Unpacking the New Stay-At-Home Mom

I’m still on my baby-cation with my new little love, so being mom-minded lately this USA Today headline caught my attention: More women staying home with young kids. The article says that 3 in 10 moms don’t work outside the home, and which is reversing a trend that hit rock-bottom in 1999.

Here are a few more stats from the article to get a better picture of this trend:

-Two thirds are “traditional” married with working husbands (but a growing number are unmarried.)

-Kids raised in such arrangements are increasingly rare, especially among white and African-American families.

-The percentage of stay-at-home moms in Asian and Hispanic families, by contrast, is higher — about 10 percentage points or more, on average.

The findings suggest that some mothers think “it makes more economic sense to stay home.” 

What I find fascinating (but not surprising) is the conservative vs liberal weigh-in at toward the end of the article. Cathy Cleaver Ruse, part of a conservative think tank, applauds this trend and sees it as young women recognizing the value of staying home, and eschewing the “feminist script.” But Sarah Jane Glynn of the liberal Center for American Progress, takes it as a bad sign that not enough high-paying jobs are made available to women. Glynn says, “If your transportation and childcare costs are more than your take-home pay would be, it doesn’t make sense to hold a job.”

Millennials tend to be liberal, but are also moderate on many issues. Because of their pragmatism they don’t always take sides in the ongoing culture wars. In an article I mentioned in another post, Jamie Gordon of The Narcissistic Anthropologist says “Curation has been a lifestyle trend for a while now.” And “cultural curators” is probably the best description of millennials: they are picking and choosing ideas that work for them, and leaving others behind.

Ideological Views

In the classic debate over “what’s best for moms,” I think the answer is somewhere in the middle. Of course, compromise doesn’t always work– if one side says “red,” and the other “yellow,” compromise just means everyone is unhappy in orange. But millennials see these issues differently than previous generations.

First, a look at the conservative view. Millennials don’t have a collective memory of real-life June Cleavers nor do they have the angst that weighed on the contemporaries of Betty Friedan. I’ll venture to say millennials have no desire to be June Cleaver. So millennial moms may be choosing to stay home because they want to, probably not out of pressures from social norms. Also millennials hold the idea of parenthood in high regard, with 74% expressing a desire to have children. Millennials are close to their parents, in fact, probably too close coining the term “helicopter parents.” And finally, most millennials had a relatively stable childhood, even if they were not raised in a “traditional” arrangement. All of these factor show a value of the parent-child relationship which may in turn create a new attitude toward staying at home with kids. So I’m not sure millennials are “embracing tradition” or eschewing the “feminist script” as much as they just like family life.

Betty Friedan 1960.jpgThe more liberal argument has pros and cons as well. Milleninals are reaching adulthood racked with student loans in a very challenging economy. Many new moms are faced with the financial reality Glynn mentioned, which forces them to stay home. The financial challenges millennials are facing in general (not just moms) may indeed be “forcing” moms to stay home, but that could change in the future as the economy recovers, and well, the kiddos grow up a bit. I’ve also noticed confusion from some of my peers regarding the attitude that moms shouldn’t stay home. A millennial mom might think “isn’t the point that women have options and should be empowered in whatever decision they make?” For that reason am glad for women like Betty Friedan who helped fuel the “feminist script.” I’m extremely grateful that Friedan had the sense to challenge the idea that only one path is right for all women. Because of this cultural legacy, modern moms may be staying home with a completely different mindset than women of the past.

The Practical Side

It may look like millennial stay-at-home moms are sacrificing their ambitions, but you have to see the millennial generation as a whole. A life put on hold? Ambitions and dreams that seem just out of reach? Welcome to the over-arching story of the millennial generation. A lack of jobs is not a women’s issue, it’s a millennial issue. Personally, I still think that once the economy recovers, there will be an increase of millennials in high-paying jobs, moms included. Also, entrepreneurship and work-from-home jobs are also on the rise which gives women even more options. Moms are able to blend their lives in a way not possible in the past.

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A New Conversation

Millennials are free from the “scripts” of the past. I think moving to the future that millennial women are choosing what works best for them. In an era when women are seriously starting to question the idea of “having it all” millennial women are finding ways to have what they really want.

I feel incredibly indebted to the those who fought for a better future for women. I’m also in admiration of my own mother, grandmothers, and aunts who showed me that love is always the greatest calling.

Both “sides” of the issue should worry less. Millennial women are doing exactly what past generations of women hoped for: choosing what’s right for them.

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3 thoughts on “Unpacking the New Stay-At-Home Mom

  1. Hey Rachel! I haven’t seen your posts in my email for awhile, so I checked on over at your website. This is a very interesting post. During college, I definitely looked down upon women who chose to stay at home, after the fact that they have a college degree. All I could of, “Why did you waste all that money to go to college and not even use your degree?” Again, that was the wrong way to think. I am still finding myself challenging my own beliefs, but I definitely agree that women should be able to do whatever they want to do.

    And honestly, being a mommy IS a full time gig, especially if you are super engaged with your children, involved with community service groups, etc. Just because somebody isn’t getting paid a job, doesn’t mean that stay at home mommies aren’t busy organizing play dates, involved in PTOs, boy/girl scouts, driving children to all their extra curricular, etc.

    • Hi Michelle! Studying trends of millennial moms has been very interesting (of course I am one). Millennials “ending the mommy wars” is a great phrase I read somewhere (I don’t remember if I included it in this post). Millennials seem to be respectful of the many different choices moms make whether working or staying at home or something in between– just another example of millennial tolerance, and “live and let live” attitude.

      I definitely questioned motherhood when I was younger, but once I took the plunge it has been amazing. It’s an attitude shift I’ve observed in my peers too, many who are are pretty incredible, and very involved moms. Many of them also plan to go back to work eventually, or starting their own side business, so they are not all against “working mommies.”

      Thanks for feedback, as always 🙂

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