A full 42 percent of Americans believe maternal employment has been detrimental to American society. Only 20 percent of us think this is a positive development for our civilization. These are results from a new Pew survey of and about working mothers. Pew finds working moms give themselves lower marks on parenting and express a desire to cut back on hours. But the survey doesn’t ask women how they’d like to see our politics and businesses change to make their lives easier (not to mention ask what they’d like to see men doing to help). That’s why I’m skeptical of Ross Douthat‘s reading of Barack Obama‘s work-family balance proposals as more "market friendly" than "family friendly." It’s possible that given a different set of social and economic realities that make working come less into conflict with parenting, working moms would feel very good about their choices.
Here are steps I think would help mothers feel less conflicted about work:
1. If married and partnered men did their full 50 percent share of domestic labor, so tidying up and picking up at school and making doctor’s appointments and cooking dinner and doing the laundry and calling the plumber and meeting with the teacher and getting the groceries felt less like a full-time job for one family member.
2. If work schedules were flexibile across the board.
3. If our government provided high quality child care and health care, so parenting became less about massaging an uncooperative system into providing services for one’s child.
4. If active fatherhood became valued and expected so that even when a man is no longer romantically-involved with his child’s mother, he remains a caretaker. Yes, I realize this is a pipe dream. Currently, 80 percent of children live with their mother after divorce. Sixty percent of children of divorce have little or no contact with their dads. More than one-fifth of divorced kids haven’t seen their dads in the last five years.
The Ozzie-and-Harriet model of marriage and family life — full-time breadwinner dad and full-time homemaker mom — is rotten for women who want economic independence and a larger kind of life. …
The "great for men" aspect of the stay-at-home mom equation is what makes critics fume — and rightfully so. But for those who suggest that at-home mothers are responsible for prolonging the gendered division of social power, the Pew survey offers a timely reality check. What mothers do — and what mothers want — appears to have a limited impact on public values and societal norms. At the very least, the two-fold increase in maternal employment over the last 30 years has yet to result in a dramatic reversal of cultural attitudes that safeguard male privilege in the public and private sphere.