For much of American History, divorce was a somewhat uncommon event. Legality surrounding divorce varied in accordance with state law, but for the most part divorce was only allowed in instances where an innocent party was wronged. For example, if you could prove in a court of law that your spouse was cheating on you, you had legal grounds for divorce. On the other hand, if you found your relationship was no longer viable, well, you had to tough it out.

Until the 1970’s brought a wave of divorce reforms. “Between 1970 and 1975, more than half of the states adopted some modern no-fault ground for divorce, and by 1985, every American jurisdiction except one had adopted some gerally available, explicit non-fault ground for divorce” (Wardle 79). The direct and almost immediate effect of this liberalization of the law was a sharp increase in divorce. In 1965, 10.6 married women out of every thousand brought an end their marriage. By 1979, that rate had more than doubled, to 22.8 per thousand (Furstenberg). This trend reflects a new attitude towards marriage; if it is not working, don’t force it.

Everyone has repeated the statistic that 50% of modern marriages will end in divorce. Women and men who are have lost the desire to maintain their relationship are no longer required to stay in that relationship. While I believe that this is a good thing, marriage does provide benefits to both spouses. Even in marriages where the emotional support system is gone, there is still a physical support system. This manifests itself in the domestic labor that many women perform for their families, financial support for housewives or a dual income for families where both partners work, and shared parenting duties for those couples with children. So what is to happen to these men and women when their support systems crumble?


Divorce can be a touchy subject. When two people decide to marry, they like to think that their love is ever lasting. No one likes to contemplate that their relationship might fail. Yet, the statistics prove otherwise. The fact is, a large number of marriages end in divorce. But what does the breakdown of a marriage mean for the parties involved? The next five posts will look at what happens to women and men in the aftermath of divorce through the lens of women’s work. Through alimony and child support we will discover how compensated financially for their domestic labor, both within marriage and after marriage. Then by comparing single fathers to single mothers we will discover how society still devalues working mothers, even when they don’t have a choice. Finally, we will look at what, if anything, changes if a woman decides to remarry.

Work cited for this series:

Chira, Susan. A Mother’s Place: Taking the Debate about Working Mothers beyond Guilt and Blame. New York: HarperCollins, 1998. Print.

“Custodial Parents Becoming Less Likely to Receive Full Amount of Child Support, Census Bureau Reports.” News Release. Custodial Parents Becoming Less Likely to Receive Full Amount of Child Support, Census Bureau Reports. U.S. Census Bureau, 07 Dec. 2011. Web. 09 July 2013.

Eyer, Diane E. Motherguilt: How Our Culture Blames Mothers for What’s Wrong with Society. New York: Times /Random House, 1996. Print.

Furstenburg, Frank F. “History and Current Status of Divorce in the United States.” The Future of Children 4.1 (1994): n. pag.  – The Future of Children –. Web. 09 July 2013.

Kelley, Susan. “Gender Equality’s Final Frontier: Who Cleans up | Cornell Chronicle.” CorCornell Chronicle. Cornell University, 22 Jan. 2013. Web. 10 July 2013.

Landers, Jeff. “What Divorcing Women Need To Know About Alimony ‘Reform'” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 17 May 2013. Web. 09 July 2013.

Wardle, Lynn D. “No Fault Divorce and the Divorce Continuum.” 1990. MS. Bringham Young University. Web. 9 July 2013.


The past four blogs have looked at the history of the so-called “Mommy Wars”, and how the arguments for and against working not only marginalized women who were not privileged enough to actually have a choice, but simply did not ring true for those that did. So where does that leave us today? Are the mommy wars still being fought, and what are women choosing to do about it?

According to a 2010 report from the U.S. Department of Labor, women comprised 58.6 percent of the labor force, that is some 72 million women.* While not all of these women have children, it would be a fair assumption to assume the vast majority do have children, or are planning on having children some time in the future. The media paints these women as up in arms against SAHMs, gloating over the fact that they will never know the fulfillment that work outside the home can bring (NYTimes). The other side, the media says, consists of self-sacrificing mothers who admonish working women for selfishly putting their desires before the well-being of their children.

But are these the opinions of real, live women? Actually, no – these are just media caricatures created to sell books and draw in daytime television audiences. Actual mothers, it seems, support one another. As Michele Moehren says, “[we as women] embrace our different parenting choices. Because seriously people, the world needs more love and less judgement” (Huffington post). Or as my friend Renee says so eloquently, “the reality remains, different families have different needs; mothers have different needs; individual children have different needs. The needs can be any number of things including financial, emotional or physical. One simply cannot seek to apply one right/holy feminist answer to all situations and people”. Women supporting women, regardless of choices. What a radical concept.

Every Little Beautiful Piece: Mommy Wars: What Is The Right Way To …Every Little Beautiful Piece: Mommy Wars: What Is The Right Way To …

By now, we have established that despite the “ideal” place for a mother is being at home with her children, most women are now working. Not only are they working, they are enjoying it. So, what about the children? Surely the best environment for a child is at home with their mother to guide their development and instill confidence, right?

Well, that’s what the experts would have you believe. Diane Eyer states that the childcare experts “believe that ‘othercare’ is inferior to mothercare and mass along this message…to new mothers primed to accept it as gospel” (4).  Even Spock with his gender neutral language implies that a parent should stay home during the formative years – and of course that parent should be the mother. So, mothers who work cannot bond with their children, according to them, and this lack of a firm foundation sets them up for failure later in life. It is almost comical that they can turn right around and admonish stay at home moms for smothering their children because they have no other outlet for their energy.

