Your family would be better off with a housewife (so would mine)

Men should not marry women who have careers, according to an opinion piece at Forbes.com. The statistics are clear:

“Marrying these women is asking for trouble. If they quit their jobs and stay home with the kids, they will be unhappy (Journal of Marriage and Family, 2003). They will be unhappy if they make more money than you do (Social Forces, 2006). You will be unhappy if they make more money than you do (Journal of Marriage and Family, 2001). You will be more likely to fall ill (American Journal of Sociology). Even your house will be dirtier (Institute for Social Research).”

There is a response from a woman, who, big surprise, has a big career. But to me, she just sounds like she’s whining. And she’s definitely missing the point.

The point is that marriage and family work best when one person is taking care of them full time. Duh. Everything in the world is best off when it is cared for very carefully. I wish everyone would stop trying to deny this. It’s barking up the wrong tree.

There is little evidence that the role of housewife is any more frustrating than the role of housewife and careerist rolled into one. (I have done both roles and both are very difficult and not totally satisfying.)

The conclusion, that marriages and families work better with a full-time housewife, is hard to swallow but hard to deny. It’s just that not every woman wants to take care of a family and marriage full time, and even fewer men do. And increasingly few people want to give up almost all child-rearing responsibilities in order to be a single breadwinner. So this is a piece of advice that’s useful to only the small percentage of households in the world. But still, the advice is good.

Many people will say they’d rather face the challenges of a dual-career marriage than the challenge of a stay-at-home-spousedom. Fine. Just know the statistics are not in your favor.

Before I get accused of throwing stones from a glass house, let me come clean with the fact that my husband and I are constantly restructuring our work life in response to these statistics. Also, I believe that the woman being the primary caretaker of both family and marriage is BS, but I don’t see many marriages working any other way, even with two, powerhouse careers.

Please, do not send me emails about your perfect marriage because I don’t believe it. In my marriage we have tried everything, and everything is hard in its own way.

Meanwhile, it’s good advice to men to pick a woman who will be a full-time housewife, but I have some advice for women who are shopping for husbands: To find a partner who will support your choices both financially and emotionally and who will be around enough to participate as an equal parent, marry someone with a very large trust fund.

Posted in Fulfillment, Money, No image, Parenting, Women
100 comments on “Your family would be better off with a housewife (so would mine)
  1. Wendy says:

    Penelope, I enjoy your column because you are not afraid to say what is probably true, rather than what is politically correct.

    From the evidence raised here (and personal experience) I’m not sure that many career-oriented women would necessarily be successful if they decided to devote themselves to marriage and family. That is, the resentment, lack of intellectual challenge, etc. might undermine such an effort and the marriage / family would break down anyway.

    So, our society may be in a trap. Women are now brought up with career aspirations as well as parenthood aspirations, and long term marriage aspirations — and the three roles are not easily compatible.

    This is made worse by the fact that many of us are taught or raised “not to compromise” — to follow dreams, fulfill goals.

    Yet, successfully juggling marriage, career and kids likely requires everyone to compromise (and employers as well).

  2. DM Strong says:

    i think the forbes piece is a bit presumptuous and foppish — much like the rest of the publication.

    what family wouldn’t want to thrive on a single income? what family wouldn’t want more time to devote to kids?

    forbes longs for the days of ward and june while ignoring the simple reality that it’s nearly impossible to get by on a single income WITHOUT the trust fund.

    Families these days are often taking care of kids AND older parents, with higher health, housing and education costs than ward and june ever imagined. we work more to earn what we did or less.

    fact is couples do the best they can with the hand they’re dealt. that second income means anything from college for a daughter to chemo for a grandmom.

    I say Forbes should stop living in a fantasy and advocate real solutions (you know, OTHER than tax breaks for people who regularly read Forbes) to help people have a life where the TOUGHEST challenge they face is which spouse works.

  3. finance girl says:

    I think both sides of the argument get too simplified in that point-counterpoint.

    It comes down to what works for each couple. Each couple is going to find a formula that works just for them (hopefully!).

    I am a former Marketing and Project Manager (at different times) who left a 20 year professional career in January, the last 6 at MSFT, to be a homemaker (gasp!). I love my new gig! I never am bored, are you kidding? My husband loves that our life together is less hectic.

    We collectively have more time now to pursue our interests, whereas before we were 100% rushrushrush.

    If both people in a couple enjoy their jobs, then go for it! But if they don’t, then what’s the point? So you can buy more stuff?

    Fair enough if you are providing for others (as DM Strong mentions), but if you are both working just for the sake of working, what’s the point to that?

  4. Penelope Trunk says:

    I’m hearing general agreement that the research saying stay-at-home housewives take the best care of families is true, but it is not particularly useful.

    I think the useful research we need right now is how each family can make their own decisions in this area.

    In talking to people about this question I have been thinking that there are two, core questions that need answers:

    1. How can women bring men into the equation — both in terms of choosing a spouse and then setting up the childcare arrangement early on. (I posted one stab at this topic here.)

    2. What are the real financial statistics on divorce. I think the real reason women need to work is because the odds are the marriage will end in divorce and women who make career sacrafices for a family get short-changed in divorce.

    I am going to look into this topic and write a bit more one it…

  5. littlepurplecow says:

    Your family might be better off with a housewife, when you consider the demands of car pool, play dates, home-cooked meals, starched shirts and a tidy home. This is indeed a noble calling for some women. But, for me, the benefits of the career wife and mother outweigh the demands (assuming you have a solid, loving childcare scenario with someone you trust completely):

    1. Two incomes. This takes the pressure off one spouse to support the family and offers more flexibility to enjoy new experiences (trip to the aquarium, tickets to sporting events, time at the beach, -gulp- college).

    2. Mind expansion. You are more likely to meet fascinating people and learn new things outside of your home. Good careers force you out of your comfort zone and make you think. The expansion of your mind, will undoubtedly have a positive impact on your family.

