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John W. Travis, M.D. & Regina Sara Ryan
 
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  Home  > Child/Family Wellness  > 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.

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

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 children.

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 investment.

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 adult thrive.

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. 

--Isabelle Fox

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.

Sources

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 priorities.

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 your children.

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.




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