Historically, did women ever devote themselves entirely to their children?

(56 Posts)
wanderingalbatross Mon 08-Oct-12 11:01:35

I was just reading this article on the Guardian about work-life balance of female Silicon Valley execs. I found it interesting as I have quite a flexible tech job. The flexible working pattern really suits me and I really hope it'll work around my kids in the future.

Then there are the usual comments, including the standard "why did you have kids if you don't want to look after them?" Which got me wondering, has there ever really been a time when women sacrificed work for their kids? I'd like to say people, but I suppose that men didn't do all that much of the child raising.

I admit that my historical knowledge is poor and mostly gained from fiction(!) but I get the impression that this 'golden age' when kids were looked after by a dedicated parent is a figment of our collective imagination. Sure, in the 50s plenty of women were SAHMs, but I imagine they spent a lot more time on housework than we do, and were't dedicating their days to broadening the minds of their little ones. And before then, I have heard said that most women just had to get on with work alongside raising their kids as they couldn't afford not to.

So where does this idea come from?

No, I don't think there was ever a time when children were the only focus of a woman's life. Historically, children were expected to fit in with everything else that was happening around them, rather than getting that much attention. So they would be strapped to mum's back while she got on with things, or passed between relatives and/or other families to let mum go out to work - I've certainly heard tales of working class families where neighbours did different shifts and handed over both sets of children at the bus-stop or factory door between shifts. They were also expected to help around the house from much earlier, and to quietly amuse themselves (in the house, the garden, out in the yard, on the street, at the neighbour's, down the cinema, etc) to let the grown-ups get on with their lives (and all the housework).

I don't know where the idea came from - possibly a post-war push to get women out of jobs that the returning troops needed back, and to "big up" their role as wives and mothers to shut them up.

seeker Mon 08-Oct-12 11:27:15

Nope. Poor women have always worked. Rich women have always paid other people to look after their children.

seeker Mon 08-Oct-12 11:28:56

"I don't know where the idea came from - possibly a post-war push to get women out of jobs that the returning troops needed back, and to "big up" their role as wives and mothers to shut them up."

In times of unemployment, the importance of women staying home with children is always emphasised.

BurlingtonBertieFromBow Mon 08-Oct-12 11:35:02

No, you either tended to be so poor you had to do menial work or everyone starved, or you were rich enough to have a nanny/governess. It's a very modern thing. And also women who did spend most of their time at home had quite a few kids, were also looking after the children of friends/family and spent all day doing housework cos of no appliances, not playing with the kids. If you think about it historically, one woman looking after her (e.g.) 2 children all day is an aberration.

hanahsaunt Mon 08-Oct-12 11:43:37

Kate Figes has written about this - the rosy haze of SAHMs is a very modern concept and happened partly as a post war thing to get the returning men back into the workplace and partly with the social shift to not having domestic help. Children also had much shorter childhoods inasmuch as people routinely left school at 14 having been expected to behave in a much more responsible/mature fashion then our current generation of 12-14yo. It may be lovely to be at home (I am atm not least because I can't get my head around the logisitics of managing our 4 dc across a large age range with a job as well) but it's not normal in the great (world) scheme of things.

duchesse Mon 08-Oct-12 11:50:09

No. The stay at home full-time mother (because mostly it is mothers we are talking about) is a very recent construct (I'm thinking post-war, to get mothers out of the menz job and and back to the kitchen sink). Before that, mothers either worked or paid other people to come and work for them in their houses. Children either went to baby minders or were looked after by grannies or nannies or other staff or family members.

summerflower Mon 08-Oct-12 12:16:24

Agree about the post-war emphasis on domesticity - though a similar thing happened after World War One, despite women getting the vote.

post World War Two, there was also Bowlby and the development of attachment theory, which I think had an impact too. Although his work was, as I understand it, looking at the impact of evacuation and long term separation on children, it was seen as highlighting the role of a stable primary carer (seen usually as the mother in society).

I also think that in WW2, women had been working and raising children in very difficult circumstances, they were times of shortages and austerity, so maybe there was a point where people wanted to concentrate on family for good reason. I mean, if your kids have been evacuated, you've been working and keeping house and home together in difficult circumstances, your husband has just returned, it is probably not the ideal time to start challenging gender roles. I don't really think it is surprising that you have such an emphasis on the traditional family in the 1950s. Also, the new welfare state - was that not pretty much built around the breadwinner model?

