'Mommy Wars': To Work or Stay at Home?

ByABC News via logo

Feb. 22, 2006 — -- An alarming number of college-educated women are leaving the work force to stay at home and raise their children, a trend that is a tragedy not only for the mothers, but ultimately their children and women as a whole.

So said law professor and working mom Linda Hirshman in a 2005 article for American Prospect magazine that has ignited an intense debate among mothers.

Census figures show 54 percent of mothers with a graduate or professional degree no longer work full time. In 2003 and 2004 Hirshman interviewed about 30 women whose wedding announcements had appeared in The New York Times in 1996 and who had had children. Five of the women were working full time, and 10 were working part time. The rest were not working at all.

"We care because what they do is bad for them, is certainly bad for society, and is widely imitated, even by people who never get their weddings in the Times," Hirshman wrote. "This last is called the 'regime effect,' and it means that even if women don't quit their jobs for their families, they think they should and feel guilty about not doing it."

Hirshman also said educated women choosing to stay home was bad for them as individuals.

"A good life for humans includes the classical standard of using one's capacities for speech and reason in a prudent way, the liberal requirement of having enough autonomy to direct one's own life, and the utilitarian test of doing more good than harm in the world," Hirshman wrote. "Measured against these time-tested standards, the expensively educated, upper-class moms will be leading lesser lives."

Faith Fuhrman has a master's degree in nursing, but chooses to stay home with her children.

"The job I was in when I had, first had my child, I couldn't have done it," Fuhrman said. "I was working 14 hours a day. I was on call."

When Debbie Klett became a mother, she quit her job in ad sales and started a magazine called Total 180 so she could work from home and spend more time with her children.

"For me, I feel it is vital to be there for my children every day, to consistently tend to their needs, to grow their self-esteem, and to praise them when they're right, guide them when they're not, and to be a loving, caring mom every minute of the day," Klett said.

Klett acknowledged there were consequences to her choice to stay at home. To save money, her family has given up cable, does not go out to dinner, and does not go on vacations.

"We made tremendous financial sacrifices for me to be able to stay home with my children, and I wouldn't trade that for the world," Klett said.

Hirshman argues that Klett's children would be fine if she worked outside the home. Statistically there is no difference in the happiness levels of the children whose mothers work and the children whose mothers stay at home, she said.

Deborah Skolnick agrees. She is a magazine editor who will not give up her job and feels working is a good example for her children, and helps them in other ways.

"I think my kids are as well-behaved and as well-socialized, if not better, than a lot of a fair number of at-home moms," Skolnick said. "I see at-home moms whose children won't separate from them, won't go to school, cry at the door. My children have learned, from an early age, that Mommy will be back. So they kiss me and they say goodbye."

Fuhrman asked her 13-year-old son what he thought was the benefit of having a stay-at-home mom.

"He said, 'Well, I really like to come home every day and finding you here,'" Fuhrman said.

"But on the other hand, my daughter says to me, 'Mommy, when I grow up, I'm gonna get a job at your magazine, and I'm gonna sit at the same desk as you and we're gonna be on the same magazine together until we die,'" Skolnick said. "And that makes me kind of happy."

Tune in to "Good Morning America" Thursday when the "Mommy Wars" continue.