Friday, March 19, 2004

Time Magazine "Discovers" Motherhood

Rich Lowry at National Review Online has a couple comments on a Time Magazine cover story regarding mothers who are leaving the workplace to stay at home with their children!
In a cover story headlined 'The Case for Staying Home,' the magazine reports, without sneering or condescension, the trend toward more new mothers leaving the work force. This is an important cultural benchmark, because until now, the media, feminist leaders and other opinion-makers have tended to portray stay-at-home moms as a regrettable throwback to what should be a long-gone era of child-rearing. Now, perhaps, we are ready to honor the full range of choices made by women struggling with how to balance career and family.

Yes, perhaps. Or there will now be a reflexive backlash against this story, but I somehow doubt it. In my experience, when told that my wife works negligibly and is essentially a "stay at home mom," many of my colleagues and friends respond with a "you're so lucky" - type of comment. Yes, we are lucky, but we also don't drive a new car, have top of the line wardrobes or groceries. In short, we, particularly my wife, work at it so that we can life a better quality life. There's no SUV parked in the driveway, but our kids sure know who we are. Justin Katz saw the Lowry piece as well and was particularly struck by this:
According to Time, it has mostly been well-educated white women over 30 who have accounted for the drop in working moms. Twenty-two percent of women with graduate or professional degrees are at home with their kids. One in three women with M.B.A.s is not working full time, in contrast with just one in 20 men. These women have the resources to eschew a paycheck. A generational shift has also taken place, as young women are less interested in taking orders from the feminist "sisterhood." According to one survey, 51 percent of Gen X moms were home full time, compared with 33 percent of boomer moms.

Well, Justin offers up this pithy, and mostly accurate, observation:
Although I would never tar women with the sins of their mothers, so to speak, it doesn't seem presumptuous to suggest that this is the same class of women who pushed their peers out into the workplace to begin with. One consequence of that push was to create economic and cultural pressure making two-income households just about a necessity. Now, that same class of women is sufficiently wealthy to return to the lifestyle that is no longer an option for many others.

While Justin is correct in a certain sense, I think in his zeal, he missed an important fact that I interpolate from the aforementioned statistical breakdown. The trend is for younger mothers, despite their education level, to choose staying at home. This is probably a result of holding onto the ideal of one parent working/one parent at home, which results from either the fact that that is the type of home the GenX mothers grew up in or its the type of home they wish they grew up in. With this ideal in the back of their mind, I'm guessing that most worked for about a decade, made some money, met the right man and then wanted to start a family.

These women proved that they could make it in the career world, but some realized it wasn't all that it was cracked up to be. Thus, when they took their first maternity leave and realized that being "just a mom" is really quite fulfilling, they were reticent to jump right back into the work force. The fact that these younger moms were also familiar with the misery of the older, boomer moms also probably contributed to a desire to not want to make the same mistake. So they juggled, they took out the calculators and coupons and have resolved to somehow make it work. They've eschewed the Chevy Suburbans for the six year old Saturn, they eat no-name brand peanut butter, and they wait for sales, combined with coupons, before shopping for clothes. Materialistic desires have been put on hold. The women of my generation, yes, GenX, have gone to school on their predecessors. They've seen that, while it was fun to roar in the asphalt jungle, it's more satisfying to settle in the den and to care for her cubs.

Justin Katz has amplified his point a bit, though, as he states, we're really not that far apart on this. I guess my point is that couples need to realize they don't really "need" all of the toys that Justin seems to think society has convinced us we need, though I'm not sure that's what he's saying. In general, I think we're talking about two kinds of couples. I'm talking about those who marry at about the average age of 25, work in their careers for a bit, get a little of a nest egg, and then starting a family. Justin is talking about men and women marrying at thirty. Both of these groups are in the same demographic, but they will undoubtedly have different experiences.

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