What People Really Think About Working Moms

Beneath that Pew study we all heard about this week lies a telling critique: people disapprove of moms who work if their child care is bad

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The Pew Research Center made headlines this week, with the release of a report showing that mothers are now breadwinners in fully 40% of American homes. The finding set off a storm of excited debate, even though, in truth, the “new” statistic wasn’t in any sense news: the proportion of breadwinner moms — women who earn as much or more than their partners or are single mothers providing the sole income for their families — actually crossed the 40% threshold back in 2010, as Heather Boushey and Sarah Jane Glynn of the Center for American Progress have previously reported.

What was notable — and surprising and more than a bit disheartening, on its face — was some new information about what Americans seem to feel about all those hard-striving, moneymaking mothers. Researchers Wendy Wang, Kim Parker and Paul Taylor found that a majority of people appear to disapprove of them: 74% of adults say that the increasing number of mothers working for pay has made it harder to raise children, and 51% agree that children are better off if their mother is home and doesn’t hold a job.

(MORE: Read TIME’s complete coverage on Sheryl Sandberg and Lean In)

This finding of so much negativity toward working mothers was disturbing. And it was odd, as well. For it seemed to contradict other recent studies, like the much larger General Social Survey, which in 2010 found 75% of Americans in agreement with the statement that “a working mother can establish just as warm and secure a relationship with her children as a mother who does not work,” and 65% saying that even preschool-aged children were not likely to suffer if their mothers worked outside the home. Even allowing for the variability in survey results that differently worded questions can create, the gap in attitudes was strange. As was the fact that this week’s survey seemed to contradict another recent piece of Pew’s own research, a study that had found in 2012 that fully 79% of Americans “reject the idea that women should return to their traditional roles.”

A large proportion of Americans, then, appear to have problems with working motherhood, but not with … working mothers. What does this mean? What message are respondents trying to convey to pollsters?

Jerry Jacobs and Kathleen Gerson, professors of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania and at New York University, respectively, have some interesting ideas. Long curious to explore what’s going on in people’s heads when they emit opinions on working motherhood, they recently set out to parse and identify the expectations, associations and assumptions underlying those opinions. Instead of simply asking respondents what their feelings were about working mothers per se, they designed a study that presented a variety of scenarios — whether a mother was satisfied with her child care, liked her job and had a family dependent upon her income, for example — and then charted how respondents’ opinions of a mother’s work changed in accordance with those changing conditions.

(MORE: The Motherhood Penalty: We’re in the Midst of a ‘Mom-Cession’)

What they found is highly enlightening: people’s answers vary substantially according to a mother’s life circumstances, ranging from truly overwhelming support for her work when she has good child care, likes her job and needs to earn money; to extremely meager support if her child care is bad, she doesn’t need money and/or doesn’t like her job.

The fact that most Americans do not have access to high-quality child care, Jacobs told me this week, undoubtedly plays a very large role in driving survey results that find that people in our country, despite their positive feelings toward contemporary women’s changed lives, remain highly ambivalent about two-income families. “The people surveyed in the Pew report assume there are problems with child care — and that’s right,” Jacobs said.

These are enormously important findings — for they add evidence to a feeling I’ve often had of late, listening to and participating in discussions and debates about women’s roles, “leaning in,” and changes to American family life. I’ve sensed that the “mommy-wars” mentality of the 1990s is finally, thankfully, a thing of the past. There’s something pretty close to a consensus now in America that women’s lives, even in the motherhood years, involve multiple roles, and that this multiplicity of identities is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. There’s also a clear consensus that the lives of working families are unacceptably tough. (Nearly three-quarters of Americans now say that they, their neighbors, and their friends experience hardship in balancing work, family, and professional responsibilities at least somewhat often.) That body of agreement doesn’t mean that our culture wars are over; in this area, at least, the battle lines have just shifted. Rather than fighting about what mothers should (or should not) do, we’re now deeply divided about what society — and our government in particular — should (or should not) do to support them.

