This is an excerpt from “Everything But Money” by Sam Levenson.
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The easy answer is to proclaim that woman’s mission in life is to be a mother. Most women want to be mothers, but they were also trained for many other professions. Is is possible to be a good chemist and a good mother? Can a mother be in two places at the same time? What about the needs of the children? And what about the country’s need for talent of all kinds? If women were intended by nature to be mothers, why does nature also endow them with intellectual gifts equal to those of the men? And what right have men to ask their mates to deny their talents and devote themselves to housekeeping?
Some people have suggested that a woman should get a full education, then marry, raise her children, and after about ten years, go back to her career. The children would then be taken care of by some member of the family, or a maid. The chances of resuming her career after ten years, however, are not very good.
Perhaps the husbands of such women should stay home and raise the children. The husband as breadwinner is only a convention based on the assumption that he is the stronger of the two. In this age of technology we don’t need strong people; we need skilled people.
Perhaps there should be all-day schools that would take care of the children from 7am to 6pm.
Perhaps women should postpone going to college until after their children are old enough to be looked after by others.
Perhaps those college girls who feel very intensely about a life devoted to science or the arts should be encouraged not to get married at all.
At any rate, we have worked ourselves into a situation we did not anticipate when we proclaimed liberty and justice for all and built an educational system to promote it. Perhaps we did not truly believe that woman could become the equal of man. Well, she is, and, in many instances, superior. Man had better find a just way of giving her her due.
There are many fine mothers who want to stay at home but are forced by economic necessity to neglect their children and go out to work. Society should subsidize these women adequately and keep them at home. We cannot have Papa on the night shift and Mama on the day shift, leaving kids to shift for themselves.
There are also many mothers who use work as an excuse to get away from the responsibilities of home. They rationalize themselves into a job that will provide the “luxuries” they claim the children need. Most children would rather have the mother at home than any “luxury.” A key to the house is not a substitute for the welcome of a mother at the door. Unwarranted mother absenteeism is an unhealthy condition in the house.I am not talking about leaving the children with Grandma or some other competent and devoted person while the parents grab a few hours or days together. I do refer to chronic neglect in so-called “rich” homes where children of educated parents are being raised by semiliterate strangers. It does not make sense for an intelligent mother, presumably aware of the emotional, aesthetic, spiritual and physical needs of children to turn hers over to the care of a housekeeper. One of the most revealing comments was made by a youngster who, when his mother said, “Don’t tell me what to do. I know how to bring up children,” replied, “You do? Were you once a maid, Mom?”
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It’s unfortunate that in the half-century since this book was published, we seem to be no closer to resolving these issues. In many ways we’ve lost ground: instead of working together for a mutually beneficial solution, resentment and hostility seem to be mounting on all sides.
One thing I do take exception to is Mr. Levenson’s question, “If women were intended by nature to be mothers, why does nature also endow them with intellectual gifts equal to those of the men?” Is he suggesting that parenting isn’t an intellectual pursuit? That intelligence and wisdom and knowledge are wasted resources in the upbringing of the next generation of humanity? I don’t think that’s true AT ALL. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Another thing I’d like to add is that the father can make or break a mother’s sense of fulfillment and contentment in her role as homemaker. In my opinion, any man who gets his wife pregnant and then abandons her to her domestic fate while heedlessly continuing to enjoy freedom and recreation without her has earned himself a spot in the Special Hell. If both husband and wife aren’t ready to shift their priorities to accommodate the needs of children, then they should not become parents. Period. It’s not like the world is underpopulated, or needs more neglected children.
I could rant almost indefinitely on the subject, but this post is already too long. I’d enjoy hearing other people’s perspectives, though.