One of the reasons dads end up holding the short end of the stick in custody matters is that there are some moms won’t let go – of the children, that is. There are plenty of ways they use to get and keep primary custody of children post-divorce. Those include the bias against dads in family courts reflected in the fact that 84% of noncustodial parents in the U.S. are fathers. Then there’s ignoring visitation rights of fathers, move-aways, child abduction, false allegations of abuse and the like. Of course most mothers don’t resort to those methods, but, like any tool, just because it collects dust, doesn’t mean it can’t be used.
And mothers’ preference for motherhood over other endeavors can be seen in all manner of studies and statistics. Look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics American Time Use Survey and you’ll see the tradeoff women make between paid work and time spent caring for children. And study after study shows women who can afford to do so opting out of work to stay home with the kids. Sometimes that’s temporary and sometimes it’s not, but the tendency to work part-time and take time off is much more one of women than of men.
In short, women tend to value spending their time caring for children. They tend to find fulfillment in that, and who can blame them? Men do too, but still spend more time at paid work than do women.
So it comes as no surprise that two separate studies, one in England and one in Australia show that, if they could, women would spend more time at home with kids and less time at work. In fact, the only thing keeping them from doing so is finances; they’ve got to work to help their families make ends meet. Here’s an article on the studies (Adelaide Now, 1/11/11).
But some women are taking a different route to stay-at-home momhood. They’re marrying up.
[A] British survey has found nearly two-thirds of women would love to find a husband with a bigger pay packet than theirs to allow them to care for their kids full time.
The YouGov survey of 922 women found 55 per cent of respondents would like to be home with their children full time if money were not an issue.
And 60 per cent said they felt pressured by society to go out and work.
The author of the study is our old friend Catherine Hakim of the London School of Economics. She’s about as reliable a source as you’ll find when it comes to data about women and the choices they make about work and family. Still, I was amazed at this finding of hers:
Her London School of Economic research shows 40 per cent of Australian, US and UK women in the 1990s married a man who was richer than them, compared to just 20 per cent in the late 1940s.
And Hakim’s study comes at the same time as a major study in Australia that drew remarkably similar conclusions.
[T]he biggest Australian survey of parents in decades has found a third of women would like to work less, and two-thirds thought working made them less effective as a parent.
But only about 15 per cent of women could afford to be at home full time because their partner earned enough money to support them.
There are a good many problems with the “Leave It To Beaver” paradigm that Hakim says motivates so many women. If all you’re concerned about is the woman’s welfare, this article explains the downside to her (Salon.com, 1/5/11). In a nutshell, if you don’t work, you’re not very employable if you ever need to work.
The Salon.com article is by a woman who was apparently a capable journalist until she started having children. She opted out of work and, 14 years later, she finds herself without a husband (via divorce), but with two children who are teenagers. In this economy, she can’t find a job – not any job – and her sunny world of days in the park with little ones and supported by her husband has been replaced by one that feels cold indeed. She’s desperate and it all comes from her decision years ago to opt out of work.
All those women who would prefer to be full-time mothers need to read the Salon.com piece.
And while they’re at it, they should read the Fathers and Families blog too. Doing that will teach them how to have a work/life balance that’s beneficial for all concerned – them, their husbands and their children.
Face it, very few people, male or female, get to truly opt out of gainful employment. So if you’re not one of those few, why not make the best of it? Split time equally at home and at work with your spouse and do the same with childcare. That’ll give both parents enough time on the job for each to make a go of it alone should the necessity arise. It’ll also give both the experience of parenting so both will establish real relationships with their children over the years.
That’s something that no amount of work or money can ever replace.
Pining for exclusive motherhood is neither realistic nor responsible. Nor is it the best for the kids. Equally shared parenting is all three.