As I was reading various essays and editorials about Motherhood and Moms last weekend, I was reminded of a conversation I had earlier this year at a meeting.
At a meeting, as happens from time to time, I met someone I had not previously met before. In fact, we had never heard of each other, as we are in quite different fields and employment sectors. In any case, we were chatting about Science Things, and then (somewhat randomly, I thought) this man, who looked to be in his mid/late-30s said:
Fortunately I get paid enough in my job so that my wife doesn't have to work. It is so much better for kids when one parent is home all the time taking care of the house and the kids and the shopping.
So I said:
It's great that that works well for you and your family, but I don't agree with it as a general statement for all kids and all parents. For other families, like mine, everyone is happier with both parents working.
What I said isn't sexist because it doesn't matter whether it is the mom or the dad who stays home. It just happens to be the mom in our case.
I said, ignoring his bizarre defensive reply that implied I had accused him of sexism, when I had not:
That's fine, but my point is that you can't extend your preference to every family, just like I can't say that it is best for all families, including the kids, if both parents work, even though that is what is best for my family.
He went on to explain how much nicer it is for him to return home to a clean house with dinner ready and to have a relaxing evening instead of coming home to a wife who was stressed out and exhausted from her day of work, back when she had a job outside the home.
I am sure it is nicer for him, and I hope his wife is truly happy with this as well. From what I've seen and what I've read, the key factor in whether mom-staying-at-home is a good choice for a family that can financially manage that arrangement is whether the woman really wants to do this or whether she feels she should do it or has no choice.
In any case, I did not ask this man how much he contributed to housework and childcare even when his wife also had a "real" job and was exhausted and stressed out all the time, as I really didn't want to delve into the details of his life; I just wanted to refute his generalizations.
But he wasn't done with his generalizations. He went on to state that places with lots of stay-at-home parents (typically the mom, but again, it doesn't have to be the mom) have better schools than places with lots of two-job families because the parents are more involved in the schools and it's great when the moms (or dads) can stop by and read stories and be lunch monitors or whatever. Schools that don't have lots of moms (or dads) involved can be pretty bad.
I said that many working parents participate in their kid's school activities, and the schools and kids benefit from interacting with moms and dads representing a wide range of career and life experiences.
Mostly, I think that this man was doing what so many people do -- trying to justify or feel good about his own personal decisions by trying to convince others that this is the best way to be. Why not just be happy with your choices? Perhaps he has issues, and these issues came to his mind when he found himself in conversation with a Female Scientist.
Even so, if he and his wife made this choice together, if both are happy with their decision and the kids are happy and mom-at-home really is the best thing for their family, that's great. But don't tell me that kids are harmed by working moms (and dads) and local schools are bad if lots of moms (and dads) work. That is a very unscientific conclusion, in addition to being quite bizarre to inject into a conversation with a Female Scientist at a meeting.
6 months ago