    3. Shared responsibility as family caretaker. Two career parents must collaborate and communicate often to make the juggling act work. The give and take demonstrates mutual respect on a daily basis. And not once, has my husband asked me “So what do you do all day?”

    • Morgan says:

      You did not mention your children once in your comment. You proved Penelope’s point. Career moms that work outside of the home full-time cannot fulfill their role as a mother thoroughly and completely and most times are selfish.

  6. Penelope Trunk says:

    Little Purple,
    You lay out the argument for a dual-career household very well.

    The problem is that the argument for a stay-at-home parent is that the kids’ life is more stable (a plethora of research — not mine). And the argument for dual-careers is that the parents are happier (there must be research, but we all know what you write above is basically true.)

    I think the tough call in this life is how to balance kids’ needs and parents’ needs. In my mind, two full-time careers is not exactly a balance.

    (I always feel compelled to say that I do not necessarily practice what I preach in this area. But I struggle, just like everyone else.)

  7. Mauri says:

    These were the two paragraphs that got me toasted:

    “For our purposes, a “career girl” has a university-level (or higher) education, works more than 35 hours a week outside the home and makes more than $30,000 a year.

    If a host of studies are to be believed, marrying these women is asking for trouble. If they quit their jobs and stay home with the kids, they will be unhappy

    So what he is saying is if you ever have a career in your lifetime you are running against the odds. To me, that sounds like a very boring and needy wife.

    What do I tell my future daughters?

    I think most of us will teach our children to be independent.

    I would be curious to see a handful of statistics on what happens to these “perfect” women if they’re spouse divorces them or dies.

  8. David Christiansen says:

    Okay, so I tried about four times to write something that didn’t come off as totally sexist and I’m afraid I’ve failed. So here it is, sexist or not.

    This isn’t an easy issue for guys either if they want to marry a woman who is committed to staying at home with kids. I can’t speak for other guys, but when I was “in the market” so to speak, I was looking for a smart, motivated, and well-educated woman who wanted to stay at home with her kids AND who actually liked me. A lot. We’re talking about a pretty slim demographic here! It took me a long time to find one.

    • karelys says:

      so sweet! :)

      It makes me smile that you say that. Maybe instead of trying hard to make everything for everyone happen we should raise more “models” of “you get this if this is who you are. So if you want X become like this.”

      It’s done all the time with athletes, actors, careerists, etc.

      Why not when it comes to family life.

      If I am a smart woman who has no problem staying home with the kids and loves my husband a lot then I can really have an awesome marriage and family life.

      But wait!? what about the woman? well if she’s smart I am sure she’ll figure out how to run a business, make money, improve her community, teach her kids awesome lessons, etc. This is not a boring life, no sir!

      The kids get to stay with someone that is happy (which is contagious, just like stress. I speak by experience having had a stay at home mom), learn better, they are safe from any horrific possibility of being molested or abused or neglected (day cares!), husband is excited to have such a wife and wife manages time so she has time for herself.

      When I give time to myself I am excited to see my husband and go out and about with him!

      I am a working woman/student/wife. I am trying to still hang out with friends. But anything I do right now is to ensure that if I want to stay home with kids I will be able to!

      How does that happen? well I need to be a woman like your wife.

  9. Penelope Trunk says:

    Dave, I love you for writing this. So many guys are thinking this but are scared to write it.

    As a career wife, it’s upsetting to read all this. I am not sure what to recommend that people do. But I am sure that before we do anything, people have to really be honest. And I don’t think most people are being honest. If they were, the article in Forbes.com would be old news.

    Mauri brings up the next step in this discussion, I think. The stay-at-home parent gives up substantially more to the family than the parent who financially supports the family. So when a divorce comes along, the woman is in a very bad spot. The law does not recognize her full contribution to the marriage.

    Of course, when we decide who will stay home and who will work, we never think we’re going to be the ones to get a divorce.

    Perhaps we should shift our activist energy from workplace reform to legal reform.

  10. Ann says:

    The thing that makes me chuckle about men choosing a stay-at-home mom for a wonderful, smooth home experience is this: I have observed husbands that work all day, then go home, and mom, up to her armpits in kid fare, leaves the house for some freedom! She’s finally off the clock.

    Step in Dad. Mom is going for a scrap-booking weekend with the gals.

    This leaves Dad working – €“ at work – €“ and guess what? At home. And then these Dads get to the point where they are tired of work, and kids, and the power struggle begins. Mom works her eight hours, and Dad works his eight hours, and then each want/deserve a break.

    Just because Mom is “at home” does not mean she does not demand her own time, that everyone is not tired, and that major fights and feelings of resentment don't ensue.

    Why is this any easier than a two-career home?

  11. David Christiansen says:

    I like Ann’s comment because it brings up an issue that hurts all types of marriages and relationships: poor facilitation of problem resolution. Couples that can’t talk about simple problems like personal time (which everyone needs) and reach a fair resolution that leaves neither party feeling resentful are going to struggle, whether one of them stays at home or both of them work.

    I’m not aware of much that a stay-at-home mom can do to prepare for a divorce (without increasing the potential for a divorce), other than getting a good education and keeping a credit card or two in just her name. A divorce is going to royally screw up all the lives involved.

    There is a lot that a couple can do to prepare for the death of one of them. It is probably not as hard financially for a working dad who has lost his stay-at-home wife to do a good job raising his kids as it is a stay-at-home mom who has lost her breadwinner, but couples have to prepare for the loss of either party. Life insurance and trust funds are the answer. I’m shocked at how many of my friends who earn $70k+ have only enough life insurance to bury themselves and fund their family for a year. And they have no insurance policy at all on the life of their spouse! Childcare costs money – substantial life insurance policies need to exist on both spouses.

    I could write a whole blog post on this, now that you’ve got my wheels turning Penelope. Maybe I will.

  12. Jane says:

    hmmm i would just like to ask do you think that women should be paid to be housewives? i am doing a debate on it and i am on the negative team.. i have searched the net all over and i cant find anything.. so i have decided to get some opinions of others.. so get back to me on what you think.. thanks! x0x

  13. Penelope Trunk says:

    The short answer is yes. Who can debate that? There are a million ways you could say women get paid. For example, you could say full-time parents get paid by having someone earn money while they stay home.

