Americans may be softening their disapproval--just a little--for mothers who work outside the home and fathers who stay home with the kids. But those attitudes are still far behind reality.
Huzzah! announced The New York Times, in an article published this morning titled "Signs of a Truce in the Mommy Wars." New research, it explained, reveals "a shift in attitudes." It continued: "Not only do as many as 92 percent of Americans now favor mothers working in many situations, but as many as 77 percent also support fathers not working when it is more ideal to stay home." This research, the article said, shows a big change from 2007 research in which 41 percent of respondents said it was bad for society when mothers worked.
Even if this new survey does reveal changing attitudes--and it may simply reflect that the questions were asked in more detail than in previous studies--our societal views about working parents are still stuck somewhere in the June Cleaver era. Yes, 92 percent of respondents thought it was OK for mothers to work--but only if they were the single earner in the household, liked their jobs, had satisfactory child care and needed the money. If they were married and didn't need the money, that approval rating dropped to about 51 percent, compared to about 70 percent for working married fathers who didn't need the funds.
Working women = bad marriages?
None of this amounts to much of an attitude shift. And if you go back to Pew research conducted in 2011, the picture of American attitudes toward working mothers is considerably more dismal. In that survey 74 percent of respondents said the rise of women working outside the home has made it harder to raise children--and 50 percent said it was bad for marriages as well.
Whether or not attitudes have evolved so much in just four years--and my guess is they haven't--we're all living in a society whose ideas haven't caught up to the real world. About 70 percent of mothers with children under 18 work outside the home, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Fathers represent just 16 percent of stay-at-home parents, according to Pew, which tells us that in the vast majority of homes with kids, there is no stay-at-home parent at all.
And yet. Few workplaces offer any facilities for bringing children to work, or standard provisions for dealing with snow days and/or sick-child-at-home days. And then there's this simple fact, so familiar that we never think about but mind-boggling when you do: The typical work day is 9 to 5. The typical school day is 8 to 2 or 2:30. Seriously, why do we think this is OK?
Parents are managing to cope with some combination of after-school programs, day care, nannies, and helpful relatives. And employers are accommodating working parents, most often with telecommuting options and flex time. But we shouldn't be coping and accommodating, and especially not on a case-by-case basis. We should have a national norm, as normal as our 40-hour work week, that allows for the graceful combination of parenthood and employment.
We're still not even close.