Is two working parents a “good thing”?

by Katrina on January 31, 2011

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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{ 66 comments… read them below or add one }

Eric

The first, and best, advice I ever received about marriage was from the bartender at our hotel on our honeymoon in the British Virgin Islands. His name was Mike and he often came down to the carribean from Chicago to sail, get a sunburn, and wear a pirate-hook earring. As much of the hotel staff was away at a family reunion, he was pitching it tending bar at night. Upon discovering that we were on our honeymoon, he said this, red-faced after a day spent sailing: “Some people say that marriage should be a partnership, 50/50. It’s not. You have to give 100%.” And it’s true! When many of US couples view marriage as a 50/50 split, and we aren’t giving 100% of ourselves to the marriage, it’s no wonder we have such high rates of divorce, abandonment, and abuse, when so many people view their marital relationship as one primarily of extracting: giving your 50%, and then looking at what you expect out of the relationship, what you can get, what your spouse can offer you.

While we don’t have a picture perfect marriage (does anybody?) we are certainly striving to give that 100%. We have made certain lifestyle decisions based on what we want for our relationship and our family, including who works and how much, how open we are to having more children, and how much money we need to live how we choose. It is very important for us to have one parent at home with our children, more important than any single other concern except the physical necessities of shelter, food, and clothing.

If there are men who get off doing housework by foisting it all on their wives, those are pretty crappy husbands. I can’t say I’m the best husband, but I do clip the nails in our house. If I don’t do my share of the housework, our family suffers. If, instead of doing the dishes, I decide to read a book and take a bath, there are consequences for my family. This is currently the case: I didn’t do the dishes last night after coming home from work, and now Logan has to contend with a cluttered kitchen, dirty pots and pans, etc. That’s not 100%.

Finally, I am surprised that several times in the discussions here the justification for two parents working has been for insurance against some disaster. The threat of illness and death of the wage earner is real, but there’s where your village comes in to help, that’s partly why we humans live in community. Finally, It doesn’t seem like liberation to live in fear that your husband will leave you and your children penniless. Whether or not you take steps to protect yourself against just such an eventuality by securing a job, that fear is incompatible with marriage, which is a covenant, an exchange of persons, giving 100%. Marriage is not a contract to split the housework and wage earning and childraising 50/50.

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Katrina

But Eric, the reality is that something like half of all marriages end up in divorce. Surely, we can’t expect all those unemployed divorcees to rely on the good will of their friends and neighbors.

By the way, totally agree with you about giving 100%. That’s the only way most of us are going to get close to doing our “share.”

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Eric

Divorce is not ideal, it is a special and tragic situation.

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Tamara

Divorce is not tragic! That attitude kept me in an abusive marriage for 17 years and you know what? The divorce has freed up a mountain of emotional energy for us to give our kids and the benefits have been tangible and measurable (like abruptly improved reading scores). It’s also been not that big if a deal. So please! The melodramatic stance on divorce probably only works to keep abusive marriages limping along.

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Sandra

Tamara, I, of course, would agree that any marriage that has abuse in it should be the end of the road. No doubt. But…divorce IS tragic for families. There is NOTHING good about not prioritizing your relationship, over the kids. Many people do not try enough in their marriages. These days getting a divorce is not a big deal, but that promotion…we need to focus more on why we married in the first place and less on the kids.

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Logan

I’ve known a few divorcees who were pretty nicely setup after their divorces. So not everybody who is divorced is “forced” to go into the workplace, there are a variety of situations, some people choose to work etc. My best friend growing up had a stay at home mom who was divorced. I think her moms decision to stay home provided remarkable stability for the family during the difficult time. It was an interesting situation to observe. As the kids got older she did work occasionally while they were in school, but I think she desired to keep hours to a minimum.

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Molly

I think it is a utopic, unrealistic view to think that the male partner in a 2-parent, both-working family will equitably do his fair share of the housework. I have been married nearly 7 years, have a 5 1/2 yr old, 2 year old, and a 9month old and this has been a challenge since day one. Occasionally he will do the dishes and pick-up, but only if reminded at least twice. I have explained more than I can remember that I need him to help more around the house, e.g. pick-up, dishes, laundry, etc., but to no avail. I now look at him when the house seems as if it will impload and ask him if he expects that maid to put away the bag of stuff from his trip to the beach with the kids, do the laundry, make sure we have groceries, clean the kitchen, etc. I usually don’t go into all of the above, but it is really getting old having to stay up 1-2 hours and clean — he rarely, if ever does this. So, I probably sound like bitter, party of one, and probably am. I am tired of working full-time as executive director of a statewide nonprofit, and also shouldering 95% of the household chores, from cleaning/cooking, to event planner, historian, party organizer, keeping the family calendar, etc. I often dream of not having to worry about all the pressures of work, along with making sure my family keeps running smoothly and my kids continue to thrive. But, I have to as my husband does not make enough to support the family (and I actually make more than him). Quite frankly, I don’t know how any woman can’t feel like she is comproming something if she has to work, which is unfortunately the case of our family. My husband does not “step-up” on his own unless I direct him to a chore or something that needs to be done. This is obviously causing and does cause tension in our house. Bottom Line: He doesn’t “get-it” and may never “get-it”. I think he still thinks he is living in the world he grew up in where his mom didn’t work and his dad relaxed when he came home, with his wife taking care of everything and serving him. Despite the above, I am devoted to my husband and do not even entertain “divorce” thoughts. Except in situations of physical abuse/and/or abandonment — divorce is a lazy cop-out. Marriage is work, plain and simple. And, divorce(again,except in the situations above) is destructive and selfish. Because of my obvious tone above, my husband and I are seeing someone to help work on tension, problems.