(MORE: When ‘Flex Time’ Means Ripping Off Workers)

The fact that American attitudes have evolved in this way — that we’re thinking clearly now about the problematic conditions in which working families muddle through their lives, and not continuing to obsessively focus on the good or bad “choices” that mothers make — means that we’ve conceivably reached a true turning point in our country. It means that — despite the seeming hopelessness of our fatally divided Congress — this could potentially be a very promising time to at least start a meaningful conversation about solutions and change. Universal public education for children under age 5 is on the table, with White House backing, for the first time since the very early 1970s. Two states — California and New Jersey — have paid family-leave programs in operation; in the state of Washington, such a program is awaiting implementation, and a handful of other states are now exploring how they might provide paid leave as well. And there are a number of high-profile female members of the U.S. House and Senate eager to push forward a legislative agenda centered on improving the lives of American families.

Working parenthood does not have to be a painful, anxiety-and-guilt-inducing, seemingly intractable problem in our country. It’s only politics that makes it so.

33 comments
ShamsAci
ShamsAci

Most global communities are found now seriously concerned about their future offspring to have bring them up to grow up as decent persons, not as that happens with children who despite having their parents alive feel-like  they live like orphans. Full time working moms' children are understood deprived of mother's milk and mothers' passion that has no perfect alternative. As per scientific research reports that children who are fortunate to have been breastfed and moms' full-time care are believed to grow up with  far better social status than those who are unfortunate to avail that unique facility.

- A.R.Shams's Reflection - Series of Press / Online Publications - Moral Messages for humanities Worldwide - http://www.arshamssreflection.blogspot.com/

ShamsAci
ShamsAci

Children are universally understood as in great need of their parents, especially the female parent around them to bring up them care about them as much possible. A common concept is developing amongst many minds that more lucky are those children whose moms are around them almost round the clock than those whose moms are full time working women keeping themselves away from their children for too many hours.   - A.R.Shams's Reflection - Moral Messages for Humanity - http://www.arshamssreflection.blogspot.com

OhMyDog
OhMyDog

There have always been working mothers and two parent working families. My parents were a two parent working family from the 50s-70s. I was a member of a two working parent family in the 80s until I became a single working parent (not by choice, not that it matters). Give your kids plenty of love and enough slack in the family ties for them to follow their own dreams and most will do just fine...just as I did, as well as my two siblings and all of our assorted, now adult children. Not a bad one in the bunch and we've all always worked -- not a single stay-at-home parent among us. I'd have happily stayed home if that had been a choice, but it never was for us and never is for many. Nothing wrong with a stay at home parent of either sex, but nothing wrong with working ones, either.

Bilosopher
Bilosopher

As Chief Sitting Bull once proclaimed: as long as the rivers run and the grass grows, my young men will never work - work is for women.

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

As I castigated one poster for their views, the fact is, today, most households can't afford to get by on only one job incomes.  A vast number of those high-paying jobs that provide a liveable wage have in a larger sense vanished, to be replaced by menial service jobs that pay less then twenty dollars an hour (if even that much).  Most households HAVE to have income from two jobs just to get by.

In short, the playing field isn't level as to the decision about who stays home.

But religion plays a gigantic part in this Neolithic point of view on society's part of making the man go out and kill himself for his family instead of giving the woman the opportunity to lower her life span, increase her blood pressure and bear the awful privilege of being the sole bread-winner.  Throughout most of the world, the religions treat women as second-class or property.  That mentality has survived here in America despite various social reforms (Rosie the Riveter showing American women they can do the same jobs as men), technological breakthroughs (the long-term influence of largely female-controlled pregnancy and choice) and other shifts in modern social thinking.

Studies show that men today want kids more than women, but society doesn't seem to notice that men can raise kids just as well as women and doesn't legally provide them with that option.  In a divorce. men have to leave the house - not the women.  Women are awarded custody far more often than men.  Women are awarded alimony far more often than men.  Why?  Men are disposable.  Society sees a man being supported by a woman differently than a woman being supported by a man.  The former is a negative impression.  The latter is a positive one.

Economics makes it a necessity to take BOTH parents out of the nurturing roles these days.

Once the playing fields are all level - economically, legally, socially, physically - then there can be equality in social pressure and opinion.  But the way it works now, with superstition-based attitudes fostered in the neolithic age dominating social thinking in the United States, we will only ever have badly applied equality before the law.  Until then, trying to create a new social order based on even-handed parental responsibilities is neither practical nor possible in today's America.

