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Working Mothers Should Feel Guilty

Guilt is an underrated emotion, for we can use it to solve many social ills. Americans felt profound guilt about slavery — and look what happened as a result!

Today guilt is eschewed at first sighting (or feeling, rather). For years women in the media have tackled the issue of guilt, assuring readers it’s an unnecessary emotion society thrusts upon them. Confident woman, we are told, pay no attention to guilt. Yet women’s magazines can’t stop talking about guilt, so clearly it cannot be explained away. That’s because when we’re dealing with guilt, we’re dealing with our conscience. And this, I’m afraid, we’re stuck with.

Guilt is our conscience talking to us. It’s our inner voice saying, “Um, maybe this isn’t such a good idea.” It’s designed for us to respond to it. But rather than suggest people act on their conscience, women in the media encourage other women to “work through the discomfort” of their guilt until it eventually subsides. And it often does — after our conscience gets tired of trying to be heard.

When I wrote about busy parents being to blame for overweight children, my NRB colleague Sandra Lee made the following comment:

“I think you have to be careful with this argument…it doesn’t do a damn bit of good to heap even more guilt on those of us (women) who MUST work to support our families.”

This, Sandra, is the argument one needs to be careful with. Not all mothers who work feel guilty because it depends which mothers you’re talking about. You can’t just say most women MUST work; it isn’t specific enough. Some may “have to” for one reason or another — and some may not. Mothers with babies and toddlers who choose to work and place their children in day care are putting a financial burden on society — to say nothing of the personal consequences for children. But mothers of older children, for example, who also happen to be in the workforce, aren’t dependent on the government — nor are their children even aware of their work lives since their kids are in school and often busy with their own lives. The better question should be, Are parents home when children are home?

Moreover, countless single mothers have made the choice to be single. Not all were left with no other option but to leave an abusive husband, as Lifetime television portrays. Many choose to get divorced when they could have stuck it out — and many never married at all. These are choices. I’m not saying every parent who gets divorced made a bad decision. I’m merely pointing out that unless a woman is in physical or emotional harm, it is a choice to become a single parent.

We all know, whether or not we admit it in mixed company, that children have become fat primarily because mothers are no longer home to cook healthy meals and make sure children play outside after school instead of watching television or sitting in front of the computer. It isn’t rocket science. Indeed, teaching children how to eat is an enormously time consuming task. Sitting down to plan three healthy meals a day, 7 days a week, is downright painful — which is why the moment society offered parents an out (via packaged foods, prepared meals, and take out), we jumped at the opportunity to make our lives easier. A poll in this month’s O Magazine reported that a mere 21% of respondents said they cook “at least five dinners at home a week.” Twenty-one percent.

The idea that “most mothers have to work today” (and thus parents cannot be to blame for anything that goes wrong with children) gets bantered around by feminists in the media as if it were fact for no other reason than it helps these women “work through their guilt.” As Bernard Goldberg demonstrates in chapter 12 (titled “The Most Important Story You Never Saw on TV”) of his groundbreaking book Bias, it makes working moms in the media feel better to act as if they have no choice but to leave their babies with substitute caregivers for 15 hours a day. That way they’re off the hook. But  HERE are the real facts about mothers and work in America.

What we’re really dealing with when it comes to childhood obesity is the realization that the housewife of yesteryear was in fact doing something useful. Feminists did their darndest to discount the motherhood role, but we’re now seeing just how vital the housewife/at-home mom/call her whatever the heck you want really was — is.

Bottom line: We must listen to our conscience. It’s trying to tell us something.

Photo by Alan Cleaver via Flickr


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