The relentlessness of modern mothering reflects the differences between Myrna and Mira

Mother cooking in blender pure for baby

The piece in yesterday’s New York Times, The Relentlessness of Modern Parenting, has generated 1000 comments and counting.

Parenthood in the United States has become much more demanding than it used to be.

Over just a couple of generations, parents have greatly increased the amount of time, attention and money they put into raising children. Mothers who juggle jobs outside the home spend just as much time tending their children as stay-at-home mothers did in the 1970s.

Why?

Parent” as a verb gained widespread use in the 1970s, which is also when parenting books exploded. The 1980s brought helicopter parenting, a movement to keep children safe from physical harm, spurred by high-profile child assaults and abductions (despite the fact that they were, and are, exceedingly rare). Intensive parenting was first described in the 1990s and 2000s by social scientists including Sharon Hays and Annette Lareau. It grew from a major shift in how people saw children. They began to be considered vulnerable and moldable — shaped by their early childhood experiences — an idea bolstered by advances in child development research.

I would argue that our major shift in outlook was not in how we see children, but in how we see mothers. For most of human history we have viewed mothers as nurturers who raise children. Today we see mothers as risk managers who raise future competitors in the marketplace. It’s the difference between fictional grandmother Myrna and her fictional granddaughter Mira.

We used to see mothers as nurturers; now we see them as risk managers.

Myrna gave birth to her first child in the late 1950’s at the age of 22. Her granddaughter Mira gave birth to her first child in the late 2000’s at the age of 32.

Myrna had a baby because that is what one did within a year or so of marriage. She never thought to do otherwise and, in the absence of effective birth control, there wasn’t a great deal of choice about the matter. Mira worked hard at her career and delayed both marriage and childbearing to give priority to climbing the career ladder. Having used effective birth control for well over a decade, she deliberately chose to stop using it in order to conceive.

Myrna assumed that if she went to the doctor regularly throughout pregnancy and rigorously followed his advice, she could count on having a health baby. Her granddaughter Mira considers that attitude frighteningly blasé. Her grandmother had never worried about all the things that could go wrong and all the risks that must be managed. Mira controlled her food choices rigorously, avoided a myriad of foods that might harm her baby and possibly interfere with reaching his or her full intellectual potential. She had to be constantly on her guard.

When labor started, Myrna’s husband dropped her and her suitcase at the door of the maternity ward and reappeared after baby John had been born while Myrna was anesthetized and unaware of what was happening. Myrna may have worried about caring for a newborn, but she never worried for even a moment that her baby might not bond to her. Of course she was going to love her baby and her baby was going to love her.

Mira, in contrast, choreographed Jace’s birth with exquisite care with the help of her midwife and doula and then was devastated when it did not go according to plan. Had she harmed mother-child bonding by “giving in” to an epidural? Had she destroyed Jace’s microbiome by having a C-section thereby condemning him to be sickly? Only time would tell and Mira would have to be alert for the signs.

Myrna and baby John came home to a present from her in-laws: two weeks of a night nurse so she could rest and recover. She cracked open a can of formula powder, fed the baby as much as he wanted, and then put him to sleep in his crib. She didn’t do a single night feeding until the baby nurse left two weeks later by which point she was well on the road to recovering from the rigors of birth.

Mira, in contrast, could not sleep for more than 2 hours at a stretch until Jace was nearly 4 months old; even when she slept she didn’t sleep well since her baby was in her own bed beside her. At one point she was hallucinating from exhaustion, but what choice did she have? She had to breastfeed exclusively in order to protect Jace’s health and future intellectual potential. As a responsible mother she wasn’t going to let a drop of formula touch her infant’s lips.

Sadly she wasn’t producing enough milk to fully nourish her baby so she had to pump in between feedings to boost her supply. And because Jace remained hungry, he couldn’t settle and required hours of soothing each and every day.

Myrna never worried about any of that. Sure the relentless cycle of change diapers, feed, sleep was both boring and wearying, but she and her friends could commiserate. They were all doing exactly the same thing.