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Katrina

Thanks for your comments, Molly. I hear what you’re saying about men not “getting it.” It’s very frustrating. Ironically, I think one of the reasons my husband is so good about housework and childcare is because he WAS divorced, and had the experience of being a single dad before we got married. I think it changed him for the better. It’s hard for anyone to understand how much work they’re NOT doing, until they do it, and feel the weight of being 100% responsible.

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Annie C.

Molly, I’m so sad that you feel that a husband contributing his fair share is a “utopic” view–you don’t have to! I sincerely hope that you and your husband can work this out together. I do realize that I’m fortunate to have found a partner who does his fair share; a friend of mine saw my husband doing the grocery shopping and almost burst into tears. But if both of you are working, there is no reason that only one of you should shoulder all of the household chores. It’s true that my husband is less likely to be bothered by a mess than I am, but he will faithfully do the grocery shopping, take the garbage out, and make dinner. If he has time-sensitive tasks to accomplish (e.g., if he forgets to take out the trash on trash day, we’re stuck with extra trash all week), he gets them done.

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Ana

Totally agree…When I first got married I told my husband I didn’t want him working overtime…fortunately we were able to do so since our rent was cheap…he helped with both our daughters, taking time off (unpaid) when they were first born…and even though times were tough it was all worth it.
I work part-time and while there are days when I feel I “should” work full-time, I realize that I would have no time for anything else. I would love for my husband to work part-time but probably won’t happen soon. Alas, things are good right now.

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Heather

Katrina,

I am really glad you brought up the marriage quality factor. Since I went back to work my marriage has gotten better. I would resent my husband when he would walk in the house and ask why it was a mess. I was so tired and never got a break.

He didn’t understand that but he understands work. He understands the extra money and he sees that I keep it together for the most part and where things slip he’s stepped up. I think the extra income actually makes him feel more secure and it made him grateful (I still clip the nails but he will if I ask him too).

Seeing him become much more helpful because I am out of the house made me appreciate him more and vice versa.

Eric,

I’m running a similar topic on my blog now. Would be interested in your opinion…visit me again if you can!

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Kristy LaFollette

Another thing I’d like to consider in all of this is how *same sex parents* cope…I have noticed in the few same-sex couples/parents I know, they are a lot less stressed about the inequities between partners and def. more communicative to each other and their kids –again, in general– then I see with my friends and myself in male/female relationships. I’d like to hear more of their voices in these discussions.

And for the record, I grew up with two working parents (mom and dad) who are still married, but still living paycheck to paycheck because they chose to marry and make family in their early 20’s instead of finishing college for a bigger career. I love them dearly, but I often worry for their financial security. For me, being a working parent is a no-brainer; I have always wanted to be financially independent, I love my career and my job, and I’m not made to be a stay at home mom. It’s the hardest job of all, and having time away from my daughter is just as important as being with her. I need to be myself and develop as a person in order for me to be a good parent; that’s the way I see it anyway.

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Lucie

I think having a stay-at-home parent is the perfect solution for some families and having two working parents is the perfect solution for others. If your son’s Harry Potter wand worked, I would wish for a society where every couple could decide what works best for their own personal balance without having to take into consideration shitty wages, overly-demanding jobs, fear of unemployment, staggering health bills or other assorted doomsday (everyday?) scenarios. We would also all have rewarding careers (or rewarding stay-at-home-ness), wonderful relationships with our spouse and our children and supportive communities.

My preference for my own family would be that neither parent work. I’d like the two of us to be independently wealthy. Knowing us, we wouldn’t stay idle for long. We’d travel the World. We’d produced a movie or something. We’d start a band with the kids.

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Logan

I second Lucie.

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Jennifer

Here, here.

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Tracey

I love every word of this!!

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Jen

Lucie’s hit the nail on the head. We say we are free and unique in this country and yet very few viable options exist for most of us. That said, my wish is for two part-time working parents, with health benefits, in my home.

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Logan

Katrina,

I wish you’d clarify something. You say two working parents is ideal, but then you say preferably both part-time. That isn’t the question though, I think that it’s not a question of one person working to the exclusion of the other. Two part-time workers are the same hours-wise as one. It’s a question of collective time away from the family. Your poll in my opinion is a toss-up that would be up to personal preference, whereas the question of two FULL-TIME working parents brings a very different discussion to the table.

Obviously we are talking ideal scenarios, barring starvation etc.

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Katrina

Hi Logan,

I’m using “part time” loosely. Two parents working 30 hours/week to me is part time. Of course, there have been many, many weeks when full time in our house meant 60 hours+.

The main question I’m trying to pose is really about the separate spheres vs. shared lives. If one parent is working full time and the other isn’t working (for money) at all, that’s very different picture than two parents who do paid work and divide up household responsibilities with the time left.

By the way, there’s a really interesting story about this today on the NYTimes parenting blog: http://bit.ly/hxcnW6

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Eric

I don’t think your poll accurately compares those two situations you just describe here, especially when terms are loosely defined.

The “that ship has sailed” argument isn’t relevant to the discussion at hand: even if there are already many two-income families doesn’t mean it is better, for the family or for the society.

I think that just about everyone would agree that it is good to spend time with your family and to accomplish things for them, such as housework, etc. It is also good to provide food, shelter, clothing, education, etc. for your family. It is also good to contribute to society by working outside of the house. It is also good for parents and children to have leisure activities, including family and individual pursuits. There are many other goods that an individual or a family could pursue (retirement planning, etc) and other goods that not all agree are goods, such as conspicuous consumption, or going to prom.