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Mon 08-Oct-12 14:22:11

Is that "Because of Her Sex" Hanah?

fusam Mon 08-Oct-12 15:08:12

Am in tech too and seem to have got a work life balance that is great for our family.

The second half of the article talks about women being judged harsher than men if they show selfish or aggressive tendencies. Surely it is better for wider society if the standards that men are judged by was raised rather than lowering the bar for women? In the example the article, if a male co-worker goes to a party leaving some emergency work to his team mates everyone should think he is a bit a knob too like his female counterpart?

The stereotypically female characteristics are necessary for society to function. Don't know how asking men to be more feminine would go down for the majority. Just musing really....

wanderingalbatross Mon 08-Oct-12 15:08:49

Thanks for the replies, interesting to hear more smile You all back up what I imagined was probably the truth, but there is this really persistent notion at the moment that women working is a new thing. I certainly remember my mum working and I know both my grandmas did.

Did all the women after ww2 just go quietly back to domestic life? I can see the point you make summer, but I can't imagine that none of the women challenged the changes when the men returned? Or maybe they did because of the time and place?

doctrine was very confused by your comment until I went to look up Kate Figes! Her website looks interesting, hanah do you have any links to specific articles you're thinking of?

Anyone know anything about further back, before the industrial revolution?

wanderingalbatross Mon 08-Oct-12 15:12:32

fusam I agree, and I think these things vary wildly between different professions. In mine, I can't imagine men getting off lightly in that emergency work-party situation. At the same time, I think many women are too apologetic. I know I am, and I'm really trying to be more assertive at work now. I think the middle ground should be an ideal for everyone, not just the women!

hanahsaunt Mon 08-Oct-12 18:08:51

Kate Figes was Life After Birth. I read it in 2001 just after ds1 was born and found it deeply reassuring re going back to work (after a fairly major assualt by MIL).

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Mon 08-Oct-12 19:07:24


Sabriel Mon 08-Oct-12 19:40:54

I was born in the early 1960s and my mum didn't work until I was 19. I don't believe that my classmates' mums worked either while I was at primary. OTOH my MIL always worked - fruit picking/ potato picking/ cleaning etc and DH remembers having to go with her as a very small child.

I left work in 1985 to have DC1 and nobody expected me to go back. In fact the only woman in the office with a young child was a lone parent. The other women either had no children or they were teens and up.

summerflower Mon 08-Oct-12 22:59:35

Hi again,

I've been mulling over the question of whether women just went quietly back home when the men returned from the war - I really don't know. I'm wondering whether the golden age of the traditional family was a reality or a construct - I mean, if you think about it, there must have been a lot of female headed households, given the death toll in World War Two. On the other hand, the marriage bar still operated, so there was the expectation that married women would leave the workplace anyway. The evidence is mixed, as far as I can make out, some women were invested in making nice, new homes and rebuilding their families, others continued to work. But in the absence of childcare and practical support for working mothers, it really must have been more difficult (lots of corporation childcare facilities closed after the war).

Pre-industrial revolution: Alice Clark (a historian) wrote in 1919 that this was a golden age for women, because both men and women contributed equally to work and this kind of argument seems to have been picked up by feminists in the 1970s. But the evidence really doesn't seem to support the idea that women worked as men's equals, they weren't members of craft societies, for example, and tended to pick up the 'women's work' which men didn't do. In other words, the labour market was segmented along gender lines. That said, there doesn't seem to have been the moral objection to women (mothers) working which later arose, and they were expected to earn a living. But again, there is the question of who looked after the children, did they just patter about underfoot among the bits and pieces of sewing or weaving or whatever? They probably also helped out as soon as they were old enough!

It's an interesting question.

In Silas Marner (written in 1861 but I don't know if it was set earlier), the 2yo girl he finds and adopts gets tied to his loom by a long piece of cloth to stop her from running off, so I think just being underfoot was probably the norm while the adult looking after them needed to get on with their work.

