Stay at home mother is a gift from 1970s feminists.

The story of the transformation of the”housewife” into the “stay at home mother” providing “mother-care, not DAYCARE” in American society in the wake of the Pill and Roe v. Wade is an interesting one and there’s not much information on the internet about it because the idea that there was a transition (and that this transition destroyed a substantial amount of soft power among married women) is not compatible with either right wing or left wing narratives about the topic.

We didn’t really have the term before motherhood could be conceivably viewed as entirely intentional/optional, even within marriage.  And nobody seems to ask why it bloomed so suddenly and took over, when by its nature it explicitly separates motherhood from marriage, while housewife emphasizes, well, property benefits of marriage for women foremost.  Homemaker, it’s worth noting, has begun to turn up as a transition away from stay at home mother, but it lacks that wilful connecting of property with marriage and in fact shifts the domestic world to something a woman must make/build, rather than something she is inherently part of and maintaining/managing.

Since this is just thinky thoughts, I will close with the little data point that over half of American SAHMs use center-based daycare for children aged 0-4 and that we hit that point about 10 years ago and this is in every region of the country, not concentrated in one place, it’s about half everywhere.  Employed or not, it’s 80% for BA or higher-possessing mothers.

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One thought on “Stay at home mother is a gift from 1970s feminists.

  1. The 1970s era argument I’ve seen against “housewife” is that it suggested that the woman is married to the house. I believe “homemaker” was the favored 1970s term (and it’s surprisingly positive and PC, considering).

    Note that “husband” has a very similar etymology to “housewife,” even though they aren’t thought of as a matched pair in English. Google says that the Old Nurse term “husbondi” (some special accent marks not included) means “master of a house.”

    “Homemaker, it’s worth noting, has begun to turn up as a transition away from stay at home mother, but it lacks that wilful connecting of property with marriage and in fact shifts the domestic world to something a woman must make/build, rather than something she is inherently part of and maintaining/managing.”

    That does have the virtue of being correct. Very few of us walk into ready-made homes.

    “Since this is just thinky thoughts, I will close with the little data point that over half of American SAHMs use center-based daycare for children aged 0-4 and that we hit that point about 10 years ago and this is in every region of the country, not concentrated in one place, it’s about half everywhere. Employed or not, it’s 80% for BA or higher-possessing mothers.”

    Preschool and PDO make a lot of sense if you have one small child to occupy, and the others are either in school or there’s only another infant at home.

    I’ve had both a lot of college sitters and done a lot of preschool/PDO/pre-k. The college sitters were very easy to get when we lived on campus. I had this massive email list and would just send out a blast whenever I needed a sitter and BOOM! Instant sitter! We spent a small fortune on sitters when we were in residence and we went out a lot. (I believe we paid $10 for undergraduates, $12 for graduates.) When Big Girl was big enough for preschool co-op, we sent her to preschool (about $120 a month for 15 hours a week–but this was city-subsidized and nearly 13 years ago) and then eventually to full-day FREE public pre-k. (Did I mention, FREE?)

    Once we moved to TX, we no longer had the massive sitter list and no longer lived in the same building as dozens of bright, responsible, creative young people. We entered into an era where sitters involved a lot more effort to scrounge up. Plus, we were trying to be financially responsible, to get out of debt and save for a house. We went out a lot less. We scraped by with very little sitter help our first year in TX (while I was attempting unsuccessfully to unpack), but then Middle Kid was old enough to go to PDO two days a week and then 3-day private pre-k the following year. When we had Baby Girl, I had an unimpressive sitter help a couple times, but then for the rest of her first year, Baby Girl was mostly glued to me. This was great her first year, but at some point late in her second year, I started to go nuts. A real sitter at home would be inconvenient to schedule and expensive, so we put her into PDO before she turned 2.

    Circa 1998 me would have been SHOCKED by that (and probably a bit shocked by how happy 2005 me was to put Big Girl in preschool at 3), but it worked beautifully and was very affordable. For about $70 a month, we got about 4 5-hour days of PDO, and the next year, for about $140, we got about 8 5-hour days of PDO. It fit very well into our new, fiscally responsible budget.

    It’s not a blast doing the transportation (which makes preschool and PDO less appealing for families with multiple small children at home), but in my experience, preschool and PDO has been safe, dependable and economical (albeit sometimes germy). They have lots of toys and activities and craft ideas, the kids paint someplace that isn’t MY home, the house doesn’t get trashed, and I didn’t have to make special arrangements with them every time I needed somebody. It was, every Tuesday and Thursday or every Monday and Wednesday. Also, Baby Girl loves school.

    Related:

    While it’s true that private swim lessons can be better quality, we’ve had a heck of a time hunting down teachers and having them show up. While in some sense it would be more convenient to have a private teacher, it’s also convenient to just be able to show up at a set time and not have to think about it.

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