Sunday, January 22, 2012

Should Mothers Work or Stay at Home?

One parenting topic that's sure to bring out the judgmental, wacky side of otherwise normal people is the issue of non-parental child care. As the debate is usually structured, should women quit their jobs (or otherwise completely rearrange their schedules/careers) to stay home with their (usually small) children, or not?

I have some problems with this debate. First of all, for the majority of women (either in the US or elsewhere), framing this question as a "choice" is silly. Women need to work for the money or the benefits, and thus can't afford to stay at home, regardless of their feelings; or they are forced to stay at home, for financial reasons (as in, they can't afford the cost of daycare on their salary), or cultural ones (as in, they live somewhere without daycare options or any social support which would make working possible). For probably 95% of the world there is no choice, one way or the other. Mothers have to make the best of whatever flawed system and options are available.

Secondly, this is almost always seen as a women's issue, even though every child also has a male parent. Men just do not deal with the issue of work vs. childcare for the most part (as reflected in the fact that the average man makes more after he has a child, not less). This is unjust and sexist.

We are asking the wrong question. The real question is, what is better for children and their mothers? Society ought to adjust around the answer, rather than the current situation in which the most vulnerable members of society (small children and their parents) are expected to adjust their needs for the convenience of others.

Answering this question, especially as it relates to young children, is incredibly important. Infancy and toddlerhood are a critical time for a human's development. In fact, all available research suggests that much (perhaps even most) of a child's future success in life, and their future psychological and physical health, is mostly determined during this period. Giving every child an optimal environment in which to grow and develop would likely eliminate a huge number of social and physical problems.

Unfortunately (and surprisingly, given its crucial importance), the answer to the question of the optimal childcare situation for children remains somewhat unclear. I have been doing a lot of research on the topic though (as I want to make the best decisions possible for little R), and will post what I've learned here.

Edit: Posts on whether staying at home or working is better here and here.


  1. I think the underlying answer to this question though... is that only you can know what's right for your family/child. I know some Moms who cannot function with out their work/adult time, where as I feel like if I had to work I would be far too stressed out to be a good mother.

    For me personally - I feel like I am better qualified (as a professional) to care for Ginny than the average daycare employee, since I have a degree that involved a lot of child development and child psychology.

    I've always considered myself a feminist, women should be able to do whatever they want to do - and this woman wants to stay home and be a mama... for now.

  2. Hmm...I don't know if I would ever be able to put a one answer kinda answer to this question. I think it completely depends on the family, the parents, the kids. I know there are a ton of positives for kids who go to daycare and there are also a ton of positives for kids who stay home with their parents. For us going back to work was the right move. I'm a happy, well balanced (well, as well balanced as I can be) mama and Peanut adores her teachers and friends at daycare.