Thursday, March 20, 2008

Stay at Home Moms: Not So Many

Painting by the beloved Swedish artist Carl Larsson of his wife Karin nursing one of their eight children. Karin Larsson was an artist in her own right but stopped painting when she married. However, she continued to design and weave textiles, such as the cloth on the table, in her lovely home, as she raised their children.

I was surprised to learn that the percentage of stay-at-home moms in the USA is not very high. In 2006, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were approximately 26.5 million married households in the United States with children under the age of 18. Of these married households, in only 7,923,000 the mother is not in the workforce--or 29.8 percent. That is, only 30 percent of married women with children stay at home to care for their younguns. (I do not know how the Census Bureau counts mothers who work out of their homes in all kinds of cottage industry or those who spend time helping their husbands in small businesses run from homes but I have a feeling they are included in the 7.9 million.)

This means that by far the greater number of the nation's children are living with a mother who is in the labor force--either a mother who is married and working or a single mother who is working or a mother who is working and living with a man to whom she is not married. Surely the proportions of mothers in the labor force must be far higher for unmarried women with children.

I find this to be an unfortunate statistic, and hopefully the percentage of stay at home mothers will grow over the course of the next years.

I recently asked my daughter, who is now 18, how she would feel if she were married and had children and stayed at home with them, and then went to a cocktail party or some-such function in which people were talking about their careers, and she were asked, "And what do you do?" Would she be embarrassed to say, "Oh, I take care of my kids at home"? She said, "No, why would I feel embarrassed?"

That was good news to me. I pressed her to make sure she meant it. I told her that even though I think it is far better for women to stay at home with their children, I would feel ashamed to say it in front of a group of people who were all talking about their careers. This shame is completely counter to my views about staying at home with children and counter to what I even would have liked have done in my life but did not do for reasons that need no elaboration. Such shame comes purely from counterculture conditioning over the period of the 1970s and 1980s. That's bad news about me, but it is good news to see that my daughter has no such feelings. I hope that her views are the wave of the future and not my own residual feelings.

I would like to know what other people think of the advantages of staying at home with children and also the disadvantages and difficulties. I would like to make a kind of list of these, but I would like to hear from other people first. So please don't hesitate to let me know what you think. Very much obliged in advance.

P.S. There are so many wonderful blogs written by stay at home mothers and I hope they are both inspiring and known to young women with children who are making decisions about whether to work or not.


Susan said...

For this stay-at home mom, it took some years before I was comfortable saying that I stayed home with the kids. I found that men ALWAYS responded positively, usually mentioning how lucky my kids were to have mom at home. With women, though, it was often a bit awkward. I think that the great majority of working moms are caught in a catch-22. Our young peolple are graduating from college with a ton of college loans to repay, a car payment, a cell phone bill, and often a revolving credit card balance, etc. One man's salary in today's world cannot possibly support a family that starts off with that kind of a mountain of debt. So what is a young woman to do? Forgo having children to keep working or default on the loans and raise her kids, 24/7. Niether is really an acceptable solution, so millions of women are attempting to do it all. Many moms do this remarably well, I believe, particulary if there is an extended family close by, and a spouse who is not above cleaning up "spilled milk." It seems most difficult for mom when the inevitable bumps in the road arise: Sick kid; snow day; deadline at work; husband out of town, not to mention SUMMER! The guilt-o-meter pegs out in these circumstances.

Staying at home was once little more than the status qou, then evolved to a binding and claustrophobic shackle from which to escape, and now has become a luxury that we are sometimes embarrssed about enjoying. Is a stay-at-home mom viewed as spoiled, pampered, or (God forbid) an under-achiever? Your thoughts?

Anonymous said...

I never wanted kids. Period. I didn't want them when I was 12, when I was 22, 32, or even now (gasp) (42. They said I would when I met the right man, but I met the right man who told me on the second date he didn't want kids. Heaven!

