A while ago, one Mr. Challies wrote an article extolling the glories of homemaking alone, and then cheerfully noted that all the comments he received were positive ones. Well, here is a not-positive one. I tend to disagree with glowing portrayals of the choice to stay home with kids presented as a choice where mom will never need or want a break or help and further of presentations of staying home as some sort of radical choice. Challies talks of “nannies and babysitters” only being in the homes of two working parents. Gosh, what the man would think of me, staying home with my children and also *gasp* having babysitters and even people to clean the house! It’s also not a rare choice, as even in Canada (where Mr. Challies hails from) nearly 1 in 5 married couples with children under 16 have a stay at home parent (nearly always the mother). In America the numbers are about twice as high when the kids are little. Depending on if you want to include women who work outside the home for one hour a year or more, it’s a plurality of married women with children under 15, something like 40%. One in five or six isn’t rare and every second or third is pretty definitely not rare.
It’s also telling that he and Mrs. Challies made the decision to have no more than three children and that those children are all in public school. Mr. Challies’ audience is mostly the kind of evangelicals who identify their faith as “Calvinistic” or “Reformed”. These people are not being presented those other pieces of the SAHM puzzle as acceptable Christian choices. In America they’re being told to homeschool, to live agrarian or “prepper”, and to work at home earning money, sometimes concurrently with the default-assumption SAHM life of cooking, cleaning and childcare. Private school is tolerated due to the fascinating resurgence in Christian private schools.
His wife gets some degree of respite from being able to public school the kids. She gets some degree of respite from a small family size. The people reading his site, not so much. They’re significantly more likely to be under vast amounts of performance pressure to avoid both of those things. And to his credit, he does relate the anecdote so that we have this information at all, which is also not something you typically see among American Christian upbeat portrayals of the SAHM life.
Staying home is not that uncommon if you’re married and the kids aren’t all teenagers. It’s just not. There are millions of us. What’s uncommon in America is the socially-present SAHM who has lots of casual and random social interactions with adults throughout her day of staying home with small children. What’s uncommon is the SAHM of school-aged children who isn’t strongly encouraged to do a raft of “self-sufficiency” stuff if she does have the kids in public school. Even pastor’s wives like Mrs. Challies. By presenting something that a vast number of married women do for at least a few years in their married lives as “counter-cultural”, the ones currently making the choice are led to believe they are uncommon and that nobody else is out there. So you have the spectacle of multiple SAHMs living relatively close to each other (because married-couple families with children tend to live near same) and not knowing the others are there for months or even years at a time. And as the hippies came to learn (sort of), when you tell someone basic life stuff is counter-cultural, you cut them off from all the social capital they could have used to make the basic life stuff easier and force them to reinvent the wheel over and over. And there’s no female solidarity when we’re all on different treadmills because nobody realizes there are other women around to carpool with or send the kids over to play in the yard with.
I hope the homemaking of Mrs. Challies is likely to be providing a positive example for her children and it obviously gives her husband social status, which is why he brags about it at great length and writes multiple posts about it. But I also think this kind of thing, portraying it as one lone woman against a cruel world of hard charging career dames just makes it harder. There is suffering to an end and there is suffering that is not needful. It’s not always the case that the suffering we endure is necessary. Sometimes it’s just pointless and thoughtless and therefore a little cruel. I know it makes my own life harder because in both articles I’ve linked to Challies doesn’t present his wife’s life as particularly challenging despite talking up the hugeness of the sacrifice, which means the actual challenges she and other SAHMs might face and the fact that improvements are often incremental rather than logarithmic are considered selfishness and petty carping about an easy ride from people who aren’t part of his sympathetic audience.
And they’re not uncommon or rare either.
The Atlantic serves up a legitimate beef with a myth that I think any housewife of the last 20 years is quite familiar with. Women have put vast amounts of effort into trying to make the “gourmet meal in 20 minutes” fairy tale come true for their own households or claiming they manage it…somehow. This mother just threw down her spatula and picked up her laptop instead. I appreciate her doing it.
She does live in New York City, the paradise of eating out pretty cheaply and decently if you want to do that, but her basic point that a watered-down fancy-chef recipe simply isn’t reasonable for normal life is a sound one.
Many women are afraid of not being “diverse” in the food they give their children, especially SAHMs, who believe that because they’re home all day they need to provide “real, HIGH QUALITY food” that they prepared with their own hands from numerous exotic ingredients. An example of this is the homemade bread fad. Although is it a fad if it, like homeschooling (which it did not come out of but which was one of the subcultures dragging it into acceptable non-fringeness) is now something all kinds of non-home-centered women feel is something they ought to do? Making one’s own bread at home daily is relatively modern. Like other kinds of cooking, in the past anyone good at it did it for most of the other people in their neighborhood. But these days women are supposed to “easily” make their own bread all the time, with all kinds of “one weird tricks” to make it not take a long time or be physically demanding. (It still does and is though.)
Cooking is one of those things where a lot of women would be better off buying the decent takeout and ready meals without being shamed over it because they’re housewives. This is so totally a real thing, it’s super sad and depressing how women beat themselves up over this, or make little snippy comments to other women for the crime of buying potato salad from the deli instead of making it at home “Because it’s so easy and quick, why spend the money?” Because my time isn’t actually worth zero dollars and including my time, it’s cheaper to drive to the store or fire up GroceryDeliveryExpress2015 if you live near one and order the salad in bulk.