Every two months Myrna took her baby to the doctor so he could get his shots and his polio vaccine. She was so grateful to live in a time when infectious disease did not routinely kill babies. Mira, in contrast, spent countless hours researching vaccines by consulting with her mom friends on Facebook. There were so many decisions to be made about the choice and timing of vaccination. Obviously she wasn’t going to simply follow doctors’ recommendations. She presented her pediatrician with a modified vaccine schedule that the doctor was expected to follow.

Myrna’s doctor told her to start the baby on rice cereal at 4 months and that’s exactly what she did. Her son gradually progressed to eating little jars of Gerber puréed foods. Mira, in contrast, was determined to hold off on solid food until at least 6 months even though it became clear at 5 months that Jace was falling off his growth chart. When she did start him on solids she prepared everything herself from organic produce with no additives of any kind and served from bowls that were BPA free. There were so many toxins in the environment and she had to be on constant alert to protect her baby.

And so it went. John played outside in his backyard; Jace went to play groups. John watched television; Jace was only allowed screen time as a special treat. John had toy guns and cars; Jace started learning his alphabet and numbers at the age of 2.

John walked to and from elementary school and was allowed to play outside after school anywhere in the neighborhood; Jace’s mother drove him to school and then ferried him to various activities afterward. John built a model of the solar system by himself from styrofoam balls and coat hangers; Jace’s mom redid his first effort, deeming it unable to meet the high standards that might be required for future entry into a competitive private high school 5 years hence. John, Mira’s father, went to Harvard; it’s important to Mira that Jace go to Harvard, too and she will leave nothing to chance.

What’s the difference between Myrna and Mira?

Myrna assumed that her child would turn out fine without any special effort. Mira assumes her child will be a fat, unhappy, failure unless she interposes herself between him and the myriad risks she imagines he faces.

The ultimate irony is that while Mira imagines her grandmother as oblivious to high stakes of childrearing, Myrna managed to raise the happy successful adult that Mira dreams of creating with a massive amount of effort.

Children haven’t changed in the past 50 years, but mothers expectations of themselves have changed nearly beyond recognition.

  • Elizabeth A

    I stripped my kids of toy guys when I realized that what was a fun and harmless game for my (white) offspring could get their (non-white) friends from upstairs shot by the police. Myrna maybe didn’t have that issue.

    I wasn’t aware that the alphabet song, or preschool counting games, were bad.

    When John was a kid, TV eventually stopped being cartoons and rolled over to being the five o’clock news. Jace can get infinite episodes of Pokemon as long as he assures Netflix that he’s still watching every three hours or so. Damn right Mira puts limits on screen time.

    Four year-olds outside alone are considered a reason to call 911 these days.

    I do not hope my children will go to Harvard, or that they will realistically aspire to anything spectacular, but the standards for having a full-time job that pays a living wage and offers health insurance appear to be getting higher, along with tuition rates and student debt. The job has changed since Myrna’s day. Maternal anxiety did not spring, unbidden, into the heads of millions of mothers simultaneously just by coincidence.

    • Neya

      I completely agree… I think some of the groups that have traditionally benefited from economic growth (i.e., white people in industrialized/developed countries) are feeling the burn and there is a lot of anxiety coming from the sense that the best days are behind us. Not to mention that for most women, we only made it to the door when the party was ending… So, a lot of us feel cheated. The consequence is that, us, the Miras of the world are trying (some more successfully than others) to find the new recipe to help our children have a good life.

    • disqus_hqrHwZ1A0F 5+

  • Neya

    I usually like this blog very much, but this post sounds like one more trite attack on millennial. Sure, modern parenthood might result in very misguided behaviors, but they do respond to very rational worries. The world is becoming increasingly competitive and we are trying to cope with that fact and help our children to compete in what will likely be an even more demanding environment. Mirna in this example would be unlikely to have a career and to understand the type of work needed to climb the corporate ladder, while Mira would have been keenly aware of the challenges that new professionals face and likely to try and prepare her child for global competitiveness. Mirna’s kid would have entered Harvard at a time where more than 50% of applicants were admitted. Current admission rates are about a tenth of that and likely to continue to drop by the time our kids are ready for college. Now, what will be the right parenting strategy to help our kids??? Well, that’s up for debate… But, definitely the “just nurture” attitude is unlikely to make the cut.