 The bottom line here is that no matter what Americans think about parenting as a whole, American parents will do what they think is best for them and their kids given their circumstances and abilities.  And that's what it will always boil down to.

Ceunei
Ceunei

So, once again, fathers are let off the parenting hook.

Pick the child care provider carefully, too, as the very young will model upon the person with whom they spend significant time. I see it all the time in my child care providers charges...the kids aren't theirs genetically...but...act just like them. I've even seen the kids with their parents out and about, and, the kids act more like their child care providers than the parents. Hilarious. Luckily, I am blessed to know several very excellent child care providers. Me and my kid hang with only the best, after all.

If you are the sort to stuff the kids away at six weeks to the cheapest daycare for twelve hours a day, your child will suffer. Not that parents that do this sort of thing are the most desirable in my book as their interests lie more in the making $$$ direction. Kids need someone who is more interested in them than money.


Again...why is the father of children always let out of the parenting responsibilities? Why is this still all on the mother. Oh well. My little family has dared to afford a Stay At Home Parent. It isn't normal, anymore, and, the price we are paying is very great. Far greater than I ever though possible. But, it isn't Human Citizen rulz the United States is following, anymore, it is Corporate Citizen rulz, and, families that dare to afford a Stay At Home Parent (the ultimate luxury, these days), simply must be punished because, well, just because...how can a grown adult actually give up their paid work to raise their own child...unpaid work?

eqquesz
eqquesz

PARENTS THAT HOLD THEIR CHILDREN BACK ONE OR TWO YEARS IN KINDERGARTEN FOR BETTER COMPETITION-LAME!

sjbookmd
sjbookmd

What has changed isn't that more moms work - it is that the average single parent (of either sex) cannot provide for their family without assistance-which may not be available. For the 99%, even families with both parents working struggle to makie ends meet. It is not the yesteryear of the stay-at-home mom that we really miss - it is the yesteryear of making it on one salary that we miss.

John
John

The statute of limitations has run out for protesting working moms!

BobHawkins
BobHawkins

Ann interesting concept.  I would love to discuss this with you oer a beer!  Your thinking is stuck, in my opinion, in the 1960s.  Go back to the 1940s and 50s and compare with today......regression rather than progression.

BobHawkins
BobHawkins

If you have to ask "What is the biological role of men", I wouldn't touch trying to answer that to your satisfaction knowing the pitfalls that can of worms would open up.  Your second question, "Do men have any role in parenting"? My answer is most certainly they do.  There are areas of parenting  that men are better adept with than are women.  There are other areas  women are more adept with.

BobHawkins
BobHawkins

First off we all realize, I am  sure that times change.  The change may be for the better or for the worse.  Fifty years ago the majority of wives stayed home, and were often in two distinct roles. Housewives and mothers were the backbone of the family.  The "Breadwinner" (husband) worked long and hard hours (if he was worth anything) while the wife created a home environment conducive to rearing  well-rounded, happy families.  The "Brady Bunch" model.

Following WW 2, the influence of Rosie the Riveter would not go away. A new standard of living in the suburbs was created replete with two of most everything (cars, TVs radios, bicycles, etc ad nauseum).

"The Brave New World" we now find ourselves citizens of applauds loudly, led buy the prophets on Main Street and Madison Avenue.  The more of us who work - the more money is earned and  spent.  Instead of "housewives" - they have all but vanished to the detriment of society, we we have the nuclear family (an outmoded concept), but one that distinguishes the 21st Century from the glorys of the Brady Bunch age.  A sad by product of this innovative income/responsibility mirage is that with more expendable income, many families are able to give their children more and more.  Possibly this phenomena is our pitiful attempt to 'pay the kids off' for the wretched home  life (or lack thereof) created by our relatively new fond family life.

In order to give this entire miserable sham respectability - enter feminism.

postingonline42
postingonline42

I have a stay-at-home dad. My baby is 7 months old and still being breast-fed, while most women quit before 4 months, thanks to his support and help washing bottles.

I do think if I stayed home I would clean the house more than he does, cook healthier, and spend more quality time with the kids. My step-son knows this... which is why when he misbehaves for his daddy I threaten to stay home and make daddy find a job! Last thing that kid wants is to be made to do crafts projects, chores, and eat even more vegetables than he has to eat already. Daddy gets into fun things like tickle fights and pillow fights. 

