Do Only "Good" Wives Stay Home?

I came across this recent book review on Amazon:


"Three timely truths: On average, highly educated wives play a crucial role in their husband’s career success, women who let their husbands take the lead in breadwinning enjoy happier marriages, and couples who focus on common goals enjoy happier and more stable marriages. So, husbands and wives, take careful note of this engaging and important new book."


W. Bradford Wilcox, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia and Director of the Marriage Matters Project


Before you throw your keyboard across the room, let me explain why the idea that wives play a crucial role in their husband’s success is an outdated fairytale.


The quote I read referred to Megan Basham’s new book, Beside Every Successful Man: A Woman's Guide to Having It All. She’s gotten enviable publicity, with two Today Show appearances, and the book is selling well, so her idea must have some cultural appeal. She uses statistics to argue the following point: when moms stay home, their husbands earn more money, the marriages are more stable, and their family enjoys a more affluent lifestyle.


Contrast this with Leslie Bennetts’ 2007 book The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much? which also got a lot of publicity. Bennetts uses statistics to argue this point: when moms work fulltime, they are happier and healthier, and they enjoy more financial independence over their lifetime.


So what is the real answer, and why do we care so much?


Here’s what Basham has to say:


"There is a reason this book is titled beside every successful man rather than behind him. It is about taking the best part of the progress women have made and combining it with age-old wisdom to create a more satisfying future for both you and your husband. The wives who were the models for this book are not put-upon ‘little women.’ They didn’t abandon their own ambitions and desires by helping their husbands achieve theirs. Their service isn’t the same thing as subservience."


Now I am all for choice. Each and every woman on the planet has the right to calculate for herself the ideal work/home equation. But I question the validity of Basham’s conclusion that staying at home leads to a husband who earns more money and a longer lasting marriage – and the underlying idea that women should stay home, and should feel good about staying home as helpmeets for their husbands.



There is no way you can measure a relationship based solely on if the wife stays home or if she works. It takes sacrifices and teamwork no matter what the working situation is. I also believe that as a working mom and for other working moms out there, we need to stop feeling so guilty. It is not the fact that we work that measures how our children will be raised, it is the quality of our parenting that truly matters. I know that at the end of the day I am exhausted from working but I am also so excited that I am able to have the quality time with my 2yr old daughter. That is the time that really matters, not if I work or stay home. Bottom line: it doesn't matter if we work or stay home, what matters is quality parenting.


I so often wonder why people think others raising their children is better for them than the parents doing it? If Mom has to work, then I totally understand, but please don't use "social skills" or "learning to listen to another adult" as a valid reason why you work and put your kids in daycare.

I was raised in childcare and I hated it. All the babysitters I went to through the years were nice enough, but I LONGED to be at home after school and during the summer. Looking back, I am no better off being at a babysitter's house 8 hours a day in the summer than my best friend who got to stay home with her Mom. PS And yes, now I'm an at home Mama, and I love it. My kids are well adjusted, are often complimented on their good behavior around other adults, and socialize just fine with the neighborhood kids.

One more thing, what is wrong with taking care of your husband? I love him dearly, so why not make him feel special for all the hard work he does for our family? It puzzles me how women today act like it's "beneath" them to take good care of their husbands--isn't that what we do whenever we love someone so much? I know if I worked and he stayed home, I'd want to be pampered a little when I got home! I personally look at staying home as my "job"; it just seems fair to me that whoever is home the most should take care of the house, cooking, cleaning, etc. Just my two cents...


I am all for mothers who working outside the home and I think childcare is a wonderful way for our kids to grow and learn more about the world and to socialize... I just wish it could all be easier. Part-time and flexible work arrangments would mean that I could still advance my career and enjoy financially rewarding work but also not be a completely exhausted, stressed out, overwhelmed parent when I get home.

leslie morgan s...

Leslie Morgan Steiner

KerryDawn - Agreed. Our babysitter worked for us for seven years and she was different -- very musical, passionately religious, more even tempered. Our kids loved her. One blessing of (quality) childcare is that your kids learn to trust other adults. And it became clear over time that the real person our babysitter took care of was ME!


I wonder why no one ever studies two-income families with a nanny...It removes quite a bit of the daily stress (and guilt) and gives the children an additional stable influence.

leslie morgan s...

Leslie Morgan Steiner

I think when both parents work and care for kids in somewhat equivalent proportions the results are best for kids and parents. However it is hard to find two employers (or many more over the span of two careers) that understand. Often it seems there is a "divide and conquer" mentality because many employers expect you to give your all to your job, without much regard to sick kids or simply kids who need their parents. And many employees have a tough time negotiating these needs. But more power to the couples who find ways to pull it off...


My husband and I both work and both stay home taking care of the kids. We take turns dropping off/picking up the kids from school and daycare and taking care of them while the other is working. As a result, we both know how much work it is taking care of the kids, as well as the pressures on the job. This eliminates the problem of the stay home mom whose husband seems to think she's on some sort of vacation taking care of the kids, and the sole-breadwinner husband who thinks his wife doesn't understand the pressure of the workplace. We both take on both roles, and so far it works for us (most of the time)...


Wondering where Bashman's analysis leaves me...both my husband and I have demanding careers but I don't work by choice. I work because my husband insists that we can't get by without both of us working (I don't agree) and he doesn't want to be the only wage earner in the family. (I want to stay home and raise my children because I personally think that's what's best for them--not that that I have any issue whatsoever with other moms who work.)

leslie morgan s...

Leslie Morgan Steiner

I agree totally. But I have to say, I meet a fair number of men of all ages who openly admit "moms who stay home are better moms" and don't seem to care at all about whether the moms want to stay home, or whether they are happiest at home. It's just a knee-jerk bias.


I'd like to see what great relationships those successful men whose wives stay home have with their children. If they make more money because they put in more hours and don't have to worry about anything at home, then something else has got to give. Also, I think the happy family thing only works if the woman staying home is the kind of woman who can be happy staying home.