sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue

June 5, 2012

Stay at Home Moms

Filed under: feminism, parenting, politics — Tags: , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 4:19 pm

When I re-read my old posts about politics, it feels like the events I wrote about happened a decade ago.  If, however, I look at my posts about parenting, it all seems current. it doesn’t mean that I’m going to be blogging more about parenting because I rarely have much to say on that subject.  But a few days ago Dr. Sarah gave me an idea for another parenting post.  She was kind enough to read my entry on Bryan Kaplan’s book “Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids” and leave a response.  Dr. Sarah objected to the idea that women and women alone should expect to take some time off work to care for young families:

Why, of course *she* [is]. After all, the other parent involved, what with being male and all, couldn’t possibly be expected to split the job when it comes to taking time off work for young children. Why is it universally assumed that parental leave for small children should be exclusively a woman’s job?

I responded:

It doesn’t have to be a woman’s job, and often times it’s not, but it just makes more sense when it is. And in many middle class families it starts early on. In most cases breastfeeding is cheaper and easier than formula, and it is, unless you are a freakazoid, a woman’s job. Expressing milk is annoying and creates additional tasks (freezing, warming up, cleaning containers) for the whole family. Most stay at home parents are moms, so it’s not unusual for dads to feel out of place when everyone sits in a circle nursing contemplating their episiotomies. And so on. Not to mention that nurturing hormones do kick in.
Beyond that, the father’s role in socializing children is different from that of mothers.

To which Dr. Sarah said:

I agree that breastfeeding becomes a lot more difficult when the woman is the one who continues work, but that’s only one of the many factors to be considered. In our situation, I had a job I loved while my husband had a job he hated – and had a chance to take voluntary redundancy from. The advantages of us doing it that way round well outweighed the inconvenience of expressing milk and washing bottles.

Alternatively, for many couples it could potentially work out well to alternate time off. So, for example, if a couple are planning to space their children three years apart, she could take the first 18 months of each stretch while he takes the next 18 months. Obviously, this would only work if they had careers from which it was easy to take multiple breaks. But, even if they don’t do it 50:50, he could still consider being the one who stays home after the youngest child hits one and the mother no longer needs to be around full-time to breastfeed.

There are all sorts of possible permutations, none of which would be a one-size-fits-all rule for any family but any of which would work better for many families than either leaving it all up to the woman or opting for early childcare. I find it a great shame that more couples don’t consider them.

While it’s none of my business how people decide to run their families, I’m going to tell my daughter not to expect her husband to take paternity leaves, and I’m going to prepare my son to be the sole provider for his wife and kids.  Why should they assume otherwise?

The example cited by Dr. Sarah (“I had a job I loved while my husband had a job he hated”) is one of those exceptions that proves the rule.  Sure, the way she described her situation, it makes sense that her husband became a stay at home dad.  This example doesn’t render the stay at home mom model insufficient.

Dr. Sarah family is unusual because in most cases both parents have pleanty unpleasant experiences at work.  Even when the mother loved her job before she had the baby, it is not at all clear that she will love to return.  At some point in pregnancy, the hormones do kick in and her priorities may shift.  While I keep hearing from moms who cry when they drop off their kids at daycare and head to work, dads never divulge.  It could be that they are just as devastated, but, being being stoic and all, don’t let on.  Or else it’s just different with women. I’m sure there are some isolated examples of families where fathers are far more nurturing than moms, but they are just that — isolated examples.

Aside from woman’s wishes, as a practical matter it makes sense for a nursing mother to stay at home.  As I mentioned in my initial response to Dr. Sarah, it’s easier on the family unit and on mom and dad’s social life –whatever the latter amounts to shortly after the birth of the baby.  Of course, the challenges to stay at home dads are not insurmountable, but they are challenges, and they do add up, particularly considering that men have their own unique needs.

So, yes, if mother loves her job and can’t wait to return and the dad hates his and wants to nurture, the family might decide that dad will stay with the baby.  In this particular case.  I suspect that in this Great Recession dads care for children because they lost their job while mothers managed to remain employed.  Such an arrangement is nothing to celebrate.

Then there is the question of what the family unit is all about.  The way we think about it, me and DH are a team.  We help each other, minimize work for each other and maximize our income.  It’s not girls against boys, not “I took some time off, so now is your turn”.  We most certainly don’t compete with each other, as I hear some couples do, over who makes more money.  If there is a lull in my career, doesn’t mean that he has to interrupt his.