    So the more complicated and relevant question is HOW should a full-time parent be paid. I have three bones to pick in this arena. (They are all public policy related, which is inherently US-centric, but maybe you can related this to the policy you have in New Zealand):

    1. Full-time parents should earn social security Right now you only get social security if your work does not involve taking care of your own kids. This is not right. If the state is legislating what is work, then taking care of kids should count.

    2. People who take care of kids full-time should qualify for unemployment insurance after their kids leave the house. Right now if you work for the six months prior to losing your job, then you have a cushion to fall back on — unemployment insurance. If you are employed taking care of kids and the job goes away then you should get the same treatment.

    3. Divorce law. There is a big problem here. The person who stays home with the kids gives up a ton of earning potential so the family can benefit. The courts are not recognizing this sacrafice right now. On top of that, divorce settlements are not public and no systematically logged anyway, so there is very little way to study the situation and tell full-time parents how to get a better divorce settlement.

    • Jo says:

      In Canada, we have Child Tax Benefits, and some provinces have other supplementation as well (y province of residence does not). The Child Tax benefit is based on family income level. If one spouse chooses to remain at home to care for their children and home on a full time basis, there is some supplementation. Of course, there are arguments about CCTB, with some people feeling as though all parents should get out and work, their taxes should not go towards raising other people’s children, and so on and so forth. While some provinces have $7/day daycare (with incredibly long waiting lists), most do not. Were I to work full time right now, much of what I make would go towards work-related expenses and childcare.
      I have done both as well. After a decade of being home full time (we also homeschool), I chose to work part time, and then almost full time this past summer. You don’t realize how chaotic life can become until, well, until it does… Sometimes you don’t realize how chaotic life has become until you make a drastic change. We felt it was time for me to be home again this past September, and it is amazing how much more smoothly our household has been running since then. We eat better, we are far less stressed, and I personally am glad I no longer have those moments of wondering what the heck I am doing when I am out working for someone else for money that we don’t really need (lifestyle comes into play for a lot of two-income families, let’s be honest) while I have a sick child at home.
      From what I have observed, in most cases dual income families are a choice, not a necessity, and from what i have experienced, I agree completely that things go a whole lot better when someone makes home & family their full time job.

  14. wj says:

    I came to this discussion late but I want to also mention that subsidized daycare and a longer government-mandated maternity leave are solutions that many western European countries enjoy. I am not saying these are perfect solutions but these address the needs of women who choose to continue working while Penelope’s suggestions would help women who stay at home. Both types of solutions are necessary if we truly want women to have options and a family-friendly environment. By the way, I really enjoy this blog even if my opinions sometimes differ.

  15. JJ says:

    I got married without thinking about divorce issues. After I received my Master’s Degree at early 20’s, I decided to quit my high paying job to become a full time stay at home mom for my infant son, so I could nurse him till his toddler years. I have to agree that by staying home full time we had quality family times and my son never got sick. My husband makes a 6 figure income, we have limited life insurance and he does not want me to work. For a man with above avg salary, it is best for the wife not to work(because he has less work at home), for a young child it is best for mother to stay home, however, for an educated women , giving up career to become a housewife is not the best solution because this society does not protect female after a divorce or death of spouse. 3 years out of the job market, salary and offers dropped, I can not imagine what would happen if I stay home for my whole life and later when I must work?

    • karelys says:

      start a business. Do work without getting paid (volunteer) like consulting for business on how to improve it but don’t ask to get paid so that they won’t have any reservations about it. However, when things do improve ask that they give you credit for it.

      You’ll be out of paid work (if you don’t need it then it’s all good) but you are still building your market value and updating your skills to the modern workplace.

  16. pj says:

    Why should women have to stay at home in the first place? Society needs to stop expecting women to be stay at home moms, boys would you give up your career to take care of kids? NO WAY. Why should we? And if anyone says that women are naturally better mothers because they’re naturally more affectionate or whatever, thats bs, I know many of guys who love children more than I do! There’s no way in hell I’m giving up my career because my husband doesn’t want a nanny taking care of our kids and he’s “not into” the idea of being a stay at home dad. So many men say they want their kids to have a parent looking after them but none of them volunteer to take care of them. These men are just hypocrites. Why is it frowned upon for a woman to be a “gold digger” but it isn’t frowned upon for a man to demand a stay at home wife?

  17. XtinaS says:

    “Everything in the world is best off when it is cared for very carefully.”

    I entirely and unequivocally agree with this.  However, the part where I start having a problem is “stay-at-home mom”, and “housewife”.  It’s not that I think a woman who chooses to stay home is bad, it’s that I think the assumption of “The person who stays home is of course the woman” is bad.

    As for “shopping for a housewife”, I’d like for men who do this to send me the contact info for the store yall shop at, because I want one, too.

    • karelys says:

      there is a big difference in stating facts and stating opinions as if they were facts.

      I absolutely agree with you on that the woman shouldn’t be expected. But how soon is this going to change?

      In turn Penelope is declaring what is actually going on and how this is affecting society and the familial structure.

      so because things haven’t changed much about the issue of “woman must stay home, not men” what happens is that families are better off when they have a housewife(houseparent lol).

      I think you should go to church and shop for a wife. There are too many women in my church who are not going to college because they want to be a housewife and think it’ll be a waste.

      I am going to college because I am expecting to be working woman who happens to birth children.

      After reading this research I’ll try to work harder and smarter so I won’t have to work as many hours and spend more time with my future children. But I will definitely pay someone to do housework.

      More time for me to spend with family :)

      but yeah, try church. I was trying to be funny at first but I think that people twist the bible so much that they (sometimes) don’t question that the women’s best place is at home with the kids. So you won’t have a shortage of awesome smart women that have no problem on staying home.