Lilymaid Tue 09-Oct-12 10:34:12

I am a child of the 50s. I always remember my mother doing housework (boiling the white linen etc) in the kitchen. My mother said that my memories weren't accurate but I don't remember her spending hours reading to me/playing with me.
Historically - back before the development of large factories - many women working at home were spinning/weaving/using some potentially dangerous machinery so babies/toddlers were tied up or swaddled so that they wouldn't have an accident/be a menace. Older children were farmed out until they were economically useful.

WitchesTitWhistles Tue 09-Oct-12 10:53:46

Does it have something to do with child care becoming a paid profession? What happened before nurseries?

I ask because I certainly can't afford to work and pay a childminder or nursery to take day to day charge of my child (Even if I wanted to).

Work in the home would be ideal. I could easily have a house full of toddlers running around my feet but have no certification (and wouldn't want the paperwork!) and who on earth needs laundry/mending/weaving doing these days?

i think that we dedicate much more time and energy to our offspring now because we know so much more about the development of the young brain.
I have heard also that children were seen as merely immature humans, just biding time growing until they became useful adults, do you think this is true?

PostBellumBugsy Tue 09-Oct-12 10:58:29

Er no. A book well worth reading is Mother Nature by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy. REally excellent book about how women have managed children & life since the dawn of time. I think most of us have more time to spend with our kids now than we did 100 years ago. Life used to be either hideous drudgery, with sourcing food, preparing food, cooking food and trying to keep clothed & housed taking up an enormous amount of time or it was managing a household, which again took up an enormous amount of time.
There was a brief hiatus after the 2nd world war until the late 70s where a fairly large propoportion of first world women didn't have to work - but that is the historical exception.

MarshaBrady Tue 09-Oct-12 11:03:07

Also post war technology, ie household appliances. Which meant advertising, all those images of the ideal wife at home.

wanderingalbatross Tue 09-Oct-12 11:18:11

summer so corporations had decent (enough) childcare facilities during the war, to enable women to work when it was needed? And then many of them closed down after? Childcare is a big part of it - but I'm not sure that it's a new thing that childcare is a paid profession. Like someone above said, the rich have always paid for someone else to look after their kids - a nanny, governess etc.

And an interesting point about knowing more about the development of very young children. I think there is a lot more evidence now for the early years being very important in terms of brain development.

It is interesting how the moral objection has arisen in recent years. Presumably there was no moral objection when work was more of a drudge and women had to work to keep things running smoothly.

weegiemum Tue 09-Oct-12 11:35:43

Totally agree that sahm-hood is a modern phenomenon. I hope that evolving work patterns mean that more flexible working will make working round childcare and home responsibilities becomes more common.

Just an idea for titwhistles.

I'm a disabled mum. I work out of the home about 2 days a week, but also at home 2 days freelance. My dc are all at school now.

You said "who needs sewing/laundry done these days". I do! I can work I'm working right now but I can't turn socks the right way out or sew badges on cub uniforms or make the cleopatra outfit dd2 wants for halloween. So I have a Personal Assistant. She comes twice a week to do allnthe things I can't (which varies week to week). My PA is single with no kids, but I have another disabled friend who has a PA with a child she brings along. I'd think that was great.

In the past I would have been helped by nearby family etc but I live far from family. My friends and neighbours all work. A PA helps me by being an extension of the hands and feet that don't work. Often we work together. And my current PA is dyslexic and I'm a literacy teacher/writer so I can help her too, it's a partnership.

Sounds like the sort of thing you'd like and be good at!

summerflower Tue 09-Oct-12 11:55:00

Yes, there were grants for childcare facilities in the war. But it seems that there were tensions between nurseries as educational and as childcare which allowed mothers to work. In the war, because of the emergency, childcare became primarily about allowing mothers to work, and it would seem that inspectors were concerned about the levels of overcrowding, lack of play and interaction and educational value of war time nurseries. The inspectors recommended that children under 2 should not be in day childcare facilities, but looked after at home, even if the home was poor.

After the war (in 1946), grants for nurseries ceased and they became the responsibility of Local Education Authorities, who maintained limited facilities for children between 2 and 5 which were seen to be part of the education system and not childcare for working mothers. I guess that is the origin of what we have today.

