd just as soon get out of. If you're a working woman, considering having children, you would do yourself good by reading 7 Myths of Working Mothers. Update: I was wondering what types of comments, if any, would appear on this post. Let me say that it is refreshing to see so much of Venker’s analysis ringing true what with criticisms such as: the need for Dad to engage in more “motherly” activities (with the absurd claim that men are equally capable of performing the role of mother as women are), the need for flexible work hours, unequal comparisons cast as “equal” (e.g., comparing the results of a two-income family in which the working mother is deeply involved with her children’s education vs. a one-income family in which the stay-at-home mother does not care about her children’s education), predictions that a return to stay-at-home mothering will throw us back into the days of Leave it to Beaver, accusations that Venker has made generalizations and that she considers working mothers to not care about their children, as well as accusations that Venker has not done a thorough job of researching her work. Two overall points: Before generalizations and / or accusations are made as to what Venker has done, perhaps her accusers should read or, at least, seriously peruse her book? Also, I must reiterate that the issue is about whether or not a child is best raised by their mother. While there are complexities within the issue, the issue itself is not very complex. Consider the following scenario with the notion that the issue is about whether or not the parents care about their children. You have a two-income family and you have a one-income family. Both sets of parents care equally for their children’s welfare (in the sense that both sets have the same desires). I agree that husbands need to be more involved in parenting, so both of our husbands in this example contribute to the parenting equation. Now simply do the math. Subtract the time that the working mother must commit to her career and then compare the available time that the working mother has to be with her children vs. the available time that the stay-at-home mother has. Which set of kids will have the chance to get the proper amount of sleep? (kids need more sleep than adults – lots more) Which set of kids will have the chance to eat proper meals without being rushed? Which set of kids will find their mothers at home when they return from school? Which of the two mothers will understand that kids define “quality time” as “less time”? Which set of parents will have to find the time to make-up their time away from work (for “flexible time” just means that the work periods have shifted)? Which of the two mothers will have the time to… well, which of the two mothers will have the time?, period. I find the notion that men can perform the task of motherhood equally as well as women to be absurd. For one thing, there are physiological differences that should immediately inform us that men and women are not “equal” in this regard. While men can physically feed an infant with a breast-milk filled bottle, the bond formed pales in comparison to the one formed when a woman has breastfed her own baby. Regardless of how politically incorrect the following statement is, it remains true nonetheless, Women are physiologically better suited than men to raise children. If men are from Mars, and women are from Venus, it really shouldn’t be so difficult to see this point. But this criticism veers off from the main point of Venker’s book in that the issue isn’t really whether the role of mother is interchangeable between men and women, but whether or not a parent, preferably the mother, should be the one raising her own children. To argue that the man should take more a role in parenting (or mothering) does not justify the conclusion that the woman should take less of a role. The accusation that the likes of Venker want to throw us back into the day of Leave it to Beaver, while amusing, is unfounded. Did we ever really live like Leave it to Beaver? Underlying this criticism, however, is the notion of radical feminism. As Venker discusses, the feminist agenda is not “what’s best for the children,” but the so-called fact that women have been oppressed. She illustrates how radical feminism views offspring not as a blessing but, rather, as a hindrance to the ultimate self-fulfillment of women. That your average working-mother does not hold to such radical ideas is beside the point because the viewpoint she does hold owes its genesis to, and continues to be fed by, radical feminism. Simply put, Venker does not advocate that women volunteer to be subjugated, nor does she advocate relieving men of their fatherly responsibilities. She also does not recommend that women completely forego careers, nor does she claim that working-mothers do not care about their children. Lastly, regarding the issue of economic viability, Venker’s claim (to which I would agree) is that many two-income families are quite capable of existing off of one-income. The issue isn’t so much that they can’t as much as it is that they won’t. Again, do the math. Could you live off of one income? Is it impossible, or simply difficult? What do you want to have? What do you need to have? Are you entitled to send your child to Patrick Henry College regardless of whether or not you’re family income supports the costs? Do you, as a mother, spend 11 hours per day outside of your home, foregoing the raising of your own child, in order to be able to send him or her to PHC? Do the needs of society override your family’s needs? Are you expected to hand over your child’s upbringing to a paid stranger simply because we live in a consumerist society? For the good of the State? Children are resilient. They’ll accept quite a bit, especially if they have no choice.


Paul said...

An interesting write-up, Rusty, but you seem to have missed the very omportant point that this isn't a 'mother problem' but a 'parent problem' - fathers have fallen for the myth that they have to be at work, when they could be at home looking after their children even more than women have.

Rusty said...


Venker does address the issue of fatherhood and the responsibilities it should entail.

While I think that the woman is ideally the one who should, and is better suited to, fulfill the role of "mother," the real issue is whether or not the children have a parent at home (while, supposedly, the other parent brings home the bacon). It seems to be paradoxical, though, for society to praise men for spending less time at work (in order to be with their children), and to then turnaround and encourage women to spend more time away from their children (in order to have a career).

Tom said...

Did the author identify a well-researched problem? That kids of mothers that work commit more crimes? They have a higher drug abuse problem? They get less fulfilling jobs out of school?

