Do We Have an Option? Working Moms vs. Stay at Home Moms

Do We Have an Option? Working Moms vs. Stay at Home Moms

Evolution of Motherhood: 1800 – 1900

Stay at home mom. Two-hundred years ago, what other way was there to be a mother? Women were harvesting crops, milking cows, shaving sheep, and making candles, but the biggest contribution to society was to have children. From 1800 to 1900, the average family size decreased from 7.0 to 3.5 children. Women were having fewer children as family farming was no longer a necessity.

In the 1800s, 1 in 5 children died in the first 5 years of life.

By 1913, a small percentages of women had entered the workforce. However, for the majority of women that were aspiring homemakers, marriage was a necessity. Women in the workforce earned a significantly lower than their male counterparts (and still didn’t have the right to vote). With no ability to earn a real income and no public welfare system, was every woman in the early 1900s a damsel in distress?

Women in War

In August of 1914, WWI broke out. Husbands, fathers, brothers, uncles were called to action leaving women to keep the firing burning on the home front… and they did. Large numbers of women left their domestic jobs and went into the workforce (many nurse and factory jobs). Many childcare responsibilities went to grandmothers, close relatives or trusted neighbors. After the war was over in 1918, women were urged to return back home and leave their to returning soldiers.

Their emergence into the workforce wouldn’t hit big again until 1939. During WW2, one in four women were employed (earning about 50% less than what male counterparts earned). Women returned home again in 1945 when troops came home from the war. I’m sure it gave  women a thirst for something different… feeling productive outside the home and confidence in themselves as major contributors of society in a different way. It’s always nice to feel appreciated.

The 1950s Housewife

Enter 1950s. Postwar, women had been home mastering the art of household goddess. You’re wearing pearls, an A-line dress, and dainty heels. You’re hair and makeup are set and there’s a four course, home cooked, well-balanced meal sitting on the table. You ask your son to set the table and he replies with a, “yes ma’am.” Oh, and it’s just a regular Tuesday. You’ve probably graduated from June Cleaver’s school of Domestic Mastery with a B.A. in 50s Housewife Perfection.

I envision the 1950s playing out like the scene from Sandlot (the 4th of July picnic). …Block parties with neighbors and casserole dishes, sparklers and baseball… Ray Charles continuously sings “America, the Beautiful” in the background. The biggest troubles kids were getting into were baseballs being hit over other peoples fences.

 Women’s Liberation Movement

These are my romantic notions of the 1950s; an idyllic image. What about the women that longed for success outside the home? Was the 1950s based in oppression and subservience? Were women giving up their dreams to become household slaves? Possibly, for some. The Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1960s gave women the voice to demand basic rights.

The percentage of stay at home mothers decreased during the 1960s and 70s. Mother’s started returning home in the 90s, with numbers continuing to rise.

Today’s stay at home moms: Luxury or necessity?

Fast forward to 2013. Today’s average American family has 1.5 children, lives in a 2400 square foot house and earns around $87,000 per year (says the Census Bureau). There are 5 million stay at home mothers (37% of mothers to children 18 years and younger). Women have fought hard for equal pay and opportunity and now make up about 47% of the American  labor force.

Maternity Leave

The United States houses about 806,000 child care facilities (business and self-employed people). The average child care cost for a preschooler is around $8800/ year. These statistics beg the question, is being a stay at home mother a necessity or a luxury?

The United States has horrible maternity leave mandates compared to other  industrialized nations. Women receive 12 weeks (90 days) of maternity after which time they can return to their job. However, this time may be unpaid.

Mandated pay: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, U.K. ←– Some with up to 100% pay for up to 140 days!

Without mandated pay: United States, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea

Child Care

For those parents who are sending their children into care, it can be a scary place. Again, the United States finds itself behind when it comes to subsidized, well-regulated child care. There are amazing centers out there (for those that can afford them), but what about the rest us?

I spent almost 6 years working in a 4 out of 4 Keystone Star, NAEYC accredited, creme de le creme child development center. The children were safe, occupied and overall, well cared for. However, the I still saw areas that could have been vastly improved. Most workers earned close to or at minimum wage (even though many held Bachelors and Masters degrees). Class sizes were often too large, money was tight when it came to high quality, nutritious snacks, and curriculum was mediocre. I can’t imagine what the un-accredited centers were like.

Obama’s Plan for Early Childhood Education

President Obama has a plan entitled “Zero to Five.” Some outlined points: he’s suggested we adopt a Universal Pre-K program for all states that makes high-quality preschool available to the public. Grants and additional tax credits would also go to needy families to help make child care affordable. It’s a start, but I think it’s like putting a band-aid on a wound that really needs about 15 stitches.

Staying At Home Was Right For Me

I was forced from a job I loved after I stopped receiving a significant employee discount for my son to attend the school I worked at. Nonetheless, I consider this a blessing. I’ve proudly taken on the role of stay at home mom because I’m fortunate enough to have supportive people that allow me to have this opportunity. If you’re not following your passions, sharing your talents, expressing yourself or finding purpose in what you’re doing… you probably won’t be happy, no matter what your job is.

With the abundance of technology and the advent of mom blogs, we have so many resources and outlets of expression; it’s an amazing time to be a stay at home mom. We have learned from the diligence of the 1800s, the boldness of the early 1900s, and the heart of the 50s and are bringing our own brand of ingenuity. I think we’ve learned happiness comes from embracing our role as a mother without losing our identity.

Sources : U.S. Census Bureau /Commission on the Population Growth and the American Future / International Labour Organization

If money were no object: stay at home mom or working mom?


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