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On Parenting
Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 02/15/2012

Rick Santorum on working mothers: He wasn’t all wrong

Rick Santorum, the current GOP presidential contender with a knack for igniting debate, has spent the week trying to explain his controversial comments on working mothers.

In the 2005 book “It Takes a Family,” which has been unearthed and combed through as Santorum has become a more legitimate candidate in recent days, he lamented that far too many parents with young children work outside the home:
GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum with his wife and daughters. (JONATHAN ERNST - REUTERS)

“Many women have told me, and surveys have shown, that they find it easier, more ‘professionally’ gratifying, and certainly more socially affirming, to work outside the home than to give up their careers to take care of their children.”

This is a result, he wrote, of “radical feminism’s misogynistic crusade to make working outside the home the only marker of social value and self-respect.’’

Yup, that’s what he wrote.

Cue the howls.

Cue the backpedaling. (Santorum is now saying his wife wrote the passage.)

Here’s the thing: Santorum is not entirely off base.

A new study finds that most working mothers of all classes, races and marital status say they would work even if they didn’t have to.

The study published in the February issue of Gender & Society was conducted by Karen Christopher, a professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Sociology at the University of Louisville. She focuses on 40 mothers who had at least one child under the age of 5.

She found that the majority reported feeling more fulfillment from paid work than from parenting. “Most employed mothers justified their paid work by saying it made them more fulfilled people, in addition to better mothers,” Christopher wrote.

Of course, this small study does nothing to bolster Santorum’s unsupported assumption that professional fulfillment equals child neglect or his decision to make his point gender specific. And, before Santorum (or his wife) cites the report for his next book, he needs to read on.

The majority of working women interviewed said they place limits on how much they work. Many sought jobs with less demanding employers so they might work “reasonable” hours.

The study also notes research showing that mothers with male partners still perform about twice as much childcare and housework as their partners.

In other words, no one is turning their back on their kids to seek personal fulfillment. These women are feeling responsible for both.

It’s interesting to note that a study by the Families and Work Institute last year found that fathers, too, are increasingly feeling responsible for both their careers and their families. (It’s unclear if the radical feminists are behind that nasty turn of events, too.)

One more key point for any politician who seriously cares about the status of children of working parents: In summing up her findings, Christopher suggests that two elements are constraining the ability of all parents — not just mothers — to combine employment with involved parenting.

The first: inflexible workplaces.

The second: inadequate public policies.

Perhaps those, not radical feminists, are the obstacles worth our collective attention.

What do you think?

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By  |  07:00 AM ET, 02/15/2012

Tags:  Work-Life Balance, Childcare

 
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