I spent 20+ years in school getting smart and productive. Why would I leave the intellectual stimulation of work it to spend all day with a crying, babbling idiot?

Please don't tell me "the planet needs babies." It doesn't, and we should stop making them. Anyone who doesn't see that the oil, food and climate crises are due to overpopulation is simply not paying attention.

Please don't ask me "who will take care of me when I'm old." Raising and educating a child for that purpose makes no economic sense. With the money I've saved working hard and not having children I can hire an army of immigrant labor who will bathe me, change me and feed me 24/7. And if I don't get the care I deserve I can fire them and hire differnet ones. Try that with your kids.

Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting topic. Growing-up I always thought, I will be prepared when my children want to become artists or musicians over engineers or working in business. Because in my value system it was(is) most important to make a stable living (earn money). So now I have my own 2 year old and definitely struggle with the fact that I work and she goes to daycare for my job in business. It dawned on me recently that I would not be disappointed if she became an artist or musician, but rather I would be MOST disappointed if she grew-up to become a stay-at-home mom. I value and respect many stay-at-home moms, so I find it interesting that this is how I feel.

Linda said...

Dear Anonymous 2,
I appreciate your comment and honesty. I think this is a very hot topic and that the more discussion about it the better. I do not take a position that women should not work. What I do think though is that families and family life need to be strengthened. Therefore, I think that no stigma should be attached to being a stay at home; nor do I think a stigma should be attached if a woman wants to work outside the home, either for financial or psychological reasons--as long as her family is strong enough to ensure good care for the children, not just physical care. One thing is for sure, an unhappy mom is not good for children--wherever the mom works.

Rhoadie said...

You know, things have become so countercultural that it is posing a threat to the livilihood of Americans. Do you know that only 55% of American women of childbearing age (15-44) have kids?

So not only are American women not staying home, but they are not having kids period. I'm single and I want to be able to be a homemaker once I marry. But I also want to be industrious while at home, so I plan on going to graduate school next semester, to get a Master's in Sociology so I can become a social researcher. And once I get my Master's I will establish a Social Research organization, and manage the projects from MY HOME. So it is possible for a woman to be industrious and stay home with their children. But I think many women do not plan well during their single years.

Anonymous said...

You say roughly 30% of households with children under 18 have a stay at home mom, but 18 might be pushing the limits of what most families can afford, or what moms even want to do. What about under the age of 6 (when most kids start school)? If most of those 7.9 million stay at home parents are home with their little ones and then start working part or full time when their children go to school, that changes the picture significantly in terms of what I would consider the most beneficial time for a parent to stay at home.

Also, the comment above says that only 55% of childbearing age women have children. Well, yes, if you look at women from 15-44, that's probably true. A growing number of women will have kids later in life, over the age of 30. But that doesn't mean only half will have them, just that more women will spend half or more of their childbearing years in the "have not" camp.

Beware of statistics- as a former marketing manager, I can tell you first hand that statistics can be used to say almost anything you want. I say former because I'm a new mom (at the age of 34), and a stay at home mom (with 2 Masters degrees). I hope to stay home until my child (or children if we have a second) start school. Then I'll rejoin the working world, at least part time. For the record, I'm very proud of what I do, and am not embarrassed by any of the choices I've made- where I went to school, what I studied, the careers I've chosen, or the fact that I'm staying home now to raise my daughter. It's all just a part of who I am, and gives me a lot of good conversation to enliven all of those hypothetical cocktail party guests.

Oh, and next time you're at a cocktail party and someone wants to talk about their job, try coming back by asking them about who they are, what they love, and not just what they do from 9-5 on Mon-Fri. I guarantee it'll be a more interesting conversation!

Anonymous said...