Interestingly, it seems that working mothers did complain about this, but didn’t get very far.

To acknowledge my source, this is a from an article in Paedagogica Historica 2011 issue 1 - 2 by Amy Palmer, I have skimmed it very quickly, so hopefully got the argument correct.

I tend to think it is not really that women sacrificed work for their children, but there were so many constraints and societal pressures that it was easier not to work, if that makes sense. I also think that many of these constaints and expectations still exist, we just call it ‘choice’. Anyway, I need to get back to my own bread and butter now.

Takver Tue 09-Oct-12 17:13:38

WitchesTitWhistles "Work in the home would be ideal. I could easily have a house full of toddlers running around my feet""

the general answer in your situation is outwork - could be ironing / putting together jewellery / envelope stuffing etc etc or otherwise going out cleaning (taking your dc along with you). Unfortunately, as for most women throughout history probably, of course its all rubbish pay and conditions.

MsAnnTeak Tue 09-Oct-12 22:58:18

wanderingalbatross "Which got me wondering, has there ever really been a time when women sacrificed work for their kids? I'd like to say people, but I suppose that men didn't do all that much of the child raising."

Possibly not many career choices available until recent history, where women would feel it was a better option than looking after her children ?

"I admit that my historical knowledge is poor and mostly gained from fiction(!) but I get the impression that this 'golden age' when kids were looked after by a dedicated parent is a figment of our collective imagination."

Times changed last century - healthcare, decent single wage, not living with inlaws all allowed children being regarded as very different from adults. Childhood became a time of play, diminished work responsibilities, and formal learning. You could choose the size of your family (unless devout Catholic). Well paid careers to go back to after childbirth's a recent thing for women.

I don't get the impression women did happily give up jobs after the war. I talked about it a lot with my granny when she was reminiscing and she had great anecdotes (I know anecdotes aren't data). But I also found out that there were lots of magazines and clubs formed by women for 'self improvement' (= getting yourself out of the house/finding something to do!) and included women who were living on very low wages but who'd been pushed out of jobs by returning servicemen. And all that prescription valium/ cocktails at 5 in the 50s speaks for itself a bit.

My granny worked pretty much her whole life, she has a year off on maternity for her first child and went part-time with her second for a couple of years, but after that she worked full-time until she was in her 60s. She was still doing volunteer teaching once a week until the summer before she died. So I think the cosy, 'mum devoted to children' thing was definitely a myth for her!

I totally agree with summer about it probably not being 'sacrifice' so much as pressures that made it easier - some people would find that quite nice, others would hate it.

Btw, I don't know if well-paid careers after childbirth are that recent. I guess it depends what someone means by 'career' - wet nursing is mega lucrative and you could do if for years, but it might not feel like a career! But back when cottage industries were a very normal way of making a living, lots of women had work that was as well paid, or better, than men.

There are women who worked making books (and there are still extant manuscripts with illuminations done by women, which means they did the bits with gold leaf and I'd judge that adds more value to a book that the writing bit!). And brewing/running a pub was often done by women, not always widows.

The issue is that ownership of property is difficult for women, so it's so easy to exploit women even if the wife earns more than the husband. In some ways I think that still hasn't really changed enough. angry

NapaCab Wed 10-Oct-12 07:10:54

This is something that always bugs me, people describing SAHMs as 'traditional'. It's certainly more 'traditional' for women to spend their lives in a domestic setting rather than being out and about among the public but that doesn't mean that women didn't work.

Most work was within the home until the Industrial Revolution so it was only after this that 'work' became conflicted with 'family'. The truly traditional set-up is for men, women and children to all work together in a home setting as part a family enterprise like a farm, business etc. You don't hear many people saying that we should all move to that lifestyle though because it's 'traditional' because that's in conflict with how work is in modern society.

Personally, my view on things, having been an accidental SAHM since having DS a year ago (due to move abroad where I don't have a visa to work), is that the SAHM role was a deliberate social construct to dump drudge-work on women for the benefit of men and the rich. It lets men work long hours in jobs for The Man while women get poorer and less powerful.

