The competing ideals of the caring, stay-at-home mother and the high-powered career woman have collided for decades, and Ivy League schools have often been breeding grounds for the latter. In a New York Times article last month, Louise Story ’03 SOM ’06 tackled this issue, igniting controversy by asserting that most Ivy League women want to forgo career success for family.
But amidst the controversy and debate over the article — which garnered criticism from the Yale Women’s Center, national journalists and female Yale undergraduates — the male opinion has been largely ignored, leading many to question what Yale men think of the issue. The consensus among some male undergraduates is that one parent should stay home with the children, but they had wide-ranging opinions on where exactly the responsibility should fall.
Some men expressed frustration at society’s persistence in encouraging women to sacrifice their careers for motherhood.
“I am greatly disturbed by the notion of the stay-at-home mother without giving equal weight to the parallel concept of the stay-at-home father,” Hale Season ’06 said. “It’s important that the decision of who stays home is evaluated on a case-by-case basis in which families weigh the income potential and parenting capabilities of each parent.”
Averil Clarke, who teaches a seminar at Yale called “Marriage and Family,” said college students can speculate about their future family lives but they may eventually stray from their intended paths.
“On the one hand, we do have certain kinds of aspirations. Based on the families we grew up in, some of us want to mimic those families and others don’t want to,” Clarke said. “Very few [students], it seems to me, will be making all of those decisions before five or six years from now.”
Eric Sandberg-Zakian ’07, the outreach coordinator for the Women’s Center, said each parent’s role should not be determined by one factor, such as how much money each earns or who is supposedly the more competent parent.
“There are as many situations as there are families,” Sandberg-Zakian said. “It’s important not to reduce individual situations to generalizations. You end up with assumptions that are as old as, ‘women should stay home’ or as new as ‘the parent who makes less money should stay home.’ Both are problematic.”
Some Yale men said they want their wives to keep working not only for the sake of the children, but also for the health of the marital relationship.
“Women with careers who are driven have more to talk about when they come home,” Tom Hamilton ’08 said. “Instead of a conversation about moving the couch around, I’d much rather hear about a kick-ass presentation she gave at work. If necessary, I’ll take care of the kids.”
Diana Bernal ’08 said she agrees that each situation is unique, but questioned whether college-aged men will ultimately follow through on theoretical offers to stay at home.
“I don’t think that if they end up with the less high-powered job that they’ll be volunteering to stay at home,” she said. “It’s always a power struggle.”
One male student who wished to remain anonymous spoke to Bernal’s concerns. Ideally, he said, he would not have to stay home with the children during the work week.
Other men at Yale had mixed feelings about the issue.
“Too often equality in a marriage is perceived as the identicalness of men and women, and I don’t think that’s necessarily true,” Michael Duvall ’08 said. “I guess I’m more of a traditionalist when it comes to family structure, maybe as a reflection of my coming from the Midwest.”
If a woman is unhappy in either situation, whether in the workplace or in the home, Duvall said, she should find a balance that works for her.
Joseph Fuccillo ’08 said the most important goal should be to give the children the full attention they need — if he had to take time off work to do so he would. But Fuccillo echoed Howell’s opinion that couples should consider the relative career status of each spouse.
“If I had the more lucrative job and it was able to support the family, then I would want my wife to stay with the kids as much as possible,” he said.
But Bernal said she thinks more factors should be considered than who has the better job. Just because one person has a less demanding job does not mean they have less passion for it and should automatically be expected to give it up, she said.
Clarke said she is not surprised by students’ mixed reactions. Because it is increasingly common for females to pursue higher education and achieve high-paying jobs, she said it is more likely that this generation of males will marry women with equivalent educational backgrounds and have to work these issues out.
As the prevalence of highly successful couples increases, the biggest change is not more stay-at-home dads but more outsourcing, Clarke said.
“What’s actually happening, at least in the U.S., is that women are increasingly giving the job [of parenting] to women who don’t have the same level of educational opportunity that they do,” she said. “When two people are interested in high-powered careers, it results less in competition between the two entities and more in a sort of offshore marketing in parenting.”
At Trinity School in New York City, where Bernal went to high school, this was a common phenomenon, she said. An expensive private school, Trinity drew many successful, career-driven parents, and as a result many students had nannies or babysitters. Bernal said it was not unusual for her classmates to have stronger relationships with their babysitters than with their parents.
“They’re surrogate mothers,” Bernal said. “For some of my classmates it worked out really well and they’re just as well-rounded because they had not only their parents but someone else who was constantly there for them. Others never forged that bond and felt neglected.”
It is less a matter of who stays home, Bernal said, but more about the quality of the relationship between children and their caregivers.