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Mothers: Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t

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Recently RedState’s own Erick Erickson found himself at the center of a controversy over the implications of a new Pew Research study.  The report stated that mothers are now the primary source of income in 40% of American households.  The trouble for Erickson came when he dared to give his opinion on the findings, saying, “Having mom as primary bread winner is bad for kids and bad for marriage.” He also attempted to explain the traditional dynamic of the nuclear family in terms liberals could understand: what typically happens in the biological world.  Unfortunately, he used the term “dominant,” which works as a head explosion device for many women – who immediately thought, “No one is going to dominate me!”  At that point, the facts went out the window and pitchforks came out on both sides of the aisle.  The question isn’t, however, was he right.  Erickson was correct and the facts back him up, whether anyone likes it or not.  The question is why were women so immediately incensed at him saying something that has most certainly been said before; especially women on the right.  As a woman and mother I know why Erickson’s statements freaked women out – and you can thank the feminists for it.

A long time ago I watched a movie called “Mona Lisa Smile,” which was about a female professor in the 1950s who tried to inspire her students at an all female school to think more career-minded; as opposed to the traditional route of marrying and pursing the career of taking care of family and home.  It was definitely a chick-flick and I’m almost certain the filmmakers were celebrating the freedom feminism gave women at a time when their choices were few.  The best part of it of though, and I’m about to spoil it a bit (in case by some insane chance someone reading this wants to see it), was the unintentional message at the end.  The professor, Katherine (played by Julia Roberts) goes to visit one of her students, Joan (played by Julia Stiles), who has recently been accepted to Yale Law School.  Katherine is thrilled, of course, that Joan will be going to law school.  However, Joan tells Katherine that she has eloped with her fiancé and has decided that she really wants to be a wife and mother instead of going to school.  It’s a great scene because Katherine represents the feminists of today.  She has forgotten that feminism was about giving women choices.  Katherine doesn’t congratulate Joan on finding out what she really wants and going for it, she mourns the fact that Joan didn’t make the choice she thought she should.  Therein is the beginning of the problem that faces every woman today: you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Having been on both sides of the big decision, I can tell you the underlying feeling that may make a woman want to cut you for giving your opinion on the matter: guilt.  If you choose to stay home with your children, you feel guilty that you aren’t pursuing a career outside the home.  Society, and today’s feminists, make it very clear that the housewife is a second-class citizen.  To make matters worse, staying at home with the kids is a rather thankless job.  If you choose to work outside the home, while you may have society’s approval, your guilt is provided by your innate longing to be with your children.  Should you be home with the kids?  If they don’t do well in _____, is it your fault because you weren’t there?  It seems that no matter what you do, when you start a family, you’re just going to have to live with some measure of guilt; and that is if you even have a choice.

What if you don’t have a choice?  You have to work because you were never married, you’re divorced, your husband has passed away…  then you are dealing with the guilt of not being home with the kids because you can’t and the pressure of the odds being stacked against your success in an enormously difficult endeavor.  As Erickson later noted:

Not everyone has the luxury of raising their children in a traditional manner and the rest of us have an obligation to help and support those in unfortunate situations. [emphasis mine] Likewise, there is nothing wrong with mothers having jobs. There is nothing wrong with women being breadwinners. Sometimes they have to by necessity.

In fact, two-thirds of the 40% of women who are the breadwinners in their homes are single mothers; a fact that seems to have been lost in the debate over Erickson’s head.  These single mothers make well below the average U.S. household income and are more likely to be on welfare.  Further, their children are more likely to be poor and less likely to graduate from high school or college.

No one would argue that single mothers don’t have a huge weight on their shoulders, nor would anyone argue that their position has an affect on their children.  So why is it surprising that a married mother being the breadwinner would have an affect on her family?  According to the Pew study, the majority of Americans recognize the negative effects that can be associated with women working outside the home.

A new Pew Research Center survey finds that the public remains of two minds about the gains mothers have made in the workplace–most recognize the clear economic benefits to families, but many voice concerns about the toll that having a working mother may take on children or even marriage. About three-quarters of adults (74%) say the increasing number of women working for pay has made it harder for parents to raise children, and half say that it has made marriages harder to succeed. At the same time, two-thirds say it has made it easier for families to live comfortably.

The economic advantage appears to win the day, despite the concerns Americans have about effects on the family, 79% still don’t believe “women should return to their traditional roles.”

So what is this issue really about? It’s about the choices we are making, why we are making them and the guilt that comes along with whichever path we choose.  Yes, women can work outside the home and be the breadwinners.  I’d like to point out, again, for the record that Erickson never said women can’t be breadwinners.  That the woman being the breadwinner has effects on the family is indisputable.  We want to have it all but life doesn’t work that way.  Not that anyone is suggesting we go back to the 1950s.  If Mad Men is any indication, there were a slew of other issues that were prevalent during those more “traditional” times.  Yet, we must face the facts of the choices we are making today.  There are new challenges and to pretend they don’t exist, and to persecute those brave enough to discuss them, ultimately results in no one winning.

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