article-0-0047DB9F000004B0-739_468x308The modern world has screwed mothers.  On the one hand, they are raising children and caring for the home same as they have been doing for generations.  But the demands of parenting today’s children are far greater than they ever have been in human history.  Additionally, women today are expected to take advantage of the great opportunities our post-feminist society has bequeathed them.  Squeezed from all sides, its no wonder that women’s issues are on the forefront of discussions in and out of the church.

The Liability of Privileged Children

Today’s children are extraordinarily privileged.  Like the children of kings and dukes of the past, children today, both rich and poor, are taught to read, write, pursue elite accomplishments like the violin, participate in organized athletics, and highly competitive academics.  They are showered with enormous individual attention, praise, and high expectations.  Above all, they require an exorbitant investment of time and money from mom and dad.

George Goodwin Kilburne - Governess with Two Girls 1873Consider how unbalanced our modern situation is compared with former times.  In the past, 99% of people were relatively poor, and children were financial assets that could quickly be put to work on the family farm or business.  Childcare was not unduly arduous for mom, as she didn’t have many outside expectations for her children.  The bounds of existence were extremely narrow.  Children were simply underfoot, free range, as she worked, and as they learned to work along side of her.    And for the wealthy 1%, children were no burden either.  Their parents easily paid for governesses, music tutors, boarding school, etc. leaving mom and dad ample time to pursue their own accomplishments and aspirations.

However, children today add no financial value to their families.  They are a total liability, with their value being only metaphysical.  Most of the parents of these elite children are middle class or poor, without the means to raise them according to their oversize expectations.  It’s not uncommon for today’s middle class parents break the bank trying to get their kids into private schools, or make other enormous sacrifices so that their children can get ahead of all the other over-scheduled children in the neighborhood.

george-smith-gathering-the-grapes-1875

Separating Work from Home

The modern world dealt yet another blow to the family by separating work from the home.  Today, the home is relegated to a distant suburb, while parents work in an office or factory far away.  In the past, work and home were much more closely related, with mom adding financial value to the domicile by sewing goods for the market, milking the cow, churning the butter, with the children close by.  Today’s middle class SAHM does many of the same kind of things as yesterday’s mom, adding financial value to her home by cooking, cleaning, shopping, saving, etc. just as poor mothers have always done, but she has the disadvantage of also having to be a governess to her elite, privileged children, being soccer mom, piano mom, driving them through an endless daily maze of schools, lessons, sports, and church activities.  Even without doing any work outside the home, SAHM works harder than mom has ever worked.

Post-Feminist Guilt

And if that wasn’t bad enough, overworked SAHM now has to carry the burden of the unrealized expectations that the post-feminist world has bequeathed her.  Before she became a SAHM, she was raised like any other privileged child: told she could be anything she wanted, accomplish anything a man could accomplish.  She was educated, trained, and spent years developing her unique talents.  She learned languages, went to university, served a mission, worked in offices.

But when the children came, and she felt she must give her children all exorbitant privileges the modern world offers, just as she had been (but even more!).  Anything less would brand her a selfish, neglectful mother. Thus she becomes governess to her little elites, as well as cook, butler, house manager to her tiny, underfunded estate.  These are all noble occupations, but they represent just a narrowest slice of all the options that once dazzled her eyes.

Solutions?

10259088_10152381091811550_6436196957107879153_oDoes it help that the church says “Celebrate motherhood, speak of nurturing”?  Yes, I think it could be a balm for overworked SAHMs, those who have already sacrificed their own professional fulfillment.  But the root problem has still not been addressed.  These mothers are nurturing daughters, not to become mothers, but to become women who can accomplish anything!  Then these daughters sacrifice all and become mothers and teach their daughters the same thing, and the cycle continues, as the guilt rages on all sides.

The real problem is not that today’s women no longer want to be mothers, or that they are being selfish.  The real problem is the peculiar dynamics of the modern world: over-privileged children, and the separation of work and home.  A possible solution could be: lighten up on expectations for children, and bring childcare into work, or work into the home.  These are political and social changes.  In some European countries, many offices have a built in daycare, and the government mandates extremely generous maternity leave (up to 4 years) and even up to a year of paternity leave.  These sorts of policies are the result of recognizing that while children might be a short-term liability for the family, they are a long term asset for the country.

Questions?

  • Are there other solutions to the working mother crisis?
  • Do you agree that mothers face greater challenges than ever before?
  • How can women balance the intense expectations of both family and career?
  • What is the church doing that is helping or hindering?