Did the author find any problems with stay-at-home moms and rasing children? If she didn't talk about any problems with her own position, then it suggests weak analysis.

I know so many wonderful, scholarly, well-adjusted, happy children who have mothers that work. I know juvenile delinquents with stay at home moms.

Did Venker look at ANY other factors besides simply an unemployed mother as the road to child-rearing Nirvana? (I have a feeling she wrote this book in front of reruns of "Leave It To Beaver" each night, and that was the extent of her research.)

Bonnie said...

Paul, I'm not sure why a book that focuses on mothers needs to address fathers, but it sounds like it does mention fathers.

The concern here, however, is with mothers' attitudes.

Tom, I don't need research to tell me what sense does. There's no question that I would not have the quality of relationship with my children that I have were I not at home with them and vice-versa (we homeschool), nor would they be as close to each other. There is no substitute for a mother, or for a father, or for the importance of having a tight family unit to the well-being of all its members. This doesn't require research to understand and it's not rocket science.

Is my family's life some glamorous tableau? Hardly. But I value my children too much to not give them what they -- beautiful, innocent, trusting young people -- ought to get from me, the person whose body produced them (with a little help, of course) and whose heritage lies in them.

Tom said...

re: Tom, I don't need research to tell me what sense does. There's no question that I would not have the quality of relationship with my children that I have were I not at home with them and vice-versa (we homeschool), nor would they be as close to each other.

Right, I'm not arguing with your personal sense of your personal family. We're discussing Venker's points. Venker seems to be making grand generalizations. If she wants to do that, I think she needs to show some objective backup for her thinking to show why it's valid generally.

re: There is no substitute for a mother, or for a father, or for the importance of having a tight family unit to the well-being of all its members. This doesn't require research to understand and it's not rocket science.

Right, I'm not arguing against motherhood and apple pie. We're discussing Venker's points. Venker seems to see women working outside the home as generally bad.

Just what bad things happen? Can she draw a causal link to working women? Or might bad things have more to do with income levels? Are there any bad things to having only stay at home moms?

Bonnie, let me give you an example. I understand there's a body of research that says generally the kids that do best in school socially and scholastically are the ones whose parents, one, emphasize the importance of education and, two, the parents spend time at the school and its functions.

I bet Venker might say, well, stay at home moms have kids that do better socially and scholastically.

As far as I know, that's misleading at best, and flat wrong at worst. The determinant is whether the parent emphasizes education and spends time at the school. Not whether a mom works or not.

I can tell you that my place of business emphasizes flexibility for parents to spend time at their children's schools. My wife and I know the importance, and we spend time at our kids' schools. So, all things equal, my kids are going to do better than a stay-at-home mom who doesn't emphasize the importance of school and can't be bothered to volunteer.

re: "...I value my children too much to not give them what they -- beautiful, innocent, trusting young people -- ought to get from me, the person whose body produced them (with a little help, of course) and whose heritage lies in them."

Again, you're giving specifics from your family. I'm talking about Venker, not you. Venker appears to be arguing that working mothers don't value their children. That's both laughable and repugnant.

But Bonnie, we're both agreeing on the importance of a close knit family. My wife works, but I don't know of many closer families as my own. Something else important is going on rather than Venker's platitudes. What is it?

Paul said...

"Paul, I'm not sure why a book that focuses on mothers needs to address fathers, but it sounds like it does mention fathers."

I wasn't responding specifically to the book (not having read it!) but to the summary. The fact that it is a book about women doing (or not doing) these things, rather than parents doing/not doing, is a statement all its own. I know that fathers *can* do this 'job' just as well as mothers, so I was puzzled by the emphasis on women rather than men - as I said, men have a far more controlling myth applied to them in this area than women do.

D.C. Chang said...

"But many mothers have either bought into the myth of having it all, or they've been coerced into a lifestyle they'd just as soon get out of."

Rusty, does this lifestyle include the $20,000 per year expense of sending one's child to Patrick Henry College - a college you so highly tout in a previous post.

Tom said...

In contrast to Ms. Venker's book there was an interesting opinion piece in LA Times today by Stephanie Coontz, author of "Marriage, a History" and who teaches family history at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.

Money quote:

...last year, after Massachusetts and much of Canada legalized same-sex marriage, Focus on the Family leader James Dobson warned that unless we act now to restore traditional marriage, Western civilization itself might crumble...But a funny thing happened in the 1990s: Almost every negative social trend tracked by the census, the Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Justice declined.

Teen birthrates fell by 30% between 1991 and 2002. The number of violent crimes in schools was halved between 1992 and 2002. Teen homicide rates dropped to their lowest level since 1966. Teen suicides decreased by 25%, and drug abuse, binge drinking and smoking all fell.

Yet the number of couples living together unmarried increased by more than 70% over the decade; the population at large increased by only 13% during this period. Gay and lesbian parenting became more common. The number of families headed by single mothers rose five times faster than the number of married-couple families.

...Of course, there is much left to work on. But it doesn't help today's diverse families to be told their children are doomed unless they can shoehorn themselves into a traditional marriage....

