Last week, The Washington Post ran a front-page story that said most stay-at-home moms aren’t S.U.V.-driving, daily yoga-doing, latte-drinking white, upper-middle-class women who choose to leave their high-powered careers to answer the call to motherhood. Instead, they are disproportionately low-income, non-college educated, young and Hispanic or foreign-born; in other words, they are women whose horizons are greatly limited and for whom the cost of child care, very often, makes work not a workable choice at all.
These findings, drawn from a new report by the Census Bureau, really ought to lead us to reframe our public conversations about who mothers are and why they do what they do. It should lead us away from all the moralistic bombast about mothers’ “choices” and “priorities.” It should get us thinking less about choice, in fact, and make us focus more on contingencies — the objective conditions that drive women’s lives. And they should propel us to think about the choices that we as a society must make to guarantee that the best possible opportunities are available for all families.