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Thursday, August 12, 2004
On Stay-at-Home Parenting (a Fisking)

By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 6:21 pm

Dean Esmay notes that The Queen isn’t too happy about a report concerning a column from the Austin American-Statesman written by, it turns out, a faculty member from the Government Department at the University of Texas (where I did my doctoral work). The professor in question is named Gretchen Ritter, and I don’t think I ever actually spoke to her (it is a big department). I have linked to the article below (warning: registration required) and have fisked the piece.

I will note that my wife is a stay-at-home Mom for our three sons. This is a decision we made together, and planned for even before we decided to start our family (we had been married for six and half years at the time of the birth of our first son). I would also note that while my wife went on maternity leave from her job as a teacher for about 6 weeks, from the time she returned to shool until the end of the academic year, I took care of the baby at home and taught at Austin Community College at night.

Here’s most of the Ritter column (The messages we send when moms stay home) with my comments:

It is time to have an honest conversation about what is lost when women stay home. In a nation devoted to motherhood and apple pie, what could possibly be wrong with staying home to care for your children?

Several things, I think.

It denies men the chance to be involved fathers. This is a loss for them and a loss for their children. What does it mean when fathers are denied the opportunity to nurture their kids in ways that are as important as their work? What do the children miss when they don’t have fathers changing their diapers, picking them up from school, coaching soccer, making breakfast or dinner and doing homework with them? On both sides, the answer is too much.

Two things:

1) Why would having a mother stay at home equal blocking the father’s involvement? Sure, the number of encounter-hours will be higher for a stay-at-home mom will be higher than for a father who works but having the mother go to work as well doesn’t increase the number of contact-hours for the father. This is specious reasoning. My mother stayed at home, but yet there were plenty of times that my father picked me up from school, he was the coach for my baseball team, and for various teams for my siblings. Granted, he didn’t make breakfast, dinner or change diapers, but that was a generation thing, not a result of my mom staying at home with us.

Further, as noted, my wife stays home, but I pretty much make breakfast for the kids every morning, and have changed many a diaper.

2) The only outcome of having the mother work as well as the father is to have the child have a net loss of hours with parents in general. How does this improve the situation for the child and why would it result in any change whatsoever in the actions of the father? An uninvolved father will be an uninvolved father whether the mothere works outside the home or not. Most specifically: having the mother have less time with the child does not increase paternal contact. As such, the above paragraph is a non sequitur.

Women who stay at home also lose out-they lose a chance to contribute as professionals and community activists. Parenting is an important social contribution. But we need women in medicine, law, education, politics and the arts. It is not selfish to want to give your talents to the broader community-it is an important part of citizenship to do so, and it is something we should expect of everyone.

No one is saying that we don’t need women in those professions, but choices have to be made. Properly raising a child trumps having a person of a particular gender in a specific job. Fathers can stay home instead of mothers, mothers can postpone certain career goals (or careers-and I wold note: not having a career isn’t a crime) to stay home with pre-school-age children, etc. Saying that staying at home and being a mother does not, ipso facto mean that there won’t be females in the workplace.

Full-time mothering is also bad for children. It teaches them that the world is divided by gender. This sends the wrong message to our sons and daughters. I do not want our girls to grow up thinking they must marry and have children to be successful, or that you can only be a good mother if you give up your work.

Nor do I want boys to think that caring for families is women’s work and making money is men’s work. Our sons and daughters should grow up thinking that raising and providing for a family is a joint enterprise among all the adults in the family.

And going to daycare 8 to 10 hours a day is good for children? Or, being a latch-key kid without parential supervision is good for kids? And what is wrong with acknowledging that being a good mother can a be a fulfilling life? Further, being a good mother doesn’t not mean that one has to be locked in the house for the rest of one’s life. And there are plenty of examples running around that demonstrate that women play a vital, non-mothering role in society. Again, my mother was a stay-at-home mom, yet I did not grow up thinking that all women could do is be mothers-or that only men make the money.

Still, and this is the root of the whole situation, choices have to be made: if a couple chooses to have children, then it affects what options they have and I am of the opinion that the sacrifices must be made by the parents, not the children. One sacrifice may be career-related. And no, it doesn’t have to be the woman’s.

