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Choice and Equality for Mothers - and Fathers

on June 3rd, 2013 at 4:52:08 PM

Stephanie Coontz's opinion column in The New York Times ("The Triumph of the Working Mother," 6/1/13) is disappointing and misleading. Coontz perpetuates the false dichotomy of "working" v. "at-home mothers," contradicts her own writing from just two years ago, and ignores evidence published in scholarly journals. And she concludes by calling for better policies for only some families - working families.

The first problem with Coontz' column is her assumption that there are two types of mothers - working and at-home:

As the founders of Family and Home Network pointed out 30 years ago, mothers cannot simply be divided into two categories--working and at-home. The statistics most often cited, from the U.S. Department of Labor, include all mothers with children under the age of 18. The "working" category includes: mothers who are employed part-time even just a few hours per week, those who care for other children as well as their own as family child care providers, those working without pay at least 15 hours/week on a "family operated enterprise," those on maternity leave, and others.

In the Journal of Marriage and Family in February 2005. Authors Kathryn Hynes and Marin Clarkberg of Cornell University conducted a complex analysis of data on more than 2400 women. They explain the difference between measuring employment transitions at particular points in time and seeking to understand employment trajectory over a period of time. Hynes and Clarkberg note: “scholars frequently imply that at the first birth, women divide themselves into two groups: workers and homemakers.” And they conclude, “Women’s employment patterns are characterized by significant amounts of change over the life course.”

Second - on mothers' well-being Coontz states, without citing a source:

"Ms. Friedan wins on the question of whether working improves women’s well-being. At all income levels, stay-at-home mothers report more sadness, anger, and episodes of diagnosed depression than their employed counterparts."

Yet in 2011, Coontz wrote in The New York Times ("When we Hated Mom" 5/7/11):

" a new Council on Contemporary Families briefing paper, the sociologists Margaret Usdansky and Rachel A. Gordon report that among mothers of young children, those who were not working and preferred not to have a job had a relatively low risk of depression — about as low as mothers who chose to work and were able to attain high-quality jobs.

"Mothers who want to work outside the home but instead are full-time homemakers, however, have a higher risk of depression.  This is a significant group: in 2000, 40 percent of full-time homemakers said they would prefer to be working at a paid job. So telling women who want to work that they or their children will be better off if they stay home is a mistake. Maternal depression is well known as being harmful to children’s development.

"These findings suggest that it is time to stop arguing over who has things worse or who does things better, stay-at-home mothers or employed mothers. Instead, we should pay attention to women’s preferences and options."

The briefing paper by Usdansky and Gordon is published on the website of the Council on Contemporary Families, of which Coontz is co-Chair. Usdansky and Gordon write:

"The study is also important because it reveals the inaccuracies of arguments that all women should work for pay or that all women should stay at home. It's not as simple as these one-size-fits-all arguments suggest. The actual situation, desire, and job quality all matter. Although our study could not measure why women chose to work for pay or not, it is clearly important for mothers of young children to consider their own desires when deciding whether to seek a job."

Furthermore, the research conducted by Usdansky and Gordon, along with Xue Wang and Anna Gluzman, was published in the Journal of Family and Economic Issues, March 2012, Volume 33, Issue 1, and in the abstract the authors state:

"...non-employed mothers have elevated depression levels only if they desire employment. Our results demonstrate that neither employment nor non-employment is best for all mothers of young children; rather mental health depends on mothers’ employment preferences and, when they do work for pay, job quality."

Third, Coontz calls for better family policies for only some families -- working families -- ignoring principles of equality and choice as well as her own advice - "pay attention to women's preferences and options."

Family and Home Network's Campaign for Inclusive Family Policies calls for family policies that promote equality and choice for mothers and fathers, policies that support families regardless of the ways in which parents meet their income-earning and caregiving responsiblities.

