The culprit behind this insanity is the notion of the stay-at-home mom who devotes her time solely to the unpaid care of her children and home. This is an advent of the last 50 years. Until then — and still today, in the vast majority of the world — women have always contributed financially to their families. They worked in fields and did other farm work right alongside the men. They also ran households when this was a task of manual labor — splitting firewood, tending a vegetable garden (and not a hobby crop of heirloom tomatoes — produce required to live), preserving food and scrubbing floors far before Cuisinart and Roomba made these tasks fun and easy. Except for the very wealthy, women had no choice but to work in order for their families to survive. Oh, and they did this all while raising babies.
Now, I get that times have changed. It is very different to raise children when your work is inside the house, versus today’s economy, which often requires parents to work outside of the physical home. I understand that paying for child care can be prohibitive. There is far less family and community support for mothers than there was in generations past. But life is far more like life was 150 years ago — and 1,000 years and 10,000 years ago — than many want to believe. I worry that today women romanticize a fantasy history that never existed — a fictional world where mommies spent their days charged with the sole task of nurturing young frontal cortexes and preparing wholesome meals. That is the stuff of women’s magazines over the last half century — not reality.
This is the crux of so many professional women’s Madonna-whore complex as it relates to being a working parent. If you buy into the fantasy that once there was a utopia where women cared for babies all day without any economic obligations, then it is a very bitter antidepressant to swallow each morning when you drop your kids off at daycare or pick them from after-school care after a long day. If you spend your whole work day feeling lousy for working – even if you know in your mind and heart and bank account that you must work — it can be difficult to ignore the societal message that a mother who works is a lesser parent.