The new stay-at-home motherhood movement parallels the movement to create the “perfect” child. It’s not just that mothers are home with their children; they are engaged with their children constantly so they will “develop” properly. Many middle-class parents demand too much of their children. We enroll them in soccer, religious classes, dance, art, piano, French lessons, etc., placing them on the quest for continuous self-improvement.

Many of these youngsters end up stressed out. Children should think it is all right to just hang out and be kids sometimes. They should learn that parents have interests separate from their lives as parents. And we should all learn that mothers are not fully responsible for who their children become-so are fathers, neighbors, friends, the extended family and children themselves.

There’s a leap: having a stay-at-home mom equals more stress for children. Forget the stress of daycare or being a latchkey key. But again, there are serious logical fallacis here: is Dr. Ritter suggesting that only the children of stay-at-home mom’s engage in a large numer of activities? Clearly, this is not tha case and this argument is, like the ones above, specious. Further, it seems to me that having a father and a mother who have to be at work early, and have to come home late (later than the kids are out of school, at least normally) will certainly cause a great deal of stress in the household. Further, trying to figure out how two working parents are going to manage the activities of the children whilst working certainly isn’t a stress reducer.

Finally, the stay-at-home mother movement is bad for society. It tells employers that women who marry and have children are at risk of withdrawing from their careers, and that men who marry and have children will remain fully focused on their careers, regardless of family demands. Both lessons reinforce sex discrimination.

This movement also privileges certain kinds of families, making it harder for others. The more stay-at-home mothers there are, the more schools and libraries will neglect the needs of working parents, and the more professional mothers, single mothers, working-class mothers and lesbian mothers will feel judged for their failure to be in a traditional family and stay home their children.

Ok: so it is bad for society if parents take full responsibility for raising their children and caring for them? A remarkable assertion. And again, there is the issue of choices in regards to single mothers and lesbian mothers and so forth. And, yes, there are circumstances where mothers will have to work, whether the family be traditional or non-traditional, but that doesn’t vitiate the fact that ideal being that there be a parent at home with children-espeically very smal children.

By creating an expectation that mothers could and should stay home, we lose sight of the fact that most parents do work-and that they need affordable, high quality child care, after-school enrichment programs and family leave policies that allow mothers and fathers to nurture their children without giving up work.

Raising children is one of the most demanding and rewarding of jobs. It is also a job that should be shared, between parents and within communities, for the sake of us all.

I noted at the beginning of this post that my wife and I made a conscious choice that she stay at home with the kids. That meant not acquiring debt and other obstacles that would have precluded such a move. I have known many families who have no choice but for both parents to work-not because of economic deprivation, but because they bought expensive cars, homes or acquired other hefty debts prior to getting pregnant. So while there are many families in which both parents must work due to economic exigencies, there are also many who have been consumed by the materialism of our society (or who simply didn’t plan ahead) and therefore have to work because of circumstances they put themselves in.

But as I have pointed out before, the demands of parenting are great, and I can see nothing more important the focusing as much energy as is reasonable into that endeavor, which includes having a parent stay at home. And it is the case for a variety of reasons that that is likely to be the mother. The idea that this should be discouraged is laughable and, as noted above, not even logical.

And not the ultimate issue: the “community” should help raise the children, and tax-payers need to contribute more so that affordable day-care will exist. It seems to me that the burden on the community would be lower, as would the burden on the typical family’s pocketbook, if one of the parents stayed home and took care of the children. That makes far more logical sense than does Dr. Ritter’s assertions.

Update: This entry has ben posted to the Beltway Traffic Jam.

Filed under: Parenting
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15 Comments»

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  1. As an adult raised by a single mother for most of my life, I can say that this woman is clearly deluding herself. The arguments she raises are so obviously specious and convoluted, while the arguments you make are clear and common sensical. I was raised in daycares and spent many hours at home alone. I don’t blame my mother when she did what she had to do. But I do blame her for continuing to work, after she remarried. Work and money (cars and swimming pools) were more important than raising us. Which is why my fiance and I have already worked out the particulars of our child-raising priorities. And bravo to you for finding a creative way to make it happen as well.