  18. Carrie says:

    I agree with PJ definitely. That is really hypocritical. And my husband is much more nurturing than I am with our kids, by the way. I try, but sometimes I just get so frustrated, and he has to calm them down. Also, since our daughter was born, there have been lots of times when he was the only one who could calm her down by talking to her, rocking her, whatever the case. She has GERD (sort of baby acid reflux), so she would cry a lot. I think it is unrealistic for the mother to be expected to give and give and give to the children, and then the father barely interacts or bonds with them or takes care of them at all. It also makes it unbalanced, b/c the children should have a good relationship with mother and father. And if the man won’t lift a finger to raise the kids, and his wife ends up hiring a nanny b/c she is overwhelmed, and then the nanny is closer to the kids than the father, really he has no one to blame but himself. However, the same goes for if the opposite happens. It just doesn’t happen as often. Sorry to be long-winded, but equality is an issue I am passionate about. I don’t know why people have to try to separate men and women so much and “put them in their place.” Leave them alone! Their “place” is where they want to be and what they want to be doing deep down. You shouldn’t cause more resentment by limiting their choices because of their gender.

  19. Penelope Trunk says:

    The point is not whether it’s a man or a woman, the point is that families are best off when someone is home taking care of them.

    It’s not about gender, except to the point that the studies all study women at home becuase there are not enough men at home.

    People write about the imoportance of equality. I don’t think it’s possible. I don’t think marriages are equal. There’s not a scorecard. There are too many variables.

    Penelope

  20. mieoux says:

    For those men who are looking for stay at home wives if you actually make enough money to support the family, are nice and decent looking, then please post your info here so that I can contact you!

  21. Helen says:

    All four of my grandparents worked and were high achievers, as were my parents as do all my aunts and uncles (there are a lot of them) and their spouses. My parents, at 21 years, have had the shortest marriage out of any of them.

    Number of divorces in my family? ZERO
    Number of aged spinsters? ZERO
    Number of problem or underachieving children? ZERO

    Just because YOU couldn’t do it doesn’t mean nobody else can. Try to hide your jealousy better.

  22. Darlene says:

    I have to agree with Helen… and this IS a gender issue.. the topic is about a “housewife” not a “househuband”.

    My parents were/are both full time working people, and I am very happy and successful myself.
    If someone wants to be a stay-at-home “whatever” then great.. but don’t guilt or force people into doing one thing or another.

    And as for statistics… when cigaretts first came out all the research and statistics said there was no harm in them! Sometimes “statistics” serve the “reseachers” agenda.

  23. Elle says:

    I am considering walking away from a Fortune 500 career and exploring the housewife scenerio. When you put a career first it is more that just one of you putting the career first. Both of you are putting both careers first. It’s the nature of the beast.

    I’ve noticed that most people confuse the rolls of “housewife” and “stay-at-home-mom”. Two very different things.

    If you are spending more on childcare than you are making it makes sense. We are doing this sans child and I am doing it for peace of mind and to find my soul again. Happiness is a big part of any marriage and if one person is totally miserable at work the whole relationship and home life can suffer.

    I am fortunate to have many friends in both of these rolls and I have been given great advice and tips for making it work.

    The things on the top of my list are home related: painting, cleaning, organizing, de-cluttering. We will save hundreds of dollars a month eating at home and I may be able to reduce cost more by planing a garden when it gets warm enough. All those things you don’t have time to do when you work 75 hours a week.

    I’m also going to take art classes and take time to explore all those things I’m good at but never bothered to see if I could make money from doing. Perhaps something more lucrative and more rewarding will be found in taking this leap into the unknown.

  24. Jeannie says:

    Nice in theory, but not necessarily reality. I am a woman who believed in the traditional family. I had a career, but chose to stay home and have been a dedicated housewife and mother. I am educated and normally a good judge of character, and truly believed I had found a spouse who would support me. My spouse has been emotionally controlling and abusive, and actually points out that I can’t leave him, as I don’t have income to support myself and the kids. Although I have continued my education and some part time work, I am extremely concerned for my future, and that of my children, as my earnings potential is limited after ten years away from career. In her book, The Price of Motherhood, Ann Crittendon discusses that not maintaining personal income is high risk behavior. I took the risk, like countless others who believe the myth, and lost. Being a housewife may be the ideal in a fantasy world, but the statistics are not in our favor for a lucrative future.

  25. amanda says:

    Are children even neccessary? I think each one of us should ask why we must create more children when the world is overpopulated and there are so many children without homes. Is it because the need to carry on our name? Do we want someone to take care of us when we are older? Do we want our own little dolly baby human to play with? Is it just something that society/family expects us to do? Please, just consider the reasons that make you feel like having kids and ask yourself, “Is this really a good reason?” I think you’ll find that alot of the reasons are actually quite selfish and make little sense. Every time you bring a child into the world you expose it to so much hardship. If a child is never born it never has to know that hardship. Also, each new human adds a strain to our already strained resources in the world. So, when there are so many people in the world having children already, why don’t we just simplify the battle between men and women and make it easier on ourselves by not making new children.

  26. amanda says:

    For some additional thoughts on what I just posted go to the Voluntary Human Extinction website at http://www.vhemt.org and read the Biology and Breeding section. Pay special attention to the chart called “Why Breed?” This chart lists the usual reasons that people give for having kids but it brings to attention the actual reasons behind them and lists some suggested alternatives. This website is supposed to be funny and irreverent but it brings up some very interesting issues that some people have never thought of. Take it with grain of salt.

  27. Helen says:

    Alternatively Amanda why do we not just build enough nuclear weapons to instantly vapourise every spec of the Earth’s surface and set them off? Not only will it be an instant, painless death- ending all human suffering forever- but at the same time we can do the same for the entire animal kingdom! Hurray! Extinction!

    I think the positives of being alive outweigh the negatives. I’m glad I was born.

  28. SVR says:

    Jeanie’s situation captures the crux of the problem in the women taking the ‘stay-at-home’ role. Yes there is no denying a parent at home makes things oh so great…but when it hte women who does it,and she has no backup plan for financial security AND things go wrong…where does she go for help?