Bonsoir Wed 10-Oct-12 07:22:15

"wet nursing is mega lucrative"

I am very curious to learn when and where wet nursing was a lucrative career option. All my reading about wet nursing indicates that it was a last resort option for the very poorest women in society.

No, I don't think so! It depends when you look, obviously. I will try to dig out figures, but medieval tracts on wet nursing make it very clear it wasn't particularly a poor woman's occupation. There are recommendations about how the woman should have a good 'character' (ie., for those medieval snobs, she should be a 'naice' woman grin), and good health. Which the very poor have not historically had.

I am sure it will have been a last resort at some point in society, of course. But not typically, I think.

FWIW, when there are famines or food shortages, one of the biggest causes of infant mortality amongst the poor is thought to be that their mothers didn't produce enough/any milk, so they were fed other things, which pre-formula is pretty dangerous. It's really sad. But obviously, you're not going to hire a desparate and emaciated woman as a wet nurse.

Btw, I just googled for this, but it looks reputable and quite interesting, on the page that's shown: books.google.co.uk/books?id=Z4SL2X3uHEAC&pg=PA115&lpg=PA115&dq=medieval+wet+nurse&source=bl&ots=kjn-KC5wFJ&sig=6gcGJmhkZZSXSj0593qLv3scjic&hl=en&sa=X&ei=xxV1UPSYGfS20QXc0YHgDw&ved=0CDUQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=medieval%20wet%20nurse&f=false

I suspect land grants from the king were not exactly normal, but still pretty impressive, if you think of other ways that woman could have earned money!

Bonsoir Wed 10-Oct-12 07:33:08

In France, wet nursing was a state-regulated profession in the 18th and 19th centuries. Women were supposed to be of good character etc. That didn't prevent them living in tiny rural cottages with terrible hygiene and letting their own children starve to death in order to feed the children they were being paid to wet nurse (and most of those died too).

Bonsoir Wed 10-Oct-12 07:34:25

"But obviously, you're not going to hire a desparate and emaciated woman as a wet nurse."

In France parents didn't usually meet their child's wet nurse.

That's really sad. sad

There's that English stereotype of terrible wet-nurses drinking massive amounts of gin and crushing the babies they were looked after - though I just read apparently this might well simply have been SIDS, which wasn't understood back then.

I don't think so, bonsoir - I think you just mean France in those centuries. Medieval France looks to be pretty similar to medieval England (which you'd expect, of course).

BriocheDoree Wed 10-Oct-12 07:40:21

I have read that wet-nursing is very much in vogue in China, particularly since the various formula milk scandals. I believe it is relatively well-paid. However, this is current rather than ancient history!
I believe that this idea of a woman's place being in the home with her kids is probably a 1950s construct. Doesn't mean it's a bad thing: I spent many happy years at home with my kids before going back to work part-time, but I do dislike people who claim that it is "traditional" or "right".

Bonsoir Wed 10-Oct-12 07:40:52

I think you think that parents employed wet nurses directly - but they didn't. There was almost always a paid intermediary. Children typically spent several years with a wet nurse in the countryside (as this was how poor rural women earned a living) while their parents worked in town.

Really?! Crikey.

Oh, sorry, that was to brioche.

bonsoir - no, why would I think that? confused

I'm just distinguishing between two periods of history several hundred years apart. It would be foolish not to.

Have a look at my link, it looks like a cool book.

Bonsoir Wed 10-Oct-12 07:46:22

I've got quite a lot of books in my bookcase already on this subject smile. I think you need to distinguish between the medieval aristocracy (who were not all the same across Europe) and the bourgeoisie of the 18th and 19th centuries (who, again, were not all the same across Europe).

I think you need to learn to read, don't you?

I never said the medieval aristocracy were all the same across Europe. England and France together do not constitute 'Europe', whatever you may think.

It is I who explained to you that you were conflating medieval times with the 18th and 19th centuries, so don't bounce your mistake back at me.

I think you have come here to try to stir things up because you're sore you got it wrong on another thread, so you're trying to pick a fight here. This is not very bright, and pretty rude when it's liable to derail the OP's interesting thread. So I am not going to participate in another tedious little demonstration of you trying to pretend you know what you're talking about.