The question then is which goods should one pursue, especially when you can’t have it all, and one is choosing some goods at the expense of others?

There are certain goods which are greater and more important than others, including food, shelter, clothing, education (including religious education). Those need to come first for your family: If you need to hold down two jobs, or have both parents work, or what have you, then no matter what the ideal is you have an obligation to your family to do so. If you are a single parent, of course you need to work to support your family!

But there are secondary and tertiary goods which must take a backseat when the higher goods are on the line. What if for your child’s health and development, one parent needed to be constantly with that child, perhaps because of a highly specialized task vital to the child’s medical care that only one parent was fit or able to complete? Abstractly, I can’t think this would be plausible, couldn’t the other parent learn the skill? Concretely, breastfeeding is just such a task/skill. Elsewhere in this blog are discussions about how difficult it is for working mothers to breastfeed once they go back to work. Many mothers breastfeed for only 3 months or whatever their leave is, while the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for at least 2 years! Everyone knows breast is best, but you have to make a decision: which is the greater good, breastfeeding, or mothers of infants working? Some moms do both, often overcoming difficulty.

But breastfeeding is not the only situation where goods need to be weighed and decisions need to be made: it is extremely important for young children to be with their parents and receive their constant care and nurturing. organizations that coordinate foster parenting won’t place children under 3 yrs in homes with 2 working parents, because it is vital for the child’s development to have the stability of a parent at home. So, when a young child MUST be placed in daycare because the parent MUST work, that’s not ideal… but what about when the family could get by with just one income? The parents need to make a decision: what is best for the children? And what is best for society? I posit that having healthy, well-adjusted children is best for society. It is natural, then, for a parent to stay home during the early years, and for that parent to be the mother while the child is breastfeeding.

Given the great benefits of the mother staying at home, that’s how we do things in our family right now, when we have young/breastfeeding/in utero children. Could Logan work? certainly. we’d have more money, Logan could pursue a career outside the home, there would be other goods for sure. but none of the goods gained would be better than what we have right now: excellent care of our children from the person who can give it best, and plenty of family time together.

the whole point of this is to say that we need to make priorities, identify which goods are more important than others, and take action accordingly. The question is not “should women work” or “should both spouses work” but “what are the goods for which we should strive?”

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Katrina

Eric,

You’re giving me a run for my money this morning!

I deliberately tried to frame this discussion around our COLLECTIVE choices, rather than our PERSONAL choices. As Lucie said in her comment below, each family is different. The choice of how much to work or whether to work is very, very subjective. We do each other a disservice when we judge each other’s choices.

HOWEVER, we make collective decisions as a society, and I’m trying to make the argument (or at least start a discussion) about what is best for the greater good. Which is actually what I thought you meant when you originally asked “Is it a good thing to have two working parents?”

My take is that when women don’t get paid for their work, they become ripe for exploitation, which isn’t good for children, or society at large. BUT, I also think that it’s really, really hard to raise kids when both parents work full time. Some people can do it. Most of the people I know doing it suffer. A lot. That’s what half the stories on this blog are about.

So what’s the collective answer? Do we need to make part time work more available and pay better (the U.S. has steeper pay penalties for part time work than a lot of European countries) or do we look for ways to support families living on one income? Or both? Or something else? More work from home options?

I think you’re saying that we need to set better priorities for ourselves, and if we did that, more of us might choose not to work, to trade money for time. Which might work for some people, but I don’t think that solves the problem.

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Chris

Brief because I am on a blackberry. I concur with Eric and his points. And with the fact that what’s right for one isn’t right or preferred for another family — we all have choices. For my family, we’d like one of us home. We’ve concluded that’s what’s best for our 3 kids’ opportunities and experience.

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Kris

I’ve genuinely enjoyed reading everyone’s perspectives and experiences on this. There have been many different voices represented here, which is great!

I do want to say, however, that I do think some of the posts are missing the point. The question isn’t “are households with two working parents are better than one?”, or even, “what should families do?” It is clear by the array of responses that it is quite subjective. People have different values. Also, some people have no choice and therefore can’t live by their values or do what would be ideal: hence the problem.

I think the question that we should be asking, and I think Katrina was getting at this in some of her responses in the comments, is what can our society do better to accommodate families’ choices?

Better maternity and paternity leave policies and better part time options, are answers mentioned repeatedly in the comments. I also saw someone mention that companies need to offer more generous sick time, vacation time, and flex time.

In addition, I’ll throw out: Affordable quality daycare, so moms and dads that both WANT to work, can.

And I’ll end by saying that ending the stigma in our society that exists for both SAHMs and working moms. I think all the stellar parents that sacrifice careers to be raise kids and support working spouses should be extolled! I went crazy after just 6 months being home with my son and developed a whole new appreciation for all those moms who do it all day long. And I think we need to end the stigma that working moms and dads are somehow selfish and negligent. Working moms and dads kick butt too!

Again, it isn’t about what people “should” be doing based on your values and experiences. And one isn’t necessarily better than the other. It’s about respecting choice and giving families options so they don’t get trapped into lives that aren’t ideal for their temperaments and values. How do you think our society could improve this?

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Kris

Please excuse my typos…go figure…my son was distracting me as I was typing…

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Jennifer

I think questions like these are what creates a divide between mothers. Neither option can be seen as better overall. This question needs to be answered by each individual family. I think it would be better to focus on how we can support each other regardless of the decisions we’ve made and not how we’re “better” from someone that chose differently.

