Cathy Young at Reason discusses a new poll on preferred parenting. In a survey of 2000 women, a higher percentage want to stay at home full time and a lower percentage want to work full time compared to 1997. Cathy Young believes the shift may be due to societal acceptance of staying at home.
As a mom who has spent time in each trench, my interpretation is a bit different. I would conclude it is because women like myself have realized that to do both is to do neither well. Work isn't about getting up and going to a job. Work is about a career. Anyone can have a job--and if you've going to just have a job, the type of job (with a minimum level of comfort, to be sure) doesn't matter. A career is a different story. You cannot have a career without dedication. That means it is not 40 hours. It can easily be as high as 70--though hopefully not often. It means taking work home, checking e-mail in the evenings and weekends, going in on Saturdays, and missing many kids' bedtimes. If you're really lucky, your husband is really supportive and his career is not demanding at the same time as yours.
When my eldest turned three, she was able to tell me how much she missed me. It was at that time that I began to really miss out on spending time together. Some people feel it much earlier, but I was really done in when I saw her growing up. First I switched her to a Montessori preschool. If she was going to be put away somewhere while I worked, I felt less guilt knowing that it was very educational. Only it turns out that there was a lot of time that didn't include learning--the before and after school hours, school holidays that I had to work, the entire summer vacation. My desire to keep her and my youngest out of school as much as possible increased. My husband and I switched schedules so that he could drop off at 9 AM and I could pick up at 3:30 PM. That was fine for a while. Then I was given more responsibility at work: overtime, working at home, missed weekends and bed-times.
It was watching another working mother that showed me where I was headed. She dropped her child off at 8 AM with a fast-food breakfast. She picked her child up at 6 PM and headed home for some prepackaged dinner. She hired a housekeeper because she didn't have time to do housework. She had her laundry done out because she didn't have time (energy?) to do it. Her child was spoiled rotten. There were indulgent smiles at abominable behavior, loads of gifts, vacations, expensive wardrobe, still sleeping with mommy at 6 years old and daddy was relegated to the couch downstairs.
Switching my hours to part-time certainly sounded better. I had to be honest with myself though. Could I really walk away from a meeting, a deadline, or telephone call at 3 PM and feel satisfied? Knowing myself, I knew that I would be working from home, coming back in after my husband came home to watch the kids, and basically killing myself all over again. As a mechanical engineer for a government contractor, my decision to become a stay-at-home mom was the equivalent of cutting our household income in half. My house isn't particularly cleaner. My laundry is still an emergency situation. My parenting is (maybe was) much worse than I ever truly realized.
In a combination of being a homeschooler and a stay-at-home mom, I've discovered such amazing satisfaction. I had no idea how great my own kids were. I didn't realize how much my kids knew. I didn't know what great personalities they had. I can't believe how much I was missing. I am still learning so much about each of them. Except for paying the bills occasionally, I have never once, in these last 10 months, missed a single thing about work. I haven't missed the adult interaction--that's what I do while the kids have play dates, free time (I didn't realize how kid-heavy homeschoolers are), or shopping (OK--I really missed shopping on my own in the beginning, but I'm over that now--I think).