Recession drives many moms back to work

What do moms want?

Just before Mother’s Day, author Megan Basham rightly took to task a host of commentators who essentially are cheering about how rising unemployment rates are "helping" women.

The logic goes like this: It’s men who have experienced up to 80 percent of the job losses in this recession as sectors like financial services have been hardest hit. That means many wives are going back to work, or working longer hours — and isn’t that terrific for women?

Of course, Basham bursts the bubble of such folks by pointing out that women with children don’t, um, want to work more hours. In fact — gasp — some studies show what common sense reveals, which is that most mothers prefer instead to spend more time at home with their kids.

In a Wall Street Journal article, Basham also cites an interesting 2006 University of Virginia study showing that even most self-described feminists are happiest in marriages in which their husbands earn most of the dough. Basham is the author of the provocatively titled, "Beside Every Successful Man: Getting the Life You Want by Helping Your Husband Get Ahead." (Crown Forum, 2008).

Yes, investing time and energy and support in helping one’s spouse get ahead can be a great investment for wives. It’s no accident that men with well-educated, stay-at -home mates tend to make more money and advance further, sometimes much further, in their careers than men in "two-earner" marriages.

Here’s the problem: What if a woman chooses to invest in her husband instead of pursuing her own career, at least at some level, but then he decides to leave and takes his money and earning power with him?

Thanks to the feminist sisterhood, no-fault divorce has made just that situation all too common, often no longer legally honoring her investment in his work life. I’m fully cognizant that women frequently end marriages, but typically they are not leaving the husband to face the work world with few job skills and a lack of work history, and that’s the point here.

Having been in a long-term marriage that abruptly ended — but during which I happily freed up my husband to focus on his work — I have personal experience with this reality. I also know I’m luckier than most women in my situation, in terms of his financial support and my history of always working at least part time.

Yes, I agree that society should honor a woman’s decision to raise a family and invest in her husband’s career advancement, if she chooses. But legally, we typically don’t. So then what do we tell our daughters?

Today, wisdom suggests that women be fully prepared to provide for themselves and their children. Not just abandonment, but other issues like a husband’s disability, for instance, might make this necessary.

I’ve always advocated moms working at least part time. Sure it’s rewarding, and yes, I think it keeps them from pouring too much of themselves into their kids and becoming "helicopter parents."

But now it’s increasingly true we live in a culture that is callous to the notion that in a civilized society men protect women in every way.

I don’t think this truth means that moms with young kids give up what is almost a universal desire to stay home with their children, and at least not work full time, during those early years.

It does mean that responsible parents will continue to teach their sons that men protect women. And, I think, we will teach our daughters to find something they love to do, and plan creatively to keep their hand in enough during the early years of their little ones’ lives that they have a career to go to — or go back to — to largely support themselves if necessary. I think women no longer have the choice of doing otherwise.

(Betsy Hart hosts the "It Takes a Parent" radio show on WYLL-AM 1160 in Chicago. Reach her through