    Comment by scott orrell — Thursday, August 12, 2004 @ 7:13 pm

  2. Well, I guess my liberal viewpoint is that Gretchen Ritter is, shall we say, intellectually misdirected. My wife stayed home with our youngest child for 5 years. But I changed diapers, fed my daughter daily, got up with her at night, bathed her; in other words, I’m pretty sure I was an involved father. I’m the only person she’s ever thrown up on. That’s got to count for something!

    Comment by Harry — Thursday, August 12, 2004 @ 7:25 pm

  3. I’m at home with my two and the difference since I quit my job is huge. It brought the family together in a way I couldn’t comprehend that we were apart before.

    Comment by Jane — Friday, August 13, 2004 @ 9:09 am

  4. That professor seems to forget how well the children are grounded, how well prepared they are for school when the parent stay’s home with the children, as my wife has. And most important how difficult a job being a stay at home mother is. don’t kid yourself, its difficult, especially with 3 kids. That professor needs a life.

    Comment by sal — Friday, August 13, 2004 @ 10:51 am

  5. the mere fact that children have two parents who are in the same household while the kids are growing up puts them at an advantage in terms of being “grounded.” There’s a lot that could be toned down on both sides of this argument.

    Comment by bryan — Saturday, August 14, 2004 @ 10:09 am

  6. Bryan,

    Indeed true. And I would note: I am not taking an absolutist position here. I simply see it as the ideal that one parent is home with small children, and indeed even after they older that a parent be present after school. And I do understand that circumstances can legitimatly require both parents to work.

    The remarkable thing about Dr. Ritter’s argument that I find most remarkable is that she takes the absolute position that stay-at-home mothers harm children, fathers, mothers and society. I find this to be ridiculous.

    S

    Comment by Steven Taylor — Saturday, August 14, 2004 @ 10:14 am

  7. From the sections you quote, it seems obvious that the professor is arguing against the presumption that women - and only women - will always spend full-time taking care of children. She says nothing to the effect that children should not have extensive parental contact. Yet PoliBlog and almost all the commenters object to her claim that women should not bear sole and exhaustive responsibility for raising children with the observation that children are better off with close parenting - and then conclude that the professor’s remarks are wrong for that reason. In other words, you all assume that because children need parenting, it is wrong to suggest that women should not sacrifice all the rest of their lives to raising children. PoliBlog even notes that it can be the father who stays at home with the children, yet objects to the author for suggesting exactly the same thing!

    As the original article points out, there are many ways society could provide extensive contact with parents and yet not trap women solely into sacrificing their own interests for those children: equally shared responsibilities, child-friendly workplaces, etc. She never claims that having mothers stay with children is bad in itself; the entire article is aimed at the question whether it must be mothers only who are expected to take on this responsibility. Many of you are quick to insist it is not, but you are outraged at her suggestion that mothers have a right to expect equal freedom and equal responsibility.

    As for the harms from forcing women out of careers and into child-rearing, as the author points out this not only harms the women directly, but it teaches the female children they cannot expect to pursue interests of their own, and the male children that their interests will be taken care of by women assuming any responsibilities that might interfere. It also reinforces social practices that make it harder for many women to get the help they deserve. This is harmful to those children, and to society in general.

    It appears to me that you are not averse to the suggestion that parents should share parenting; you just seem to be outraged that a woman would suggest that women’s interests and independence should be a factor in determining how those duties are shared. It seems like you want your liberation and your misogyny at the same time.

    Well, you’re halfway home. Keep it up. You’ll learn.

    Comment by Kevin T. Keith — Saturday, August 14, 2004 @ 1:58 pm

  8. Kevin,

    My primary objection to Ritter’s arguments is that she sees stay-home-mothers as a blight on society. Further, she argues, somewhat subtly at the end of her piece, for a more collective approach to child-rearing. I reject both her thesis and her solution (which is your as well, if I read your post correctly).

    And part of your logic is quite flawed: no one is forcing women from careers. Getting pregnant isn’t imposed on you by the state, nor is it a random occurrence.

    And yes, parenting should be shared by parents, including the very real possibility that the father be the stay-at-home care provider. However, this is not Ritter’s argument, the logical extension of her piece is that stay-at-home parenting in general is a scourge of society and ought be stamped out. Every argument she makes about stay-at-home mothers would apply to stay-at-home fathers.

