A man I admire very much, Dennis Prager, says that studies either confirm common sense or they’re wrong. Another bit of wisdom that comes in handy is to consider the source. And finally the oft-quoted remark commonly associated with Mark Twain—“lies, damned lies, and statistics”—drives home the point that data can be interpreted in myriad ways depending on the interpreter’s point of view.
A recent New York Times article purported to document “Mounting Evidence of Advantages for Children of Working Mothers.” Not benefits; advantages, as in preferable to mothers who don’t work outside the home.
[sharequote align="center"]Women can have it all. They just can’t have it all at once.[/sharequote]
As this flies in the face of common sense, and considering the source, I took a closer look at the study whose statistics the New York Times purports to summarize.
Daughters of working mothers completed more years of education, were more likely to be employed themselves and working in supervisory capacities, and made more money than daughters of stay-at-home mothers.
Sons of working mothers showed no appreciable difference in their careers but did spend more time in housework and childcare each week, a support to their wives who were also more likely to work. Apparently a boy wants a girl like dear old mom, and if mom worked, he is more likely to marry a wife who works.
A study author, who just happens to be a female professor at the Harvard School of Business, gushed that “kids will be so much better off if women spend some time at work.”
Advantage is in the eye of the beholder, and in said professor’s eye, advantage equals education, employment, and income. She’s not incorrect if the goal is to maximize our gains in the material world, and certainly wealth and power are nice to have.
Without doubt, families with stay-at-home moms sacrifice financial resources they would otherwise have. For the sake of argument, forget the costs of daycare, transportation, and even dry cleaning that can dramatically reduce the impact of those additional resources.
If the goal is women who are more likely to graduate college, be the boss, and earn high incomes, working moms are apparently the way to go.
We “seek ye first the kingdom of God” types have a different primary goal in mind and therefore seek different advantages, often by sacrificing wealth and power. We tend to focus on the here-and-now as the path to somewhere better, that what really matters is only what we take with us when we die. It isn’t wealth and power.
Family relationships matter more than anything else. Headstones say, “Here lies a beloved wife and mother,” not “Here lies a mother with a Ph.D.”
Nothing wrong with education, nothing wrong with moms who have an MD, Ph.D, or JD, but it doesn’t appear to be enough. Young women who concentrate on education and career often find themselves in early middle age, unmarried, with a powerful yearning to have children.
Unappealingly retro but inescapably true is the fact that a woman’s best time to find a father for her children is in college. At no other time in her life will she be surrounded by as much intelligent, responsible, ambitious husband material. At that age, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel to find a good man.
The older women get, the fewer good men are available. It’s no coincidence that for only one group is the rate of out-of-wedlock births increasing: women 35 and older.
A gerontologist in California captures the essence of the problem: “I was 40 and dating and dating and dating and just not having any luck.” She found a sperm donor and now has a 4-month-old daughter, who she describes as “absolutely the best thing I ever did.”
Mila Kunis, that Hollywood font of wisdom, said what many women feel, even if they are reluctant to advertise themselves as failed feminists. At a red carpet event soon after the birth of her daughter, Ms. Kunis was asked what had been the most surprising part of motherhood so far.
“How little any of this matters,” she said, pointing to the glamour, the paparazzi, and the hoopla all around her. “Not to say that this is meaningless. But like truly how little this matters and how much I’d rather be home right now.”
The truth is that no matter how powerful and economically successful they become, women are biologically and emotionally designed to want children. Even Hillary Clinton has a daughter.
Women can have it all. They just can’t have it all at once.
Women cannot excel in their careers by spending lots of time at work and simultaneously be there whenever their children need love and reassurance from the woman who gave them life. Quality child care is wonderful, but ask anyone whose mother has passed on: No one loves you like your mother.
No one is as invested in the development of a child’s intellect, character, and kindness than a mother. If the goal is women who are more likely to satisfy their deepest desires by putting family relationships first, the advantages of stay-at-home mothers trump all others.
Each woman makes her own bargain with the balance, and there are clearly benefits to modeling education and career for daughters. But to call them advantages as in preferable to the time and devotion stay-at-home mothers give family relationships is misleading.
On her deathbed, no woman ever says, “I wish I’d spent more time at the office.”
Donna Carol Voss is an author, blogger, speaker, and mom. A Berkeley grad, a former pagan, a Mormon on purpose, and an original thinker on 21st century living, she is the author of “One of Everything,” the story of how she got from where she was to where she is. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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