Family and Home Network will contact the Board of Directors of the Council on Contemporary Families and ask them to support the Campaign for Inclusive Family Policies

Wednesday 6-5-13 update: I sent an email to Stepahnie Coontz, expressing my dismay about her column, and asking her to endorse FAHN's Campaign for Inclusive Family Policies. I received a reply very quickly, Dr. Coontz says, in part, "I didn't choose the headline and found it very dismaying, because if you read the piece carefully you'll see I was just making the argument that work CAN be good for women." And she added that she will be writing again but is currently on deadline with other projects. She adds that the headline "implied a competition between employed and non-employed parents, all of whom do vital WORK."

My take on this: I DID read Coontz's piece carefully, and the problem is not just with the headline chosen by editors. We'll see what happens next. It's fine to express support for the WORK of employed and non-employed parents -- but putting that support into policy means economic support for ALL parents, whether they care for their child(ren) themselves or pay others to provide care.  More later... I have to go care for my grandsons now!


What Parents Want

on May 21st, 2013 at 3:27:48 PM

The Pew Research Center reports on current attitudes of parents with children younger than 18: among mothers who are currently working, 52% would prefer to be home with their children; among fathers, almost half would prefer to be home with their children. Among all mothers, only 32% would prefer to work full-time; 47% prefer part-time work and 20% prefer not to be employed. Yet only 19% of mothers are working part-time, while 51% work full-time and 29% do not work at all. (“Modern Parenthood” March 2013).

Many advocates for families continue to call for more child care in order to support maternal employment, implying that this is what most mothers want. Some argue that it is best for all parents to remain in the full-time workforce. The fact that most parents (of children of all ages) prefer part-time employment and some prefer to be at-home full time is rarely acknowledged. In its study of parents of infants and young children, Public Agenda found “Seventy percent of parents with children five and under say that one parent at home is the best child care arrangement during a child’s earliest years” (Public Agenda “Necessary Compromises” 2000).

In Chapter 1 of her book Maternal Desire clinical psychologist Daphne de Marneffe examines "The 'Problem' of Maternal Desire":

"The oft-heard question about day care -- 'Does day care hurt children?' -- turns children into the repository of our mutual desire for human connection. If the studies show that children do fine in day care, we independent adults are supposed to go about our business without remorse. On this view, mothers' feelings simply aren't relevant; the only issue is day care's effects on children. But what is good for parents and what is good for children are equally relevant in a moral evaluation of day care. And adults' desire to nurture their children is much more passionate and complex than the opposition of dependent child and independent adult would have us believe."

Family and Home Network advocates for parents who spend (or want to spend) generous amounts of time with their children. You can help by learning more about our Campaign for Inclusive Family Policies, by volunteering, by recommending FAHN to friends, by keeping us informed of media stories on families and child care issues, and by supporting FAHN with a tax-deductible donation.

Advocating for Inclusive Family Policies

on May 13th, 2013 at 2:04:31 PM

Today (Monday May 13, 2013) at 12:15, at a Washington, DC think tank – The New America Foundation - there is an event titled “The Hell of American Day Care.” The event will be live streamed and there is a Twitter chat @AssetsNAF #fixingdaycare.

The event is organized around Jonathan Cohn’s recent article in The New Republic (same title as the event).

FAHN’s executive director, Catherine Myers, will participate in the Twitter chat to advocate for "fixing" day care by first making government support for families inclusive - letting parents decide whether to care for their children themselves or pay others. (See FAHN's Campaign for Inclusive Family Policies).

Catherine on Twitter: @cathyfamilyhome

When Jonathan Cohn was interviewed on NPR’s program Fresh Air, a military mom commented on their website:

“Think on this: When a mother stays at home with her children, she sacrifices her time and her mental/emotional energy for the good of her children. Daycare providers, no matter what they make, have the opposite motivation. Daycare providers are there for personal gain, a paycheck. You can't buy mothering. No amount of money will fix that.
I was glad that the interviewee at least mentioned potential tax breaks for stay-at-home moms (SAHM's). We are a military family and when my husband is deployed, we qualify for all kinds of daycare subsidies and benefits. As a SAHM, I get nothing. I do the work and carry all the burden of two parents alone and the government doesn't value it at all.”

Join us if you can on Twitter or let us know what you think in the comments here or via the Feedback tab.