    • PeggySue

      I suspect you’re right that the pressures are different. But when the proposed solutions are so meaningless (natural birth, organic food, breastfeeding), I don’t care how old the generation is, I bemoan the lack of critical analytical skills. Honestly, how the hell does anyone think that breastfeeding will get a kid into Harvard? Also, how does anyone seriously believe that kids that don’t get into Harvard are doomed to poverty and homelessness? We’d have practically died out if that were true.

      • Neya

        I totally agree… (I, myself had to settle for attending Duke, the embarrassment! ) But, the issue is that there is no script. There is no list of check and everything will be OK. There are no colleges, no degrees, no companies where you can place your trust. Those are the challenges of the time and yes… that will mean that people who are less critical will be more susceptible to fall pray of essential snake oils (sometimes really literally).

        • PeggySue

          White people may have thought there was a script years ago, but in reality there never has been a solid one. I think of the number of kids in my high school class that had well-to-do parents, lived in good neighborhoods, went to good schools, and died in Viet Nam or from drugs. And the grade school classmates who died of leukemia, or drowning, or auto accidents… No one can keep any loved one safe from all things, and maybe it just is more real now. I will say that if I had kids I would not encourage them out of high school to go to college without a plan for something that looked like getting a job, and I would be researching that hard. This economic uncertainty goes poorly with the sort of prolonged adolescence that results from helicopter parenting and prevents kids from thinking strategically. Do something that will bring independence, I would say, even if you don’t like it so much, and then start planning for discovering and moving toward your heart’s desire. Kids literally cannot afford to drift through 4 years of college on loans and not get some skills.

          • Neya

            Absolutely! BTW, I am not white… More like the Mindy Project but in Engineering 😉

      • Young CC Prof

        1) Economic competition is getting worse, the standard of living in the USA is no longer rising, and so in some ways the stakes really are higher.

        2) A cultural narrative that paints good parenting by individual families as the way out isn’t a solution, it’s part of the problem. Oh, your kid is stuck in short-term dead end jobs? It’s not about lack of opportunity, or a poor school system, it’s about YOUR failures as a parent.

        Even when it comes to advice that actually helps, like reading to your kids, it’s just giving your child a leg up on the competition, not making success broadly available.

        During the Great Recession, I saw a lot of well-meaning older folks write articles about job searches, and much of it was reasonable and helpful–for one individual. None of it could possibly have helped the overall employment rate.

        • Melissa Wickersham

          The system must change. Human society must change and adapt. Since humanity survived the Great Depression, we are certainly able to survive our present day socioeconomic problems as long as we are able to adapt and change accordingly. We certainly can survive the problems of the present day because we are a sentient, resilient, adaptable, social species.

          • Neya

            I would not call the Great Depression a species-threatening event. However, you can argue that WWII stemmed from some of the economic pressures resulting from the Depression… so…

    • rational thinker

      Anybody who expects their infant to go to Harvard or another top college needs to get their head checked. A child who is forced to do a lot of activities so mom can brag to her friends about her parenting skills is a child that will be needing a lot of therapy as an adult.

      • Neya

        I am only using Harvard, because that was the example in the post. The point is that competition has grown exponentially and that thinking that just sending kids out to ride their bikes is bemoaning a time when a lot more people would earn a middle class living with a high school diploma.

        • rational thinker

          My point is only that many of the intensive mother types are putting way to much pressure on their child to be the best that in the long run it may hurt more than help. Especially if this is done purely for moms ego.

        • fiftyfifty1

          You have a good point. Children growing up in the 1950’s had something like an 85% chance of doing better financially than their parents. In today’s economy, something like 50% end up worse off. So although the anxiety may be toxic at times, it’s not based on nothing (or only a desire to show off.)

          • Who?

            But don’t we only know that in retrospect?