Bonsoir Wed 10-Oct-12 07:55:37

Who is being touchy here, LRD wink. You linked to a page which was referring to the Florentine aristocracy. FYI, Florence is in a part of Europe which is now Italy, though it was a city state at the time.

exoticfruits Wed 10-Oct-12 08:11:39

It is only a recent thing to treat raising DCs like a career - the idea seems to be that if you get your DC to Oxbridge or into the Olympics etc you have won the 'mummy stakes' - it proves you were the best mother!
In the days when they traditionally stayed at home it was benign neglect- more an Enid Blyton or Just William existence where they went off doing their own thing. The 11+ was just an exam that you took- not 3years of tutors and parental angst.
The well off had people look after them. Jane Austin was farmed out to a village family for her first 2 years. The poor had to work- even if it was just potato picking or similar. The children worked young and the elder children looked after the younger.

Bonsoir Wed 10-Oct-12 08:21:01

exoticfruits - I can tell you for a fact that raising children as if it were a career was a popular middle-class occupation in the north of England after the First World War.

wanderingalbatross Wed 10-Oct-12 08:50:41

So, what I understand so far is that historically, poor women have always worked and have always almost had to work to keep things going. The rich have always been able to outsource the domestic work, including childcare, to the poor.

In medieval times, women typically worked in the home whilst keeping an eye (or not!) on their kids. Young children were expected to learn their trades and be useful much earlier than they are now. But, work was still segregated along gender lines, even though there was no moral objection to women working. Then, the industrial revolution came along and women still had to work, often while farming their kids out to others to look after. However, the legal situation, with women not being able to own land and being thought of as property means that things could never be equal. Did society think it was indulgent to spend time with your kids during these periods?

Then you had the wars, each with the effect of pushing women back into the home and to their families in the aftermath. Learning more about child development, including Bowlby's attachment theory, just added to the pressures to stay home. Now the post-ww2 period is seen as 'traditional', even though it was really an anomaly in the grand scheme of things.

Correct me if I'm wrong on any of this!

Exactly how recent is this trend to treat raising kids as a career? Is it something that has just popped up in the past few years with the recession, or has it been going on longer? I have only noticed it since getting pg with DD, but that was just 2 years ago so I really wasn't paying attention to attitudes towards motherhood before then.

I think that's pretty much it, wandering. Work has never, I think, been perfectly segregated along gender lines - there have always been jobs both men and women could do, and there have always been male-dominated jobs some women did, and vice versa.

It's not hard academia, but have you read the Stella Tillyard book 'Aristocrats'? It was made into a film, the book is a biography with enough footnotes to be reasonably useful if you want details - it is about four sisters in the late 18th-early 19th century, and provides a lot of quotations from their letters about how they raised their families. Emily Lennox certainly writes about it being an indulgence to be with her children - though she had, IIRC, about 22 of them, so it must have been a bit of a different experience! And her sister Caroline seems to have cared a lot about her children being successful. It's not the same as Oxbridge-mamma, but it's not a million miles away, I suppose.

I think there were medieval mothers who treated raising their children as a career, too. But it feels slightly different, because today the rhetoric is that you're raising your child so they can be successful, whereas then I think it's rather more openly obvious you expect to get financial security out of it.

I think probably things like pensions and the NHS make a difference to how people think about their childrens' futures, if that's not too cynical.

I think the recent trend has got much worse over the last 5-10 years. Certainly when I had DS (almost 19) having children and raising them was just something you did, and you went back to work or didn't depending on the practicalities for your family (income, family around for childcare, etc). Nobody that I knew thought of it as a career - it was a break in your career, or a chance to stop work, or just one more thing to juggle with your working life.

I think it's become much more of a "media thing" in the last couple of years, probably because some very "driven" people have found themselves outside of paid work and have been determined to make it into a "positive choice" and something to "excel at" rather than it just being one more aspect of life to be dealt with as well or badly as any other.

PostBellumBugsy Wed 10-Oct-12 09:33:04

For women from families of means, be they aristocratic or gentry, raising daughters to be marriageable was extremely important. Marriage was how families improved or maintained their social standing and mothers would have been very involved in ensuring that their daughter's were as well prepared as possible and made the best match.

