Lucie’s guest post last week touched a nerve with several blog readers. If you haven’t read it, her post was about why it’s easier to be a working mom in France than in the U.S. (Lucie was born in France, lived most of her adult life in California, and is now living in France with her husband and two sons.)
Some of the perks Lucie lists are a result of government and workplace support: good health care coverage, free preschool, generous vacation, and 35-hour work weeks.
She also talked about cultural differences, like how the French discourage parent involvement in the schools and in their children’s lives in general. This “detachment parenting” philosophy is controversial for many Americans; a 180-degree turn from the “attachment parenting” lifestyle of breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and “wearing” your baby.
But that’s not really what I want to talk about. What I want to talk about is this comment from Eric:
The question that I haven’t seen adequately addressed on this blog is: Are working moms such a good thing? Taking out the issues of sex and gender roles, rephrase that as, is it a good thing to have two working parents?
I’m pretty certain when Eric asks, “Is it a good thing to have two working parents?” he’s not trying to cast judgment on how individuals choose to live their lives. Rather, he’s asking what kind of society do we want to create.
Despite the fact that most of my posts on this blog are about why being a working parent in America sucks, I think having two working parents is a good thing. I think it’s an improvement on the 1960s Mad Men-style society. I just think we haven’t figured it all out, yet. We need a little help here and there (like paid maternity leave, more and better part time options), so that we can do work and take care of our families without compromising our sanity.
Granted, many families need two full time working parents just to get by. Not to mention, many families don’t have two parents, they have one. But if we could wave my son’s Harry Potter wand and transform our economy so that families could get by on less than two full time incomes, then which would be better: a society made of families with two working parents, or one?
Here’s why I think two (preferably part time) working parents is ideal:
Less risk for the family
When both parents work, if one person gets sick, disabled, laid off, goes back to school, dies, or runs away to join the circus, the family still has some money coming in.
When only one parent works, everyone is relying on that income. If the sole breadwinner has to stop working, the family has no money coming in. The other parent usually doesn’t have a lot of job prospects because they haven’t been working.
When one parent works, there’s more pressure to work long hours. Studies show that men now report more work/life conflict than women, which doesn’t surprise me. Women are more likely to sacrifice their careers for their families, which means more pressure on dad to earn money.
More gender equality
There’s been a lot of media attention about the rise in stay-at-home dads, but they still represent less than 3 percent of stay-at-home parents. When one parent stays home to take care of the children, it’s almost always the mother. Which makes her extremely dependent on her husband. As a result, women get stuck in loveless or even abusive relationships in part because they can’t afford to leave. Heather said this in a blog comment last week:
But we have to remember why women entered the workforce to begin with…Women were left penniless, pregnant, unable to find work, childcare for a variety of reasons—death, war, abuse, divorce, general unhappiness. They have been down this road before and worked hard to create more options for themselves.
One other data point: In Sweden, when fathers started taking more parental leave, mothers started returning to work sooner, the gender wage gap started to close, couples started sharing household responsibilities more evenly, dads started clipping the nails (!), and the divorce rate went down.
Better for the relationship
Things get really wonky between Brian and me when only one of us is working. Even though we both know better, it’s so easy to discount the other’s contribution. When we’re both working, we’re both involved with kids and housework, which makes us appreciate how much work it really is. I think this awareness is better for us, and better for our kids.
In a New York Times opinion piece last year called “Separate Spheres vs. Shared Lives,” Betsey Stevenson talked about the pros and cons of traditional marriages (in which one couple works and one takes care of the household) and modern marriages in which couples both do paid work and share household responsibilities. The bottom line is that modern marriages, while more complicated, are also more stable.
That ship has sailed!
Today, most women have children, and most mothers work. We work because our families need the money. We work because our husbands lost their jobs. (This last recession, or “mancession,” has been disproportionally hard on men.) We work because we have a great job and don’t want to give it up. We work because our mothers didn’t, and we saw what happened to them. We work because we value our independence. We work, some of us, simply because we want to work.
Today, fully half of all workers in the United States are women. And yet strangely, maddeningly, the workplace hasn’t caught up with this change in our homes. Rather than debate whether mothers should work, I think we should be talk about how to ease the burden on families, so that they can work.
For more reasons why two working parents is a good thing, my friend Teresa says she liked this book: Getting to 50/50: How Working Couples Can Have It All by Sharing It All.
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