    There are no easy answers…each to her own i suppose!

  29. Amy says:

    hey,
    hmmm i really need help, because i am doing a debate on if housewives should get paid. This is the only site i have found and thought maybe you could give me a hand.
    thank xox

  30. Jillian says:

    While I most certainly don’t disagree, my parents are the great exception. I’ll start by saying, however, that I’m their only child and that they didn’t have as much input into my parenting as most parents do. Their relationship has never seemed to suffer, and both have full-time careers (though my mother did stay home until I was six and in first grade).

    Still, it is a different time, and while I hate to say it, my husband and I are probably not going to have children because our careers are just too important to us.

  31. Maxine says:

    Good god. Another one of *those* articles. If I didn’t know better, I’d think there was some sort of conspiracy in the American media to make women feel insecure about choices they don’t have anyway.

    Having grown up in an extended family & community where there were numerous working couples as well as numerous couples where the mum stayed at home, I can assure you that the kids of the moms with careers were not running around wild and unwashed terrorising the kids with SAHMs.

    Sometimes the SAHMs were unhealthy – imagine a woman who has no life beyond her family and then imagine how over-invested she can be in her kids. I say this not to disparage SAHMs but to point out that there is a dark side to this June Cleaver mom with apron and apple pie fantasy that people seem to harbouring.

    The key was balance – both my parents worked but they were also both always home by 5.30 pm. Neither ever worked weekends. Also, I was looked after by a nanny till I started pre-school and no, it did not irrevocably damange my relationships with my parents. To be honest, I think I’d forgotten her by the time I turned 6.

    Kids aren’t hothouse flowers. Billions of mothers over the world just strap baby on their backs and go to till the fields all day. Their babies survive and somehow make it to adulthood without being irrepairably ‘emotionally-damaged’ from ‘maternal neglect’.

    The most important thing is happy, confident, loving parents – how this is meant to happen in a culture of constant critique and double-bind decisions I don’t know. Especially given the subtle discouragement to seek help – god forbid you put your kid in daycare! You get a nanny! Noooo…

    All these shoulds and should nots are bullshit. They are propagated by people with a vested interest in god only knows what – can’t be bothered coming up with a conspiracy theory right at this moment.

    But I’m going to call on a personal moratorium against reading these contradictory articles – ‘succeed and earn shitloads of money’, ‘to be a successful mom you must stay at home’, ‘don’t put your kids in daycare, you will be a bad mom then’, ‘what sort of modern woman sits at home and plays pattycake with a three-year-old all day’. I feel sorry for mothers. It’s hard enough without all this crap.

  32. Olivia says:

    All I can say to this column is AMEN!

  33. Michael Brwon says:

    Hi Penelope,

    What a breath of fresh air your article is. I believe that the mother is by far the best suited person to take care of the family. Your comment that “Also, I believe that the woman being the primary caretaker of both family and marriage is BS” seems a little out of step with the rest of your article but it’s about time that someone put into words that which is plain for anyone to see. I was fortunate to have my mother at home and my wife stays home now with our children. She is smarter that I am in so many ways not to mention her feminine qualities that I don’t have. I value her contribution with our children far more than my career. I don’t even work overtime unless I have to because I too want to be there for the children. Why people are so obsessed with big houses, big cars and all that before relationship with your children is beyond me.

    Thanks again for your article.

    MB

  34. Rod says:

    The main problem with the article and many of the comments is a misunderstanding of the limitations of statistics. “The statistics are clear,” but are they relevant? Statistics are useful for describing groups. Do we want to know how many schools we’ll need in 10 years? We can use statistics to predict how many youngsters a community will likely have then. But can my daughter grow up to be a firefighter? It’s a job that needs good upper-body strength. Statistics show that men on average have greater upper-body strength, but so what? At best, that statistic indicates we’ll probably always have more men than women as firefighters, but it says nothing about individuals. Just as we can’t say that all boys will be strong enough to be a firefighter, we can’t say that all girls will be too weak to be a firefighter.
    Sometimes, statistics can be applied to individuals. The statistics are clear that as a male, I have a 0% chance of being able to give birth to a child. It’s not going to happen. But beyond that, probabilities are only useful as an additional piece of information in making choices. Blondes have more fun, but should I change my hair color? Does that even apply to men? Can I afford the coloring? Would my wife like me better as a blond? And if I go bald, I don’t even have a choice.
    The statistic may be clear that families are probably happier where the mother stays home and cares for the children, but that doesn’t mean it can be applied to any particular individual. It does mean that as a society we should encourage it to be easily available as a choice. We can try to fix the pitfalls stay-at-home-spouses face. But we can’t point to any particular family and say “this is how you have to do it.” That makes as much sense as telling my (giraffe-like) daughter “don’t plan on being tall, because the average height of a woman is only 5’4″. And we shouldn’t discourage or add pitfalls if the woman has a career. We can be honest; we can say it’ll be tough and they’ll have to work hard at it, with no guarantee of success or happiness. But as the article rightly points out, this is true no matter what. Boy or girl, if a child wants to be a firefighter, they’ll have to work hard at it, and some just won’t be able to. A successful family, whatever the arrangement, will need work from all its members, and a sharing of just what it means to be a successful family.

  35. LeRoy says:

    Hi Penelope,

    A very interesting article, at first glance, I thought it was going to glamorize the family with two working parents, big house, expensive cars, big titles, lots of stuff – same old tired story. But it turns out that you point out some very interesting facts in having a full time stay at home parent. I think that my family situation is like yours. I have a wife that has a career as do I, we are both university educated, and she has a masters in business. But we put our children first, we are not career driven, we are family driven. We have two wonderful daughters that we encourage to get higher education so that they too can have the means together with their future husbands to provide and nurture. My wife and I talked about having children and the care for them. We worked out a way so that one of us is always home with them. We are always having to made adjustments, that is just the way it is. We decided that when we had children, at some point we needed to be the parents – the nanny is not the parent, the grandparents are not the parents, others are not the parents. We are the parents, that is our responsibility, that is why we had children. I would have to agree with the stats – I have observed the situations myself about the two working parents and the neglected children (of course this doesn’t apply to all), but when those children did not have a parent home it was to their detriment. At the end of the day, I or my wife won’t be remembered by how hard we worked, and what accomplishments we had in our careers – those will be forgotten with time. I and my wife will be remembered by how we raised our children and how we treated others. One of my favorite quotes is "No other success can compensate for failure in the home."

