Myth: It is possible for both parents to have a full-time career and fully meet the needs of a young child.
Myth: It is possible for both parents to have a full-time career and fully meet the needs of a young child.
Fact:It may be possible to experience the
joys of parenting and the stimulation and ego gratification of a career
as well as the material benefits of two incomes--but not concurrently,
if we are to fully meet the needs of our children. Our children need at
least one of us, mother or father, to serve as primary caregiver at
least during the child's pre-verbal years, i.e., the first two or three
years of life. This is not to challenge the reality that career
fulfillment may be as important for women as for men, but to advocate
for a shift of focus--for this very short but critical period--to meet
the needs of the very young, who cannot speak for themselves, and are
totally dependent on us to meet their needs.
In response to these realities, growing numbers of educated career
women--and more recently, men--are choosing to sequence their adult
lives into three stages. For example: full-time career, full-time
parenting, and then reincorporating career into their lives in new ways
so family and professional life may complement rather than conflict
with each other. These parents are choosing to enjoy both career and
family to the fullest--by not trying to do both simultaneously during
the child's early years.
Superwoman, the 120-hour-a-week-dual-lifer, who worked full-time
at a high powered career while trying to raise her children nights and
weekends, is dead of stress, exhaustion, and the belief that her career
was cheating her of forming the most important relationships in her
life. Dead with her, is the myth upon which she was founded: that every
woman can have a full-time career and close, meaningful
relationships--simultaneously. --Arlene Rossen Cardozo
Superwoman was created and perpetuated by feminist leaders of the
1960s and 70s as the antithesis to the trapped housewife of the 50s.
The feminist agenda of paid work for all women at all times in their
lives was predicated on the middle and upper-middleclass male
norms--that career is the central core of one's life, and work
determines worth. Women affected by this agenda fell into four groups:
single, married without children, married with grown children, and
married mothers of young and growing children. In retrospect, many have
recognized that a full-time career was never practical for the latter
group, yet feminist theorists then promoted full-time careers
for all women at all stages of their lives--a major flaw in a movement
that has otherwise created tremendous opportunities for
countless numbers of women. Mothers urged to manage careers while
raising families were promised they could have it all at once. Most of
those at the forefront promoting these myths were women who did not
have children and were without the personal experience of the
complexities of raising babies and small children.
Maternal presence on a day-to-day basis was suddenly no longer
crucial to mother or infant. Even women with supportive husbands found
two full-time jobs--career and family--a monumental task. There weren't
enough hours in a day for them to feel effective both on the job and at
home. Driven by their agenda--and the very real need--to convey their
right to social equality to the world at large, early feminists
overlooked the facts of physical inequality: that women can do some
things men can never do--become pregnant, birth, and breastfeed their
baby. They failed to recognize the depth of a mother's desire--in part
biologically programmed--to be physically close to her children, to
establish and maintain close emotional bonds with them, to nurture and
protect them. And so, for many women, having it all at once did not
unfold as promised. Far from feeling fulfilled and free, they felt stressed, tired, conflicted, guilty, and cheated. Most assumed there was something wrong with them: they just needed to try harder.
Challenging Feminist Dogma
By the late 70s a new generation of women emerged challenging the feminist dogma that men and women should function in parallel manner in society in all ways at all times.
They saw their education and career as additional to rather than a
substitute for their right and responsibility to care for their young.
And they challenged the assumption that hired caretakers can replace
the love and care they can give their own children. They recognized
that placing their child in surrogate care they deprive themselves of
an experience they can never again have.
Feminist Icons Recant
Betty Friedan, in The Feminine Mystique (1963), set women
on paths to careers and equality, avoiding motherhood - only to be
reproached later by disillusioned followers who pointed out that,
unlike them, she already had a husband and children when she urged this
life pattern. But her recantations in The Second Stage (1981) were ignored, as equality feminists continued to implement her earlier prescriptions. Yet she wrote: "The equality we fought for isn't livable, isn't workable, isn't comfortable in the terms that structured our battle."
Germaine Greer, too, had a belated and poignant
rethink. Having inspired a generation of women not to want motherhood,
she now "mourns for her unborn babies," and confessed "I still have
pregnancy dreams, waiting with vast joy and confidence for something
that will never happen." In The Whole Woman she says: "In The Female Eunuch I argued that motherhood should not be treated as a substitute career: now I would argue that motherhood should be regarded as a genuine career option…". She says the "immense rewardingness of children is the best kept secret in the western world." --Peter Cook*
*Dr. Peter S. Cook is a retired Sydney, Australia child and family
psychiatrist, who writes on preventive child and family mental health.
He is the author of Early Child Care: Infants and Nations at Risk (Melbourne: News Weekly Books, 1997). Taken from an article at: http://www.naturalchild.org/peter_cook/feminism.html
A Synthesis of Feminism and Mothering--or Fathering
These women and those who have followed are combining the best of modern feminism with the best of traditional mothering. "Sequencing" is allowing these parents to "have it all"--career and family--by not trying to do it all at once, at all times in their lives.
These parents are alike in having made the decision to stay at home
with their children for a significant period of time, but differ
substantially in age, income, geographical location, and professional
background. Many struggle with doubts and conflicts before making their
decision. Some options, such as an at-home father or feminist at-home
mother, may seem scary because there are so few models for them. While
they may initially struggle with the loss of identity and rewards of
the workplace, and feelings of isolation and loneliness, this is
usually limited to the transition period because along with these
feelings they bring home from their professional life problem-solving
skills, positive open attitudes, and the determination to make a
success, in their own terms, of their home-based parenting years. Their
experience is vastly different to that of the trapped housewife because
they are choosing to be at home with their children.