Anyway, the article is interesting and talks about how cookbooks used to be written by fellow housewives, but then EVERYTHING CHANGED IN THE 1980s. Thanks Boomers!
For white non-Hispanics, a little over 600k births in 1992 were the third live baby or higher. This represented just under 1/4 of all births. Over 75% of all births for 1992 were first or second births.
The approximate distribution of the 600k higher birth orders (less than 100% due to rounding) was:
3rd order: 66%
4th order: 22%
5th order: 7%
6th order: 2.6%
7th order: 1%
8th order or higher: 1.1%
In 2014, there were over 50k fewer such births, a bit over 550k and that represented just OVER 25% of all births for that year.
The distribution of these 550k higher-order births over 20 years later was:
8th or higher: 2%
The total births for 1992 were around 2.5 million, while for 2014 they were around 2.1 million. So people were having fewer children overall, but the ones having many are chugging along pretty impressively. The problem is that there’s no filtering for how much of that chugging along is in little horse-powered buggies, so there’s that to keep in mind.
To put this distribution of higher-order births in context, here’s the “white” distribution for 1970, ten years after the Pill and IUDs were introduced.
Total white births: approx 3.1 million
Total third or higher order white births: approx 1 million
Percentage distribution of third and higher order births:
Admittedly this includes some Hispanics, but only about 4-5%, not enough to shift the overall pattern. This pattern from 1970 could be returning at the higher orders, but it’s too soon to tell.
Women who were in their late 30s and early 40s in 1960 when the Pill came along rushed out to keep from having a third-order or higher child. The drops happened within less than five years of the Pill’s appearance and were especially sharp for the women avoiding a 6th, 7th and 8th+ (all births after 8th are in one category of 8 or more) birth. The births of third and fourth children recovered a little and flattened out briefly as younger cohorts of women aged into that 35-44 age range, but then continued the drop even more steeply. The CDC graphed the declines in page 5 of their 1975 National Vital Statistics Report.
The early 1960s were pre-internet, household goods productions still sometimes was competitive with store-made goods, and food was still pretty expensive. But once women born in the wake of World War I had the chance to not keep having babies up until menopause, they jumped on it, despite living in what was in many ways still a more “authentic” lifestyle by the standards of many modern conservatives with rose colored memories or film-only knowledge of the era. There was a lot of stuff going on in the 1960s and 1970s politically and socially, but average people weren’t political then, just as they are not now. And if so many women who already had large families were jumping on the chance to not have yet another baby, it’s important to understand why and that the why was probably not for politicized reasons.
T.W.O. is always saying I should be more open and raw on muh blawg, so here goes.
The combination of number of kids, the ages they are, their physical and mental vigor and quirks, and the fact that I do stay home with them have all led to our household reaching a point where the effort involved finding the type of full time nanny/babysitter that is ok with it all is more stressful and disruptive than simply giving up things like cooking in favor of going with part-timers, private school and deli food. We had a good run, had some very kind and caring people over the years, but we’ve reached the limit of how useful it can be to us in a part of the country where being a housewife isn’t really viewed as having its own purpose.
I come from the South, and there being a housewife comes with expectations that make it reasonable to do something like have full time childcare if that’s what it takes to meet the expectations. Many do not, but people don’t really freak out if you do because it’s assumed you must have that lady there to help you meet the expectations of hospitality and visiting and decoration that come with housewiving there, especially at the higher household income brackets. Where we are now, the expectation is that the housewife is solely full time childcare. This is the reason for the 20 dollar a day SAHMs around here. They literally don’t know what else to do but watch kids, so they just keep chugging and the money is pretty much a token sum charged because people would be weirded out by them pleading to watch kids for free (although sometimes they offer, and now I understand why).
We basically didn’t have to confront this issue until recently because the people we got stayed for decent lengths of time. But recently we had to put feelers out and the hassle was just so epic compared to previous hiring go-rounds that we’re done this time around. Granted I will still have part-timers, but part-timers don’t sweat me being home precisely because they are part-time. It could be a lot worse, we’re not making the change because of inability to pay, and I still have part-time childcare from nice teenagers readily available. I just had hopes of starting “pure” homeschooling soon, but that’s just not possible. There is no homeschool community here, the private school options we’re going with are closer to the “one room school” model that we think is best for our children, and me providing more complex instruction down the road is always an option as the kids age.
We’ve all been pretty sick the last couple weeks, so I have more anxiety about the whole thing than is really warranted. The kids are very capable at very young ages and we can do this without everything falling apart. At least, that’s the hope.
They’re the ones having more than two kids, more often. Many of them are the women starting their baby-having in their 30s. Late marriage ages have not completely crashed birth rates because married party girl reverts are willing to have a third or fourth child despite starting in their 30s. And the ones who had a couple of kids in their 20s are having a few more in their late 30s once they have teenagers to help them out. They aren’t “red pill women” though, since nearly all of those mysteriously stop at two kids, if they have any. They aren’t the divorcers, they aren’t the childless careerists. They’re the ones rearing the next generation with great difficulty while childless conservative men sit around flapping their hands about reduced birth rates in America among the “right” people.
Brought to you courtesy of the world of vital statistics microdata. It’s a sick day at our house and this curiosity in the data charmed me.