            I can imagine that everyone assumed that life would go on as it was, and that with some extra funds in the bank bright little Johnny and Mary (maybe Mary) could continue their education rather than follow Dad into the mine/car factory or whatever, but the Homer Simpson model was an end in itself, surely?

            It must have felt like new and fantastic things, that really did make life better and easier (automatic washing machines, anyone) were coming out all the time, and were in reach of families. Maybe they still had their cautious depression era parents’ voices in their other ear, about debt/frugality etc.

          • fiftyfifty1

            It’s true that we only can be sure in retrospect, but I think that in real time there are hints. When Elmer (Myrna’s husband) works at the factory and he is doing well better than his own parents did, and he hears from his coworkers that their young adult children are getting employed right away and doing great themselves, then the hints are good. But when Mira hears from her coworkers that their young adult children are back living at home, having trouble finding a job that can pay off their college loans, then that is a different hint. Breastfeeding and organic baby foods won’t help, of course, but perhaps Mira is not just being silly when she looks for ways to help her kids stand out.

          • Neya

            You hit the nail right on the head… My last year of college my professor told me that he had seven job offers before he graduated his engineering program. I was so confident that that would me… I had the grades, the internships, the study abroad, and spoke three languages (child of immigrants…). Several months later, I had put over a hundred CVs online and nothing… That was my first hint that the expectations were not ever going to match my reality… In the end, I did get a good (enough) job — after several months of watching “the post graduate” too many times and biting my nails about student loans. But… Many of my classmates were not so lucky and kept struggling through the recession. I think this natural mamma is both a reaction to the work anxiety we experienced out of college and the fact that many stay-at-home mammas would have stayed in the workforce had there been jobs that paid enough to afford daycare. Many of us had to trade our DOA professional lives for making sure that our children will have the choice to have professional careers. So, there is a lot of pressure and investment in shaping kids a certain way — the way some of us might think would have made a difference for our own careers.

          • Madtowngirl

            For sure, I would have stayed in the work force if my job paid enough to afford daycare, and also if our local infant roooms didn’t have wait lists over a year long (different issue, though). I never pictured myself as a stay at home mom, and although I love being with my daughter, I do not enjoy this lifestyle at all. Partially because of the ludicrous pressure of performative mothering.

            I also have kind of a weird background in that my well-educated father was laid off from his job twice while I was growing up, and because of the field he was in, he struggled to find work. I’m probably one of the few people of my generation who grew up knowing that work wasn’t guaranteed, and while that was a good thing to see, it also conditioned me to take the first job offer I was given. As a result, I probably screwed over my career options long before I left to be a stay at home mom. I am pretty concerned about what re-entering the workforce is going to look like for me.

    • Melissa Wickersham

      Blame all this trouble on the changed socioeconomic systems of today. We human beings must adapt to the problems of our present day world for the human species to survive.

      Human beings have always adapted to our changing world and our changing society. Our species will adapt as always.

  • Marie

    I totally agree with the overall sentiment that parenting anxiety and attitudes have changed enormously in the past two generations, but I also find that many people add to their own martyrdom by looking back and falsely claiming that their grandmothers had it “easy” compared to them. I would argue that it was different, and some things may have been easier, but others were much harder. Myrna may not have had to puree her own organic baby food, but she was probably expected to have a made from scratch meal complete with a home baked dessert on the table every day. The neighbourhood may not have judged her parenting as much, but there would have been plenty of people to sneer and judge if her house was less than spic and span or her children’s shoes weren’t polished on Sunday. Her choices about family size were much more limited and diseases that now have effective treatments routinely killed many young children. If John had developmental delays, the doctor would likely have labelled him “retarded” and recommend placing him in an institution and “trying again”. This is what I think of when I hear moms lament that parenting these days is “so, so much harder” than it’s ever been before, and the judgement and dangers and challenges are unprecedented in human history. I think we can all learn from Myrna and it’s good to keep history in mind, but I still wouldn’t want to trade places with her.