I am a stay home mom for three years now. I was not ready, mentally, to be a mom, or stay home for many years. I feel fortunate that our first child came when I was 34 and I had accomplished much in my career. I was ready for a change, and it happened, in our child. As I take him to parks, and playgroups and interact with other children, I find that those who are cared for primarily by their parents are much more agreeable to me. Their company is enjoyable and I don't mind them socializing with my son. At the same time, and there are exceptions, I find that day care children require a lot more "babysitting" and leave me feeling exhausted instead of entertained and refreshed. I don't plan to stay home for all of my child's childhood (up to age 18), but at this time in my life, it suits me and I am glad to not attend cocktail parties any more because the conversations I have with my son leave me with warm happy feelings inside, something I never experienced at a cocktail party. I should add that not every day is a joy ride, sometimes it's really difficult. But, when I look back at my days in the work force, as a project manager of power plant controls projects, there are plenty of frustrations I experienced dealing with people in that arena that I'm glad to have behind me. I think everyone is different and should do what feels right. At the same time, it sure is a wonderful thing to enjoy a child from the moment he wakes to the time he sleeps.

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Maxmomma said...

Dear Blogger-

I just wanted to thank you for the post. I am a mother of two with a third on the way. I choose to stay at home with my children, and at times have worked from home to do so. It is something that I value dearly- the time will be gone before I know it. It's not easy, but all precious things come at a high price, I believe.

I just wanted to thank you for the post, it is not easy to stay at home and I was looking on-line to see the percentage of women who did it when I ran across your post.

I'm thankful for my children, I'm thankful we can make it on one income- and realize that many are not able to do that in this economy. Best of luck to all of you mothers out there- it's a tough job, but all of us are better for good mothers in our lives. Those without that luxury know even better the importance of what you are giving your children.

tryingtobebetter said...

For the life of me, I can't figure something out: if being a stay at home parent is SO great and SO rewarding and SO important, why don't men do it?

Would you be proud of your son if he became a stay at home dad?

cdkobasiuk said...

Three things I'd like to address.

1. My husband would stay at home in a heartbeat if I came home with a job that paid like his. Not because he thinks it is "easy" but because dealing with one irrational human would be a nice change after dealing with a whole office full of irrational humans. He'd brag about it too.

2. I've just stopped responding to the little digs that come my way about how "you have time for that since you don't work". I think it is just envy really. And if you lower your expectations for buying "stuff" more women could stay home with their kids.

3. I feel I am not just staying home to take care of my kid but I am working in my home to care for my family which people just don't understand. I don't have to juggle babysitters, My hubby doesn't have to rush home to help the kid if I can't get there. I run all those annoying and tedious errands while everyone is at work and school so our weekends are "family time" only. The lack of stress is almost beyond belief since I am home to take care of all those sudden emergencies that seem to crop up. I also alleviate a lot of my families stress and guilt by being available to help of our aging parents.

Yes, I went to college, I have a B.S. In biological research, I worked over 10 years in the field too. I do not feel I am wasting my time. I teach my child what I know, I help out in my community and in the school and I try to make every day a good day in our house even if we have to have beans and rice for dinner.


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Anonymous said...

Recently a reasonably educated and intelligent friend/acquaintance made the comment that women who stay home to raise kids and expect respect are irrational. This person teaches logic at the post-12 level. I let it go so as not to start an argument right off the bat, but I have been sorry and stewing ever since. (I was a stay-at-home mom until divorcing, after which my children suffered. Despite my low income, etc., I will never regret it.)

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised the percentage of at home moms is so high. I guess I thought I was more of a freak than I am :/

I was an engineer before a mother. It's seemed like when I was working nobody was happy. IE coworkers who made it clear in one way or another that women weren't meant to be engineers, or who said things like "wouldn't you rather be home raising children than designing sewers?" But it also seemed, when I was home raising four children, that nobody was happy. Other women who were obviously disdainful and/or jealous. Men would give a lot of lip service about how hard it is to be a parent full time and how much stay at home mothers contribute, but it seemed that any real respect was absent.

