Just when you thought the mommy wars were over, a new study shows the divide has grown over the past decade between employed and stay-at-home mothers.
But the study, released Thursday, also finds one area where both groups concur: Working full time is less appealing than it used to be.
The research, conducted by telephone this past spring by the Pew Research Center, compares the responses of 414 mothers of children under 18 with 457 mothers in 1997 who responded to a similar Pew survey.
Among working mothers, 60% now say part-time work is the ideal situation, compared with 48% in 1997. Among at-home moms, 48% say staying home is ideal, up from 39% in 1997.
“There’s so much finger-pointing going on and that has to do with the guilt and the self-justification of the choices they make,” says Rachel Hamman, author of the 2006 book Bye-Bye Boardroom, about the choice to stay home.
“Working moms are trying to stand their ground, as are stay-at-home moms. Sacrifices are made at both ends,” she says. “Working in the home or outside the home, there are things you give up.”
Researchers say a combination of relatively new factors has intensified the split, including the trend toward “intensive parenting” at the same time employers are demanding more of workers. And, they say, mommy blogs contribute to these deeply entrenched feelings.
“All of these things are putting women in particular into a kind of all-or-nothing situation. It’s kind of forcing a polarization,” says Pamela Stone, an associate professor of sociology at Hunter College in New York and author of Opting Out? Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home. Released in May, the book is based on interviews with women who left the workplace; it suggests they had little choice but to leave because of increasing work demands and policies that were not conducive to families.
What hasn’t changed, unfortunately, is the workplace,” she says. “Society is asking all mothers to do it all and do it better and better and they have their hands tied behind their backs.”
Exactly. The fact is that if a mother is not at home with her children, the children are missing out. It’s a zero sum game. As a culture, we must make it financially possible for women to make a real choice in parenting their children. That’s one way. The other way is to get the culture to change its attitude towards moms who stay home. As in, “you have the hardest job in the world” not “oh, you don’t work“. If a person is shaping the morals and education of our children, she should be treated with the utmost respect and deference. In fact, relatively speaking, a mother who chooses to stay home should be esteemed more than any other person on the face of this earth. If our culture were simply to recognize the heroic work these women do, we could clean up our mess overnight.