I admit in our case it was a no-brainer that I would be the one staying at home not only because I’m the mother, but also because his salary was so much higher.  I pity today’s young women who are making more money than their male counterparts, which means, in the event they decide to marry the man whom they outearn, they will have to return to full time employment post partum.

Men and women are not interchangeable, and a father’s role in his children’s upbringing is different from that of the mother.  Father has to set the example of stoic masculinity, to teach his sons to be men, and to show his daughters what men are like.  This doesn’t mean that they are not allowed to help around the house or give a bottle (or that mothers can’t pack heat), but that on the whole a father’s obligations transcend nurturing, and that perhaps we shouldn’t ask them to be mother surrogates.

I don’t think decisions like who gets to stay at home should be guided by considerations of equality of condition.  What I mean by “equality of condition” here is making sure that both the husband and the wife work equal amount of time outside the home.  I find this “equality of condition” approach a little geeky because it ignores what men and women want.  More importantly, decisions about family should be made based on what is good for the family unit, not how to advance the feminist movement.

I am going to tell my daughter to reasonably expect to take a decade off work to be with her children.  I’m also going to encourage her to chose her career wisely.  My grandmother used to talk of occupations that are good for women — the ones that allow flexible hours.  Thankfully there is more and more of them now, not to mention that many employers allow work from home.  If she must become a stock broker or a physics professor, then be it, but she needs to have a clear idea about what she’s choosing.

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7 Comments »

  1. This is outstanding — exceptionally well written, and right on the money.

    I have had it up to here with feminists trying to repeal human nature and make men and women interchangeable. Enough already! Men and women are different — get used to it!

    As regards our daughters (I have three of them, and two are still unmarried): It’s tough enough for them to find a good man that they like well enough to spend the rest of their lives with, without adding on the silly condition that he has to be enthusiastic about the prospect of taking a long leave of absence from his job to stay home and be a full-time dad to a newborn while his wife goes back to work. No doubt there are men who fit that profile, but they are exceedingly few and far between. If our girls have to wait around to get married until they find a man who a) fits that description, b) is still unattached, and c) seems like a good prospect for marriage, they will be menopausal long before they find him.

    Comment by Bob — June 5, 2012 @ 5:43 pm

  2. “While it’s none of my business how people decide to run their families, I’m going to tell my daughter not to expect her husband to take paternity leaves, and I’m going to prepare my son to be the sole provider for his wife and kids. Why should they assume otherwise?”

    Bingo. Wise words from a lady that lives in Realville. What are we going to do, pretend as though the exceptions to the rule disprove the rule? That’s what folks like Dr. Sarah expect. No matter how polite or reasonable she is, she cannot change reality.

    PS Who left work was a no-brainer for me, too, although his salary, at the time, was actually lower. Didn’t matter. There was no way I was gonna marry a guy and then expect him to subvert his own career for mine. I would not have respected that enough to marry it. LOL.

    cheers!

    Comment by nooneofanyimport — June 5, 2012 @ 9:34 pm

    • “There was no way I was gonna marry a guy and then expect him to subvert his own career for mine. I would not have respected that enough to marry it. LOL.” I suspect a lot of them don’t have much of a career to begin with. Now my sister-in-law married an artist who had a pt teaching position and was working from home a lot. He did take care of their children for the most part… Then he cheated on her, and she’s paying alimony. But anyhow, that’s an exception that proves the rule.

      Comment by edge of the sandbox — June 7, 2012 @ 2:02 pm

  3. Ditto you, BitterBird, and NoOne. Besides the partially easier for mom to stay home, and the important but often overlooked and/or denied fact that mothers and fathers have different parenting strengths, the score keeping, ‘I did this job, so you do the next job’ is what is most corrosive on a daily basis. If a couple can stop score keeping, then most of the other stuff settles.

    Comment by AHLondon — June 6, 2012 @ 5:45 am

  4. It would take a pretty extraordinary man to be able to aptly replace a mother’s nurturing. Most of us are not made that way. That is one of the reasons that women are special and should be treated as such.

    Comment by Conservatives on Fire — June 7, 2012 @ 2:32 pm


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