Screen-Free Week

on April 28th, 2013 at 5:41:03 PM

Our friends at the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood sponsor Screen-Free Week each year (April 29-May 5, 2013).

Are you participating at home? Is your child's school participating?

For ideas, see "101 Screen-Free Activities" (a pdf file). Or check out FAHN's own "Ideas for Summer Fun".

We'd love to hear about your experiences during Screen-Free week!




Tragic Events

on April 16th, 2013 at 6:19:36 PM

When tragedy strikes, in addition to dealing with their own feelings, parents have to think about the impact on their children. Just as our children are growing and changing, our own understanding and coping skills develop and change.

Each family has an emotional system, and if you grew up in a family with a generally healthy emotional system, you are very lucky. Many people struggle with a not-so-healthy emotional legacy. Fortunately, there are lots of resources that can help us learn and grow throughout our lives. It's important to build resilience in ourselves and our children; it helps us face inevitable disappointments, sadness, and tragedies.

When dealing with a tragedy, an important first step is to take care of ourselves. The constant news coverage can be addictive, and it can contribute to our anxiety. We appreciate the perspective of Kirk Martin of Celebrate Calm:

"Do not feel like you have to watch endless coverage in order to feel like you "care" about the victims. Just because I am choosing not to listen to/watch endless coverage DOES NOT mean that I do not "care" about the victims."

When it comes to helping our children, many experts recommend this first step: ask what the child has heard, don't assume anything. Here are some resources for talking with children:

Mr. Rogers – on Tragic Events in the News (This is also available in Spanish.)

From Zero to Three –  Cope After Exposure to a Traumatic Event. Note especially the handout “Little Listeners in an Uncertain World: Coping strategies for you and your young child after traumatic events

From Hand-in-Hand Parenting - “Helping Children Exposed to Shocking Events” by Patty Wipfler

Sometimes talking is not the only way, or the best way to help ourselves or our children. Some people find solace in prayer or meditation. Music--listening to it, or better yet, playing music or singing--is a proven way to reduce stress and build connection with your children. Laura Jones writes about just such a moment with her six-year-old (some time ago, back in the days of cassette tapes). They were driving home from an errand: 

"As I reached to switch on the car radio, Rachel requested a song from one of my favorite music cassette tapes. I was surprised; I hadn't realized she had paid any attention to my music. By the time I fumbled with the tape and rewound it to the right track, we were almost home. Rachel sighed in disappointment--but I knew how to handle the situation. I sailed on past our house and just kept driving. The song began, and she knew all the words. She and I sang along with Paul McCartney at the top of our lungs as we rolled through the night, happy with the song and with each other."

If you have a baby, or if you know a baby you could sing to, you might enjoy the songbook and CD "Sing to your Baby" (or iPad app) by Grammy-award winning musicians Cathy Fink and March Marxer. It includes lots of sing-play songs - there are samples to listen to on the Sing to Your Baby website

Play, especially roughhousing play, can be a great way to connect with children of all ages. See The Art of Roughhousing book or blog for ideas.

The natural world offers one of my favorite healing powers--from a garden patch to a national park. Spending time outdoors with friends adds another resilience-building factor: community. 

I'm a grandmother now, and I'm still working to build my emotional competence and resilience. I'm grateful for the many wonderful resources and for the millions of nurturing people, especially parents, who help to build a healthy world, one moment at a time. 

Recognizing unpaid work - heroic work!

on February 27th, 2013 at 3:15:47 AM

In early January I noticed an obituary of John Sheardown, who was a Canadian diplomat in Iran in 1979 during the U.S. hostage crisis. The crisis and eventual rescue of the hostages is the subject of the movie Argo. (If you haven’t heard, Argo won the Oscar for “best picture.”)

The Washington Post explains that for two months, Mr. and Mrs. Sheardown hid Americans at their residence in Tehran—six at first and then four (the others went to the home of the Canadian ambassador, Ken Taylor). It was a very risky thing to do—their home was closely watched; Iranian guards and tanks patrolled the streets. The Post reports “To feed the extra mouths…they bought groceries at different stores to disguise the amount of food consumed in the home.” (The movie tells a version of the story of the Iran hostage crisis and rescue but has been criticized for inaccuracy by minimizing the role of the Canadians.)