    There is something to the fact that given the actually biology of gestation and nursing that the probability is that the mother be the one to be the primary care-giver. However, nothing I have said requires such.

    And please inform me where my position is misogynistic. Given that misogyny is hatred of women, I fail to see where my argument conforms to such a definition. Further, I find your accusation condescending and unnecessarily inflammatory.

    One final note: once one has children the notion of utter independence for either parent goes out the window (at least for responsible parents). If one wants total independence and freedom to pursue career goals, one oughtn’t have children. (And before you play the misogyny card again, I think that applies to males as well. There are very specific things that I have not pursued in my career that I otherwise would have done had it not been for the fact that I have small children. Indeed, my daily life is very much affected by that fact).

    Comment by Steven Taylor — Saturday, August 14, 2004 @ 2:18 pm

  9. Steve:

    My primary objection to Ritter’s arguments is that she sees stay-home-mothers as a blight on society. Further, she argues, somewhat subtly at the end of her piece, for a more collective approach to child-rearing.

    You have a two-part thesis here.

    The first part - she sees stay-home-mothers as a blight on society - is just wrong. This is not what she says. She says that the assumption that mothers must stay home, and the pressure on mothers not to do otherwise, is harmful to women and to society. She is simply arguing for more options for women - and for ways for families to raise children that do not require women giving up their careers and community involvements.

    Most of the commenters have actually agreed with her claim that women are not the only sources of child-care: “I [a male] took care of the baby at home", “I was an involved father", ” the children are grounded . . . when the parent stay’s home", “I simply see it as the ideal that one parent is home", “the very real possibility that the father be the stay-at-home care provider". Yet they also assume, without even remarking on it, that women will be the source of childcare: “I do blame [my mother] for continuing to work, after she remarried. Work and money (cars and swimming pools) were more important than raising us” [why don’t you blame your father? Apparently they were more important to him, too - but you assume it’s your mother’s responsibility to stick around the house], “I’m [a women] at home with my two and the difference since I quit my job is huge.” [how is this a response to an argument that women should not be required to stay home? - “making a difference” is an argument against Ritter only if you assume it’s the woman who has to “make the difference"], “I simply see it as the ideal that one parent is home” [the same comment again - you don’t stipulate that the “one parent” need be a woman, but you offer this comment a an argument against the claim that women should not have to stay home]. Ritter is arguing for more options in child-rearing, rather than the assumption that women will give up their plans and committments to take that responsibility full-time, while men will not. Most of the commentators mis-read her as saying that she things children do not need parents at all, and then, while touting their pro-father sentiments, clearly assume that the idea that “one parent should be with the children” obviously means that “the mother will be with the children. This is what Ritter’s arguing against - not the importance of parents in general.

    The problems she sees with that assumption are not that it is a “blight on society” - but that it limits women’s options, warps children’s perspectives on what is possible for men and women, and reinforces social patterns that further limit women’s options. She never says mothers are bad. She says that assuming mothers (solely) will give up their other committments to be childrens’ caretakers full-time is bad - for those mothers, for their children, and for the rest of us.

    Your second point - she argues, somewhat subtly at the end of her piece, for a more collective approach to child-rearing - is true, if somewhat mischaracterized, but what of it?

    She argues - perfectly explicitly - for “affordable, high quality child care, after-school enrichment programs and family leave policies that allow mothers and fathers to nurture their children without giving up work.” (emphasis added) Those are hardly radical claims. This is not some kind of utopian-experimental “community child-rearing” - it’s a simple statement that making child-rearing possible for parents with active careers and community lives requires policies that recognize child-rearing as one of people’s normal committments, not some sort of exception that has to be swept under the rug by forcing one parent (the mother, virtually always) out of the workforce entirely. It also requires perfectly normal facilities like day-care centers. This is hardly a radical notion.

    What is radical about it is the idea that work and community committments should bend to the needs of workers and parents - that parental responsibilities should, in even a tiny way, be recognized by employers and the community. What is more radical is the idea that we should make women’s independence and social presence one of our goals in setting up work, community, and child-care programs.

    Nowhere does she say that parents should not take care of their children, or that children are not a primary focus of parental time and energy. She only says that this burden should not fall unequally on women, and it should not be assumed that women’s other activities and interests will be abandoned in the face of their childcare responsibilities, while men’s will not be. She argues for more balanced child-rearing responsbilities, and for social institutions that accomodate them - because this will be better for women and for their children and the rest of society.