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Logan

Well, if ideally it is good for a variety of reasons to have only one income and if having two full-time working parents is the norm (which it is) then it creates an economy which bars families that choose to only live on one income. Currently it’s not possible for many families to only have one income, were it financially possible, there would be more freedom for both kinds of families –ones who wanted two full-time working parents and others who would be happy being home more.

I think that honest and open discussion is valuable as an intellectual exercise. People have a variety of experiences and perspectives which are enlightening to the whole discussion, I like hearing arguments to my opinions because it helps me refine my points or to reconsider them if necessary. I’d think it would be a real poverty if “men of goodwill” couldn’t bring themselves to have disagreements in the pursuit of truth because it was uncomfortable. We all tend to surround ourselves with people who agree with us and this tends to stagnate growth. It’s good to challenge and be challenged every now and then.

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Katrina

Just wanted to second what Logan said:

“I think that honest and open discussion is valuable as an intellectual exercise.”

and this:

“We all tend to surround ourselves with people who agree with us and this tends to stagnate growth. It’s good to challenge and be challenged every now and then.”

I know I tend to surround myself with bleeding heart liberals like myself, which is easy to do in the Bay Area. It’s refreshing to hear other opinions, and I really appreciate how everyone here has kept the tone respectful.

The big ‘a-ha!’ for me this morning in reading the comments was this: People have very different ideas about the role of government vs. “community.” To me, government IS community–it’s community writ large. Paid for with my money and yours. And just like our micro communities (family, friends, neighbors) it is as worthy and flawed as the people who inhabit it.

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Logan

Regarding the role of government vs. community, I would clarify that Eric and I most certainly are not against government support for families (in fact we are grateful for it especially as I benefit from medical assistance since my private insurance carries no maternity coverage). However, both of us in our work and community service efforts have seen in some instances what the government can do and what it can’t do. In particular we have some friends who work in the projects of D.C. serving the very poor. These people are the ones commonly referred to as “the problem that defies a solution.” What this means is that these people have no shortage of resources at their fingertips and yet are continuing to struggle to provide for themselves and their families. What our friends do is they provide that community and friendship that is needed by these people as much or more than food stamps. They help people to access these resources, by helping them with not only with practical things like, watching their kids while they stand in the unemployment line, but by helping them with emotional and spiritual support. This is not to be undervalued, as I realized when I was in college and I used to hang out with girls in JD– we weren’t very different all there was were a few isolated life decisions that stood between us. I happened to have benefited from a community that supported me in making good decisions as a youth that was really the only difference between us.

Eric and I are poor by some standards, and while we do rely on that government assistance– we recognize that it is what helps us to survive, but it isn’t what makes our lives good. What is is being surrounded by people who constantly support us in the little ways. That is what gives us excellent quality of life, a life that is not bearable but enjoyable.

So I guess how that relates to this is that when we talk about how do we make our situation better in the manner of balancing work and home lives I think ideas that are genuinely designed to ease the burdens of working parents are an essential and good thing: e.g. flexible hours, daycares in work centers, paid maternity leave, paternity leave, and my personal favorite– baby friendly workplaces (one of the greatest things for me is that I can drop my kids off at Eric’s office while I go to a doctor’s appointment and that is encouraged). These are good things that the government could do to help families. The thing is, regardless of the perks at the office, if we aren’t surrounding ourselves with and building local communities of support I don’t think that there will be longterm success in the two working parent model. I contend that this is why people all over the world are still struggling with “trying to do it all” even when they have better social resources than us. Basically the government can do some things but it won’t be your friend and that’s hard since we live in a very isolated time.

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Logan

Katrina,

I have another question– about the overlapping spheres. I actually really agree that that shared lives are essential for healthy relationships. I just don’t see how each having your own separate job achieves that goal. It seems like it could be just as isolating as a man who works and ignores the house and a wife who stays home and that’s her job. Either way it requires mutual appreciation, respect, and an earnest interest in being fully involved with each others lives to have that overlap. I don’t think that it’s automatically granted to two working people. Divorce happens in both worlds.

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Katrina

That’s a great point, Logan. Having separate jobs doesn’t necessarily bring couples together. My experience is that it makes Brian and me appreciate what the other does, because we’re both doing paid work and both taking responsibility for the household. But it doesn’t always work out that way.

In the NYTimes post I linked to earlier, the authors talk about the “shared lives” style of marriage being a lot more work than “separate spheres”. They conclude this:

“With research such as this latest study, we are learning that perhaps for parents who are both happy to maintain separate family roles – typically Mom as caregiver and Dad as breadwinner – getting along can be relatively easy. For those of us who want something different, however, halfway to heaven is a tough place to stop.”

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heather

Eric makes a good point about the fact that biologically women can only do certain specific things like birth and breastfeed their children.

But as a society we do not teach women to plan financially for the day they may be mothers. We tend to learn the hard way after the child is born that our time allowances at work are seriously compromised because we did the unthinkable: had a child.

So I have an economic idea that centers around the concept of accruing sabbatical months during working/higher education years, and sabbatical savings accounts that function like 401Ks. A person would be able to leave at when desired for an extended time to take care of children, parents or travel and their jobs would be protected for up to one year (or the time they accrued in the workforce). There is much more to my idea. It would involve work rotations for professionals to take places at companies when employees go out on sabbatical. I think that this could help unravel a bloated economy and put people to work while others need to transition out temporarily.

I think it has been difficult for mothers to gain benefits in the workforce because it is seen as exceptionalism, unfair and even patronizing to those without children. I feel like this idea could work here for everyone. Perhaps it’s already underway somewhere.

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Katrina

Wow. I love it. Saving your “time” for a rainy day, not just your money.

