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Friday, Apr 18, 2014
Commentary

Things to toss: ‘Working mother’

Special to The Washington Post
Published:

When women were relatively new to the working world it made sense to identify mothers who worked for pay. But the term “working mother,” which dates back to the late 19th century, now implies that individuals who care for children without pay don’t actually work. It’s time to abolish it.

As Ann Crittenden observed more than a decade ago in “The Price of Motherhood,” cooking, cleaning, driving children to and from school and activities, and watching and educating them are viewed as “labors of love,” rather than real, hard work. Yet these are time-consuming and demanding tasks that, when outsourced, have been valued at $60,000 to $100,000 a year.

Moreover, our continued use of the term “working mothers” when we don’t call men “working fathers” reinforces the idea that mothers should be at home. The term also perpetuates a divide between stay-at-home mothers and those who work outside the home.

Far better is the phrase that a number of men are using, calling themselves “work at home” dads.

But if we really want to let in some fresh air this spring, let’s change the frame entirely — away from men and women, mothers and fathers, office and home. Let’s talk about caregivers and breadwinners — and acknowledge that the vast majority of American workers are both.


Anne-Marie Slaughter, a Princeton professor, was the director of policy planning at the State Department from 2009 to 2011. She is the incoming president of the New America Foundation.

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