I was ready to do what I had to make a family with 2 parents. I was ready to quit my job and live on a man's smaller salary and keep my mouth shut about science and history in order to salve his fragile male ego, but all men seemed terrified of commitment, children, my intelligence, or my salary (even when i stopped insisting on paying for half the date and started letting them pay for me), until I found my husband who is man enough not to be threatened by every sign of strength or independence. 

But the person to ask if I should live on the 25k a year my husband is able to make and stay at home to cook mostly vegetarian is my step-son. We ask him from time to time. I'd even be willing to give it a go if he said that's what he wanted.

Sadly, my step-son's opinion on what gender stays home and what gender works matters more to me than anyone's on the internet!



Read more: http://ideas.time.com/2013/05/31/what-people-really-think-about-working-moms/#ixzz2UsrL7l4P

ShaniquaWilliams
ShaniquaWilliams

Women have abandoned their biological role as humans, and the world will pay for it.

Ceunei
Ceunei

@DeweySayenoff I shall castigate you now, you are a pretentious, opinionated snob that thinks you know people from reading their words.

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

@Ceunei What your pretentious and incredibly smug post says that you turn your  nose up at all the men and women who are doing what it takes JUST TO GET BY these days as job income goes down for the working poor and the middle class.  Two income households are mandatory when jobs are basically minimum wage and don't come with benefits.

And need I remind you that fathers - men in general - are the "disposable gender"?  Men are the ones who are expected to get the second jobs before the woman does.  Men are expected to work themselves to death for their families.  Men are expected to cater to women's wants and needs.   Men have shorter lifespans. 

There are thousands of abused WOMEN'S SHELTERS across the country where a woman can drag her kids.  There are NO FAMILY SHELTERS where a homeless family as a whole can get shelter due to fiscal problems, but a woman in a good relationship can go to an abused woman's shelter with her kids while the guy fends for himself.  And there are absolutely no MEN'S SHELTER'S where abused men can escape from an abusive woman.   Every study done since 2008 shows that men are the ones who want kids more than women, but society gives them to the women to raise.  There's no "letting them off the hook" going on here.  When you have shelters for anyone in distress regardless of the gender or cause, when you have men being given custody approximately as often as women, when you have life spans of equal length, when you have jobs with salaries that can support a family, and when you have a society that doesn't give a damn about who works and who doesn't, THEN you can talk about how men are being "let off the hook".

But YOUR pretension goes even further.  You seem to think that everyone can afford to live on one job or have a CHOICE when it comes to having kids (or do you advocate that everyone who can't afford a child have an abortion?).

Here's a reality check  for your anoxic brain sitting on that high-horse of yours.  If people have the money - as in a good income one one job - there's no need to have both of them working, and most of them don't.  If it's the woman who makes the largest share, social viewpoints are that the man is a slacker and leeching off the woman.  The whole "Mr. Mom" fallacy of empowering male parenthood has NEVER FLOWN in this country.    If it's the man who makes the most money, the expectation is that the woman stays home and takes over the nurturing responsibilities.  Having the income to be able to afford one of the parents to NOT work is the deciding factor.  It's not avarice or ambition.

Maybe the monied, snooty crowd you run with doesn't give a damn about how screwed up their kids are and CAN afford to have a parent - either one - be home nurturing them, but choose not to.   That sounds like a "problem" for the one percenters.  Two job households is basic SURVIVAL for most Americans.

So put down your polo stick, get the hell off your high horse and join the rest of America in the reality in which most of us live - on the edge of a fiscal cliff where any loss of income means loss of decent nutrition, less medical care, hand-me-downs from second-hand stores, a poorer education, higher stress levels and/or even the loss of a roof over your head.

MartiWilliams
MartiWilliams

@eqquesz Sometimes children are not ready to go on to the 1st grade...and need that extra year..my son did..he is now serving proudly in the US Army. Not all children mature at the same rate...that is why there is a range for milestones


Ceunei
Ceunei

@BobHawkins I've seen children raised by the father Stay At Home Parent and I've seen children raised by the mother Stay At Home Parent. So far, I have to say, the children of father Stay At Home Parents are usually much better socialized (only one exception to that rule, in my experience). Other than the book "Screamfree Parenting," I modeled my parenting upon fathers. I'm not sure what is up with the moms in my city...but...thank goodness my city now requires 4K...a great and good socializing experience that helps all kids regardless of parenting...or...lack thereof.

