Our Society’s Treatment of Mothers

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On page 134 of the latest issue of The  New Yorker magazine, there’s a cartoon which illustrates one of the main themes of feminism. A woman with a baby in her arms and a little girl by her side is saying to her husband who is sitting in his easy chair in front of the television, remote control in hand: “I know we’re married, but I’d still like to work out a shared-custody arrangement. ”

I can relate to that. I can’t count how many times my husband woke me up in the middle of the night to tell me that the baby was crying. Or gave me the third degree every time I left the house alone because he was so concerned that he might have to do something for the kids. (Are they fed/bathed/ready for bed? Are there enough diapers? Do they have clean pajamas?) FindLaw has a check list to help determine which parent is the primary caregiver for purposes of assigning custody. Out of 61 items, the only thing my husband did consistently was help plan our family vacations (i.e., decide where we were going to go).

Most divorced mothers, if they’re honest, would agree that one of the perks of divorce is that their ex-husbands take the kids off their hands every once in a while. But I’m convinced that one reason some divorced fathers don’t fight for sole custody is because they know better. Why would they take on full-time responsibility for the kids when they can just pay child support and have someone else do it? (That doesn’t stop them from bitching about the child support, mind you, but some men are willing to pay it rather than have custody.)

In response to one of my posts, “Danni” wrote that she works full-time, cleans the house and is primary caregiver for her child. “Others may see it as a sacrifice. I do not,” she said. “I see it as [a woman] making the choice that her children and family are more important to her than a career.”

But frankly, it doesn’t always feel like a choice. Our society tells women that they’re not good mothers unless they do take on the role of primary caregiver for the children, even if they also have full-time jobs outside of the home. Even with all the strides made by the feminist movement in the last fifty years, this belief has remained unshaken.

I don’t think there’s a woman alive who hasn’t resented the fact that she has to do everything for the children. And that includes women who have freely chosen to be the primary caregiver. It just feels like too much at times. Children are so needy that it can be a full-time job just to take care of them. Never mind that over 60-70% of women with minor children work outside of the home. [Source.]

Even when women want to stay home with their kids, the economy makes it impossible. In fact, even more women have entered the work force since the economy ran off the tracks in 2008, partly because of high unemployment among men. Does that mean that men are shouldering more of the household burden? I couldn’t find statistics on that, but my guess would be, not so much. That’s how ingrained it is in our society that women are supposed to be in charge of housekeeping and child care.

Whether you’re a SAHM (stay-at-home mom) or a “working” mom, it can get awfully old when you’re not appreciated for what you do for the family. Men are held up as paragons of virtue if they work and help out at home. But women—well, it’s what they do, right?

Feminists aren’t so good about championing the cause of mothers, and that needs to change. Older feminists worked harder to change how women were treated in the workplace than in the home. Younger feminists haven’t been mothers yet, or long enough, for it to hit them how important this issue really is.

All I’m saying is that if we’re going to continue to see mothers as primary caregivers, then they deserve all the support we can give them, physically, emotionally, politically and legally. Because the bottom line is, if we take care of mothers, we’re making this a better society for our children.

And who wouldn’t want that?

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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