Women of our generation have an incredible freedom, which women in the past could only dreamed of. To be sure, it’s far from perfect – we still haven’t had a female president (though maybe Hillary Clinton will have something to say about that in 2008) – but with more female CEOs, more women going to college and a strong push to encourage more women into top fields of science, it’s a great time to be a girl.
Yet most professional women – whether they make their living as congresswomen or saleswomen – face a tough choice several years after graduating college. When it comes to working motherhood, many women must choose between quitting their corporate-ladder climb and placing newborn babies in daycare. This is one reason so many female yuppies are delaying motherhood: By waiting, they hope to build a career strong enough that staying home with children for a year or two down the line won’t hurt too much.
But for some women, two years is not enough. Not wanting to transfer most of the responsibility of raising their toddler to a stranger, they give up their career to stay at home. There’s nothing wrong with daycare, but much developmental psychology research has shown that children benefit from having a parent at home. For some women, that’s enough to persuade them to leave illustrious careers.
Yet many moms who choose to abandon the office find themselves outcasts among fellow college graduates. Believe it or not, non-working moms are frequently chastised. They are chided for wasting their education, talent and manpower; asked why they don’t “contribute to society”; and labeled soap-opera-watching bon-bon eaters. These mothers, busy volunteering in kindergarten classrooms and carting children off to little-league games, watch their peers in the business world pass them by, gobbling up opportunities they could have had if they stayed in the workforce.
I’m no proponent of the antiquated argument that a woman’s place is in the home, but ridicule toward mothers who opt to be homemakers should not accompany the progress of gender equality. From what I can tell, the feminist movement is all about choice, and that should include the choice to stay home and raise kids.
It’s not that women who quit jobs to raise kids can’t handle both. In fact, some moms who leave the office end up busier at home. These days, stay-at-home moms are a new kind of homemaker. Many of them have college degrees and are active in their communities. A growing number home school their children. These women are not a drain on society – they are a part of its crux. They may not be active members of the labor force, but they still contribute to the economy, focusing their attention on raising the next generation of workers who will carry the economy and fund Generation X’s Social Security payments.
Part of the mother’s dilemma stems from the still-stubborn school of thought that childrearing is an effeminate occupation. If you are persuaded that stay-at-home moms are ostracized, try talking to a homemaking father. “Mr. Mom” jokes are just one of the many reasons many men still balk at the idea of quitting work to watch the kids. Because of this fact, many moms who don’t want to send their kids to daycare are left with no choice but to step aside from their occupations. Last time I checked, most children are the product of a man and a woman; therefore, the task of raising a child is a shared responsibility. There is nothing wrong with a stay-at-home dad.
Whether we admit it or not, this choice is only a few years away for most women my age. It’s only a couple years after graduation that many of us will get married, and only several years after that we could be trying to pick a name for our first child.
I don’t mean to condemn working moms, but rather hope to vindicate mothers who give it all up for their kids. Increasing gender equality liberates women to choose their destiny, whether they pursue expertise in rocket science or proficiency in politics. But excelling in domestic supervision is not a failure. Give stay-at-home moms the respect they deserve – their full-time job is the most vital to the future of our society.
Hildreth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org