Ceunei
Ceunei

@BobHawkins so what is with all the crusty mean old 80&90+ ladies who devoted their lives to the family as housewives only and now drown their aging selves in the alcohol that early killed off the male breadwinner while berating the great grandchildren (especially the girls) grandchildren (especially the girls) and children (especially the one who takes most care of them) alike? Are these the happy byproducts of the woman as housewife only era?  I'm sure this story repeats in more families than just mine or my husband's.

Many women were very unhappy to grow up and find out all that was expected of them (other than to be pretty) was to push out babies (following WW 2, many ladies regularly pushed out up to eight little unplanned children...and...I can't say I'm too impressed with the results of such unplanned parenting...seems kids were really taken for granted the last 200 years or so resulting in the public education quandary of today...no one wants to pay to educate other people's badly planned children anymore let alone the children of those of us who did plan ours.).

Dad was let off the parenting hook for hundreds of years,  effectively turning the little housefrau into a slave...and the husband into "The Big Pay". Indeed, one of my husband's grandmothers called her husband just that...my husband's father slept in the garage along with his brother growing up...so...I can't say I'm too impressed with the results of the 'only a woman can parent' era at all.

whiteveils1
whiteveils1

@BobHawkins You put the wrong cause on this, though your idea is not entirely wrong.  If you look at the growth of the dual income family, it does not track, specifically, the rise of the 'idea' of feminism or the number of material possessions.  There are a number of studies that show that, once you eliminate the costs of housing, medical care, child care, education, Americans spend the same amount (relative to inflation and our incomes) as our grandparents in the 50's did, despite all of these additional working women. The rise of the dual income household tracks the rise income inequality...that gap between the richest and the poorest.  In order to achieve a standard of living similar to what our parents and grandparents had in jobs with similar qualifications and skills, we need two full incomes coming into the household.  People are reluctant to live at a standard of living much less than what they grew up with for working similar jobs, so both parents work instead.  Even then, considering the tremendous growths in the cost of housing, medical care, and education, standard of living has slipped for many, despite adding the second income.  

Yes, it's a miserable sham, and yes, feminism is blamed for it.  But you're blaming the dual income families, not the source of the problem...our broken public safety net and the growing gap in income between the very richest and the average worker.

Ceunei
Ceunei

@postingonline42 I made it through 38 months and 4 days breastfeeding. Natural weaning. Keep up the good work! I highly recommend at least two years per baby...not because of any scientific study, but, because I know how much it helped my kid. I have also seen recently weaned from human milk to cow milk 12 m/o babies, and, they aren't very comfortable...their little content smiles all but disappear as their little bodies fight to find what is needed from cow milk formulated to grow baby cows.

Please know, I think kids with Stay At Home Parents that are dads are in excellent hands.

Ceunei
Ceunei

@ShaniquaWilliams I assume you are referring to the many third and fourth generation never breastfed humans that the United States female is putting out, these days.

The only biological role I see women abandoning is breastfeeding their own children to at least two years, quite frankly. This is to the detriment of baby and woman...

royfuller01
royfuller01

@ShaniquaWilliamsAnd what exactly is that role?  And what is the biological role for men?  And do men have any role in parenting?


Ceunei
Ceunei

@DeweySayenoff @Ceunei Dewey, you don't know me.

We are giving up our house, underwater and will probably not sell as it is a fixer upper. We are giving up our house because we can't afford it and a Stay At Home Parent. I worked twenty years before we got married and conceived. Twenty, and, I made tons of money. I was equal to my spouse in the income department, in fact, so, in order to afford a parent to raise our very own child, we also gave up half our total income.

People makes their choices, you have chosen to think, we are monied and snootie. We are not. We are the new poor @ $50K a year. When you are ready to start reading things without putting your own bias into other's words, please get back to me. Thank you.

eqquesz
eqquesz

@MartiWilliams @eqquesz BS! You held him back to beat up on other children, to beat other children at sports, at being first in line or , else. Typically white of you, raising bullies. As for Serving anyone in the Military your more blind about life than I once thought. There are no Dead Soldiers going to heaven cause they are not invited- Do you think God is waiting for dead military upstairs? HA. There is NO Glory for dying. Go and salute and pray to your IDOL flag, too.