    Thank you for the article.

  36. noway says:

    I completely disagree. This topic is interesting but the article is complete dribble. In an effort to make her articles so simplified for her derelict readers, she bases her fundamental point on broad generalizations and bold assumptions. Read the comments people say about this article.

    STAY AT HOME MOMS: Not all stay-at-home moms create a healthy environment for their children. Often, stay-at-home mom resent not being able to provide for her children. Mommy, "Why can't we live in a big house like cousin Richy-Rich?" or "Why can't we go to Disneyland like the neighbors?" This would make any mom feel like a loser. How is a mother to respond to her child? “We can’t afford anything because mommy chooses NOT to work, now shut-up an eat your spam.”

    Penelope assumes that the working husband has a fat paying job or a huge Trust Fund to adequately provide for the family. This is not the case for most families. Median income in the U.S. is NOT +$100K. If everyone had multi-million-dollar book contracts like Penelope, we could all stay home. In Los Angeles, CA it takes a healthy income just to pay the mortgage on an average priced home. Get real Penelope!!

    WORKING MOMS: Not all working mothers alienate their children. This is complete bullsh!t. A mother can offer that same unconditional love while working as she can as a stay-at-home mom.

    Penelope assumes the working mom develops a love affair with money/career and will quickly neglect their children as a result. Absolute crap!!

    The article also fails to mention which family lifestyle (working or non-working moms) produces more successful adults. I worry more about how I will prepare my son to be a "successful" adult, than I do about if he is having fun playing games as a child with an at-home-mommy. Does a "happy" childhood breed success as an adult?

    I believe that it is possible to have it all: work/money, family, and Happiness. I would never say that a stay-at-home mother is better than a working-mother as Penelope so boldly states. It’s not necessary to sacrife family for work/career. Whoever came up with this bit should be shot.

    “Happiness” is a residual of how you chose to live your life. Money, Big House, Car, a Fancy Bedroom Suite will never bring happiness by itself. But knowing that your work is valued, and the ability to provide for yourself & family should make you feel content with your life.

    My wife is currently a stay-at-home mom, but what works for us may not work for other families. If there is ever a time that we need more income to provide for our family, you better believe that my wife will be a working mother.

  37. Pat says:

    Interesting article, and definitely breeding controversy. I wish to add some perspective here. Every society has its socioeconomic and cultural zeitgeist. What was appropriate in 1950 is not appropriate today and was not appropriate in 1800.

    The dilemma between working career and homemaker comes because of the condition today. As someone mentioned, in agricultural society, mother used to strap the child to the field all day. There is no evidence that the child or marriage needs all day care from the family. In the contrary, there is lot of evidence that child growth is best in the company of other child. The child definitely needs lot of love and affection from the parents but not the whole day. The best situation would be a flexible work schedule where the parents can pursue a career and also take care of the child and family life. Statistically speaking, there are few who wants to pursue career to the extreme or want to stay home all day and by all means should do so. The bulk majority of people want to balance both. However, in contrast to the agricultural society when people were self-employed and could decide for themselves how to balance their life, now most work for corporations or variation thereof who wants full committment.

    Among those in the middle, who wants to balance work and life, there are those who are just trying to keeping up with the ‘Jones’ in the increasingly gentrified society, and there are others who are forced to work hard long hours with dual earners just to pay the bills and avoid slipping into poverty. Therefore, to address this issue we first need to discuss workplace flexibility from the employer and nobody has mentioned that. Without that, it is just talk and a naive one too.

  38. Terri Heaney says:

    Uhm … I remember reading in the ’80s that the UNhappiest women were those with part time jobs. I mean, you get the worst of both worlds – you work because you have to, and you work for low pay, typically in a low-status, low-challenge job. I don’t deny that life would be sweet for many if we could turn back the clock to the ’50s, but ONLY for those who fit the traditional roles. The ’50s were great – if you were white, straight, conformist, and wealthy or at least middle-class. For the rest of America, they weren’t so much fun. My mom had to go back to work, and when the taxes were taken out, her hourly wage was $0.25 – in 1968! That was “pin money” indeed. And God help the MAN who wanted to stay home or the woman who wanted a career.

    I am middle-aged, child-free by choice (rearing children in poverty is a ROTTEN choice for all concerned!) and totally UNWILLING to pay higher taxes to subsidize somebody else’s choice. Not enough Prince Charmings to go around? Well, better keep those pounds off and learn to submit and say “thank you, dear.” Or say, “kiss my grits, Froggy!” and enjoy your independence. If you want to stay home you will give up most of your other choices, and you will show your children a role that may be economically unsustainable in another generation. You’ll also be a burden on those of us who have to pay the taxes you don’t pay by working, and that will cost you my respect for sure. First law of the universe is this: NO FREE LUNCHES. Not even for your kids.

  39. ruz says:

    A lot of people are using anectodal arguments to try to understand the larger picture here. Divorce rates and marriages are mostly affected by economics. If you look at divorce rates they started skyrocketing in the 1960’s and reached their peak in the 1980’s and are still at their peak today. What began in the 60’s was an assualt on the middle class family by corporations and banks that is still raging today. Trying to be “more nurturing” and the like are great ideals, but they don’t address the root problem here !

  40. Chris says:

    Your “trust fund” comment unfortunately confirms that men should not marry at all.

