Should Moms of Preschoolers Work Outside of the House?

Question: How do you feel about employment for mothers of preschool children? What part does their "outside" work play in the problem of fatigue and time pressure?

Answer: It is reasonable, isn't it, that one cannot carve forty choice hours from the week for an investment in a job without imposing "fatigue and time pressure" on the remaining portion. Thus, I am strongly opposed to the mothers of preschool children holding down full-time employment in situations which do not require it. Yet we are currently witnessing a vast movement of women into the commercial world with numerous consequences for the home and family. As stated before, every disenchanted housewife is being offered the same solution to her low self-esteem: get a job, have a career, and do your own thing. Almost half of the women in this country are currently employed (30,370,000, according to government figures published in 1973) and the totals are rising. My viewpoint on this national trend is not likely to win many admirers within certain circles, but I can't remain silent on so important a topic. In short, I believe that this abandonment of the home is our gravest and most dangerous mistake as a nation!

Certainly, there are stressful financial situations which demand that a wife go to work to help support the family. And there are more serious marital disruptions where the husband either cannot work or is removed from the home for one reason or another. These problems obviously require the financial contribution of the women involved. However, to sell the concept across America that every female who isn't "working" is being cheated and exploited is a lie with enormous consequences.

This falsehood is vigorously supported by two other myths which are equally foolish. The first is that most mothers of small children can work all day and still come home and meet their family obligations--perhaps even better than they could if they remained at home. Nonsense! There is only so much energy within the human body for expenditure during each twenty-four hours, and when it is invested in one place it is not available for use in another. It is highly improbably that the average woman can arise early in the morning and get her family fed and located for the day, then work from 9:00 to 5:00, drive home from 5:01 to 5:30, and still have the energy to assault her "home-work" from 5:31 until midnight. Oh, she may cook dinner and handle the major household chores, but few women alive are equipped with the superstrength necessary at the end of a workday to meet the emotional needs of their children, to train and guide and discipline, to build self-esteem, to teach the true values of life, and beyond all that, to maintain a healthy marital relationship as well. Perhaps the task can be accomplished for a week or a month, or even a season. But for years on end? I simply don't believe it. To the contrary, I have observed that exhausted wives and mothers become irritable, grouchy, and frustrated, setting the stage for conflict within the home.

Incidentally, busy wives must summon every ounce of creativity if they are to meet their many commitments. I know one mother who has developed a unique "stalling" device for use when she is late with the preparation of dinner. She rushes into the kitchen a few minutes before her husband arrives home from work, and places one sliced onion in the heated oven. When he walks through the front door, he is greeted by a pleasant aroma of, perhaps, beef stew or enchilada pie. He is so pleased by the obvious progress in the kitchen that he settles down to read his paper and await the final product. Of course, she occasionally has to explain why tuna fish sandwiches made the house smell like onion-something-or-other.

The second myth standing on wobbly legs is that small children (those under five years of age) don't really need the extensive nurturing and involvement of their mothers, anyway. If this falsehood were accurate, it would conveniently expunge all guilt from the consciences of working women. But it simply won't square with scientific knowledge. I attended a national conference on child development held recently in Miami, Florida. Virtually every report of research presented during that three-day meeting ended with the same conclusion: the mother-child relationship is absolutely vital to healthy development of children. The final speaker of the conference, a well-known authority in this field, explained that the Russian government is currently abandoning its child-care network because they have observed the same inescapable fact: employees of the State simply cannot replace the one-to-one influence of a mother with her own child. The speaker concluded his remarks by saying that feminine responsibilities are so vital to the next generation that the future of our nation actually depends on how we "see" our women. I agree.

But my intense personal opinions on this matter of "preschool mothering" are not only based on scientific evidence and professional experience. My views have also been greatly influenced within my own home. Our two children are infinitely complex, as are all children, and my wife and I want to guide the formative years ourselves. Danae is nine years old. She will be an adolescent in four more seasons, and I am admittedly jealous of anything robbing me of these remaining days of her childhood. Every moment is precious to me. Ryan is now four (having had a birthday since the book began). Not only is he in constant motion, but he is also in a state of rapid physical and emotional change. At times it is almost frightening to see how dynamic is the development of my little toddler. When I leave home for a four- or five-day speaking trip, Ryan is a noticeably different child upon my return. The building blocks for his future emotional and physical stability are clearly being laid moment by moment, stone upon stone, precept upon precept. Now I ask you who disagree with what I have written; to whom am I going to submit the task of guiding that unfolding process of development? Who will care enough to make the necessary investment if my wife and I are too busy for the job? What babysitter will take our place? What group-oriented facility can possibly provide the individual love and guidance which Ryan needs and deserves? Who will represent my values and beliefs to my son and daughter and be ready to answer their questions during the peak of interest? To whom will I surrender the prime-time experiences of their day? The rest of the world can make its own choice, but as for me and my house, we welcome the opportunity to shape the two little lives which have been loaned to us. And I worry about a nation which calls that task "unrewarding and unfulfilling and boring." 

I know that kids can frustrate and irritate their parents, as I have described, but the rewards of raising them far outweigh the cost. Besides, nothing worth having ever comes cheap, anyway.

What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Women

By Dr. James Dobson

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