    • Cristina

      I agree. My mother in law was in her mid to late 20s when she had her first in 71. She made a comment once about social status being tied to having her kids potty trained by the age of 2. She was a hard core breast feeding advocate and her husband was one of the few allowed in the birthing room at the hospital she delivered at. She carried that attitude over to her daughter and daughter in law (not me), which was evident when my sister in law suffered through several bouts of thrush to breastfeed. She was proud that my niece *knew* vaginal birth was better than c-section (said niece and sister were both c-section babies).
      She was absolutely gobsmacked about how healthy my boys were, despite never being breastfed. Pretty sure her attitude was the exception and not the rule though.

      • MaineJen

        My mom was very into breastfeeding in the late 70s/early 80s, and my dad was always in the delivery room, but I agree, I think it was the exception back then. And she wasn’t militant about it; there were always bottles and formula around, too. (As the oldest of 4, I remember this very well!)

        One of my brothers ended up on mostly formula anyway, after he was re-hospitalized due to infection shortly after birth, and the stress of that caused mom’s milk to dry up. There is no appreciable difference in his health compared to the rest of us, surprise!

        • Cristina

          Ugh, my MIL was responsible for bringing a version of BFHI to my hometown. But considering how much she looked down on it, she insisted on taking a turn feeding my kids. It’s almost like she was able to bond with them because of it or something, haha.

      • Who?

        Toilet trained by age two? Oh no, back in the sixties we were all toilet trained by our first birthday, apparently.

        Some people can’t even walk by the time they are one.

        Eyeroll.

    • Melissa Wickersham

      Yes, children with disabilities have better opportunities in life because our society and our medical science has changed for the better.

  • fiftyfifty1

    I think about these generational differences in parenting a lot. Some things are worse, some better. I agree that the level of worrying for mothers has gone way up. Just about everything holds a potential danger now. Then again, many things do hold potential dangers. In my own family, the “Myrna” generation experienced the preventable loss of 2 of their children: my grandparents lost a toddler to drowning and my great aunt and uncle lost a baby who rolled between the bed and the wall. So that generation might not have suffered much with worrying, but they suffered plenty with mourning. And the high alert over child development paid off for my generation. My cousin’s child was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at 12 months, has received special services ever since, and is thriving. But in my parents’ generation there are a couple of uncles who clearly are neuro-atypical who grew up being called “lazy” and “retarded” by the world around them, including their teachers.

    • MaineJen

      Too right. Every class in school had that one kid who was “bad” or “lazy,” never did homework, always getting in trouble…and was probably learning disabled/ASD, but those things were not thought of in the early 80s.

      • Ozlsn

        Where I grew up there were two streams of public schools – the high schools, which took boys and girls and were more academically focused in the senior levels, and the technical schools which didn’t start taking girls until several years into my high schooling years, and which had a reputation as “dumping grounds” for “difficult boys”. (Not always – I have friends who went there because their parents wanted them to go into trades.) They did have a lot of kids with behavioural issues though, and it took me quite a while to realise what some of that was quite likely due to. Not the MMR vaccine, that’s for sure.

  • AnnaD2013

    Natural, attachment parenting: NO RED DYE #5 IN YOUR FOOD EVER!!!

    Also natural parenting: Measles? Whooping cough? Eh, not worried.

    • Cristina

      I didn’t hear about the red dye #5 thing until after my oldest was in kindergarten. I was sooo confused, haha

  • demodocus

    Unfortunately, these days your neighbors are more likely to call the cops on you if you let your kid go play outside without you 6 feet away. Hell, some call on my Dem when he’s walking with a kid on a freaking tether, because apparently blind men cannot be safe and effective parents. Great for his generalized anxiety disorder.

    • FormerPhysicist

      I hear you!

      I had no fewer than 10 mothers call me in a tizzy when I told the girl scout leader that my 10-year-old fourth-grader could walk home from the library after the troop meeting. In 60 degree weather, in broad daylight, less than 3 blocks. With one street to cross – with a light, a crosswalk and a button to push for the crosswalk. In one of the safest suburbs in the state (by police stats). It turns you into a helicopter mom.
      Oh, and I have been asked to have my kids call before they show up and knock on the door to see if their friends can play. Sigh.

