Monday, March 27, 2006

Linda Hirshman: Stay-at-home mom vs. working mom

This post is in response to Alison's post and Linda Hirchman's words.

I disagree with Hirshman in that she is essentially saying that the only choice is to be a working mom. The modern-day woman has the freedom to choose whichever option, stay-at-home mom or working mom.

That said, I do find something wasteful and unwise in women spending years (and lots of money) to get specialized degrees (e.g law, engineering, medicine, etc) but then doing absolutely nothing with them, by choosing to stay at home. Still, it is their prerogative. However, people are happier when they pursue their interests. I assume that if one pursued law, one had a passion for it. Motherhood does not mean abandoning one’s interests. The two can co-exist. During my childhood years in Nigeria, my mom worked and was readily available to me. I plan on being like her, if I ever become a mother.

The problem here is a social structure that more or less forces one to choose to be a working mom (with no time for mothering) or a stay-at-home mom. Our work structure, as it stands, is designed for people without reproductive interests. Women being the sex that gestates and delivers babies face a problem in adjusting to the working environment. A woman, when she is pregnant and after birth, needs some time to bond with her child and to ensure both her health and her child’s health.

I believe that for women to truly say that they have a choice as to what kind of mom they’ll be, the options, stay-at-home mom and working mom, need to have about the same social (and maybe even economic) value. Moreover, the working structure needs to make some changes to accommodate the fact that women do give birth and so need time to recuperate and to bond with their newborn. We need to actively involve men in childcare as well. It is NOT cute or “manly” that a man does not want to (and is unskilled to) change his child’s diapers or walk his child in a stroller, in the park. A child is not made by one person alone.

I believe women do need to be in the workplace, to be role models for others and to make sure that women’s interests and needs are represented in the community. I also know that it helps for children to have their parents ( mommy and daddy, not just mommy) at home to some degree. Until our society actively acknowledges and responds to women’s diverse reproductive role (e.g by maybe allowing new moms to work from home, if it’s appropriate, etc), moms will always argue about who made the right mothering decision.

As an aside, I think it is a bit ridiculous for Hirshman to suggest having only one child, just for the sake of fitting into the workforce. Life or the pursuit of happiness isn’t all about making money or advancing one’s career. One cannot measure the amount of joy and pleasure that each child has the very real potential of adding to one’s life. Besides, when one is old and gray, it helps to have children (as in more than one) at one’s side in different capacities. One child can only do so much. One child can only be so much.

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