Were 1950s Moms Happier?

Filed under: Opinions

These days, moms have it all; we can work or stay home or do both. In theory, we should be much happier than our mothers and grandmothers, who had far fewer choices. But that doesn't seem to be the case. In a recent "New York Times" article titled "Liberated And Unhappy," op-ed columnist Ross Douthat attempts to make sense of a new study titled "The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness." According to Douthat:

"...all the achievements of the feminist era may have delivered women to greater unhappiness. In the 1960s, when Betty Friedan diagnosed her fellow wives and daughters as the victims of "the problem with no name," American women reported themselves happier, on average, than did men. Today, that gender gap has reversed. Male happiness has inched up, and female happiness has dropped. In postfeminist America, men are happier than women."

The online comments and reaction to both the study and Douthat's analysis is entertaining and thought-provoking reading for anyone interested in the state of women and families in post-feminist America. Several "New York Times" readers attributed the rise in male happiness to their increased involvement in the lives of their children. And while most agreed that the rise in single motherhood and the working moms' "famous second-shift" are indeed major contributors to the decline of female happiness, others make the case that the study is flawed because1950s moms were less inclined to answer questions of happiness honestly.

The subject of female happiness is an issue close to my heart. In fact, I have written a book on the subject ("Stay Home, Stay Happy: 10 Secrets to Loving At-Home Motherhood," due out in September). For the record, I do not believe that a return to the 1950s model is the solution; my education and the freedom I have had to chart my course in life is fundamental to my personal happiness. I feel good about being an at-home mom in large part to the choice I have had in the matter.

In my estimation, stress is central to diagnosing female unhappiness. Whether you are a working mom, a single mom, or an at-home mom, it is hard to feel "happy" when you feel overwhelmed and too many women these days are overwhelmed. Many women work because their families depend on it. Others accept the burden of the second shift as the price of professional fulfillment. Still others are home, struggling to find themselves between the diapers and endless laundry. What all women share is a desire for more balance and meaning in their lives, though we may not know or agree on how to achieve it.

I came to at-home motherhood, and to loving it, rather unexpectedly. I love what I do and over time, I came to understand that my happiness was intimately tied to the happiness of my family. With five kids under the age of ten, it's not hard to understand why we are all much happier and less stressed out with me at home. Technology (especially the internet) and a supportive, helpful and grateful husband have all contributed to making my at-home experience (mostly) joyful. I've been doing it for more than ten years now, and I can honestly say that as an at-home mom I feel both liberated and happy. I wonder what Betty Friedan would think of that?

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.