The claim is often made, by both liberals and conservatives, that stay-at-home mothers work just as hard as women who work outside the home.
The numbers don’t add up.
I worked full time for thirty years. During that time, I bore and and raised three daughters. I know how much work is required to raise children, to keep a house, and to work at a paying job.
If raising children and keeping the house clean is a full-time job, then I must have been working at two of them. Actually one and a half because my husband did his share of house maintenance and child raising, too. If your husband doesn’t, then you married the wrong man. But that’s another issue to be discussed at another time.
Raising children is a lot of work. No question about that. Housework is a lot less work.
Let’s break it down.
First, motherhood. Infants are rough. They need constant attention. Feeding, changing, crying. Night and day. Babies run mothers ragged. But they don’t have to be held all the time. Even when they’re not napping, you can get the housework done while they’re playing with their toes and watching the spiders spin webs on the ceiling. You can watch TV or read while nursing or holding the baby. It’s not like a mother never gets a moment to sit and rest.
They grow. Children are babies for only a couple of years. Toddlers are still a lot of work, but far less than babies. It’s quite possible to take care of one baby, one two-year-old, and one four-year-old at the same time and still get the basic housework done. Mothers have been doing that forever.
Then the children go to school. They start kindergarten at four or five years, depending on where you live. When the youngest starts kindergarten, you have half your day completely free. As well, by the time they’re that age, they’re watching TV, playing with toys, entertaining themselves. Taking care of three children is no longer a full-time job.
Every year, the children become less and less work. By the time they’re teenagers, they don’t want you around at all, except to drive them to their friends’ houses – a total of a couple of hours a week at most.
What about cooking, cleaning, and laundry?
Any woman who thinks that’s a full-time job either doesn’t know what “full-time” means or she’s the most inefficient worker ever.
Cleaning a fairly large house, including picking up, dusting, vacuuming, and cleaning the bathrooms takes four hours at most. Laundry is another four hours a week. Except that most of that time is spent waiting while the machines do the work. You can vacuum and clean bathrooms while the laundry is being done. Cooking on average is about an hour for supper and fifteen minutes each for breakfast and lunch. Another half hour to clean the kitchen and you’ve got two hours a day. Add another couple of hours to do the grocery shopping and you’re still spending less than twenty hours a week taking care of the house.
When most women stayed home, soap operas flourished, afternoon bridge clubs were commonplace, hobbies like sewing, knitting, painting, and gardening were all the rage.
The final con in the overworked housewife scam is to wait until the husband is at home to do most of the work. Because housewife hours are the most flexible in the workforce, the wife can relax during most of the day and then make a big show about working hard in the evenings and weekends. That way, she can nag and bully her husband about how he never helps out around the house. As though she’s rushing out to his office during the day to help him at his job.
After all, she’s not going to do the housework during the day when the kids are at school. That would totally wreck her leisure time.
Compare the work-at-home-is-so-hard mother with someone who had a real job outside the home. The mother and housewife has no boss walking into her office complaining about her work. She has no clients threatening to take their business elsewhere. She can’t be fired, demoted, or laid off. She never has to stand in front of a hostile crowd and present her ideas in public. She isn’t struggling against her co-workers for the next promotion. She never suffers an audit, performance review, or program evaluation. She never had to justify a five-year plan or compete for resources.
Housewife is the lowest pressure job anywhere. It was the easiest part of my working life.
As a married, working mother I had the luck to have a reasonable employer – the federal government – who gave me six months maternity leave after the birth of each child. Don’t envy that. Instead lobby the government, the unions, and everyone else within earshot to make your employer give you the same benefit. Our societies are rich enough to afford supporting working mothers properly.
As well, I put my children into daycare when I went back to work. By the time the third child was out of daycare, I’d paid over a hundred thousand dollars in daycare expenses. But I was still ahead financially. In the daycare decade I earned way more than it cost me.
Even so, for most of those years, the kids were only in the daycare for two hours a day. After kindergarten, they spent the bulk of the day in school and daycare only bridged the time between three when school ended and five when my workday ended. It’s not like the kids were living in daycare. Nor, if I had not been working, that I’d have been spending all day taking care of them.
So, between my husband and I, we worked at three jobs: my job, his job, and the domestic job. However you calculate it, that’s one more job than a family with a stay-at-home mother. That family works a total of two jobs: his job and the domestic job.
And I guarantee that my house is just as clean and my children are just as well-raised as anyone else’s.
That means that, no matter how you calculate it, the stay-at-home mother is working less than either my husband or me. Significantly less as the domestic job is the easiest and least time-consuming of the lot. So don’t tell me that women who never work outside the home are working as hard as I am.
I will never say that stay-at-home-mothers don’t work. Just that they aren’t working as hard as everyone thinks.