Once the crisis was over Mr. Sheardown and Ambassador Taylor were awarded one of the country’s highest civilian honors—the Order of Canada. Mr. Sheardown then “waged a public and ultimately successful campaign to recognize his wife with the same award.” Mr. Sheardown said in 1981: “The wives had a 24-hour responsibility. What we did was a normal extension of our functions. What they did was extraordinary.”

It was great to read this, to learn that Mr. Sheardown worked so hard to get recognition for his wife (and for the Ambassador's wife) for their unpaid work and heroism!


Day-to-Day AND the Big Picture

on January 8th, 2013 at 6:04:08 PM

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day busy-ness of life. Taking the time to think about the “big picture” is valuable, and part of our work at Family and Home Network is to offer a collection of resources that can help parents get information and consider various perspectives.

As the year begins, I’m thinking about the “big picture” of families’ well-being in our society. In spending our time nurturing our own children, we contribute to the well-being of our communities, our nation and to the world. And each of us is impacted by the well-being of our neighbors, our communities, our nation and the world.

We’re starting a new resource page titled “Thinking about the Big Picture.” The topics will include the following: community-building, promoting empathy, building resilience (for children and for parents), cultural influences (commercialism, violence, lack of nurturing), play and happiness, expressing gratitude and experiencing awe.

What are your "big picture" concerns? Would you like to work with us on building our "Thinking About the Big Picture” Resource page?  Let us know! Comment below or use the Feedback tab on the side of the page.

Catherine Myers, Executive Director

The Washington Post fails families - again

on January 6th, 2013 at 5:50:05 PM

We sent this letter to the editors of The Washington Post:

Right from the first line, Janice D’Arcy’s article Can parents share child-raising responsibilities equally? was deeply disappointing. “The new parenting ideal…” Whose new ideal is this? Does the author have any evidence to support this claim? Toward the end of the article D’Arcy states “…reinventing the wheel is necessary for families that need two incomes or have partners who want to be equal.” Is D’Arcy defining equality for us all? Many couples with one parent at home (mother OR father) consider themselves equal partners in raising their children. Is D’Arcy claiming that she knows better? Does she decide the meaning of “equal” or is she equating equal with income-earning? Many of us know better: unpaid work has value and couples can have an equal marriage with one parent at home and one in the paid workforce.

D’Arcy’s portrayal of “traditional” families is terribly biased, and her statement that having one parent at home “doesn’t work” for same-sex couples is just plain wrong. Although experts on working families were consulted for the article, D’Arcy failed to seek expert comment on “traditional” families. This was all the more disappointing to me as I’ve taken the time to communicate with D’Arcy several times in the past year on issues related to families with an at-home parent. I’m the executive director of Family and Home Network, a nonprofit organization focused on helping families spend generous amounts of time together and on speaking out to correct misconceptions about families with an at-home parent. 

Our organization is committed to all families, not just the mid-to-upper income families represented in this article. D’Arcy mentions a few “family-friendly” policy issues that “pushed the United States down the list” in rankings in Save the Children’s report on the “State of the World’s Mothers.” But she fails to acknowledge other, more significant issues that determined the U.S.’s ranking of 25 among developed nations. These include: maternal death rates as well as dramatic disparities in support for pregnant women and for breastfeeding between low-income mothers and middle and higher income mothers. Referencing the Save the Children report while failing to acknowledge the U.S.’s high rate of maternal and child poverty is not acceptable journalism.

As a first step in improving The Post’s reporting on families, editors could remember to avoid stereotyping and disparaging “traditional” families.

Catherine Myers

Executive Director, Family and Home Network

(A shorter version of this letter was submitted to the online comments.)

Numerous times over the years, Family and Home Network has written to The Washington Post to object to misinformation and disparaging stereotypes about families with an at-home parent. It's maddening to do it yet again. We'll be thinking about what action to take next. We want The Post's editors to set acceptable journalistic standards about reporting on families.