Anything is better than putting your child into day care, though. People were wary of daycare when it first became popular during WWII, and after the war many women went back to relying on babysitters and family for child care. However, research conducted between the mid 1970s and the 1990s assured the mothers that their child would not be harmed in day care. However, the late 90’s saw a rise in fears that children who attend daycare will not properly bond with their mother, and therefore not be able to adjust (Chira 89-90). Actually, this is far from the truth; what really matters in a child’s development continues to be a myriad of factors, including family stability, education, class status. Besides, what about the father? If an infant truly needs to  create a bond with one person, why would it matter that the bond was created between father and baby instead of mother and baby? Why this focus on women?

Choosing Daycare: Finding the Perfect FitChoosing Daycare: Finding the Perfect Fit


Charlotte Pickles, Working Mother Extraordinaire

On the heels of second wave feminism, America saw a change in how women were responding to the pressure to stay at home. The decade before saw 60 percent of undergrad coeds drop out to marry (Eyer 55), so what changed?

As mentioned in a previous blog, in 1955 a full 60 percent of households maintained the ideal nuclear family. Three decades later only four percent of American households consisted of a breadwinner father and stay-at-home mother. Likewise, in the twenty years between 1973 and 1993, the average man’s salary decreased by fourteen percent.

By the mid-nineties, married women’s wages would account for a full two-thirds of income for two parent households; that number increases to 40 percent if she works full time (Eyer 32). Given that American families are increasingly dependent on the mother’s income, the choice to stay at home is becoming less and less of an option.

The media response to the fact that many women now have to work has sprouted two different arguments. The first was that yes, women needed to work; but no, they didn’t enjoy it. The second model suggest that women could in fact be housewives if they simply made a few sacrifices and learned to budget better (Eyer 11). Both these models make the assumption that mothers actually desired to give up their careers, and that they all fit into a middle-class, two parent model. Not only were women happy to be working, plenty of women were the sole wage earners or had families that otherwise depended on their income. For them, giving up their pay check would have meant more than just sacrificing the latest fashions, it would have meant sacrificing basic necessities.

All the buzz around the mommy wars – should women work? are children better off if their mother stays home? – presumes that women made a choice to either work or stay home. Those that like to stir the pot, so to speak, conveniently forget that not all women have the privilege to make that choice.

The June Cleaver during the SAHM’s “golden age” was actually far from the truth for poor and minority women. According to Susan Chira, “ From 1900-50, the proportion of nonwhite married women who were working was around 30 percent, and that proportion soared to over 60 percent by the late 1980s” (31). In fact, she states, unlike childcare experts that bemoaned the children of working mothers being neglected, the children of these working mothers saw their work as determination to provide for their families.

Many of these mothers found ways to combine work and family life by finding ways to earn wages from home, by taking in piecework, washing laundry, and other odd jobs that could be done between childcare obligations. Also, unlike the white upper-middle class nuclear family, which left mother to parent by herself, many minority and immigrant families had large extended families to rely on (Chira 32). They had parents and grandparents to lean on for support and to provide needed childcare when necessary.

Because these women did not fit the ideal model, they were left out of the debate. Conveniently forgotten, these family structures are not to be discounted. They are proof that working women can and will provide the necessary support, both financially and emotionally, for a growing child.

Chira, Susan. A Mother’s Place: Taking the Debate about Working Mothers beyond Guilt and Blame. New York: HarperCollins, 1998. Print.

To understand the Mommy Wars, we must start at the beginning. The very beginning, before the first whimper of media outcry over working women, or even before women had jobs to “opt out of”. We must go back to the conception of the modern idea of the stay-at-home mom, or as the Victorians call her, “the angel of the house”.

The rise of the Industrial Revolution saw families moving from country to city, and men leaving home to pursue work in factories, while women stayed at home with children (Chira 25-26). Unlike with agricultural work that required the entire family to be involved, there were now two separate, distinct roles for husband and wife to fill. After a brief respite during WWII, when women’s labor was in demand to fuel the war machine, the idea of separate spheres returned to the post-war 1950’s, when women were encouraged to find fulfillment in maintaining their homes.

Indeed, the majority of families in 1955, 60 percent, in fact, were made up of a stay-at-home mother and a working father with at least two children (Eyer 32). Many argued that working women took jobs away from returning vets, and the market depended on the unpaid labor of women in the home to function. Indeed, the rise of domestic science made motherhood a legitimate and fulfilling career, anyway.

 Pop-psychology stated that women were supposed to revel in motherhood, surely something was wrong with women who needed any kind of fulfillment outside of the nursery. But indeed, was that the case, and how did women respond to other women who chose to work outside the home?

Chira, Susan. A Mother’s Place: Taking the Debate about Working Mothers beyond Guilt and Blame. New York: HarperCollins, 1998. Print.

Eyer, Diane E. Motherguilt: How Our Culture Blames Mothers for What’s Wrong with Society. New York: Times /Random House, 1996. Print.

This marks the beginning of a series of posts concerning the so-called “Mommy Wars”, the idea that working women and women who leave the workforce to care for young children are two very separate camps who believe that their chosen path is The One True Way. One camp believing that children do best when mother sacrifices all, while the other insisting that a mother without outside interest is going to smother her children.

But do mothers really say these things? Actually, no – mommy wars are by and large a fabrication of the media. These posts will follow the history of the “mommy wars” as the result of mixed messages society sends women, and what can be done about it.

Mommy Wars Bingo


First Post

June 21, 2013

Test post for History 356 blog.