I possess a certain masochism, so when I spied a copy of the upcoming book by radio host and noted homophobe Laura Schlessinger (a.k.a. Dr. Laura), I felt compelled to give it a closer look. The title kind of says it all: In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms. The blurb on the publisher’s website digs a little deeper.
These are women who know in their hearts that staying home to raise their children is the right choice for the whole family. Some do it from the outset of their marriages, while others make the difficult transition from career-driven women to homemakers. Either way, it is a choice that is incredibly rich and rewarding, not to mention challenging.
Let me make myself clear when I say that this post is not an attack on stay-at-home moms (SAHMs). Really, that would be petty and pointless. I’d rather take people like Dr. Laura to task for reenforcing the “traditional” dictate that being a SAHM is “the right choice for the whole family.” It’s not circular logic to say that her statement inevitably decrees that being a working mother must be the wrong choice for the family. As the daughter of a working mother and a working stepmother, that really drives me insane. Do we really need to up this game of What Kind of Mommy Is Best?
It’ll be interesting to see what, if any, impact this book will have given the fact that America’s economy is not exactly what you would call “robust” at the moment. The argument that the best situation for a family is to have the mother at home is predicated on the assumption that Daddy has a job. But with layoffs affecting almost every sector of the workforce, it would seem logical to conclude that there will be some SAHMs whose family finances are affected drastically by the recession and may find themselves stepping into (or stepping back into) the professional sphere. That was certainly the experience of both my grandmothers — women who wanted to stay at home but could not because their husbands were unable to hold down a job. On the flip side, mothers who have worked for years are now finding themselves unemployed and are now inadvertent SAHMs.
And, oh yeah, there are those things called stay-at-home dads. But it’s no fun to talk about them! When men go out the door every day with their briefcase, they clearly have the Best Interest of the Children (TM) at heart, as they work hard for a paycheck that keeps the family afloat. When women do the same, they are neglecting their poor children who need Mommy’s apron strings to cling to. Daddy’s apron strings just won’t cut it! Schlessinger’s book is further described as “a profound and unique understanding of how important it is for mothers to raise their own children.” I’m not quite sure what that statement even means. Having taught daycare for over a year, every child I worked with came from a family with two working parents. Not once did I ever think that the mothers weren’t “raising their own children.”
Schlessinger’s brand of mommy-shaming is not at all new. And it’s still all-too-common. A recent poll shows that two in five men believe it’s better for the family “if the man earns the money and the woman takes care of the home and children.” And two in five women believe the same thing. In slightly more encouraging news, 80% of the women respondents say that working mothers can have relationships with their children that are every bit as meaningful and present as the relationships between SAHMs and their children. (67% of men agree with that assessment.)
So while Schlessinger is not presenting any fresh ideas with her book, it’s clear that this is a discussion that still needs to be had if we want to change the antipathy towards working mothers. Even in this day and age, when such women are far from an anomaly (70% of mothers work outside the home) and are often necessary for a family’s economic welfare, mothers who making the exact same choice to work that fathers do are still under attack for being selfish, neglectful, and destructive to their families. $20 to the first Harpy reader* who calls into Schlessinger’s show and asks her point-blank why she didn’t title her book In Praise of Stay-at-Home Parents and take the gender issue out of it. The mommy-shaming has to stop.