- The Washington Times - Monday, June 27, 2005

Mansoor Yosufzai of Herndon does not think the wife he someday marries should have to stay home to raise their children. However, her staying home for the first few years might be better for the development of the child and the family structure, he said.

Mr. Yosufzai, a 22-year-old senior at George Mason University in Fairfax, said that working gives women empowerment and that the work they do contributes to the work force.

“If a good chunk decides to stay home from the work force, it’s not too good for the economy,” he said.

Young men like Mr. Yosufzai are saying they want their wives to work to provide a second income but, at the same time, note the benefits that having one parent at home has for the child.

“In an optimal world, I would prefer someone stay at home,” said Shaun Blair, 26, a senior at GMU. “That way there’s a good quality relationship with the kids.”

An increase in the cost of living coupled with the expense of living in the metro area often requires a dual income to support a family, Mr. Blair said.

“There has been more pressure on couples to have two incomes,” said Norman Epstein, professor of family studies at the University of Maryland in College Park.

“Will they have enough money if one parent stays home?” Mr. Epstein said. “The husband at one level may think it’s a good idea, but is so anxious about finances, it causes tension.”

Traditional attitudes that devalue home labor can play a part in the decision a couple makes, he said.

“Those traditional attitudes still slip in there. Somehow, there is a devaluing of what she’s doing if she stays home. Some men need to take a hard look at what their values are,” he said. “For women, whether working outside of the home or mostly in the home, their satisfaction with the arrangement depends on the support from their husband.”

In the past few years, there has been a slight increase in the number of stay-at-home mothers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In 2003, both the husband and wife worked in 50.9 percent of married-couple families, a decline from 1997, when 53.4 percent worked, according to the bureau. The labor participation rate for mothers (married and single) with children under 18 was 71.1 percent in 2003, a 0.7 percent decrease from the year before. The rate for mothers of children younger than one year fell by 2.4 percent to 53.7 percent and has fallen almost every year since 1998 when it was 57.9 percent.

“When it gets to a certain point, I don’t know of any strong evidence to suggest that more [mothers] are staying at home,” said Suzanne Bianchi, professor of sociology at the University of Maryland.

The number of mothers who worked increased at a rapid rate from 1970 to 1990, a rate that has since leveled off, Ms. Bianchi said.

“I think it leveled off, in part, because it was reaching a limit,” she said. “We may never get to a situation where 100 percent of women with kids are in the labor force.”

On the upside, men are spending more time caring for their children and doing housework when they are not at work, she said.

“Increasingly, we know that men who grew up in homes where their mother worked have more egalitarian [views of] gender roles,” said Diane Halpern, professor of psychology at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif., and director of the college’s Berger Institute for Work, Family and Children.

“The time spent with children in dual-earner households has increased because fathers spend more time with their children,” she said.

The younger generations are seeing the importance of one parent taking time out of a career in order to raise children during the primary years, said Thomas Wessel, dean of counseling and career development at Howard University in Northwest. He holds a doctorate in counseling.

“Men are open to those roles being interchangeable or reversed,” Mr. Wessel said. “Many of the younger generations, they’re not falling into the stereotype trap that it has to be the mother.”

Having one parent at home before the child enters preschool is important for building a child’s self-esteem and is less disruptive for the child, Mr. Wessel said.

“During the first 18 to 24 months, that’s when the child really needs to feel loved and be the center of the mother’s life and be treated as special,” he said.

The mother, too, often wants to be at home with her new child, said Danielle Crittenden of Northwest, a journalist and author of two books, including “What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us.”

“It’s still very much an economic choice,” said Ms. Crittenden, who stayed home to raise her three children. “It’s not about ambition. … It’s about when you have a child, your life changes. Your need to be with your child is stronger than your desire to advance up the corporate ladder.”

If both parents, however, choose to work, they still can raise an emotionally sound child, said Rob Scuka, executive director of the National Institute of Relationship Enhancement in Bethesda.

“In the end, the single most important ingredient is love and caring. As long as that’s present, most children are fairly resilient,” Mr. Scuka said. “Without that, children can get a sense of insecurity, which can translate into a lack of initiative and inhibition.”

The ideal situation is for the stay-at-home parent to work from home or telecommute to provide that child care and to contribute to the family income, Mr. Wessel said.

“It takes two incomes to pay for mortgages and health insurance. For those who have choices, it often may not be an opt-out, but a stop-out, when the workplace is not flexible allowing them to balance the two,” Ms. Halpern said. “We have not been good at getting the message to employers that family-friendly policies are fiscally good for business. — Employees have increased loyalty. There’s reduced turnover and fewer absences.”

Other options are working part time, doing some work at home or becoming self-employed, Ms. Halpern said.

Men can have different attitudes toward the role of women in a married-couple family with children, said Charlotte Twombly, professor of sociology at Montgomery College in Rockville.

They may want their wives to work out of economic necessity, especially since the typical household has less buying power to maintain a middle-class lifestyle than it did 10 to 15 years ago, Ms. Twombly said. Or they may be nostalgic for traditional, more-defined roles, she said.

“People should do whatever is best for them,” Ms. Halpern said. “We certainly do not want to denigrate anyone’s personal choice. We don’t want to create a mommy war.”

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