When parents interrupt their career to raise the children they are
saying a career is an important part of me but not all of me. I will do
my work well but I won't give it my life. In Cardozo's words, these
parents are "…restructuring… personal priorities in opposition to the prevailing definition of professionalism, which today has come to mean not just career-involved but career-consumed."
Succeeding in Sequencing
Factors contributing to a sequencing mother's--and presumably
father's–sense of happiness and satisfaction, and feelings of self
esteem and fulfillment include: 1) a very clear sense of who she is and
why she is at home raising her family; 2) a supportive husband who
values what she is doing; 3) a community--which may simply be a
neighbor or mentor--that reinforces her own values; 4) her very clear
distinction between children and work of the house, with minimum of
time spent on housework and maximum on family; and 5) her recognition
that she must have time to develop and maintain interests apart from
family--even if this means 30 minutes a day to read or write--rather
than clean house--while baby naps.
As a mother or couple consider sequencing, the question is not so much "how can we afford it?" as "how much do we want it?" The
loss of thousands of dollar a year will usually necessitate a
significant change in spending and lifestyle choices, and require
deeply considering the values underlying them. With the mother
sequencing, many couples report a feeling of cohesion, both in their
marriage and as a family, a feeling there's time for them to share
activities together, and fulfillment in knowing that they are the
central, core figures contributing to their children's emotional,
social, and intellectual wellbeing.
While some parents have looked enviously at my husband and my
working at home where we can both be full-time with our daughter, or
said with a sigh "you are so lucky to be able to do that," many of them
could do likewise, were they willing to live lower on the consumption
chain. Several years of living in a Quaker community in the mountains
of Costa Rica, with a commitment to "voluntary simplicity"--living
lightly on the earth, taught us how to live well on an average annual income
under $20,000. Yes, there have been "sacrifices," but every one of them
was worth it to have this time together. The memories and experiences
of these early years that will live on in our hearts forever.
Living On One Income
Practical methods by which parents can provide primary care include
considering any assets--savings accounts, stocks, and bonds--that could
allow a parent to stay at home; or borrowing money. Most people borrow
money for a car, home, or college tuition--why not a loan to allow a
parent to stay at home? Some parents start a college fund for a child,
often before the child is born. Saving money before the child
is born, just as many save for homes and vacations, allows a parent to
stay at home when the newborn arrives. Or, it may simply be a
choice to live more simply. With one spouse at home, payments for
substitute care as well as other work-related costs are eliminated.
Many couples report that scaling down their standard of living provides
their children with not only mothering, but also more fathering time.
Many discover that living with fewer material needs, leaves them
happier and freer, and they feel good passing these values onto their
Beyond putting a job or career on hold for a period of time, other choices include working part-time, or working at home. Sometimes it makes economic and emotional sense for the father to stay at home; or
mother and father may consider split-shift work. Similarly, single
parents can team together, each caring for the children of both while
the other works. Every additional month at home with the child is an
While most of us save the term "investment" for commercial ventures--we invest in our homes, jobs, or the stock market--there are far more important returns from investing in caregiving.
The dividends of being there for the first word, the first step, the
first cognition of the hundred and one everyday things which, through
the eyes of a child, appear as no less than miraculous. And then there
is the pleasure and satisfaction of seeing our child, adolescent, and
Children are--or can be--a source of enormous pleasure, wonder,
laughter, awe, and love. Commitment to one's developing child is as
important as any career for the limited time we are privileged to be
parents, and an invaluable investment in the future of our children,
families, and society.
Those women--and men--who leave professional positions to become
their children's primary caregivers are affirming mothering--and
fathering--to be a critically important role choice; and with this
affirmation, respect is emerging from employers, colleagues, family,
and friends. Their decisions are prompting others to recognize that in
fully meeting our children's needs for continuity of care, parents
contribute to the happiness of the next generation and generate the
social and human capital that is essential to the wellbeing of our
culture--and our world.
Arlene Rossen Cardozo, Sequencing: A New Solution for Women Who Want Marriage, Career, and Family
Provides mothers who have begun sequencing their lives, as well as
women contemplating that choice, with a full discussion of the
sequencing decision and its ramifications, a guide for making the most
of their full-time mothering years, and an exploration of career
reemphasis options tailored to those who want to reincorporate
professional activities into their life without compromising mothering
Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin, Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence*
An excellent resource for developing a real appreciation of where
our money goes, how to spend money on the things that matter to us, and
how to stop spending money on things that don't matter. The program in
this book may well enable you to work less and spend more time with
Isabelle Fox, Being There: The Benefits of a Stay-at-Home Parent*
Aims to raise the consciousness and status of parenting so both
mothers and fathers grow to respect and appreciate the value of their
presence in the lives of their children, and the profound importance of
continuity of care in the pre-verbal years. Along with a wealth of
research material on attachment and the dangers of caregiver roulette,
Fox offers practical solutions for providing continuity of care, and
guidelines for choosing substitute care when this is necessary.
Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Cornel West, The War Against Parents*
The social and economic pressures, impediments and obstacles that
stand in the way of parents caring for their children is the substance
of much of this book, which reveals the multitude of ways in which big
business, government, and the wider culture have waged an undeclared
and silent war against parents.