Maybe Dan Quayle Really Was Right

From the Edmonton Sun, September 12, 1993
Ted Byfield at large

It looks like many women are ready to scrap two more feminist dogmas. The first is that the "sensible thing" for women to do is to establish themselves fully in a career, then, in their late 30s, to have one or two children.

The second is that single parenthood is just as satisfying and easily accomplished as double parenthood.

The late motherhood doctrine is being challenged by the experience of late mothers.

I know a woman lawyer, a former Crown prosecutor, now the mother of several children. A child of the '60s, she followed its fashion, met her husband in law school, went into practise, and then 12 years later, when his income was sufficient to support them both, she began having children.

Given the chance again, she said, "I'd do it the other way around. I wish I'd had the kids in my 20s, and when they were in high school, went into practise. That's if I practised at all. Actually, I'd rather raise the kids and let him do the work." She indicated her grinning husband.

I put that down to the idiosyncrasy of one woman until I ran into two more who said much the same. Then I read an article last month by a New York woman named Danielle Crittenden, writing in the Washington Post.

She said she plays a private game when she watches women with children at the playground. Which are mothers and which grandmothers? Many of the former look old enough to be the latter. They were all career-firsters.

She knew all the arguments for this: how the older mother has "a greater sense of herself," how she'd had "the opportunity to work out issues of self- esteem and independence," how the child will not "define her life," and above all, how she will escape the horror of the 1950s housewife who found herself "wasted, thwarted and resentful."

Then she recalled a photograph of her own mother when she was a baby and her brother a three-year-old. The woman holding her is in her early 20s, tanned, shapely, radiating youth.

Several things became clear. For one, motherhood is just about the most physically exhausting job there is, and women in their 20s are far better able to do it. "You don't realize how much you've aged until you've had a baby," she writes.

Second, the baby itself arrives in a home where patterns are not already long established. The marriage is new, and the parents are much closer to their own childhood and, therefore, far more able to see things from a child's perspective.

Third, there's the prospect of the only child who must face alone and soon, the burden of aged parents. The child of younger parents will also know its grandparents while they're still active people. All of which, she says, casts grave doubts on the wisdom of her own generation.

The other doctrine - on the fulfilment and ease of single parenthood - is now under question everywhere. Last winter there was a story in the Atlantic Monthly, which set forth the statistical results of single parenthood. The children of single parents are much more likely to go to jail, drop out of school, have serious drug problems, and become pregnant as teenagers. In casting doubt on television's single-parent Murphy Brown as a role model, says the article, Quayle was, if fact, heavily supported by the evidence.

Now we have another article, in Redbook magazine which finds that 57 per cent of working women said they would not continue to work if they didn't have to.

This endorsed a Los Angeles Times study of 1990 which found that 79 per cent of working mothers would prefer to stay at home. (So, too, it found, would 39 per cent of working fathers, harkening back, of course, to the days of the family farm when both father and mother stayed home and the kids worked with them.)

The feminist Susan Faludi says in her book, Backlash, that this supposed trend of women fleeing the workforce is a "media-driven fantasy," part of the conservative reaction against the feminist movement.

A whole spate of new magazines and self-help books aimed at former professional women who have become full-time mothers and housewives argues against her.

Go Back to Shy David's Feminism Page.