How the Role of the Stay at Home Mom Has Changed

Throughout history, the role of "mom" has been one of the most scrutinized, cherished, debated, beloved, ridiculed, coveted, revered, and questioned.

Should women stay at home with their kids full time? Does it damage kids emotionally if their mothers work? Does it make them clingy and incapable if their mothers stay at home? Should mothers feel guilty for working? Are mothers who don't stay at home missing some sort of maternal instinct? Are mothers who stay at home crippling feminist progress?

Over different eras, the answers to these questions could be entirely different based on the thoughts and perspectives of different societies.

Economic prosperity following WWII led to the first surge in stay at home moms, as more families found that they could live comfortably on solely the husband's income. According to a study by the US Census Bureau's Fertility and Family Statistics Branch, women's employment over the last 40 years outside of the home has been steadily on the rise. "Perhaps not surprisingly, men's real wages during the last 40 years have experienced a steady decline (Levy 1995; Oppenheimer et al 1997) such that women's wages in paid work are an increasing component of family income." Thus, we have our first difference.

More Moms Work Outside the Home

According to Stephanie Coontz, a historian at The Evergreen State College in Washington and author of "A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s,"in the 1950s, only 19 percent of mothers with small children worked outside the home (Basic Books, 2011).

Today in the U.S., 71% of all mothers work outside the home. However, the share of mothers who are stay at home moms rose to 29% in 2012, up from a 23% modern-era low in 1999, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of government data.

They Spend More Time With The Kids

One of the favorite arguments among those who support stay at home moms is that working moms won't spend an adequate amount of time with the kids. Wrong. According to Pew, mothers spent 10 hours a week on child care in 1965, while dads spent a just 2.5 hours taking care of their kids. But as of 2011, moms' time with the kids jumped up to 14 hours a week on childcare and dads' to seven.

That increase came despite moms' time working outside the home also jumped up eight hours a week on average in 1965 to 21 hours a week on average in 2011. Take that.

The Image of Mothers Has Had Some Ups and Downs

In the 1800s, women and mothers had barely any legal rights, yet they were regarded as the moral compasses of America.They were responsible for raising strong sons who would lead the nation.

In the early 1900s, Sigmund Freud's theories of child development perverted the view of motherhood. His theories were all the rage and painted the parents, especially the mother, as the root of the child's problems, even in sexual ways. Mothers' reputations declined over the first 80 years of the 20th century.

In 1942, pulp sci-fi author Philip Wylie published a book bashing American mothers for raising wimpy sons called "Generation of Vipers."

"Never before has a great nation of brave and dreaming men absent-mindedly created a huge class of idle, middle-aged women," Wylie's 1955 edition of the book said.

But today mom's are praised as hard-working. Politicians address them and they are largely respected as the amazing individuals that they are, deserving of gratitude and admiration.

Mothers Are Mother's Toughest Critics

In the past, moms used to be each other's biggest allies. Moms would use each other as resources, sharing tips, helping each other out and working together toward common goals. Now, there exists a huge fear among the world of mothers of constant judgement. Mom shaming is a real thing and a real issue.

When a baby falls and bangs its head, a mother doesn't worry as much about if the baby is OK. The baby is OK. Babies have been falling and hitting their heads for years. The mom worries more that other moms will see the bruise and think that she neglects her child, that they will talk about her, that she will be the new subject of gossip.


Motherhood has changed multiple times over the course of history. It has been shaped by societal, economic, historical and countless other factors that have influenced whether or not it is "acceptable" for women to work outside of the home or if they should be content with their maternal role as stay at home mom. But the bottom line is that motherhood is personal.

Working from outside the home or being a stay at home mom should be the mother's choice (with input from her significant other if she has one, of course). It should not be something that induces guilt or shame. As women, it's time to stop judging one another for our choices when it comes to motherhood, but rather support and lift each other toward the common goal of happy and healthy babies and being strong, powerful women. Who says these things have to be mutually exclusive?