Here's my amateur hour guess. Along with Paul who also posted, I think dads are doing a lot more of the heavy lifting in families now. And that suggests a problem with Suzanne Venker's book. By emphasizing that stay at home moms should focus on child care, it may tend to let dads off the hook. I'm not saying that's the way it should be.

But with the wife also working, all of a sudden Dad has to learn to be both Ward and June Cleaver also, not just Ward alone. Sorry, Ms. Venker---the Beav and Wally will probably be better for it.

Tom said...

Meant to cite that LA Times article. Here it is. I think you may have to subscribe (free) to view.,1,2678181.story?coll=la-news-comment

Paul said...

An interesting point Tom. I fear that reverting to past stereotype (and it is a stereotype rather than an established tradition, as we haven't had the combination of fixed jobs plus devices to lighten the labor required in running a home for a very brief period) will be even more harmful than you suggest.

In today's consumerist society it won't be enough for a father to do his eight per day at the factory/office; instead he'll have to go back to another tradition of the 10-12 for 5.5 days per week, becoming even more distant from his children. The fact that so many families can afford to have one parent at home and still maintain some sort of balance for the working parent is in part a result of the consumerism that the rest of us are enjoying that keeps prices low, employment relatively high, and tax revenues sufficient to provide social services.

Man, I sound like some sort of libertarian!

Tom said...

You haven't defined a real problem yet. And then linked it to stay at home moms versus working moms.

Let me throw out another issue for our time, like the example I gave about what causes kids to do well at school.

Let's take drug abuse. I have no reason to doubt that the public service commercial is correct...that parents are the anti-drug. The idea is that parents who discuss the problems of drug abuse, and tell their children not to use drugs, will find that indeed their children will be less subject to drug abuse.

Nowhere do we hear "Stay-At-Home Moms...the anti-drug."

Again, it's about good parenting, not some sort arbitrary living situation. The two working parents that talk with their kids about drugs will be more successful than the stay at home mom who does not.

Rusty...what are you talking about re: "radical feminists"? Will you please find ONE significant quote in a mainstream media outlet where "radical feminists view offspring as a hindrance to the self-fulfillment of women."

What the heck are you reading these days?

C'mon Rusty. Real world problems. Start listing them and link them causally to working moms.

What study can you cite that working mothers' children don't sleep as much?

What study can you cite that stay at home moms' kids eat more nutritious meals?

What reliable source can you cite showing research that working mothers spend less "quality time," and then please discuss the exact way this issue is manifested in children?

If you want to play anecdotes, then you're sure not talking about any two family homes I know. And I know plenty of stay at home moms who are walking their little children way too late in the park across the road from me when those babies ought to be sleeping. I know too many stay at home moms who feed their kids junk because little Johnny screams if Mom feeds him carrots instead of potato chips.

And I'm being way too sarcastic, I know, my friend Rusty, because I truly think your heart is in the right place. You're arguing for good parenting of children in the way you think best. You've personally carefully thought it through and (I assume) your wife is at home all day, because you believe it is the best for your family. You're proud of that decision. It's a good, true decision for you. I applaud you for how much you care...obviously...for your family. I also DEEPLY appreciate all the time you've spent analyzing and discussing this book---and then kindly opening up your blog to sometimes irritating and sometimes sarcastic guys like me.

Anonymous said...

Here's an extremely large anti-daycare website that share's Susan Venker's opinion about day care...

Rusty said...


I don't take issue with your questions. For the most part, they are certainly valid and, for the most part, they are answered in Venker's book (including stats, feminist references, etc.).

With regards to sleep, the daycare center at our church opens at 6 a.m. It opens at 6 a.m. Got that? There are children that are dropped off at 6 a.m. Our four year-old goes to bed at around 8 or 8:30 on a typical night. She will regularly sleep until 7:30 or 8 a.m. Supposed my wife worked full-time in a professional position. Even if our four year-old had to be dropped off at 6:30 a.m. you could still effectively drop up to two hours off of her normal sleep pattern. That's providing you didn't keep her up later than 8:30 p.m. because, after picking her up from daycare and having dinner, it's already 7:30 p.m. (and then there's the issue of bathing, oops, now it's 8:15 p.m., but I gotta spend some time with my kid... just keep her up till 10 p.m.).

Of course, your family could be different. But don't for a minute think that there aren't scenarios played out just like I described... just listen to co-workers, families at church, families at daycare, school, etc. (and I must admit that a lot of the information I've garnered about preschool antics comes from my wife who, prior to our first child arriving, taught preschool for 11 years)

Your civil comments are always welcome.


Thanks for the anti-daycare link!

LotharBot said...

Stones Cry Out posts about a great deleted scene from The Incredibles. I'll let you read about it over there.

It really showcases the attitude the "militant" part of the feminist movement has toward stay-at-home mothers, and I think it's a great counter to it. Being a mother who takes care of her children full-time is just as important as any other job out there.

Should every mother do that? Probably not, but at least one parent should, in almost every family. It's possible to have someone who really cares about your kid -- like a grandparent or other relative -- provide a significant amount of childcare (and if that avenue is available to you, it may be worth taking), but putting your kid in a generic daycare center isn't going to be as good for them as having them with somebody who really cares about them.