Rethinking Priorities and Mom’s Role

Fortunately, there is growing evidence that mothers are questioning the assumptions of the eighties and nineties that led them and their husbands to run faster and buy more. That rethinking of old ideas was expressed in an article published in June 2000 in another women's magazine, Cosmopolitan, which, in my opinion, historically has espoused the ultraliberal line.

According to a recent survey by Youth Intelligence, a market research and trend-tracking firm in New York, 68 percent of 3,000 married and single young women said they'd ditch work if they could afford to. And a Cosmo poll of 800 women revealed the same startling statistic: two out of three respondents would rather kick back a casa than climb the corporate ladder. "It's no fleeting fantasy—these women honestly aspire to the domestic life, and many will follow through with it," says Jane Buckingham, president of Youth Intelligence.

In this case, we find the other end of the universe from the views espoused by Dr. Chesler and the editors of Vogue. What a difference twenty years makes!

The contrast between Dr. Chesler's dislike of mothering in 1981 and Cosmo's fantasy about staying at home in 2000 is humorous to me. One woman's ceiling is another woman's floor, as they say. Admittedly, the Cosmo article was more about having an easy life than about making an unselfish commitment to children and a husband. But the lure of full-time mothering was woven throughout. Helen Gurley Brown, longtime editor of Cosmopolitan and an avant-garde feminist, wrote a book in 1982 entitled Having It All. As with most of her other kooky notions, this one was off the wall. It asserted that women can do everything at once and not have to make tough choices. How interesting that Brown's successors in the new millennium are thinking, Maybe we have bitten off more than we want to chew.

There were other indications in the mid-nineties that a gradual sweep of the pendulum back toward the traditional family was occurring. According to a study conducted at that time by sociologists at Cornell University, nearly three-fourths of 117 middle-income couples in upstate New York were found to be scaling back their work assignments for the sake of the children. They were taking more time off and, when necessary, they were lowering their standard of living to accommodate the loss of income. Twice as many women in the study said they had disengaged from the workplace after the birth of their first child, making their husband's career the primary one. The men tended to press ahead with their professional commitments until they had achieved an "acceptable level of flexibility and autonomy in their careers." Many families appeared to be recognizing that something was broken and needed to be fixed.

Women reported being fed up with the harried, exhausted, chaotic lifestyle that often characterized the two-career family. Some of them realized that very little money was left after taxes, child care, and related expenses. An article in Barron's estimated that 80 percent of a woman's salary goes for these work-related costs and concluded, "By the time she pays for everything from pantyhose to transportation—sometimes in the form of a second car—working could become an expensive hobby." Therefore, said Barron's, "[men and women are] refinancing their largest monthly obligation [their houses], not to take on more consumption, but to make a 'long-term lifestyle change.'"

A related article in Working Women was titled "Superwoman's Daughters: They don't want your job. They don't want your life. All twenty-something women want is to change the way America works." It said women who are leaving the workplace can't be understood without considering how they were raised. "Generations are motivated by what they were deprived of as kids. For those under thirty years of age, they had far too little time with their parents. Therefore, younger women seem determined not to make that mistake with their own children." Continuing, "While Boomer women saw their fifties moms as trapped in domestic drudgery, [Busters] see themselves (or their friends) as victims of parental neglect; a whopping 40 percent were raised by divorced or separated parents. And while the conventional wisdom at the time may have been that if the parents were happier, the children would be too, the children say otherwise. 'I don't feel like I really had a family growing up,' says Cindy Peters, a 25-year-old San Francisco nanny. 'My parents divorced when I was two, and I saw my father maybe once or twice a year.'"

Those were very exciting trends when they broke on the scene in the nineties. Unfortunately, they now appear to have stalled. The unprecedented prosperity and job opportunities enjoyed in Western nations may have been difficult for women to ignore. For whatever reason, the move back to homemaking and full-time mothering has not developed into a ground swell to date. Nor has the institution of the family staged a comeback.

Book: Bringing Up Boys

By Dr. James Dobson

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