Thursday, August 23, 2012


A recent posting at Orthonomics once again brought up the subject of SAHMs--stay at home mothers--in reference to a posting at imamother.  And once again I'm scratching my head and wondering just where some of the people commenting on the imamother posting have been living for the last decades.

Let's get something on the table right from the beginning--even where and when being a SAHM was considered a societal norm, it never was so.  That's right, it never was an across the board item.  There have always been working women in society, and working mothers.  And yes, there have also been those who closed their eyes to this fact and continued to preach the "a woman's place is in the home" party line.

Go back to biblical times and read the Aishis Chayil word for word.  Yes, it talks about all the things a woman does in her home for her husband and children.  And yes, it also clearly and with no fuzziness delineates all the areas of commerce that the woman is involved in--that's commerce such as in working.

When mass producing factories came into being there were women working in those factories.  Many a small business, such as a grocery store, took both the husband and the wife to keep the business afloat.  The servant class was mostly populated by women, and yes, many were married with families they were helping to support with their wages.

Let's move into the more recent past and guess what--we still find lots of women in the workplace.  During WWI and WWII women in droves replaced the men in the general workplace who were called up to fight.  And when the men came back home, many of those women remained in the workplace.  As this country continued to make manufacturing a primary concern, women worked in those factories.

Yes, many of the jobs that women worked at were not considered as "elegant" or "highly desired."  This was as much a result of society's restricting women from being educated as it was from society's attitude that a woman's place was in the home.

You want to see the working mothers of Klal?  You have only to look at the immigrant generation that arrived after WWII.  Go ahead and ask your grandparents how many working women they knew of.  If they're being honest they'll tell you "tons of them."  My mom worked outside of the home, as did my mother in law, as did my parents and in law's cousins.  Some worked together with their husbands in small businesses they eventually were able to begin.  Others worked in a variety of factories.  Food on the table and money to pay the rent beat out any societal grumbling about a woman's place.

And today?  A woman's place is anywhere she needs it to be or wants it to be.  The stark reality is that Klal has engendered a "required" lifestyle that makes it impossible for a whole lot of  single earner families to comply with.  Unless a husband is making uber megabucks, it is going to take two salaries to cover expenses, maybe.  And perhaps this is time to mention that for a lot of the frummer families in Klal, where husbands are sitting and learning, it is the woman who is the sole wage earner.  And yes, even where both husband and wife are working, there are enough cases where it is the wife that makes more money than the husband.  And by the way, this isn't limited to just Klal either.

So please, let us once and for all retire the idea that SAHMism is the societal norm and the best thing for a mother to be doing.  Instead, let's get practical for a change.  What we need to do is make sure our women--and yes, our men too-- are well prepared and well educated, so that when they do go out to work they will qualify for jobs of a higher caliber that will pay more and have better benefits available.

And just slightly off the topic, but definitely related to it, why is it that when those ubiquitous researchers do studies about the children of SAHMs versus working mothers, they fail to include fathers in the equation?  Yup, two parents are working to support the family, but if something disturbs the children it is always blamed on the mother's working.  So fathers are nothing but sperm donors?  Talk about an out of whack and out of date attitude that needs adjusting.


Miami Al said...

I've always seen "research" studies talk about a non-working parent. SAHM is an internet acronym, I've never seen it in a scholarly journal.

And why should Klal's obsession with a fantasy version of 1950s America be changed, it goes nicely with the fantasy version of 1880s Lithuania.

Mark said...

In Israel, being a SAHM is viewed as deviant behavior. My wife was shocked and dismayed at all the comments she got when she explained that she doesn't work out of the house and that most of our kids remained home with her until they entered preschool. I mean comments of the type "you are gravely harming your kids", etc. In Israel, it is almost universally true that children enter gan at age 6 months to a year, and if not in gan, they are cared for by a grandmother (or a hired caregiver) until they enter gan.

We need a SAKD acronym - Stay At Kollel Dad :-)

Anonymous said...

Excellent post! I would add though, that although women have worked throughout history, the one reality that no longer exists (at least in present-day America) is the multi-generational household. Back in the day, mom might have gone to hawk wares in the marketplace, but grandma and maybe a single aunt or two was watching the children. Even in the 50s and 60s, when my parents were growing up, although the grandparents were not under the same roof they WERE in the same neighborhood, so kids would go to their grandparents after school until their parents came home.
Today, too many working parents just don't have that support network available, so calculations need to be made- is it still worth it to work after child-care expenses? Also, you have to deal with finding a caregiver you can trust will love and care for your child (almost) like you- not really a concern when grandma is the babysitter.

SubWife said...

You are right, the attitudes about women working should change. But not only by women themselves, but by society as a whole. I see this particularly with yeshivos - when vacations in different schools are scheduled on different days, plays and school events are done smack in the middle of the day, the silliness of 12 o'clock dismissals and the absence of after school programs past 5 because there's this general assumptions that mom is home or her job is not so important so she can come whenever it's convenient for school. I can't tell you how many sighs I heard over the phone when the teachers of my kids learned that I come home past 5. There are other attitudes as well. When we see an unkempt child or messy house, generally speaking it's negative reflection on the wife and not on the husband, even though both might be home the same number of hours.

tesyaa said...

My aunt worked in what was then "high tech" in the 1950s and had a nanny for her kids, as no grandma or aunt was available. I think her high-tech an exception, but many of her contemporaries worked full time teaching jobs.

Today, many grandmothers are still in the workforce and aren't about to quit their jobs to stay home with the grandchildren. While finding a trusted paid caregiver is a task, it's not an impossible one by any means. The bigger problem is that many young women today are not trained for jobs that pay enough to be "worth it" after paying for childcare.

Maya Resnikoff said...

It is fascinating how much fantasy goes on about the past, and the "right" way to run a family. People also leave out remembering just how much hard physical work was involved in work-at-home before the last century or so. Being a stay-at-home-mom could be pretty heavy-duty labor. Not exactly what we're imagining now-a-days. Nor do we seem to like to remember how frequently Jewish women (especially in Eastern Europe) were heavily involved in business and trade. (Nevertheless, I don't object to the notion that it might be right for some families, especially in the short term.)

Observer said...

Miami, SAHM is an internet acronym, true. But just about all of the reporting I have seen on the subject talk about "working mothers" and the like. It's ALWAYS about whether the mother works. It's not always a reflection of the studies, but sometimes that's the way the studies are structured.

The truth, though, is that there IS a difference when the primary caregiver is Mother, father or other (assuming that the "other" is trustworthy.) Whether that's societal or not is a question I don't think anyone has really addressed (in a reasonably rational manner), though.