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In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms
There was a time, long ago, when parents agonized over the sad necessity of finding some sort of child care due to deaths, financial disasters, and other catastrophes. Under these conditions families often struggled with feelings of failure, guilt, and loss at having to outsource the warmth of parenting to hired help.
The "greatest generation" isn't limited to those folks who served valiantly at war; it embraces the folks who worked on the farms and in the factories, toiling at difficult jobs to not only serve their country but provide for their families. Little mentioned are the women who birthed their babies, raised their kids, and managed the home and the budget so that there would be food in the family's tummies and clothes on their backs, taught their children right from wrong, and made sure they washed behind their ears and got to school on time. In those days there was very little bellyaching about "finding yourself," "time for me," or "what is my identity?"; women were respected for their commitments and talents, and in spite of hardships, they felt important to their families and communities.
Just in case you think this is all anachronistic, contemplate this recent letter from a listener:
As I've been thinking and listening to your show, I've realized that our terminology surrounding women who choose to stay at home with their families has changed. We've become "stay-at-home moms" or, often negatively, "housewives," rather than "homemakers." My suspicion is that women have coined themselves SAHMs because they're wanting to be competitive with their "workingmother" counterparts (as if staying at home isn't working!).
Perhaps we've believed the lie that being a "homemaker" is old-fashioned and therefore irrelevant. However, I have come to realize that though my primary motivation for spending my days in my home is in fact taking care of my children, I do much more than that. I spend my days making a home, not just for my children, but for my husband and myself.
Cleaning and organizing, playing with and teaching my children, shopping and running errands, taking care of finances, doing laundry, taking care of doctor appointments, communicating with teachers, organizing the family calendar, cooking meals, and making our home a comfortable, cozy, and welcoming place for us and our extended family and friends, among other things, is not just being a "stay-at-home mom." I am making a house a home, and I couldn't be happier with my job.
I have always told women who call my radio show agonizing about their decision and how it might impact their self-worth that the woman is the soul, spirit, and center of a home.
Then came the Alice Walker types; Walker, revered as a trail-blazing feminist and author who touched the lives of a generation of women, proclaimed motherhood as about the worst thing that could happen to a woman. She compared being a mother, raising children, and running a home to slavery—that's right, slavery! Follow that up with Gloria Steinem's declaration that stay-at-home moms were valueless, and what young woman in her right mind would choose to become a valueless slave?
Since that time young women have barely given a thought to this sacrifice of personhood, and have sought independence whatever the cost to their children and marriages—assuming they've even bothered with marriages, when "shack-up" situations give you the freedom to hit the eject button whenever the mood strikes. Obviously, women's independence requires children's independence; hence the drive toward kids being separated from parents and home as early as possible, going into day care or preschool or the care of nannies or babysitters for up to twenty-four hours in a day, regardless of illness and ferocious tears. GPS cell-phone combos now enable busy moms to enjoy the fantasy of being wirelessly connected to kids who are who knows where, and fifty-fifty custody arrangements give moms that career and dating time.
Let's be serious: Who in her right mind would give up all that freedom and opportunity to cook, clean, fold clothes, and keep children busy all day, and then have to cater to the needs of a husband who saunters through that front door at night after having a fun day at work? Yipes! When you put it that way . . .
Like Mother, Like Daughter
People generally plan to have households and relationships that run about the same way as their original family. It therefore shouldn't surprise anyone when the adult daughters of stay-at-home moms (SAHMs) choose to do the same; after all, it is what they are most familiar with, and therefore what they imagine and hope they will get the most family support for. For these women, a childhood with a SAHM gave them a sense of purpose and positive identity with respect to hands-on parenting. They also often describe a sense of obligation and duty as a mother to be their children's primary caregiver, in spite of an all-too-common societal perspective that this amounts to servitude.
Those women whose mothers worked generally also intend to work, because their own moms have given them the idea that being a SAHM is boring and unfulfilling—a curious thing to say to your children about taking care of them, don't you think?
Some women had mothers who offered day care in their own homes so they could stay at home. These women, having seen with their own eyes how their moms spent more time with those children than their own parents did, may have decided that they wanted to be the ones raising their own children.
One woman wrote to me of her very own family experiment. It seems her mother was a SAHM while she was growing up, but then went to school and started to work more and more, so that the writer's younger sisters got less and less of their mom. She described their lives as being "punctuated with shacking up, eating disorders, an abusive husband, divorce, poverty and a child born out of wedlock. I got the best of our mom. Recognizing the difference between our lives, it made me want the best for my future children: a SAHM."In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms. Copyright (c) by Dr. Laura Schlessinger . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.