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ShyMom

I also like this idea. I’ve always thought that the solution isn’t necessarily to give ‘special’ benefits to parents, but instead to make the workplace more flexible for everyone. If everyone could take six weeks off each year, work fewer hours each week, work part time for a couple of years, etc. then everyone would benefit and being a parent would perhaps be a little less overwhelming. And more people could be employed. Of course there are complications to this scheme, too, but I like the general direction.

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Eric

This plan requires the mother to work for years before she accrues time enough, and then more years for her next kid, then more for her next… what if she wants to have her kids earlier? Are kids a reward for working?

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Susan

The idea hits a chord because she recognizes the reality is that money is simply a man-made construct –just a means for bartering to get us all food/shelter and hopefully savings for that rainy day.

But 2008 illustrated the fallacy of monetary savings when most of us saw our rainy day funds/401ks disappear or be cut in half. (Just as Madoff’s victims did.) 2008 housing bubble bursting that reverberated on Wall Street shook the security of so many dual income families who had been striving away, socking funds away into “safety” with years of 40+ hours of week, outsourcing our childcare to people who did not love our babies as much as we did…AND FOR WHAT? so the bubble could burst and the wolves on wall street could abscound with fruits of our hours and hours and days of labors times lost with our children as we pumped breastmilk for others to feed our babies?

It was an eye-opener. The truth is this: Money really only represents TIME. Time spent working for it.

Thus I feel your poll is too simplistic. I agree, ideally couples would never have to work more than Part-time at the same time, if that is what they want, but there are times when a woman does not want to work AT ALL and leave her newborn in someone else’s arms and her breasts full leaking milk while people drone on in meetings she cares little about compared to that little tiny mouth rooting for her and instead being fed a plastic nipple.

I was so lucky my day care was down the street from my office for my daughter — everytime she needed feeding I raced over for a mommy break. But then 2 years later, my son’s daycare was far from my office. Bottle fed formula instead of breast work day after work day, he developed allergies, ear infections, colds, vaccine reactions and now has autism. I blame myself because that is what mommy-guilt does. Breast is best and I let him down.

My point: Different times mean different choices work better. PT is often not enough for an ambitious young husband and PT is too much for a wife who wants to stay home.

Different strokes for different folks,but especially different moms. The poll should include the option “whatever works best for families, whatever that looks like” as your true answer. We women move in and out of the work force for a reason and that reason is biology and different life goals. We moms are born to nuture, some of us make that a priority, others can’t or genuinely love their work so much they are happier to outsource childcare to a competent nanny.

But I agree we could use some govt and corporate support so more of us moms have better options/choices that work for all of us at the time we need them. Time IS far more precious than money, once our basic daily needs are met.

So yes, if we can figure out how to save time in a bottle–I’m first in line to buy it with that 401 K that’s still not quite as big as it was in 2008!

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heather

Eric,

Anything is better than what is available. Plus, the working parent could alternate their time. Otherwise, we enter into that “mom” exceptionalism issue. I think making a case for off time to appeal to general public would be more effective in getting a bunch of “just-a-moms” out there. Our voices get drowned out too easily.

In the case of moms, I think time could be added to current maternity rules which are downright criminal when you consider that even in Brazil mothers are paid 5 months maternity leave.

No, the kids are not a reward for working but it may incentivise more educated women to have them in their ideal child-bearing years instead of having to deal with fertility issues later. The desired reward is to retain job option and financial interests when and if one chooses to have a kid, take care of a parent, or do anything personal for awhile for that matter.

But related to your point many women are rewarded for having more children in the welfare system. I often wonder if we spread the spending to include all mothers, would some younger women see a benefit to waiting to have children later after educating themselves and contributing to the workforce?

If collectively we can begin in one place that works for everyone, then I think it could inspire a cultural shift toward better family and financial planning. We need to evolve. I’m with Katrina, we want to move forward. It’s time for something new.

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Eric

Anything is not better than what we have, I can think of plenty of ways to make our system worse.

Heather, you wrote:
“No, the kids are not a reward for working but it may incentivise more educated women to have them in their ideal child-bearing years instead of having to deal with fertility issues later.”

What are the ideal child-bearing years? Certainly earlier rather than later. As that is the case, how does your plan help that by putting off childbearing until the woman has accrued enough time? It seems that more and more women would be pushing the start of their childbearing into their thirties (already the case, actually). Maternal age of 35+ constitutes a “high risk pregnancy.” Also, I know plenty of women who lost their fertility in their mid to late twenties… they put off having children and put off having children then they can’t when they try to. Sad.

Missing from this conversation is the value that stay-at-home parents add to society. It’s a good thing to stay at home with your kids! We as a culture need to value that. There are many ways of doing so, and I’m not advocating for one over another (tax incentives or what have you.)

finally, I will take issue again with your characterization of welfare as a reward system. While there are certainly people that take advantage of the system, the whole point is not to reward poverty and irresponsibility, but to help families that need it. There are plenty of well-educated, working (and stay-at-home) women who are also on medicaid or some other form of public assistance. for some, it enables them to stay at home and take care of their kids, so the family can rely on one income + welfare benefits in order to raise kids. as I noted above, stay-at-home parents are a benefit to society at large.

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Susan

yes. it IS a good thing to stay at home with your kids. Especially when they are young. But they do grow up and need you less and that is the time when moms can serve as equally good role models going out and doing their own thing, doing good work and getting paid for it and feeling that sense of accomplishment, using their talents and being recognized for it.