    As for “misogyny", I am sorry if the word is too harsh. But the assumption that women’s interests will be abandoned because men’s cannot be, that women will assume family responsibilities that men need not (or may volunteer to assume in part, if they feel like it, and then claim praise for doing so), that women must limit any personal interests, committments, or ambitions they may have because men simply choose not to make it possible for them to do otherwise, is both very sexist and very harmful to women (and, as Ritter points out, their children as well). The automatic assumption that Ritter’s claim that women are not the only parents means that children don’t need parents (i.e., the complete inability to imagine who else could possibly participate in child-rearing if women weren’t doing it all) is also very sexist. I think the responses to Ritter’s article in this thread simply reinforce her point: women have few allies in trying to defend their own interests while serving their children’s interests as well.

    Here’s another approach that may prove enlightening - and I don’t expect any objections, since you’ve all already agreed in your own words: all of you - Steve, Scott, Harry, Sal, Joe (from evangelical outpost) - you all now have full-time childcare responsibility. You’re all now stay-at-home dads. You are forbidden to employ after-school programs or daycare, and your wives are to do nothing more than whatever they happen to feel like at any given time. (If your wives do make breakfast a few times a week, or put the kids to bed, be sure to praise them extravagantly.) You are prohibited from holding a job. Your wives should go to work, and you will live on their salary (if they don’t make that much, well, you’ll get by; having two incomes is prohibited because you aren’t allowed to have outside activities). And this is going to continue for at least 18 years, longer if you have multiple kids or they don’t leave the nest right away. You are required to do this - after all, you’re all in favor of stay-at-home parents, and you’re certain that no harm can come from having them, while it’s very bad for both parents to have interests and activities outside the home. I’m only taking you at your word (with the small difference that I’ve changed the presumption from that of the mother staying home to that of the father staying home, but that won’t matter because none of you has sexist assumptions about limiting women’s opportunities, and you’re all just full of admiration for those who take on the hard and glorious work of parenting).

    Now, you may object that this is rather intrusive - that you don’t want to give up all the committments, interests, and career activities you’ve built your life around, that your needs count too, that nobody should be forced to take on all the responsibilities of parenting, that there has to be a way to balance those responsibilities between mothers and fathers, that jobs and social institutions should make it easier for parents to split time with their kids and time away. You may even find it useful to share child-care responsibilities with other parents, or find supportive after-school activities for your children, so that they can play with other kids and learn things while you get some time for your other committments. However, you aren’t allowed to act on any of these beliefs - for one thing, child-care help is almost impossible to find because the people who run corporations and fund social programs don’t value it, and for another you’re a terrible human being if you use it. And your desire to have your own interests and ambitions respected - that’s just selfish, unnatural thinking.

    Again, this is nothing more than you have all already said, in response to a claim that women have interests other than 24/7 babysitting. You can have no objection . . . unless of course you really agree with all the things you were criticizing when it was women’s interests at stake.

    So get to it, boys. If you haven’t all quit your jobs by the end of next week, I expect you to send an apology to Gretchen Ritter - and start paying for daycare.

    Comment by Kevin T. Keith — Saturday, August 14, 2004 @ 5:39 pm

  10. Keith,

    She directly states that moms staying at home is the problem, and that is why she says that the stay-at-home mom movement is problematic. She isn’t simply saying that the movement is the problem. She directly states that having moms stay at home are back for fathers, mothers and children. Not just the stay at home movement. She starts with the general proposition that the staty at home movement is problematic, but moves to the more specific point that mother’s staying home with their children is bad.

    She states:

    It is time to have an honest conversation about what is lost when women stay home. In a nation devoted to motherhood and apple pie, what could possibly be wrong with staying home to care for your children?

    No discussion of movement there. No, rather, the beginning of a long discussion of what’s wrong with moms staying at home. She goes on to chronicle what’s wrong with mom’s staying at home. Where in the above paragraph is she saying anything other than there is a problem with mom’s staying at home, per se. Go back and re-read the column and you will see that the thesis is straightforward: having women stay home with their children is harmful.