The "things" that matter

on December 28th, 2012 at 4:07:54 AM

Family and Home Network focuses on what really matters: intimate, nurturing parent-child relationships and time together.

Since 1984, FAHN has been offering advertisement-free parent-to-parent affirmation, information and advocacy. As a grassroots nonprofit organization, FAHN has always drawn its strength from the parents who connect with us, participate in discussions, contribute essays, send questions, make comments--and give us the financial support we need to keep going...

We can’t do this work without your help!

The scientific evidence is clear: parent-child relationships are at the heart of human development (please see our Children’s Needs information page for more, including references). And intimate, nurturing relationships require time together, a value that is not well supported by our culture.

Many parents tell us they feel uncertain about their decision to leave the workforce (or cut back on paid work) to be home with their children. Some hear dismissive comments about the value of spending time with children. They are grateful to find FAHN's community of parents and our informative, supportive website, as well as our social media avenues (in 2012 we more than doubled the number of parents who connect with us through Facebook, Google+ and Twitter).

This year we were able to offer our six-week Transitioning Home workshops online, reaching parents wherever they live and allowing them to participate right from home. Meeting with small groups of parents (via Google+ Hangouts),we explore expectations and feelings, examine our To Do lists and roles in the family—and we take time to talk about the joys of at-home parenting. We also introduce some of the excellent resources that can help parents and children. Our waiting list is growing, and in 2013 we'll help more volunteers learn to facilitate these discussions so we’ll be able to enroll even more parents.

Our Campaign for Inclusive Family Policies calls on policymakers to craft policies that respect and support parents’ choices about meeting their income-earning and caregiving responsibilities. In January, volunteers from across the country will meet online to plan a major promotion of the Campaign.  

We work hard to keep our expenses low and we are volunteers – please help us continue this work by making a financial contribution–any amount helps! (And please consider volunteering too.)

Please make a tax-deductible donation now! Donate online:

Or mail a check to:

Family and Home Network, P.O. Box 492, Merrifield, VA 22116

 Thank you!

Catherine Myers, Executive Director

Holidays: Traditions, Expectations and Responsibilities

on November 29th, 2012 at 3:43:20 PM

Who makes holidays happen at your house? Babies are not born with expectations about holidays—we have our own expectations and traditions (or habits) and continue them with our children.

When I talk with parents in our Transitioning Home workshops, we examine the role of at-home parents: just what is this “job” all about? One of the first things we talk about is feelings and expectations. I think that’s a very good way to think about holidays, too (and I’m still learning to do this).

When we were first married, my husband and I spent some holidays with my parents and some with his parents. We just kind of absorbed each other’s family traditions, and once we had children and celebrated holidays at our own home we had these combined (i.e., more numerous) traditions. Compared to many people, we had fairly simple holidays. But still.

It was many years before I started to learn about the importance of talking about expectations. I still have challenges to address, but here’s one success story: cookies. Are they an important Christmas tradition? I finally asked my husband what they meant to him (and told him how stressed I was about finding time to bake). It turned out that he really wanted to continue this tradition—but only two favorite recipes were important to him—and he took over the baking. I was free of cookie-worry.

But then… a couple of years ago I decided to bake some simple butter cookies (with sprinkles!) to mail to some elderly aunts. I started a new tradition without really meaning to, but it’s one I’ve decided is important to me. This year, I’m planning to bake those cookies and mail the boxes with the help of my grandsons. For now anyway, both my husband and I are happy about our cookie traditions. If only everything could be sorted out as easily as the cookies.

One important thing I’ve realized is that family traditions are important, but sometimes it’s time for change -- families inevitably change. After decades of staying home for the holidays, we’re now the grandparents, and we’re traveling to be with our grandsons.

In gathering resources for FAHN’s “Holiday Resource Round-Up” page I’ve re-discovered some favorites and I’ve found new inspiration and strategies. Many of these resources are Christmas-related, but some address all kinds of holidays and traditions. We welcome your suggestions of additional resources!

Please follow this link to our Holiday Resource Round-Up.