Thatalll kind of got lost with the women’s rebellion against the 50s/MadMen culture where women were bored at home, especially after the kids were in school much of the day. Book clubs, tupperware parties, volunteering, watching neighborhood kids play from the window, if at all, but being there to provide hungry shcool age kids snacks instead of latch keys. Playing out in the neighborhood instead of being ferried to organized sports leagues and afterschool enrichment music lessons and enrichment programs.
Something gained, something lost. Especially for moms. All that chauferring for a working mom means coordinating carpools…it’s a lot of stress even after they are in school. And kids can REMEMBER their elementary school years. Unlike infant/toddler daycare. Not every kid–like Ruby–wants to march off to Kindergarten at 7am and not return home until the last pickup at 6pm from the afterschool program. My daughter didn’t. A lot of daughters didn’t. I scaled back my work schedule (due to my son’s health issues) but she was happy to be home in the afternoons too. But there was no one to play with unless we arranged playdates. With all the neighborhood moms working all the kids were in afterschool programs. So it was still friggin hard, and harder than my mom had it when she opened the door to neighborhood kids for us to play with (unsupervised since the days of helicopter parenting and stranger danger/fear of kidnappings were not top of mind.)

So not only is staying at home with kids “a good thing” sometimes, as in the case with special needs or chronically ill kids, it becomes the only thing… some kids’ health problems make it impossible for both parents to work, even parttime, even if you really want to.

That’s what happened to me.

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Stephanie

The choice of whether to work or not is definitely an individual one. Interestingly, I’ve work full-time, part-time, and am now a stay-at-home mom. However, regardless of the hours I’ve worked, my husband’s share of the at-home, child-care stuff, has not changed; he doesn’t do much. I just do more or less depending on my circumstances, and some stuff doesn’t get done. His mom worked full-time and did everything, so that’s the model he is used to. When he did plan to take some time off after the birth of our third child, he promptly had a panic attack and spent his time off figuring out how to manage meds. to manage the anxiety. Clearly he is happiest working full-time, and often works through weekends and vacations as well. Yes, it drives me crazy, but I can’t figure out how to change him, don’t think it’s really possible.

I know parents-both moms and dads, who love being full-time stay-at-home parents, and others who love working full-time and would never want to stay at home with their children. It truly is an individual choice. I think problems arise when 1: our society doesn’t really allow for any choice. I would love to work part-time now, but try finding a part-time job in education. And 2: spouses have different views about what’s ideal. Which is hard to really figure out ’til you actually have the kids, and then it’s a little too late!

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Eric

“Which is hard to really figure out ’til you actually have the kids, and then it’s a little too late!”

While kids are certainly a game-changer, I would expect a responsible, rational couple considering marriage to talk about children. if the subject just doesn’t come up, there are some communication problems there. perhaps what’s best for society is a push for better marriage prep, rather than the absurd focus on the wedding day that we currently have.

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am

Eric – you remind me of my brother who was so adamant on pushing his idealized view on everyone else, he couldn’t see another way.
Your points are valid, but so are the working moms points.
Regarding talking about children before getting married – its just talk. Its good to know how one feels, but what if you have differing view points. When it comes to marriage, I’m no expert but have many years in the game; i think it matters that you agree on the major fundamentals – all the other stuff falls in to place as you deal with the hand that you are dealt

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Stephanie

Eric-I agree with “am” until you have kids it’s just talk. Of course my husband and I talked about what our life would be like with kids, and we agreed on shared parenting, both of us working, me not necessarily full-time, and sharing the household chores. Once the childrenn arrived, that just wasn’t the case. It’s impossible to know what raising children will be like, and how exhuasting and, when they’re young, mind-numbingly boring it can be. I think my husband meant well, but wasn’t prepared for the reality. I guess the one thing I might have done differently, once I realized this fact, was to stop having children after the first.

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Eric

am,

I fail to see how arguing for an idealized view is out of place or otherwise innapropriate in this conversation about what is ideal for society.

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YamYam

Hear! Hear!!

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Jen

Stephanie,
I know how hard it can be to break out of roles we were raised with, but I hope your husband appreciates the sacrifices you are making to accomodate him. Is it possible for you to hire some help for the household work so you can work part-time like you wanted to? or maybe volunteer somewhere? You deserve happiness too and if that means the house is messy and the meals are simple, so be it.

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Tammy

The idea that a parent isn’t “valued” unless they are working makes me crazy because the stay-at-home parent works a full-time job also by keeping the home, kids and family (and usually finances) in order. However, I know from personal experience that it can definitely create stress when only one person shoulders the responsibility of earning money, but the other person is also shouldering all the family care responsibility. My husband never had to worry about burning a vacation day to run a child to the doctor or sporting event, nor did he ever worry about bills getting paid or picking up groceries.

My husband struggled with me being at home for a while. It was always a priority to him to have financial security, while my priority has always been the children and our family unit. Now that I am working, he has since mentioned how he misses me being home to care for those often neglected things like housekeeping, cooking good meals, keeping laundry up, having more energy for our relationship and in general making an inviting place for our family to live. I often told my husband that as long as I stayed at home with the children we were a two full-time job family, but if I went back to work, we would become a three full-time job family, which basically meant we would both have a full-time job and a part-time job. Our problem is that our society doesn’t value the position of the stay-at-home parent or families in general. It seems like its all about money and a high standard of living..

Something else, Eric said, “Finally, It doesn’t seem like liberation to live in fear that your husband will leave you and your children penniless.” I whole-heartedly agree with this….I stayed at home with my children as long as possible, but I never felt like I needed to be educated and gainfully employed “just in case” my husband left. In fact, I always felt that if something like that happened I was resourceful enough to figure something out. My husband and I both attended college, part-time over several years. For me it was more about when I did eventually re-enter the workplace that I would enter at a higher wage job and thus give our family a better standard of living and to help the kids with college, cars, braces and other expenses. Not to protect myself against the possibility that my husband may walk out on me. And as Logan pointed out, I know a few divorced women who ended up rather comfortable after their divorce when assets and support were distributed.