    And I never said she said mothers are bad-but she does decry them staying home. Nor did I say that she said parents shouldn’t take care of their children. However, to have two working parents requires more daycare and if al couple work, then an awful lot of daycare, and other programs will be needed. The implication, if taken to its logical conclusion is clear: a greater amount of taxation would be needed to subsidize greater daycare needs.

    I will note, as I did in my first e-mail: there is higher probability due to biology, that women would be the likely stay at home parent.

    The main error you make is in this sentence:

    But the assumption that women’s interests will be abandoned because men’s cannot be, that women will assume family responsibilities that men need not (or may volunteer to assume in part, if they feel like it, and then claim praise for doing so), that women must limit any personal interests, committments, or ambitions they may have because men simply choose not to make it possible for them to do otherwise, is both very sexist and very harmful to women (and, as Ritter points out, their children as well).

    I am arguing as a generic point that the ideal situation for a child is for one parent to stay at home (and yes, that parent is more likely to be the female). However, on a practical level I am also assuming that individuals make choices, including the choice to procreate, and that decisions would be made between the individuals in questions. Where do you infer that I am saying that men are forcing women to do anything? Further, why is the assumption that a woman choosing to stay home is limiting her interests? I know, for example, that my wife would argue otherwise. Further, it seems to me that the assumption that being a mother is a limiting choice is patronizing and being as dismissive of the choices some women make as you are accusing me of being. Isn’t the ultimate point that women ought to have th right to make these decisions?

    Let me be clear: I am not suggesting that men have the right to force their mates to care for their children like some cartoonish caveman. My response to Dr. Ritter’s essay was directed specifically at the fact that it denigrates the choices many women make, and I will concede is the choice that I think is ideal-not because it keeps women in their place, but because it is best for children.

    And I reject the notion that just because one’s mother stays at home that it necessarily results in children thinking that women can only engage in domestic pursuits. By that logic my sons will grow up thinking that men only become professors.

    To some other issues:

    You state: “The automatic assumption that Ritter’s claim that women are not the only parents means that children don’t need parents (i.e., the complete inability to imagine who else could possibly participate in child-rearing if women weren’t doing it all) is also very sexist.”

    I am rather unclear as to where that point is coming from, as it is not an assertion that I came anywhere close to making. Perhaps you are inferring this from my reference to a collective solution. As noted above, I meant that only in terms of the daycare issue. Indeed, given that I both conceded that stay-at-home dads fulfill the ideal that I am arguing for, as well as my own involvement in my children’s daily, I am at a loss as to your point here.

    And the problem with your little experiment is that you assume that my wife was forced into her position by my capricious male whims. The amazing thing about your entire response is that it wholly discounts the wishes of the women in question. This is odd, because allegedly you are trying to protect their interests. I think you will find that they are perfectly capable of making their own choices. And, believe it or not, many of them choose to be stay at home moms, and they, and their children, are better off for that choice.

    Comment by Steven Taylor — Saturday, August 14, 2004 @ 8:45 pm

  11. And Keith: out of curiousty (and I am not trying to be smart, I am genuinely curious): are you married and/or do you have children?

    Comment by Steven Taylor — Saturday, August 14, 2004 @ 8:47 pm

  12. She starts with the general proposition that the staty at home movement is problematic, but moves to the more specific point that mother’s staying home with their children is bad.

    She states:

    It is time to have an honest conversation about what is lost when women stay home. In a nation devoted to motherhood and apple pie, what could possibly be wrong with staying home to care for your children?

    No discussion of movement there.

    In the line immediately preceding the first sentence you quote from her article, she says:

    Few dare to criticize the new stay-at-home mom movement recently discussed on this page in the Austin American-Statesman.

    It is time to have an honest conversation about what is lost when women stay home.

    She does say there are problems when mothers stay at home, but she is clearly discussing that in the context of the “movement” - the assumption, and conforming social pressures, that women will give up their outside-the-home roles automatically, completely, and exclusively, and that no similar demands will be made on men. There is no other way to interpret her remarks. For instance, she goes to lengths to note that men should be more involved in parenting, and that parenting duties are not exclusive to women:

    “fathers are denied the opportunity to nurture their kids in ways that are as important as their work", “Full-time mothering is also bad for children", “raising and providing for a family is a joint enterprise among all the adults in the family", ” mothers are not fully responsible for who their children become–so are fathers [and others]", “[r]aising children is . . . a job that should be shared, between parents and within communities".