    The truth is that more than 67% (no, not 50% – do your homework) of marriages will end in divorce. 92% of the time it will be initiated by the woman for no other reason than she is "unfulfilled" – €“ oh, and because she gets the kids, the house, at least ½ the assets and most of his future after tax income for the next 18 years. The man will get raked over in family court. He will lose the house and his kids. He will see his kids 2 out of 14 days (if the ex doesn’t level unsubstantiated “abuse” claims.) He will be forced to hand over 40-50% of his take-home pay. If he loses his job due to illness or downsizing, the State will toss him in jail. While jailed the arrearage will grow and the state will charge interest. The State will revoke his driver’s and professional licenses, make him virtually unemployable.

    If you were to take up sky-diving, and the instructor informed you that 67% of the parachutes were defective, would you take the plunge?

    The men's Marriage Strike is alive and well, thank you.

    nomarriage.com

  41. Dara McCoy says:

    Wow, Penelope I first found out about you via Yahoo columns and you are just a much better blogger than article writer (though a very good overall writer). These are fantastic! I wanted to comment on this one because it hits right at home. I have a great marriage (not perfect, it doesn’t exist). My husband and I met at college, he's a successful veterinarian, and I'm a writer. I grew up in a very old-fashioned family, read: mom did everything at home (that Wonder Woman type, only I swear she really is) and worked FT and dad was successful at his job, loved his children, supported us emotionally, wonderful man but wasn't overly involved in rearing and non-existent in household chores and stuff.

    I find myself nailed between the eyes by this blog entry. My husband is a very successful vet at an early age and makes more than enough to support us both and children when/if we decide to have them. To take a great job offer (excellent money, close to both families) of his, I had to leave a great first job (marketing coordinator for small firm) and move to a rural area that lacked career opportunities for me. This didn't matter b/c his job could support us, we could start a family and I could take care of all the wifely duties I felt I'd been neglecting (due to the image I had that I should be like my mom) in the hectic years of 16-18 hour course loads, part-time jobs, marriage in general and a vet school hounded hubby, right? After one-year of stay-at-home, kind of start my own freelance writing business limbo, I learned some crazy things about myself. I didn't want to have kids yet (at 24). I liked being able to keep a clean house and cook good meals for us, but I wasn't getting what I needed.

    How do I sum this up? Through college being married my junior and senior year with 16-18 hour course loads, part-time jobs, freelance work and a vet school hounded hubby, I got a real taste of what this post is about and found myself saying "I need a wife." That's how sexist even I think. I expected that I should cook, clean, launder, and manage the household all while being a full-time student and part-time worker at the time, a full-time worker with a 1 hr 30 min commute each way supporting my hubby's last year of vet school later and now a part-time job and freelance writing business . My husband, who is kind enough to help when I really beg, did not and still doesn't feel responsibility for these things. My husband feels responsibility for one main thing and one main thing only. In the college days, it was passing graduate veterinary medical school (no small feat). Today, it is doing his 45-hour a week job. I appreciate his job and the money it provides, but I will be forever dumbfounded as to why most of the men I know feel no responsibility to help in the home.

    My husband deserves to kick up his feet and veg out in front of a TV after a hard days work or deserve a "weekend off." I don't disagree, but I don't get the same consideration. It's not that my husband demands a clean house, meals or anything like that from me, but he doesn't understand that SOMEBODY has to do it. That somebody is me. Why my wonderful, loving, intelligent and often very considerate husband has a complete brain freeze in this area of our marriage astounds me and I don't even get that upset about it anymore. We can hire somebody to mow our lawn (his only – €˜chore') and he can forget to take the trash out to the curb every other Tuesday, but I can't believe what the fallout would be if I forgot to pay the cable bill (I don't see us hiring a maid either). Why can't some men see this tremendous double standard or feel inclined to help their female counterparts? I'm very old fashioned and understand why gender roles exist (sometimes for a very good reason), but in a marriage where two people are trying to make things work (often meaning the female has to help with breadwinning) why isn't the work of managing a household expected to be shared as well? So I find myself often battling with the woman in me who feels guilty about not managing her house to the utmost and the woman who wants to have a career, be recognized, feed the need for self-worth with a salary that is meaningless compared to my husband's and get some fulfillment from her work. The sad thing for me is I know I have to fight and resolve this somehow by myself, when I really feel that a minor contribution from my husband would help the situation greatly.

  42. Truth says:

    The only way the world will be better is if people realize they were raised by dysfunctional people and they then had children themselves, only to raise them with the same dysfuntional values. Human beings think bringing other human beings into this earth comes naturally. WRONG!! If it did, the world would not be filled with such hateful, evil humans. Everyone needs to stop having children until they are emotionally healed!!!

  43. Stephanie says:

    Wow, this just makes my morals hurt.

    Your blogs and articles are poorly researched, make sweeping generalizations and demonstrate an inability to conceptualize any complexities whatsoever. I suggest, Penolope, that you read Leslie Bennet’s wonderful book, “The Feminine Mistake.” In it, she cites actual research, from accredited academic institutions (not right-wing think tanks and “family-values” interest groups) which support wholeheartedly the notion that women and men can have fulfilling careers, raise a family and work towards self-actualization and peace, all without conforming to sexist, arcane gender roles and stereotypes. Women whose sole source of self-identity is that of their family and children and a small peer-group of other moms are less fulfilled, feel less self-confident and put themselves in tremendous financial and emotional risk. What are these stay-at-homers to do when hubby decides to leave? Or hubby loses his job, or becomes disabled or ill? Their long time spent out of the workplace will put them right back at the bottom of wage-earners. They won’t have a 401k. Their children aren’t a pension, and their sense of self-fulfillment will have to come from someone besides junior and hubby, and if a woman hasn’t cultivated the skills to be independent and self-secure, it’s a tough transition to make in middle age, especially for women.

    I suggest that you make an effort to avoid the conservative-biased sources you regularly use, or at least disclose their (and your) ideological slant before passing off your opinions blithely as supported by all or most social scientist. They are not.