Lastly, I personally feel that if both parents are going to work, then one should work no more than part-time or as Katrina pointed out, both part-time, to help balance the demands of family with work. My kids are older and they have often told me how much they miss me being at home doing all the little things that made our home fun and generally pleasant. I think that says alot.

I have thoroughly enjoyed this post! Its been very insightful to read all the varying opinions and suggestions.

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Eric

Tammy, I like your characterization of two full-time working parents as having a total of 3 full time jobs, because someone’s got to fold the laundry.

It takes guts to rely on only one income today, not to mention good budgeting skills. I think that it is awesome that you were able to give that time to your family! I’m sure it will bear good fruit.

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Anne

I am a full-time (+) working mother who is financially supporting my husband (ABD and finishing his PhD) and my 14 month-old daughter. As a couple, there are many times when we envy the other partner’s role – I envy Eric because he “gets” to have time with Jonie, Eric envies my predictable 9-5 and the adult time. But we make it work because we have to – and part of making it work is not keeping score. We send each other out with friends to get a break. We acknowledge that our roles are different but that our responsibilities are equivalent (if not equal). We validate each other’s feelings and we ask for what we need (and give what we can). There are moments where we feel resentful, but we let it roll off and forget it because more than anything, we have to have each other’s back to get by.

As the bread winning mama, I have struggled most with assuming roles I never expected to occupy. While I always thought I would work, I never prepared myself for the intense pressure of being the sole earner. I work later, I work harder, and I harbor more performance anxiety than I have ever experienced before. It’s as though I never mentally prepared to take up this space, what it would mean to exist here, and the affect it would have on my sense of well-being and security.

Further, I am always surprised find very few women the same situation – even among my same-sex couple friends – rarely is the (bio)mama the primary earner. This is part, I believe, due to the attachment parenting model, the idea that (bio)moms have a special and unique contribution to their child’s upbringing (that dads/non-bio moms can’t fill), and that children are healthier if (bio)mom meets most of their needs. I have had to reject these assumptions and these theories to make our life work. And I find myself at once relieved and mournful as Jonie forms strong bonds with Eric (who she spends most of her time with) and as I let go of (bio)(mom)(working) guilt (I can’t do it all).

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JL

I hear you and I am in the same position. I’m mourning my losses and not seeing any of the value I am bringing. My husband is equally struggling at his not-expected role. We could “have it all” if we could just figure out how to switch roles, or switch what we value ourselves/eachother for.

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Jen

Anne – you are right that there aren’t many of us out there, or maybe there are but the voices aren’t loud enough to be heard. Thank you for your spot-on characterization of the struggles that we face as breadwinning mamas. Adapting to new roles that you never envisioned and at the same time, having incomplete support from friends and family who barely comprehend the challenge, is pioneer territory.

I find myself silent more often these days because the responses I get are usually based on the mistaken belief that I’m in the same situation as men providing for their family – definitely not the case for so many reasons but I don’t have the energy or the strength to devote to clearing up their mistaken beliefs.

It’s a tough situation and very real –we’ve seen almost 80% of our friends in the same situation go through divorces in the last six months. Women supporting families isn’t something our culture’s ego is ready to accept, I’m afraid.

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JL

I’m not even sure it is an ego thing – to me it just goes against nature of the world we’ve been raised in. But isn’t that partly what this question is about – do we want to change the world so that the next generations don’t have this same struggle.

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Poker Chick

I always struggle with the decision to keep working my long hours (advertising) and agree if it was a 35 hour workweek it would make a huge difference in happiness levels, productivity, health. What I do know is when my little girl looks at me and says “when I grow up I’m going to be a doctor. and then come home and be a mommy at home”. That’s the role model I’m providing, and it’s priceless.

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Mark Anthony Lariego

I think both parent working is a great advantage when it comes to financial needs. But when it comes to taking good care of the kids I think moms are really responsible for this. I prefer not to work or if given a chance I would choose to work at home doing online business. This will enable me to work and at the same time take care of my kids.

Joana
Unique Moms

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Anna Marie

I am a working mom and I don’t find it hard to work while doing my kids’ stuff because I’m working online.

Thanks!

Mommy Anna
9 to 5 at Home

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Becky

What a great topic. I have been struggling a lot lately with the idea of “should I be at home with my child, or working to benefit the family as a whole (with the increased income).” I love to work, but often times I do feel guilty about not being at home with my little man. I think it’s a very real struggle for a lot women. When we as women stop judging each other on who is the better parent- the working mom vs the stay at home mom (as these comments bring up), and start looking at what really will benefit families and our children (more part time jobs, etc) and women start voicing their concerns (it’s ok to say “I can do it all, all the time!”) then maybe we can engage as a society and take action to change family dynamics for the better.

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Gay Parents

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Donna Tate

Speaking as a nanny, I think that 2 working parents has been harmful to the family. I have worked as a live-in/out nanny for over 25 years in over 3 major cities and I also have worked with low incomed families and I want to sound the alarm… we are moving in the wrong direction! Children NEED a consistent caretaker but instead parenting is being outsourced. Instead of looking to the govenment let’s teach children to prepare to have children and to work for themselves!

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fish

But what about the children! Your talking points address everybody but the child.

If you’re going to have a baby then do it properly. Its not enough to squeeze the thing out you have to give it love and emotional nourishment.

