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What Parents Want

May 2, 2019
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The Pew Research Center reports (2013) on current attitudes of parents with children younger than 18: among mothers who are currently working, 52% would prefer to be home with their children; among fathers, almost half would prefer to be home with their children. Among all mothers, only 32% would prefer to work full-time; 47% prefer part-time work and 20% prefer not to be employed. Yet only 19% of mothers are working part-time, while 51% work full-time and 29% do not work at all. (“Modern Parenthood” March 2013).

Many advocates for families continue to call for more child care in order to support maternal employment, implying that this is what most mothers want. Some argue that it is best for all parents to remain in the full-time workforce. The fact that most mothers (of children of all ages) prefer part-time employment and some mothers and fathers prefer to be at-home full time is rarely acknowledged. In its study of parents of infants and young children, Public Agenda found “Seventy percent of parents with children five and under say that one parent at home is the best child care arrangement during a child’s earliest years” (Public Agenda “Necessary Compromises” 2000).

In Chapter 1 of her book Maternal Desire clinical psychologist Daphne de Marneffe examines "The 'Problem' of Maternal Desire":

"The oft-heard question about day care -- 'Does day care hurt children?' -- turns children into the repository of our mutual desire for human connection. If the studies show that children do fine in day care, we independent adults are supposed to go about our business without remorse. On this view, mothers' feelings simply aren't relevant; the only issue is day care's effects on children. But what is good for parents and what is good for children are equally relevant in a moral evaluation of day care. And adults' desire to nurture their children is much more passionate and complex than the opposition of dependent child and independent adult would have us believe."

Maternal feminist Enola Aird and Martha Farrell Erickson of the University of Minnesota co-authored a report on their rigorous large-scale investigation of a nationally representative sample of U.S. mothers age 18 and older with at least one child under the age of 18. The team of social science researchers found that "nearly 81% of mothers said mothering is the most important thing they do." Other key findings include:

  • In contrast to much of the popular discourse that typically emphasizes the stress and strain of motherhood, mothers reported strikingly high levels of satisfaction with their lives as mothers."
  • "More than 92% of the mothers we surveyed agreed with the statement, 'After becoming a mother, I found myself caring more about the well-being of all children, not just my own.'"
  • "More than half of the mothers surveyed think that society as a whole is not doing a good job of meeting the needs of mothers, children, and families."
  • "Mothers want more time to spend on personal and family relationships, with almost 61% 'strongly' agreeing and 22% 'somewhat' agreeing with that statement."

Aird, Enola and Erickson, Martha F. (2005). "The Motherhood Study: Fresh Insights on Mothers' Attitudes and Concerns." Institute for American Values, New York.

Family and Home Network advocates for parents who spend (or want to spend) generous amounts of time with their children. You can help by learning more about our Campaign for Inclusive Family Policies, by becoming a member of our Family and Home Community, by recommending FAHN to friends, by keeping us informed of media stories on families and child care issues, and by supporting FAHN with a tax-deductible donation.

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