OddBoots Wed 10-Oct-12 09:36:31

I know both my grandmothers worked from home in the millinery trade when bringing up babies post-war. I also know that the books of the time encouraged putting the baby in a pram at the end of the garden for a few hours a day and I do wonder if part of this was to make time to work.

PostBellumBugsy Wed 10-Oct-12 09:41:38

Agree with AMumInScotland, however I think that this "career" motherhood is very limited to those who have the choice because of their partner's earning potential.
In our parents & grand-parents time (outside of wartime), women didn't really have so much of a choice. Women were supposed to stay at home & rear children while the men went out to work. If you were very poor or your husband was dead or very sick, then women often had no choice, they had to work but for large swathes of first world women, societal pressure meant they stayed at home.
With womens lib & the fight for equality, women gained more choice & could stay at work if they wanted. But now, there is alot less choice again. There are more single parent families & more famililes where both incomes are really needed - so the "choice" to be a "career mum" if such a thing exists is really only for a very small proportion of the population.

exoticfruits Wed 10-Oct-12 09:57:25

I think the recent trend has got much worse over the last 5-10 years. Certainly when I had DS (almost 19) having children and raising them was just something you did, and you went back to work or didn't depending on the practicalities for your family (income, family around for childcare, etc). Nobody that I knew thought of it as a career - it was a break in your career, or a chance to stop work, or just one more thing to juggle with your working life.

I agree. If people take time off from a career they have to justify it by proving that their choices are best therefore you get all the new terms for age old things e.g. BLW and 'babywearing' where it doesn't really matter how you get your baby to eat a balanced diet or whether you carry your baby around-as long as it suits you and your baby.
Probably a similar thing after WW1 Bonsoir-women back in domesticity justifying it by getting their DS a good job and their DD a good marriage. I was talking more about later, when women didn't need to get married and there were plenty of jobs and birth control.

wanderingalbatross Wed 10-Oct-12 11:25:16

I do realise that the 'choice' to stay at home or not is largely an illusion for many people. But what is interesting is the idea that women have always looked after the kids even if it's not historically accurate, and the attitude from some that we shouldn't be having them if we're not prepared to look after them ourselves. Strangely, you don't hear these sorts of attitudes about fathers! And I imagine that these attitudes don't really exist when women have to work to keep their families afloat.

Thanks for the book recommendation LRD, I'll see if I can get round to reading it sometime. Hard to find the time as I have a both a toddler whose mind needs broadening and a job ;)

Oh, it's a really nice book, do look it out, it's really easy to dip in and out of IMO.

But I get your point about time/toddlers/jobs!

I suppose 'why have them if you don't want to stay home' is possibly a post-contraceptive kind of sniping, as well. Though there's that bit in TS Eliot about why would you get married if you don't want sex, so possibly people always said that sort of thing.

summerflower Wed 10-Oct-12 12:12:39

>>I think the recent trend has got much worse over the last 5-10 years. Certainly when I had DS (almost 19) having children and raising them was just something you did, and you went back to work or didn't depending on the practicalities for your family (income, family around for childcare, etc). Nobody that I knew thought of it as a career - it was a break in your career, or a chance to stop work, or just one more thing to juggle with your working life.<<

I do wonder how much the internet and (whisper) parenting forums have to do with it, though. SAHPs on-line for large chunks of the day bigging up their choices must have something to do with it. (or maybe that is just my experience from a noxious, now defunct forum I used to be on)

On the other hand, I think that is a lazy explanation, because I can across the attitude from my ex-MIL when I was pregnant with DD (what is the point of having children if you are just going out to work, I mean never mind that her son buggered off when dd was a baby ) and at my first and last mother and baby group (9 years ago).

So, I wonder whether it is the case that women have access to education and until the point they have children, we fall for the idea that we have equality and can do everything a man can - only to discover that we have been sold a lie, and really, our careers come second to our primary biological purpose, so the pressure is there to turn that into a career replacement.

plus, motherhood is so much more commericalised. I mean, nine years ago, who cared what kind of pram you had etc.

exoticfruits Wed 10-Oct-12 19:09:17

* I mean, nine years ago, who cared what kind of pram you had etc.*

I can't see why anyone would care now! I'm glad that I was before you had to bother-mine came from my neighbour -free.

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