This is the first in a two-part post from Heidi Doggett.
“I just think that this should be in large letters on the front page of every newspaper in America, because what we’re seeing with four out of ten families now, the woman is the primary breadwinner--you’re seeing the disintegration of marriage, you’re seeing men who were hard hit by the economic recession in ways that women weren’t, but you’re seeing, I think, systemically, larger than the political stories that we follow every day, something going terribly wrong in American society, and it’s hurting our children. And it’s gonna have impact for generations to come.”
--Juan Williams, Lou Dobbs Tonight
Except it’s not.
Throughout history, most mothers have contributed directly to household production, either through earning an income themselves, or through doing other things to bring in food and create products the family needed: gathering food, weaving cloth, and so forth. Most worked side by side with their husbands in the fields or in the shop, or spent the day doing things like stirring stinky vats of lye into soap while their children either worked with their parents or occupied themselves. Since recorded history began, any woman who was actually wealthy enough to dedicate most of her time to raising her children hired someone to help her with it. Until recently, every family member, starting at a young age, directly contributed to household production in some way. In the Middle Ages, many parents, both rich and poor, would send their children away at about age 7 or 8 to be apprenticed or work as servants in wealthier households.The idea of a non-wealthy family that could afford to spare one of its members to devote most of their energy to intensive childrearing, or even keeping the house clean, is a new one.
Plenty of mothers in the lower and middle socioeconomic classes, as well as their children, joined the men in the factories or found other ways to continue earning an income for their family. Just as it had been through most of the world’s history, there was simply no other choice. The only difference now was that the mode of providing their families with food and clothing had changed to be incompatible with watching over them at the same time. Though the image of the woman as a housewife and caretaker became romanticized, this lifestyle was only ever an option for those who could afford it; and this only because the advent of cheap factory labor made products once produced by women at home affordable store-bought to a wider range of people. On a worldwide scale, only a few families could afford to live without the mother either earning an income or contributing to household production through gathering food, sewing clothes, etc, rather than purchasing these products with money.
(2) Memmot, Mark. “Moms are Now the Primary Breadwinners in 40 Percent of Homes.” http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/05/29/187019187/moms-are-now-primary-breadwinners-in-40-percent-of-homes May 29 2013, acessed June 5, 2013.
(4) EH.net Encyclopedia, “Women Workers in the British Industrial Revolution,” 02-05-2010, retrieved 05-21-2013. http://eh.net/encyclopedia/article/burnette.women.workers.britain#31
Heidi is determined to help other moms be realistic and open about their child-rearing goals and experiences through sharing her own on her blog, No Dead Beetles. She's close to finishing a book, and hopes to start holding seminars and firesides soon, addressing subjects such as postpartum depression, perfectionism, and how moms can find time to be themselves through re-prioritizing and delegation.