I tried going back to work when the kids were very young, but even part time that just made my household a chaotic mess. I know that a lot of people say they stay home for their children, but I would have to stay I mostly wanted to be home for ME. I need some semblance of order around me, and it just wouldn't have been there if I'd been working.

Have tried hard in the last two decades to convince others that what I do is really work. The older kids might be finally starting to get it, as they've been away at college and have been at friends house where there is either a single parent or where both parents work. But certainly my children don't have a lot a of respect for me and probably never will. After my seventeen year old son threatened to kill me, the police came to my house and when they asked him why all he could say to them was "she sits around all day." I strongly feel that their father contributed to the attitude tho he did it subtly enough. He seemed to support me being home until they were older. But then, (even tho one of his best friends told us both this), he never seemed to really understand how difficult it is to get back into the workforce after so many years being out of it.

Nikki Ace said...

Being at home with my son has been more than a dream come true. I get to shower him with so much more love throughout the day than I would if I worked outside of the home. I am also able to provide my husband with a pleasant environment when he comes home from his stressful day at work, which ultimately makes him a happy camper. We each know our role in our partnership and we are happy in them. - Nikki Ace

My blog:

Book Title: Words of Wisdom to the Stay-at-Home Moms and Their Husbands

Anonymous said...

I LOVE staying home with my two kids! Nothing is more important to me than knowing that my children are 100% raised by their mother and father. I knew from an early age that I would stay home to be there for my kids. My son is ranked #1 in his 6th grade class and my 3rd grade daughter is an honor roll student. I take them to museums, art galleries, and hiking. I believe it is ok for a woman to work if she needs to, but I feel it's important for a mom to to be there if possible. If a working mom looks down on me, doesn't bother me. I know my own worth:)

Anonymous said...

I am 50 years old. I am a college graduate. I worked at a very fufilling job for about eight years until about 3 months after I had my first son 21 years ago. It took me that long to realize that I just could not return to the travel and lifestyle that my former job demanded. I needed to say home and raise this new life that God had so generously given to me. My husband agreed and was thrilled at my desire to stay at home.

Our buget was not prepared however for this sudden unexpected loss of income. So, for a time I worked part
time at night, so that my husband could be our son's
other caregiver. After my second child, a daughter, was
born three years later I continued to work at a part time
job at night after my husband came home from work. It was difficult at times because we were often two ships passing in the night. It was a sacrifice that we were willing to make.
By the time our third child, a son, arrived I no longer
needed to work. My husband had been promoted to a
position in another state and our income had finally
caught up to our budget. I say budget because we have
always had to have one. Being at home may be fufilling, but it doesn't come with a paycheck.

Our desire to raise our children the way we wanted to and felt was best for us, has turned out to be such a
blessing. All three of our children ages 21, 19 and 16
have done extremely well in school, are engaged in
community service, sports, etc. and are high functioning,
happy individuals. We could not be more proud of them.
I cannot imagine making a bigger difference in the world.
I always am amused at the term "Stay at home" Mom.
I know from experience that when you devote your day to being a "stay at home" mom you are rarely home. I
was at the school volunteering in their classes, on field
trips, at the zoo during the week when it was not
overcrowed, at all the plays, football games, soccer
practices and guitar lessons. I enjoyed play dates with other like minded Mom's who became lifelong friends. I was out living life.Nothing boring about that and I was certainly not stuck at home.
I do want to say that I have dear friends and relatives who either must work or want to work and I respect
that. I really do. I am also well aware of how fortunate I
am to be blessed with an extremely supportive husband
who is also is a fantastic father. I know that sadly is not
always the case and I am not unaware the limited choices that allows.
I just want to want potential and new stay at home Mom's to know how vital they are in they are in this world. They are working very hard at something very fufilling and important. Feel confident and proud. I hope that you look forward and see that it is a big job, not for
everyone, and a very personal desicion. If you still have
strong desire to do it, jump right in with both feet.