Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Outsourcing motherhood

Jennifer, a strong advocate for stay-at-home mothering, sends me this article from the WSJ Online about Susan Whiting, a 50-year-old single CEO who recently adopted twins.
Being a CEO didn't quell her wish for a child, however, and she began considering adoption. She tracked down and talked to other single parents who had adopted children. She also spoke to her mother, sisters, brother and some cousins, with whom she is very close. "I was working very hard and had to think about the implications of adopting as a single working woman. I knew I was going to need a close support system," she says.

She went ahead and started the process, and six years later she learned she would be adopting twin babies, a girl and boy, "a special blessing" she says "because they have each other." She had an interim management team take charge at Nielsen the day the twins were born and took a six-week maternity leave.

More than many working parents, she can afford a lot of help, including a live-in baby nurse. Still she says she has a "new appreciation" of employees who juggle work and family. "I thought I was busy before but this is a new definition," she says.

She limits breakfast meetings so she can be at home to feed her babies their morning bottles, and she returns home in time to give them their baths. She also tries to limit evening business events or schedules them after 7:30 when her children are usually asleep.

At work, she is delegating more and choosing between "what I can do and have to do," she says. But she stays connected to her staff 24/7. Over the holidays, which she spent with her family in Lake Geneva, Wis., where she was raised, she kept her BlackBerry on throughout.

She doesn't apologize for wanting to keep working. "It's a great time to be involved in a lot of initiatives I launched," she says.
Leaving aside the problematic aspects of expecting your newborn twins to provide support and companionship to each other because mommy's too busy working to be there, this seems to me a prime example of the trend of "outsourcing" motherhood. That's basically what women are doing when they put their kids into nine and ten hours a day of daycare or nannying. By giving up that much of your child's day to day existence, mothers are, for all intents and purposes, abdicating their responsibility over their child's personal and moral development in favor of whatever personal code the caregiver follows. What's most important to a person will come out in their interactions with others, and you can't expect that a childcare worker is not going to act on whatever values she holds to be true, whether it's Catholic teaching or a "dog-eat-dog" philosophy. And young children, who tend to accept what they are told by adults, and will also follow examples, soak that up.

I don't know why any woman who prizes her intelligence and education would abdicate her earliest and best chance to pass on her values and beliefs to her children. I don't see staying at home with my children as a waste of my education and talents, but rather as a chance to draw on that education to teach my daughters how to reason, how to make moral decisions, how to think well. How can I expect my children to accept and retain my religious beliefs if I don't take primary responsibility for passing them on?

There's no denying that staying at home with children can be a lonely and thankless job. That's why we have Jennifer to thank for creating Suburban CEO, a new site designed to help stay-at-home mothers maintain their sanity and find support from like-minded women. She offers some sharp insights on why it's so hard to be a stay-at-home mother today -- her analysis of the "Five Missing Pieces" is spot-on. Anyone who stays home with her children or is considering doing so should visit this site. After all, staying at home with our children is a great way to be involved with a lot of the initiatives we've launched, isn't it?


Anonymous said...

When I was in college (and seriously, this is not even 20 years ago), I was told that studies proved that babies under 1 who spent more than 20 hours in the care of someone aside from a parent (perhaps even politically-incorrectly stated as "mother") were much more likely to have serious attachment issues, as in an inability to form healthy attachments to anyone.

Today, we are told that there is nothing wrong with putting your six week old baby in daycare - oh, excuse me! I meant to say in a "child educational center" - for up to 12 hours a day. Because "mommy" has to be happy, right? No sacrifices are necessary.

And, yes, "mommy" gets quotes, because much of the time, there can be a choice made. Not an easy or even comfortable choice, but there is more often a way for mom to stay home. You just have to forgo the brand-new stuff, or the bigger stuff, sometimes.


How long will it take to un-do this whole brainwashing that our children are our properties and not a whole lot more than a pet?

Unknown said...

