Myth #3: Being a stay-at-home parent is all roses and butterflies
In recent years, the media has had a heyday with what has been called the Mommy Wars. Basically, working moms have been pitted against stay-at-home moms in a nasty, wordy, Laura Ashley-clad Jello-wrestle. A central tenet to the debate has been the notion that women today are increasingly “new traditionalists,” who do nothing but yearn to quit the workforce and start baking cupcakes as soon as they have a willing male to support them, Harvard MBAs be damned.
Yesterday, in part two of our four part interview series with Pamela Stone, author of Opting Out? Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home (University of California Press, 2008), we learned that most women don’t actually choose to opt-out. Choice is, in fact, quite a tricky word.
So far, Stone has tackled two myths: 1.) An invisible hand in the market dictates that work must be inflexible, brutish, and long, and 2.) Most women who quit their jobs do so because they choose motherhood over career success. Today, Stone debunks myth number three:
Myth #3: Being a stay-at-home parent is all roses and butterflies.
Pamela Stone: I think that there is this view that stay-at-home motherhood is wonderful and that if a woman could, she’d quit her job and go home in a minute. Being home is not that wonderful. What you see in those middle and latter chapters of my book is how difficult it was for these women to be at home, how de-valued motherhood is, what it did to their relationship with their husbands, which became very un-egalitarian. These women perceived their husbands to be their peers, and that changed, a lot, once they were at-home moms.
What can be done?
Know the risks of “opting out.” Weigh your options—very carefully.
Stone: I’m very much for paid parental leave, but not for taking long extended leaves from working through opting out, a strategy that can be a real career killer.
Nor am I willing to say that opting out is always a bad choice, that women who make the decision to stay at home are wrong. But I hope that those who make that decision are pushing their husbands to think about it too. If they value a full-time parent in the home, then everybody should have an equal opportunity for that job–male partner, husband, whoever. I also hope they are making that decision realizing the full implications, the upsides and the downsides.
The lesson to be learned here is not necessarily that opting out is bad, or that traditional gender roles are bad, for that matter. The important point is that women, and men, must be prepared for the impact their decisions have on their relationships. If a corporate lawyer opts out of the workforce, putting herself into the role of caregiver and her husband as breadwinner— what we call a “traditional” scenario— then the dynamic of their relationship is likely to change. Be ready for it. And really consider if your relationship can handle it.
As younger generations become increasingly egalitarian in their mindset, thinking, as Stone said, that they will naturally be equal partners with their spouses, their shock will also continue to grow when traditional gender roles set in and things turn decidedly unegalitarian. Come back tomorrow to hear Stone’s advice to the youngest generation of professionals as she debunks Myth #4: Everything will be different for Gen Y.