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September 20, 2005

majoring in mommy, minoring in ...?

Has Perfect Madness made its way to the undergraduate level? This NYTimes article claims a trend among women at competitive colleges to see motherhood as an ultimate career goal rather than something to be integrated with other ambitions. Take this data, from Yale women:

"The interviews found that 85 of the students, or roughly 60 percent, said that when they had children, they planned to cut back on work or stop working entirely. About half of those women said they planned to work part time, and about half wanted to stop work for at least a few years."

It's hard to know what to think about this, or how these numbers compare to other ones. But this article points to a bigger picture. Our system is set up (role models, reality of care, economic pressures) with so little flexibility; moms are either "in the game" or "out" of it: raising kids is often described as "dropping out" of the race, or "opting out". Even "stay at home" has a passive ring to it. Raising a kid is very hard and very important work to be sure. But the fact that we treat our childcare workers like dirt (no security, benefits, or much respect) and dads rarely consider child-rearing for themselves... one has to wonder, do we really, as a culture, have respect for it? Since women are given virtually no cultural support for the other options, they may well find themselves with the "instinct" to stay home and do right by the kids.

"Two of the women interviewed said they expected their husbands to stay home with the children while they pursued their careers. Two others said either they or their husbands would stay home, depending on whose career was furthest along. "

That's four out of 138 women who entered college after the year 2000.

In the words of Peter Salovey, the dean of Yale College, "What does concern me...is that so few students seem to be able to think outside the box; so few students seem to be able to imagine a life for themselves that isn't constructed along traditional gender roles."

No shit. We are all for people doing what makes them happy. And we think caring for children is as lofty a goal as any. But we can't understand how these women can be so... resigned. So complacent about the status quo. These are our future leaders, after all. And that fact that some male students find the idea of a stay-at-home mom sexy? MILF meets domesticated woman fantasy? Or is it just the lack of ambition that turns them on?

What's sad to us is that mothers are still expected to bear the burden almost entirely. So rather than taking it on ourselves as a culture to make things easier for everyone, and better for our kids, we tell women that if they want to ensure a good future for their children, they have to do all the giving up. Plus, mothers are complicated people, and to imply that every one of them is best suited to being at home is to steamroll the individuality of a good chunk of the human race.

Maybe all these young, smart young college students can put their priorities to slightly more global use. Instead of accepting the status quo, they can aim for a culture where both parents can pursue personal, intellectual and/or breadwinning goals while being confident their children are being cared for appropriately—and there's lots of data to support the theory that children of working mothers are not at a disadvantage. They can help define a workforce with more flexibility and a world of options between "in" and "out". They can encourage this country to make it possible for women who have fewer advantages and assets to support their families and take care of their kids, both physically and emotionally. And they can make child-rearing a dignified line of work not just by doing it themselves, but by improving conditions for childcare workers and encouraging dads to participate.

And then, of course, when they have babies, they can quit if they want.

by thenewmoms at 9:21 AM
in baby


Dear Rebecca & Ceridwen:

I appreciate and respect your sensitive thoughts above.

Two quotes in the NY Times article struck me most:

1) "My mother always told me you can't be the best career woman and the best mother at the same time," Ms. Liu said matter-of-factly. "You always have to choose one over the other."


2) "What does concern me," said Peter Salovey, the dean of Yale College, "is that so few students seem to be able to think outside the box…."

What saddens me is that this is yet another high-profile article that fails to portray the reality of motherhood, but rather reinforces the same old stereotypes. EYEROLL. There are mothers out there who are the “best career women” and “the best mothers” and have constructed interesting “outside the box” situations for themselves and their families-- all at the same time. Oh yeah—they’re happy, too.

As I see it, the problem is that what we need is to stop judging mothers for their decisions and telling them what makes them the “best” career women or the “best” mothers. Miriam Peskowitz, author of 'The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars' discovered in her research that parents don’t want to fight one another at all-- they simply want more options and less judgment. Problem is that most of the media does a crappy job at portraying reality—that doesn’t sell magazines or newspapers. Sadly, instead most of the media manipulates moms into judging and criticizing each other for their choices with their unbalanced portrayals and outrageous stereotypes. You moms nailed it: "mothers are complicated people." This is what the media needs to be portraying more of.

Hmm... wonder why this was the most emailed NY Times article today?

comment by Isabel at September 20, 2005 11:19 PM

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