    (emphases added)

    On your reading - that she just thinks mothers are bad - she would have to be arguing that fathers alone should raise children. But that would not make sense (it would just reverse the problem), and that’s not what she says anyway. She merely says that, now, fathers’ work outside the home is regarded as justifying their not spending full-time with their kids, and mothers’ work is not, and that should change. Fathers should “nurture their kids in ways that are as important as their work [outside the home]", and mothers should have “a chance to contribute as professionals and community activists . . . [and] in medicine, law, education, politics and the arts.”

    It really doesn’t seem complicated. The problem with the “stay-at-home-mother movement” is not that it causes women to raise their children - the problems are the result of the assumption underlying the “movement” that that is the expected role for women, and the only one society supports.

    “Full-time mothering . . . teaches [children] that the world is divided by gender. . . . It tells employers that women who marry and have children are at risk of withdrawing from their careers, and that men who marry and have children will remain fully focused on their careers . . . . [And it] also privileges certain kinds of families, making it harder for others.”

    That’s pretty straightforward. There are harms that result from the exclusive assumption that women will give up every other role in their lives to serve full-time as mothers, and that men will not - but the harms come from the lack of opportunities for other roles, and from the constraints society puts on women to force them into that imposed role, not from the mere fact of being mothers. It is not being a mother that is bad - it is being limited to that and nothing else that is the problem, as Ritter says explicitly:

    [P]arents have interests separate from their lives as parents. . . .

    The more stay-at-home mothers there are, the more schools and libraries will neglect the needs of working parents, and the more professional mothers, single mothers, working-class mothers and lesbian mothers will feel judged for their failure to be in a traditional family and stay home their children. . . .

    By creating an expectation that mothers could and should stay home, we lose sight of the fact that most parents do work . . . .

    (emphases added)

    Maybe Ritter should have added a disclaimer: “I’m not saying mothers are bad!” She did say explicitly that parenting should be shared between fathers and mothers, but that apparently didn’t negate the perceived message that mothers themselves are bad. (There’s something about conservatives that makes them jump to bizarre extremes in their perception of anything that challenges their worldview. “Feminism is a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians. - Pat Robertson” ” “There is a master plan out there from [gays] who want to destroy the institution of marriage. - Senator Wayne Allard” “Barring a miracle, the family as it has been known for more than five millennia will crumble, presaging the fall of Western civilization itself. - James Dobson” “If you still think homosexual ‘marriage’ won’t affect you, think again. Your job may be at stake! - Gary Bauer” “To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America’s enemies, and pause to America’s friends. - John Ashcroft” Like timid woodland creatures or very young children, conservatives seem to need a lot of reassurance to face the world as it is.) Ritter is simply asking for more options for women, more sharing of parental responsibilities, and more support for women to balance their parental and their community roles. Apparently she didn’t realize how defensive and threatened proponents of traditional sex roles would feel on hearing that suggestion, but she was clearly not saying that women should neglect their children (or kill them, or become lesbians, or whatever else it is you think you heard). She said women should be acknowledged for all that they have to contribute, that men should take a larger role at home, and that society should create expectations and institutions that encourage both those goals, not discourage them. However threatening that may be, it’s hardly radical.