  • lawyer jane

    Pretty good, except for that you leave out the part where most women have to work FT and often live in areas with a lot of traffic … so the halcyon days of 5 year olds walking home from school are legitimately not really possible. The economy HAS changed, in ways that do affect childrearing. Also social mobility has drastically decreased since the mid-1950s (sharp decrease in the 80s) so anxiety about advancing your own children is perhaps more rational now.

    • space_upstairs

      Yes, but I think a lot of the anxiety is ill-focused. Enrolling kids in activities starting in elementary school may actually be a good idea, as may be getting them tutoring. Homework “help” (doing much of their homework for them) may give a short-term boost but at the possible expense of learning independent study skills. What does *not* make sense to me is worrying that the minute details of how you bear and feed your baby, whether and when the baby gets his or her shots, whether the child is in your arms day and night in the first years, and even the child’s preschool education will make all the difference between Fortune 500 and the local pizza hole-in-the-wall 25 years down the line. I was combo fed and learned to read before kindergarten while my sisters were exclusively formula-fed and learned to read in the first grade. They both scored higher than me on standardized tests in English language and literature by high school, and my older sister is the most economically successful of us (although to be fair, I have the highest degree and no debt besides mortgage, so I have not done badly). If early childhood details like infant feeding and pre-school learning seemed not to matter in my family in my generation, I doubt they will matter in the next.

      • Who?

        Our kids are the safest and healthiest in the history of the world. I think parents always wanted to do their best-back in the day that was lavender spray on the pillow, a hot water bottle and prayer.

        We probably struggle to remember that letting our kids get the odd skinned knee (or similarly age-appropriate, uncomfortable but not long term dangerous injury) is good for them.

        • space_upstairs

          Yeah, I guess between our culture and our instincts, it’s normal to want “better” for our kids. But where can we improve the most? Maybe I’ll feel different when, anytime now, my daughter is in my arms, but the suffering I most hope to spare her is obsession over status and physical well-being. I was just worrying the other day that her predicted macrosomia (they estimated she was already 8.5 lbs at 38 weeks and so would exceed 8.8 lb if born when expected) was due to my eating a bit too much over the past month, despite negative diabetes screening, normal weight gain, regular exercise before and after the 2 weeks rest, and normal BMI pre-pregnancy. My OB reassured me probably not: I was macrosomic myself, and there were no other risk factors besides that. I hope that if she decides to have kids some day, she does less of that kind of worrying than I do. So there are different ways to envision “better” for a child than food, medicine, schooling, and bank accounts.

          • Who?

            There are. That particular treadmill is not a healthy or easy one to embark on. Children watch what you do way more than they hear (or listen to) what you say.

            That said, sufficient food, required medicine, adequate schooling and a little put aside are good for everyone’s sleep, future and peace of mind.

            Be kind to her, to your partner and to yourself. I don’t believe there is better parenting advice out there.

            On the worry thing, I have one child who is a worrier, and one who is not. The worrier, aged 23, was diagnosed with OCD, which I’m pretty sure her Dad (my husband) also has. The medication has changed her life considerably for the better. She worries because she is wired that way.

            Our silver screwdrivers, or whatever is the preferred tool for knocking off our children’s rough edges and fine-tuning, are not perfect instruments. Lucky the children aren’t perfect either.

          • space_upstairs

            Thanks. I guess I can’t be sure that progress against my own tendency to worry over trivial things will be enough to protect my daughter, but that plus the material basics you mention and plain old love are what I can hope to offer her.

          • demodocus

            I know I feel a bit easier now that the school thinks BoyBard ticks a lot of the same boxes as kids diagnosed with ADHD do. If he’s got ADHD, then it’s not entirely my bad parenting that means he has such a hard time sitting still, being quiet, and behaving when needed.

          • Mel

            I’m naturally a worrier myself. Having the Spawn show up super-early has given me lots of needed practice in letting go of what I can’t control.

            One of the activities that has made me relax even more is spending time subbing in special education classrooms. Whenever I feel myself getting wound up about Spawn’s gross motor delays – or whatever my worry du jour is – I remind myself that he’ll get plenty of help from people who have trained to help kids who need extra help for as long as he needs it.

