Friday, February 17, 2012

Fragmentation within the right re: mommy wars?

Controversy has recently erupted over remarks of Rick Santorum's that have recently come to light regarding stay-at-home mothers. Although I have occasionally recently read other conservatives expressing similar views, such views do seem to be getting less common. (For the link-averse, the hyperlinks in the prior sentence go to a National Review writer's discussion of the problems with day care and then to a piece by one of her co-bloggers vociferously expressing disagreement .)

Perhaps interestingly, I feel like I see more cultural commentary by conservatives arguing that today's kids need less intensive parental supervision than they are currently getting. I wouldn't necesarily cast Lenore Skenazy, the author of Free Range Kids, as either especially liberal or conservative, yet her writing urging parents to be more hands-off in the raising of their children seems to get plenty of favorable attention from conservative blogs. The work of Archer-Pnin family friend Bryan Caplan urging people to be more relaxed about parenting, who is admittedly a libertarian rather than a conservative, also seems to get mostly positive attention from those who are socially conservative. All of this would seem to suggest that it is generally okay for women to have busy lives outside the home without having to worry that their children will wind up worse off in the long term. There would seem to be some natural tension between this view of the problems of contemporary parenting and Santorum's.

 To my knowledge, neither Skenazy nor Caplan has played up the feminist implications of their arguments. It is perhaps odd that the same feminists who are quick to decry Santorum for being crazy haven't responded more favorably to Skenazy and Caplan's arguments. In Caplan's case, I suspect it is because most feminists are liberals who are uncomfortable with claims that genetics play a significant role in shaping human behavior. In Skenazy's, it's less clear.

It'll be interesting to see which viewpoint comes to prevail in conservative writing. I suspect it's more likely to be the genetic determinist/anti-molly-coddling school; at least in the fragment of the conservative media world I read, the latter school already seems more popular. I suppose this school's success may be a hallmark of the success of the feminist movement. 


  1. I believe you're seeing two opposed ideas here which are not, in fact, opposed. There's a big difference between being home for one's children and hovering over the children constantly. In fact, I think the tendency to hover over children constantly and overparent them is much more pronounced in two-worker couples than in couples with a stay-at-home parent. So I think you'll find that both viewpoints are going to prevail in conservative writing.

  2. I agree that it's possible, yes. At the same time, because of modern technology and labor-saving devices, the typical stay-at-home mother has less to do in the way of non-child-raising housework than she did in, say, 1950. I can think of women reasonably close to my age who decided to quit their jobs to stay at home with a baby, but I can't think of any who felt that they needed to quit their jobs pre-baby just to stay caught up with non-baby-related housework. Without non-child-related work to fill one's time, there's sort of a natural tendency to hover. If one sees otherwise, that may be because women who stay at home are more likely to have more traditional attitudes/ be more averse to hovering than those who choose to return to work.

  3. I certainly don't dispute your account of the causation there. I also think hovering is often brought on by the guilt of working parents (usually, though not always, mothers). Much the same way that Hollywood movies and TV shows so often feature plots about fathers who didn't have time for their children, because the people making them generally are fathers who don't have time for their children.