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A review of Home By Choice: Facing the Effects of Mother’s Absence. By Brenda Hunter.

Mar 10, 1991

Multnomah Press, 1991.

In America, as in Australia, we are “creating a cultural climate that wars against mother love”, says Dr Brenda Hunter, author of Home By Choice. “During the past two decades, the American housewife has experienced a massive fall from grace. In their press for equality of the sexes, feminists in the sixties launched a wholesale assault on marriage and motherhood that continues today. The mother at home, once the keeper of the family dream, is now regarded by many as a pariah.”

Indeed, the West now has its own class of untouchables: mothers who choose to stay at home. As one put it, “It’s almost as if there’s a caste system of employment, and motherhood is down there at the bottom.”

Hunter argues that Western women have been lied to. They have been led to believe that most women with young children are in the workforce; that motherhood is not as important as out-of-home careers; and that children suffer no ill effects from day care. Hunter demolishes each of these myths and offers a clear rationale for, and defence of, the role of the homemaker.

Do most mothers of children really work away from home? Not so, says Hunter. It is claimed by the US Census Bureau that 62 per cent of mothers in America with children 18 and under are working. This figure, however, is grossly misleading. Among other things, it defines a full-time worker as one who works any full-time period throughout the year. When all the misleading statistics are adequately dealt with, it turns out that 61 per cent of mothers living with their husbands are either home full-time or part-time. Divorced mothers, who do mostly work full-time outside their homes, constitute only 11 per cent of the employed-mother pool.

What about the effects of day care on children? Is it really harmless? Hunter examines a number of studies which show that children who are abandoned physically and emotionally in their formative years are subject to a host of problems. Studies by such international experts as John Bowlby, Michael Lamb, Jay Belsky and M.D.S. Ainsworth have shown that children who spend a good deal of time away from their mothers in the first several years of life develop a number of emotional/ psychological problems which plague them throughout life.

A child’s self-esteem, security and sense of worth are all negatively affected as a result of separation from its mother, especially in infancy. Moreover, one’s view of motherhood and family is strongly shaped by the treatment one receives as a young child.

To illustrate this point, Hunter studies the early years of three leading feminist thinkers: Gloria Steinem, Germaine Greer and Betty Friedan. Not surprisingly, all three woman were products of dysfunctional families. Hunter argues that their perverse views of motherhood, children and the family were in part formed by the poor nurturing they received as children.

Betty Friedan, for example, “grew up in a household short on mother love. According to Betty’s sister, Amy, their mother, Marion, had a ‘complete inability to nurture. . . We really absolutely did not have a mother loving us’. Germaine Greer’s childhood experiences were no better: her mother allegedly was a ‘flirt’ who often would viciously beat her. All three women grew up in atypical homes where love and affection were absent or rarely displayed. Yet ironically these three women with their distorted views of family and women have become the spokesmen for what family and motherhood is supposed to be all about.

While Hunter expresses compassion for these three women and their unfortunate upbringing, she also feels anger:

“I am angry that these women used their impressive intellects to shape social policy without first examining and understanding their own personal histories. A whole generation of women has marched to their misguided anti-marriage, anti-male and anti-family music. Yet it is ultimately our own fault to have been so thoroughly influenced by feminist rhetoric without first looking at the origins of this rag.”

Hunter recognises that there may be times when a mother must work outside the home. Nor is she against careers for women. What she does argue for is that we recognise the effect our lifestyles have upon our children. They are the ones most affected by our attention, presence and care – or lack of it.

No matter how caring and loving, a surrogate care-giver can never replace a mother – or father – in providing security, love and a sense of self-worth to young children. Yet in a society which is becoming increasingly characterised by alienation, harshness and purposelessness, the love and wellbeing which only a mother and father can give is coming under increasing pressure: “Never before in American [or Australian] history have so many children been raised by strangers”.

It is this trend against the family, and the harmful effects produced by it, which Hunter targets in this book. To win the battle for the family, we need to recognise that we have been sold a bill of goods – a false vision of what family life is and can be. Women can have it all, says Hunter, “but not all at once”. Women who defer careers to give young children the nurture and support they need will live to rejoice over their decision – and with their children and grandchildren as well.

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One Response to A review of Home By Choice: Facing the Effects of Mother’s Absence. By Brenda Hunter.

  • We subsidise the childcare to strangers for them, and for the ones so bent on dual incomes, we let them push the price of houses up all while denying their children boundaries, care, security and love.

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