          • space_upstairs

            Good that you have that tether to the lighter side of reality. For my case, I can remind myself that my own high birth weight caused no problems, and my mother’s obesity and gestacional diabetes that contributed to my high birth weight did not ruin either my life or hers.

          • demodocus

            *hugs* My kids were both 8 pounders, too. Since their Dad 9 3/4 pounds, there may be reasons. I didn’t have GD, either. (I was a preemie, so not much of help there.)

          • space_upstairs

            Thanks. I was over 9 1/2 pounds at birth and my husband was a good 8 1/4, so I was not expecting a tiny baby if she made it to term (which thankfully she did following the 32 week scare). And she still could come out a little under 8.8 lb given the margin of error in her estimated size and due date, like my nephew who also was predicted to be a 9 pounder without my sister having GD. But anyway, even if she does come out a whopper like I was, they have all kinds of ways to handle any possible consequences of that and I’m not going to reject them out of crunchiness.

          • Empliau

            My siblings were 8lb4oz, 9lb8oz, 10lb4oz. All normal weight and healthy adults. My eldest sister is the runt – 7lb15oz. No GD in my mom. And the 10 pounder was the easiest birth and slept through the night by 1 week old.

    • Mel

      Eh, social mobility in the US has always been more of a dream than a reality.

      There was an unprecedented upward mobility of white men from working-class trade families to white collar jobs in the post-WWII years through the late 1960’s – but that was built on some pretty extraordinary circumstances.

      If you were a white man who was a veteran, the combination of cheap public housing, the GI Bill, and VA mortgages made a college education and owning a single-family home possible for millions of men who couldn’t afford it before.

      For vets who were female or men of color, this largess was greatly curtailed.

      For the white men who weren’t veterans (e.g., farm exemptions) or who didn’t want to go to college, the fact that Europe, Japan and Russia had received catastrophic damages to industry and agriculture meant that the US had a ready market for all the do-dabs and food stuffs we could produce.

      If you were a woman, your career options actually regressed. There was massive push-back against women working after marriage in ways that were unheard of in the 1920’s and 1940’s. My maternal grandmother worked for the war effort while grandpa was fighting overseas. Another woman whose husband was overseas would stay home with her two and Grandma’s two kids while Grandma worked. The 1950’s and 1960’s were not a good time for her; she missed working. Plus, the marriage age dropped so low that many women’s education got cut off by pregnancy and childbearing by age 20-22.

      No, social mobility in the US has been more a matter of being within a slightly higher or slightly lower situation than your parents, My grandparents barely finished grade school – same for my husband’s grandparents. Our parents all finished high school and two completed bachelor’s degrees. Of the seven adult siblings between my husband and I, six have completed bachelor’s degrees and one has a master’s degree – but we all agree we’d make more if we had done HVAC or electrician work.

      I’ve seen the same pattern among my students. Completing high school in the US is a real achievement when your parents received a disrupted education that ended between 4th-6th grade in Mexico. Some of those kids have already earned post-secondary trade certifications before age 30 and are earning more than I did as their teacher at the same age.

      I’m going to do for my son what my parents did for me – model enjoying hard work and taking pride in finishing a job. He’s really little so I don’t know if college or trade school is the best option for him yet – but I’ll also be insanely proud of him no matter which he chooses like my parents have been for me.

  • rational thinker

    Sometimes I think these intensive mothers aren’t doing all the extra bullshit for the child. Instead she maybe does it to look good to a social group she belongs to. Like she would maybe love to use formula but she wont dare do it or she would be shunned by her group and sadly the social status may be more important to her. Im not saying that’s the case with all of them but I have seen it a few times.

  • Daleth

    Wow, this says it all:

    “Myrna assumed that her child would turn out fine without any special
    effort. Mira assumes her child will be a fat, unhappy, failure unless
    she interposes herself between him and the myriad risks she imagines he
    faces.”

  • KQ Not Signed In

    This one hit me right upside the head. Damn, Dr. Amy. Way to sum it up so eloquently!