You also have to educate the thing. And no, this is NOT the governments responsibility, it is the responsibility of the parents.

If you are going to hire a nanny it should be the SAME nanny for the entire child’s life and as a mother you should accept that your child’s primary bond is going to be with the nanny.

If you don’t WANT to be a mother, then don’t be a mother – but don’t underestimate the seriousness of the calling and do a half-arsed job of it.

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Larisa

In my opinion, two working parents are “a good thing”, but not for the reasons discussed in the post. I don’t mean when parents are constantly at work and kids are taken care of by babysitters, grandparents, etc.
I grew up in two working parents household, and did not miss out on anything. In fact, if my mom would be able to stay home, and tend to my every need, I would become a different person. I’ve learned to take care of my sister, clean, cook, and most importantly to be an independent and self sufficient person at an early age. I was treated as an equal, not as a child, and was glad to help out whenever I could.
With my two kids I took the same approach. Sure, we made some adjustments to our work schedules. My husband started his own business to be more flexible and I took the job close to home. I’ve never considered staying home full time. I don’t think kids need you full time (unless they are babies). There is nothing wrong with day care or after school or occasional babysitter. Glueing your kids to yourself does not do them any good. We are not missing out on anything; helping with/checking homework, activities, hot debates at dinner tables on various issues, family vacations. I am completely tuned in, and know everything that is going on in my children’s life. My kids can do everything around the house, would take responsibility if needed, and as self sufficient and adjusted as they could be at their age. They understand that family is a team, and everybody has to contribute, because we all work hard, and have no servants to take care of stuff.
I find that kids in two parent working families as in the large families are more disciplined and responsible and more ready for the life ahead (without mom being there and taking care of them all the time.) Plus seeing their parents grow professionally, learn new things, and continue educating themselves have positive influence also.

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tomi

I am constantly discouraged by the multiple articles that discourage a stay home parent. Who is parenting? The school? Day Care? I know plenty of families in my community where there is a stay home parent and the working parent shares in the household duties. As the stay home parent, I am not only able to care for my family, I volunteer and participate in my children’s schools, and I am also able to give back and volunteer in the community. My husband does the bulk of the cooking because he enjoys it. I do the gardening, cleaning, meal planning, shopping, errand running, lessons, carpooling and other child related things, bookkeeping, and basic household running. It’s a full time job. We both do laundry and care for the kids. Why cant we support what works for each family and value all parents. It works for some families to both work, some families both have to work, some families are lucky enough or have made choices to be able to have a stay home parent. But to promote one over the other just continues the mommy wars and devalues the other type of parents. If everyone is working, who is the village?

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workingmom

Agree with Tomi.
My hubby is our SAHD. Any family can CHOOSE to have a parent stay home if you MODIFY your life’s wants and needs. Our value system is such that we feel strongly that he raises them (3yr old & newborn) certainly until both are at least in elementary school. My mom was a SAHM until I was 12. We lived rural & frugal as we do now. I am lucky to have a great paying job in management that supports us all. We have one car. We don’t have annual vacations. We take hand me downs thankfully and consciously shop, save & spend. I feel extremely blessed to be able to offer our kids a strong supported relationship with Dad and covet all my time with them. And Im glad to show them that either parent can play either role regardless of gender.

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Jo

Amen Tomi! Strongly believe in raising “your own kid”. Being on both sides of this coin I would like to share. I worked full time after my first born. He was in part time day care and daddy cared for him the other days. I later quit working soon after my second child to stay at home per my husbands request. We figured out how to live on ONE income. Yes it can be done people. I was guilty of the same old excuses “oh dear, I could never stay at home as I would go crazy” and “we would not be able to afford it”. Until you try it, you will NEVER know. You make it work. You find how much stuff is just stuff and not necessary and just plain excessive. For what? Stuff doesn’t compare to the joys and experiences with your child growing up right in front of you. It’s a simple choice really. If not then one wonders why you had children?

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Becky

Modern marriages are not more stable, sorry to break it to you. 1 in 2 marriages today end in divorce and what has changed in 50 years? Well for one, both parents are working. Not to say that there is a direct correlation but having two working parents certainly doesn’t make things more ‘solid’ from a factual perspective.

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Izzy

As a recently back-to-work mom of an 8 month old, I was raised in a family of 5 children with two young, hard-working parents. I wholeheartedly agree with Larisa’s point: “kids in two parent working families as in the large families are more disciplined and responsible and more ready for the life ahead (without mom being there and taking care of them all the time.)”

As I was one of the 2 oldest siblings, we did household chores at a young age, cared for younger siblings, I delivered newspapers at age 12 and sold popcorn at the movies by 16. In retrospect, my parents did what they could with the limited time and money, but I have no regrets!

Good parenting to me means we have to prepare our kids for the real world — so that they can fly one day without us!

I look forward to the ebbs-and-flows of working momhood ahead. But I am not afraid, since I have a great husband who also grew up eldest in a two-parent working household.

The several conflicting views shared indeed contribute to a great thread! Thanks for that.

Irene

P.S. Grew up in Canada, worked in management for American companies for 15 years then recently switched to a German company as an expat in Asia. Can talk at length about how global values and workplace and childcare norms differ… its not all bad in the U.S.

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Susan

When working full-time, I found I couldn’t be the parent I wanted to be. The lack of sleep with an infant, and the demands of two teens was too much for me while working full-time. I resigned from my full-time gig. I’m now a better parent, but my Husband doesn’t value my contribution unless there is a price tag associated with it. So frustrating. I’ve begun doing freelance work, and it has helped our relationship.

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network marketing

Now I am going to do my breakfast, after having my breakfast coming again to read more news.

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