  44. NoeValleyJim says:

    I think it is odd that you have not even had one comment from a “stay at home Dad” or someone who has aspired to be one. I have a degree from a good university, a good job and career and spent a number of years looking for a woman who was interested in marrying a guy that would stay at home and raise the kids.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, I was able to find plenty of dating partners, but only one woman who was seriously interested in this arrangement. We were incompatible (I won’t go into it, but she was like a typical bad guy more than anything) and finally met my current wife, who claimed to be interested in such an arrangement. But then six months after we started dating, said she was really interested in “super-mom” i.e. someone who would do all the cooking, cleaning and childcare and also bring home a healthy paycheck.

    I have only known one woman who is seriously capable of both supporting a family and is interested in marrying a stay-at-home dad. And I know hundreds of self-proclaimed feminists. So the truth is, almost no women are willing and able to switch gender roles.

    As it is, we both work, we both make good money, we both have good careers, and we hire a nanny and a maid to help us out. I am probably more involved in the child rearing than she is. I do almost all of the housework the maid does not do. It works out okay. There is no way my wife would be happy staying at home and the truth is, mostly due to sexism, I make 50% more than her, so there is no way we can afford for me to not work. At least not in this expensive city we live in. I probably hold up at least my half of the household, but I am okay with that. I guess I am kind of unusual for a guy in that way.

    I am saving every penny and trying to retire at 50, so I can still spend lots of time with my kids and enjoy my life. At least my wife is thrifty enough that this is not impossible with her.

    I guess it would have been nice if I could have found a rich beautiful young woman with a trust fund as well. I actually think that men shopping for wives should be looking for equal co-partners, but I guess in that way I am more of a feminist than you.

    I would hate for my daughters to grow up believing that they were anything but fully equal to men.

  45. Kaye says:

    Thank you for your wise advise to prospective parents: don’t have kids if you have a dual career marriage. It is not fair to the kids to be raised by nannies or daycare, and not fair to the mom to try to juggle both. This is one of the reasons I do not have kids, because I did not want to sacrifice my career, yet I do not believe in nannies raising my child. Thank you.

    Kidfree Kaye

  46. Kathleen says:

    Is it just me, or do most of the commenters here seem to think Penelope wrote the uber-sexist article she linked to on Forbes? Folks, she didn’t write it. She offered her own input on the subject…

  47. Jerry says:

    Penelope –

    I’ve read this entry and several others about your marriage and the problems in it. My Take:

    If the woman is happy staying at home and being the fulltime parent and housekeeper, so be it. If she wants to be the priamry breadwinnner, go for it. But, unless the male in the relationship is OK with this and happy with himself and what he is doing inside and outside the marriage, this is NOT going to work. The male ego is just too fragile, in most cases, to handle being “second fiddle” to a woman’s successful career.

    The only exception I can think of may be the Clintons’. Both have high powered careers but they’re both happy doing what they are doing and they support each other.

    I, for one, have told my wife several times that if she could make enough money to support both of us, the kids, and our lifestyle, I would be happy to stay at home. I wouldn’t disconnect totally from the outside world but I would definitely pursue interests of my own. I had a life of my own before we met and if I were to be the “primary caregiver” (whatever that’s supposed to be) it still wouldn’t stop me from living my own life and pursuing what I feel to be important.

    The “housewife” concept is crap. This pre-defined role in the household stuff is BS. Figure out what needs to be done, who is going to do it and when, and agree to it and stick with it.

  48. bogdana says:

    hi! i read your column just googling for random ‘how to be a better housewife’ stuff because I’m pretty bad at keeping a spotless house. Basically I was looking for cleaning tips. I myself am not exactly a housewife, but in no way do I have a huge career.
    I feel that statistics are good blueprints but every relationship is different. It depends how shallow the people are. My husband and I have faced great personal challenges. We both want each other to succeed and be happy. I cannot imagine not having a job, even just the one I have now, part time pharmacy tech in a hospital. I have always been a work-driven person, and even though I have the option of going to school and not working, I do not feel that I can quit working, even though it would generally free me up for homework and house tasks.
    we dont have kids yet. I imagine that I will be home most of the week when we do have them… when I graduate in two years, i’m going to be an RN, and part time I can make much more money than I make now. I agree that having someone home is very beneficial to everyone; but for me to never work, I dont think I could personally handle it. Thus, my marriage would be in jeopardy because I *wasn’t* working!
    I certainly won’t be a ‘powerhouse career’ person. I have never hated my job, I get a great deal of satisfaction from working, even though I only work part time right now. I doubt I could be a full time careerist and full time mother (not to mention my husband is paralyzed so I do almost all of the housework plus help him do some more difficult tasks). I think both would definitely suffer.
    well that was my two cents on a 1 1/2 year old column. have a great weekend!

  49. J.C. says:

    Everyone forgets about the one biggest bloc of SAHDs: the FARMERS.

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      Believe me, most farmers would not qualify as stay-at-home dads.

      Farming is grueling, hourly labor, and most farmers do not take time off — not just no time off for family vacations, but no time off for school plays. It’s actually been a huge cultural conflict in my house since I grew up with office dad’s taking time off for kids’ activities and my husband grew up with farmer dads always being able to say they had to keep working.

      When the sun shines make hay. Those are not the words of a dad who stops running the tractor to go to a kid’s soccer game.

      Penelope

  50. Mark W. says:

    I liked Pat’s observation (9/7/07) about kids wanting to have other kids around to play with – they don’t miss the parents! I’ve noticed that with one of my nieces (3 years old going on ?). Maybe it’s just her personality but when she spots another kid around her age, she just goes up to them and starts talking to them – just forgets her parents and uncle. Kids need adults available to meet their needs and to referee when skirmishes come up with other kids. The trick is to find that right combination of kid-parent and kid-kid time – easier said than done.
    Also one thing I didn’t see mentioned is how much more families are separated by distance compared to the fifties and sixties. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other family members were generally in the same locality and were within fairly easy driving distance from each other. I enjoyed my time with my grandparents and I know my parents enjoyed the time off. :)

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