Our Society’s Treatment of Mothers

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?

The Wife Dilemma, Part Two

There’s an old saying (no one seems to know who said it first) that “behind every great man is a good woman.” During the late ’60s that was amended by feminists to: “Behind every great man is a great woman.” I like that better. The first version seems to imply that great men are successful when their women are good wives. The second recognizes that “even” wives have skills and talents that go unrecognized because of our society’s prejudice against women in general and wives in particular.

I myself was a minister’s wife for ten years. The ministry is a little more accepting of the wife having her own accomplishments, if only because churches like to hire “two for the price of one.” Minister’s wives are expected to be just as active in the church as their husbands. But no church I know of would ever accept the wife as a replacement for the husband. She is seen as only an adjunct.

Part of the reason for that is because a minister has to be ordained to serve in a ministerial role in most churches. But the truth is, I could have done everything my husband could do except officiate at weddings. (I sang at them, though). When he was going through seminary, I read his books and helped him with projects and papers (although he would deny the latter). I helped him hone his sermons. I taught Bible Studies, helped out in the church office, worked with the youth group and directed the children’s choir. Later on, after our divorce, I became a certified lay speaker and preached on several occasions. But should I try to use any of these accomplishments to beef up a resumé, forget it. It’s as if I spent ten years doing nothing.

The feminist movement doesn’t have a good record when it comes to fighting for housewives’ rights. It’s as if feminists themselves agree that anything a woman does in the home isn’t worth all that much. Oh, you’ll hear feminists say that what a woman does in the home is as important as what she does out of the home, but their words sound hollow. One reason why many women have become disenchanted with feminism is because it doesn’t attach value to anything but paid work. A woman isn’t considered truly liberated unless she has her own job or career.

I say that women who are married and/or stay home should be considered just as liberated, if that is their choice. Feminists should be demanding more respect for women who are wives or homemakers. They should be pushing for legislation that recognizes that a homemaker’s contribution to a marriage is just as valuable as her husband’s and should be compensated in some way.

One thing this means is getting credit for Social Security benefits based on her own record of working in the home. After all, the things a wife does to support her husband (like entertaining, raising his children, keeping his house, etc.) would have to be paid for if she wasn’t there to do them.

It also makes me crazy when a mother isn’t considered gainfully employed when she stays home with her kids. Many women who were “stay-at-home mothers” (SAHMs) are forced to go to work outside of the home if they get divorced because the courts require them to “pay” their share of child support and “just” staying home with the kids isn’t considered to be of any monetary value. (Not to mention welfare programs that require SAHMs to go to work when their children are not even in school yet. Does it make sense that they have to pay someone else to watch their kids when they could be the ones taking care of them?)

Many women today are refusing to marry even when they’re in a committed relationship. Whether they realize it or not, I think they shy away from wifehood because of the way society treats married women. But marriage is what you make it; it doesn’t have to mean that you stand behind the man. Demand respect for the great person you are in your own right. And don’t let anyone call you “just” a wife.