More moms leaving the workforce

More new moms are leaving the workforce and staying home to care for their babies and young children, reported Sue Shellenbarger of the Wall Street Journal this week.

"New data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the seven-year trend (of new moms leaving the workforce) has been broader than previously believed, with women at all income levels taking job breaks," she writes.

Interestingly, these new moms seem to be taking somewhat shorter breaks from the workforce than they have in the past.

New moms are the most likely to stay home, but the data still shows that the "drop out" rate from the workforce increased for mothers of children in every age range.

It’s not rocket science that we moms want to be the ones primarily caring for our own children. Duh.

Yet, is there such a thing as too much of a good thing here? I say yes.

There was a time when being a mom meant an incredible amount of, well, (ital) work (end ital) in the home. Three hours of floor-time with junior to "develop" his cognitive skills, early reading proficiency, and maybe those must-have scissor skills by the time he’s 2? Not possible, even if it had been considered desirable. Mom was in the home, but she was busy! Junior padded around after her as she did her work, or made his own fun, or at an early age had his own jobs. Mom (ital) couldn’t (end ital) pour every waking moment into little ones.

I’m convinced the little ones were better off for it.

Work is not a necessary evil. It is a good and wholesome thing. It was, after all, present in the Garden of Eden (ital) before (end ital) the fall. Our kids need to see that.

Modern life and prosperity means caring for the home takes a fraction of the time it once did. So I worry that too many moms make the great decision to stay home, only to pour every ounce of time and energy into their children in a way previous generations were unable to do — perhaps helping to turn their children into the idolized, self-absorbed "all about me" kids plaguing us today. After all, too often when these moms aren’t managing every second of their child’s life at home, they are in the schools (ital) with (end ital) the kids, or planning activities and play dates (a term I loathe) or otherwise pouring themselves into every aspect of their children’s lives.

It seems to me there are a lot of moms who need to get their own lives, precisely because it would be good for their families if they did.

Yes it’s a wonderful thing to know there is at least one person in the world who loves you totally, unconditionally, and self-sacrificially. That’s the definition of mother-love. But when that "love" becomes a kind of strange martyrdom (read: any mother of healthy children who complains she can’t go to the bathroom by herself) and the child is essentially the only thing in mom’s universe, it’s destructive to the child and the mom. It used to be our inevitable responsibilities in the broader context of our home and the sheer numbers of children we used to have helped to keep that from happening.

Today we need to be more deliberate about it.

I think these young moms leaving the workforce are "right-on" to be with their young children. But I’m also convinced it would behoove them and their families to find some part-time work to do, no matter how minimal — from home is great, and even easier to find now than when I had the first of my kids just 12 years ago. Or, maybe these moms can find some volunteer work, which (ital) doesn’t (end ital) involve their children or any of their children’s activities.

Whatever the case, in time their children will see that there is other work which matters and there are other needs to be met, and that’s a healthy orientation for everyone — including mom — precisely because it fits how we were created to rightly live and operate in the world.

It seems to me that the mothers who say "but that’s impossible!" are generally the ones who complain they can’t go to the bathroom by themselves — which may mean they are the ones who need it most of all.

(Betsy Hart is the author of the forthcoming "It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover Parenting is Hurting Our Kids — and What to Do About It." E-mail her at letterstohart(at)