Actually, outsourcing the kids isn't new. It's just more widespread these days, and includes girls as well as boys. Your typical upper-middle class Englishwoman (or non-frontier American woman) of the 1800's kept the girls at home, with a nanny or governess to help her, but the boys were shipped off to boarding school at 9 or 10, and went directly to University from there. (If a boy was bright, it might happen earlier. Venerable Newman was sent off at the age of seven, and never really lived 'at home' again. )
For the less well-off, there were apprenticeships or factory jobs - and let's not forget the army of young girls who started as 'tweenies' (junior housemaids) at 10 or 11.
None of this was particularly healthy, but somehow our ancestors survived it.

mrsdarwin said...

To read English authors, I'm not sure if anyone enjoyed his time at boarding school.

While it's true that affluent society often tries to outsource its childrearing, I think that removing children from the direct sphere of their parents' influence results in a creeping cultural and intellectual decline.

For the purposes of this post, however, I was mostly focusing on the separation of very young infants (as early as six weeks!) from their mothers, which seems particularly egregious. As Narwen pointed out, older children have often been separated from their families, either for purposes of education or to provide extra income. I'm not a fan of boarding schools or child labor, but I would argue that an older child is better equipped emotionally and psychologically to be away from his family than an infant is.

It seems to me that very few compelling arguments can be made (short of severe economic necessity) for young babies and infants to be apart from their mothers for such extended amounts of time. Thinking it would be cool to have kids doesn't seem like sufficient justification for acquiring a pair if one doesn't intend to actually make the true lifestyle sacrifices to do what's best for them.

PB said...

My wife and I have made many sacrifices living off mainly one income so she can stay home. But to see my 2 year old get so proud of himself when he learned how to do the sign of the cross… that’s more rewarding than any material thing could ever offer. My 401k is playing in the other room.

Jennifer @ Conversion Diary said...

I drove by a daycare center the other day (that looked pretty run-down) that had a big banner that proclaimed, "NOW TAKING TWO-WEEK-OLDS!" It kind of made me sick to think about that.

Anyway, thanks for the link and the kind words!!

Anonymous said...

As an adoptive mother, I'm wondering how in the world a 50 year old single woman was able to adopt newborn twins...all I can figure is that money talks. Once we reached our 40's, my husband and I were basically told that no one would pick us to adopt their newborn because we were too old. We also figured that they probably thought we were crazy because we were homeschooling the 3 adoptive children we had. When we adopted our last child who was almost 2 at the time, that was definitely a topic that received a lot of attention.
I'll have to check out the link..
A blessed day to you...

Potamiaena said...

As a mother of 14 and 17 year olds, I can tell you: get your "parenting" in early. My children no longer consider me the "goddess" of their lives. . . their friends are now.

I was home with them every day, but worked one day a week as a CPA. Their childhood goes so fast, and they are gone. I am grateful I did not miss a second of it. I can't believe my days as a full time mother are almost over.

To adopt a child at 50, plus be a single mother, PLUS be a CEO . . . what is this crazy woman thinking?

Thanks, Mrs. Darwin, for your well written post.

Todd said...

A few things.

Even in non-affluent households of the past, women often had to work, and children made do with grandparents, other extended family, or no one. It's a myth that prior to the 60's, it was a mom, a dad, and a passel of kids in a modest home.

As a father and parent of an adopted child, let me put in a plug for the value of the father in the life of the family and the rearing of the child. Studies show that there is no greater influence for adult values, especially for boys. That said, I'm glad to have a partner in parenting.

And lastly, there is the virtue of love, something which daycarers or annnies may bring to the table. But as long as one or two parents are able to communicate that to their children, adopted or otherwise, many obstacles can be overcome.

Anonymous said...

The Darwins are unusually quiet this week. Either that, or your site isn't updating for me which happens sometimes...there are times when I won't see your new post until the next day. Not because I'm not checking, but just that I can't see it for some reason.
Hope all is well...God bless!!

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