I like to tell people that my sister, Janet, was born a social worker. When we were growing up she was the quintessential middle child: she was forever mediating between my brother and me, just wanting to keep the peace. Janet is such a sensitive soul. Each time a “Save the Children” commercial aired, she begged our parents to donate. “It’s only the cost of a cup of coffee per day!” she pleaded. And when we watched wrestling, Janet scolded my brother and me for laughing at the atrocities The Million Dollar Man, Ted DiBiase, inflicted on his assistant, Virgil (looking back, WWE’s casting of Virgil was in very poor taste, but at around five or six years old I did not understand that).
Of course when we were kids I didn’t know my sister would be a social worker. Social worker is usually not at the top of the list of children’s dream careers (ask a kid if you don’t believe me). For a long time we thought Janet might become a lawyer because she loved watching those lousy daytime court shows (our parents thought I might become a lawyer, too, because they said I liked to argue with them). What I did always know was that Janet wanted to go to college and have a career. She’s done both—she received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UConn, and, after a lot of hard work, she became a licensed clinical social worker.
I often make fun of my sister because she gets so excited about her job as a substance abuse counselor—can’t she just come down with an incurable case of the Mondays like the rest of us? Truly I am happy that all the work she’s put in has resulted in her being happy with her career. That’s why I was quite surprised when Janet, while pregnant, told me people were asking her if she was going to become a stay-at-home mom.
Look, stay at home parents are great. I know a few moms putting a lot of energy and creativity into that job. I am amazed at the activities they come up with to keep the kids from climbing the curtains. However, staying at home with hypothetical kids is just something neither Janet nor I never really considered for the long-term. Our mom, aunts, grandmother, and most of our friends’ mothers worked outside the home, and I guess we just figured that’s what we would do, too. I can’t figure out how anyone who knows Janet got the idea that she planned to stay home. I suppose asking if the mommy-to-be plans to stay home or keep working is just a way of making conversation. It wouldn’t seem so bad if people thought to ask dads the same question.
At least no one asked my brother-in-law if he planned to stay home. He just laughed when my sister asked him if he’d received such questions. He did not go through near the amount of schooling and training hours as Janet, yet no one figured he out to stay home with the baby. Why does the burden of parenting still fall mostly to women in 2015?
I think most people just regard this as the natural order of things. Most mothers carry and give birth to their babies (although not all do, and I wonder if they feel any less pressure to stay home), so they are seen as the de facto caretakers. Breastfed babies are especially attached to their mothers for the first few weeks of life. However, aside from breastfeeding (which many mothers choose not to do), there is nothing particularly gender-specific about childcare. I would describe childcare as daunting, exhausting, repetitive, and sometimes amusing, but not requiring any particular set of genitalia. In fact my dad took care of me during while my mom went to work during the day from the time I was around three months old. And I turned out, well… I turned out.
When I’ve asked people why so much childcare falls to the moms, I’ve been told that sometimes kids just want Mom, and no one else will do. I can understand that. I remember being a child and asking for Mommy when I was sick or hurt or scared. But the reality of any kid’s life is that there are times when Mommy can’t be there. Often when I wanted Mommy I was with my dad. Sometimes I was with my grandmother. Often when I wanted a cheeseburger from Wendy’s I got a turkey sandwich instead. Oh, well, right? Since my sister is working it is my mother who watches my nephew during the day. I get the feeling that people find that a lot less odd than they would my brother-in-law being a stay-at-home dad. Why does it seem more natural for a baby to be with another female relative than a parent?
So we know that mothers are natural caregivers (certainly none of us has ever met a woman who is about as nurturing as a hunk of steel wool), and that kids just need mommy. With all the pressure that women face to stay home I was surprised to learn that almost 70% of all mothers work outside the home. For mothers of children ages six through seventeen that number is closer to 75% (notice a lack of statistics on working fathers on that page, because who cares?). Surely, I thought, there cannot be so many negligent, power-hungry females out there enjoying a day at the office while their poor kids are stuck eating cookies and watching Elmo with Grandma. But, alas, my anecdotal evidence matches up with the raw numbers.
What is so wrong with going to work when you’re a mom, anyway? I’ve seen so many women tear themselves up over doing what is expected of men. I don’t feel there is any reason for moms who want or need to work outside the home to feel guilty. They, like stay-at-home-parents, are working hard to make good lives for their children. They’re setting examples for their children the same way stay-at-home parents do. Unfortunately neither going to work nor staying at home is always a choice, but even when there are choices no one should be made to feel ashamed for them. What parents should feel guilty about is allowing their young children to watch racist pro-wrestling segments with no supervision.