RekkaRiley
RekkaRiley

@MartiWilliams @eqquesz It's not just kindergarten or first grade that staying behind a year can be helpful.

My mother practically begged my elementary school to let me repeat a year, after they changed the math curriculum when I was in fourth grade and my previously above-average math scores suddenly PLUMMETED.

She could tell I was struggling, she could tell that I just wasn't understanding the math as they were teaching it, and she suspected that repeating that year could help by giving me a chance to review the math concepts with a better idea of how it was supposed to work (kind of like taking pretests before starting a unit, to give the student a heads up of what to pay particular attention to).  And no, she couldn't afford to get me a tutor, and the school didn't have any such resources available unless your child was "extreme special needs." 

Alas, the school refused.  Multiple times.  Supposedly the excuse was that I was far too advanced in reading comprehension, and they couldn't hold me back in math and let me jump ahead in English at the same time.

That excuse really didn't fly in junior high, where those classes are typically taught at separate times by separate teachers.  So I continued to fail math AND science and started learning to hate both of them.  Until I got to college and discovered that I really was good at math...when it was taught as math and not "social studies with numbers."

So, yeah...sometimes being held back a year is helpful.  More than one year in a row is another story.

RekkaRiley
RekkaRiley

@Ceunei @ShaniquaWilliams In most cases, it's not a matter of willingly abandoning breastfeeding.

Not only is society still very hostile to breastfeeding, and there's a lack of education and resources for it, but many women have physical problems with it too.

Some can't produce milk, or can't produce enough milk.  Some can't breastfeed without extreme pain because of a medical condition or a previous injury.  And sometimes the baby just refuses to cooperate, no matter what the lactation specialist tries.  Some babies are also allergic to their mother's milk or something in it, which happens more often than you might think.  The only way to really know for certain exactly what in the mom's diet the baby is reacting to is by process of elimination, which is an extreme risk to the child because of potential lack of key nutrients or because the baby is so frustrated and hungry and upset that he/she develops a phobia of breastfeeding.  Babies are simple creatures; if breastfeeding becomes uncomfortable for any reason, they'll react with fear to it because they know they'll feel horrible when they drink the stuff, even if they don't understand why.

Sometimes it's simply a matter of needing a little extra boost now and then.  Also, having both breastmilk and formula available allows both parents to help with feeding the children, which not only helps keep the mother calm  and allows her to get other child-rearing tasks done, but it also allows the father to bond with the baby too which is just as vital to the child's emotional health.

RekkaRiley
RekkaRiley

@Hollywooddeed @ShaniquaWilliams  Care to explain female lions?  Or female chimpanzees?  Or female elephants?  Or female HUMANS at every other point in human history!

Most species, including humans, can't afford for one gender to do ALL the food gathering/hunting AND protection.  Gender segregation is not only impractical, it's DANGEROUS. All you have to do to drive a gender segregated species to extinction is start hunting the gender responsible for feeding and protection.  

That doesn't usually work with vertebrate animals, because those species are thankfully rarely, if ever, completely segregated.  Both benders help with gathering food, both protect the babies, etc.  The exact method might vary from species to species, but at no point is the mother completely, 100% helpless without a male.

Heck, a lot of ancient cultures expected women to be equally capable of fighting and hunting as the men, because if you're warring with another tribe and most of the men are killed, who is going to protect the children?  Who is going to keep them fed?  Who is going to help teach those little boys the first skills they'll need as hunters and warriors when daddy is gone most of the day hunting or fighting?  The idea through much of human history has been "if you want your offspring to have the best chance of survival, make sure their mother can take care of them if something goes wrong and they lose their father."

The idea that women should stay home and completely abstain from any kind of productive work besides nursing babies is an extremely new invention that was only made possibly by tribes becoming prosperous enough that they no longer needed both parents working.  Take a very close look at history and you'll see exactly how amazingly rare this is.

WASPNEST
WASPNEST

Wrong. Try to get between a mother bear and her cubs!