    As for my suggestion that you should all live up to your beliefs, it does not require that anyone be physically forced into staying at home - neither I nor Ritter have suggested that is occurring. All I am suggesting is that those men who so favor a “women’s stay-at-home movement” - but who insist that they are good liberated fathers themselves - could achieve their own goals immediately with a men’s stay-at-home movement. Nothing is keeping you from giving up your jobs and spending every moment of your lives with your children while your wives pursue careers and interests of their own. Lack of daycare, lack of paternity leave programs, lack of afterschool care, and lack of social support for your choices should prove no obstacles - after all, you’re convinced those things are bad, and you don’t seem concerned about lack of support or social reinforcement for women who choose to work outside the home, so I’m sure you’ll be comfortable with the lack of support for men who choose not to. And - again - you are convinced that one parent being a full-time caretaker is what’s best for the children, and there is nothing at all stopping you from being that caretaker right this minute (There’s certainly nothing “biological” about it. Childbirth is biological - child rearing is simply a question of who is going to put in the hours. As long as you can afford a breast pump, there’s nothing your wife can do for your child that you can’t do.) But - surprise! - none of you seems inclined to give up your careers, adult interactions, community activities, and other interests to stay at home with your children - even though you think it’s best and you could do so if you choose - and even though you are all convinced there’s no reason at all for women not to do that. The reasons are obvious - they’re the same reasons you gave yourselves in justifying your not doing what you say women should do. Whatever reason you have for working outside the home, women have also. The difference is that “tradition” and the anti-women’s “movement” pressure them not to, while supporting you in any choice you make. (And, bizarrely, you claim that supporting women in making the choices they prefer is “discounting the wishes of the women in question.” Certainly many women choose to stay at home; many more would choose not to if they could. But you choose not to provide the support that would make that choice possible, while strongly supporting the assumptions and practices that push them into the one role you approve of.) If you really believed what you claim, you’d act like it. Instead, it’s convenient to mouth support for women’s choices, while encouraging only one such choice that you yourself refuse to make.

    The bottom line is simple: Ritter has argued for shared parenting responsibilities, and for a variety of career, social, and parenting options for women and men. You say you agree, but you criticize her harshly (and falsely), while at the same time refusing to take on for yourselves the roles you approve of for women. It benefits you for women to take on all the parenting responsibilities while you pursue any interests you choose - and that is how you act. You say you approve of the same distribution that Ritter proposes, but jump on her for pointing out the reasons why a change is necessary. The act is a little too convenient, and too transparent. When you’ve give up your independence for full-time parenthood (remember - you can put your money where your mouth is any day you choose), and further agitated for a “movement” encouraging all men to do so as a basic, defining social assumption, then you can at least enter a debate about women’s opportunities. Until then, you’re just dictating to others what you won’t accept for yourself.

    And Keith: out of curiousty (and I am not trying to be smart, I am genuinely curious): are you married and/or do you have children?

    Dude: do I sound like I can get a date?

    Comment by Kevin T. Keith — Sunday, August 15, 2004 @ 2:11 pm

  13. Keith,

    She mentioned the stay-at-home mom movment so as to crtique stay-at-home moms, not to simply critique the movement.

    And she doesn’t simply argue for shared parenting-she argues that the only way for women to self-fulfill and for children to have the proper view of women is for all women to work outside the home.

    You simply aren’t reading the piece very well.

    The logical conclusion of the piece is that both parents should work-always. And I think that is the wrong choice for children. If one doesn’t want to take care of kids, don’t have them.

    Where I am dictating anything for anyone, btw? And your arugment that the only way that I can argue that being a stay-at-mom is best is for me to quit my job tomorrow is wholly specious. By that logic you need to go get married and adopt some kids so you and your wife can go to work and have the kids in daycare. And yes, I could be te caregiver. However, my wife would object. You keep missing that point. I still say both you, and Ritter, denigrate the choices my wife as made by equating it with the wrong choice-one that limits her and her “independence.”

    Further, I would note: it isn’t like it is a bunch of men who are out trying to make all the women stay at home. If you pay attention, the stay and home mom movement is made up of women.

    And I must admit, you didn’t sound like someone who was either married or had kids ;)

    S

    Comment by Steven Taylor — Sunday, August 15, 2004 @ 2:33 pm

  14. It seems to me that a stay at home mother, or father for that matter, increases the working father’s, or mother’s, parenting time. If a mother and father both work normal work days, then they will be competing for time with the children during those few moments between work, meals, dishes, and bedtime. The stay at home mom will be able to have quality time with the child while the other parent is at work. This leaves the remaining time more open for the working parent.

    Comment by JBP — Monday, August 16, 2004 @ 3:34 pm

  15. Steven Taylor asked sarcastically:
    “And going to daycare 8 to 10 hours a day is good for children?”
    There’s a website, Daycares Don’t Care, that has a huge collection of information that shows that day-care is NOT good for children.
    The URL is:
    www.daycaresdontcare.org

    Comment by Jared Schwartz — Wednesday, September 29, 2004 @ 6:31 pm

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