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October 20th, 2009 by Dr. Phil

The Debate that Never Dies

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(l. to r.) Producer Anita Pepper, attorney Cindy Teele and Executive Producer Carla Pennington

In the eight years we’ve been doing Dr. Phil, we have done  three or four shows devoted to a topic that is in my view important and always controversial: stay-at-home moms vs. career moms. Wednesday’s show is about that very topic and is, I think, the best we have ever done on the important challenges both types of moms face. In fact, something took place that’s never happened before in the history of Dr. Phil. One of the more outspoken stay-at-home mothers said — and I paraphrase — that if a woman can’t stay at home with her kids, then maybe she just shouldn’t have them! We asked this woman on the show to share her views, and appreciated her willingness to take a stand, but then our staff did too. At a break, my executive producer, Carla Pennington, a mother of twins, told me that she felt compelled to share her own views as a dedicated, working, single mother who wanted to speak for those moms that are in situations that require them to work outside the home.

I said, “Well, then, come on out here.” And Carla and two other staffers with similar viewpoints (our show’s attorney, Cindy Teele, who has a daughter, and producer, Anita Pepper, the daughter of a working mother) took off their headsets and uncharacteristically stepped in front of the camera defending the integrity of career mothers.

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Carla Pennington, Executive Producer, "Dr. Phil"

It bothers me to see any division among moms, working or otherwise, because both groups share such a devotion to their children. You would think by now that we would have found some common ground on this issue. Not so. A lot of working moms just can’t understand mothers who want to do “nothing” (seems like a pretty busy “nothing” to me!) but spend their days and nights with their children. And a lot of stay-at-home moms dismiss full-time career mothers as selfish women who blatantly pursue a career at the “expense” of their children. I’m guessing many are working to “cover” expenses, not exact them from their children. So it seems like a lot of misunderstanding to me.

I really want you to watch on Wednesday, because we’re going to give you what I think is some very interesting information regarding the real impact a working mother has on her child versus a stay-at-home mom. Are the children of one group more neglected than the other? Are children who spend their days in childcare better or worse equipped for life than children whose mothers are always at home?

And, in the end, how much additional time do stay-at-home moms actually spend with their children compared to working moms? Is it enough to make that big of a difference?

When the show is over Wednesday, I would love to hear from you. What do you think: How can the two sides get together?

Do you think moms should stay at home with their kids? Take a poll!

Here’s my video reply to your comments:

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776 Responses to “The Debate that Never Dies”

  1. Cheryl says:

    I think the comment that if you aren’t prepared to stay at home, you should not have children is the most rude and arrogant statement I have ever heard. We could start making a long list of requirements that people should have to meet before they have children then. We could say, must stay at home, can not smoke or live with anyone who smokes (which I agree with), have a minimum IQ of 115, be free from any potential genetic illness, etc. So that comment was just unnecessary. My sisters and I were raised by a single working mother. One of my sisters stayed home with her kids for for the first ten years of their lives. My other sister had no children and I had my children later in life so we all chose different paths. My husband and I both work full time. The idea that both parents work so the family can take lavish vacations, etc. is not realistic. It is the case sometimes, but not for most we know. Not everyone has one spouse that can make enough to pay for basic needs. We have had one family vaction in ten years and it cost us $750. I would love to be a stay at home mom but if I had we would not have had health or dental insurance and we would likely need to take government assistance of some kind. We do own our own home and it is quite average. What we are able to do because we both work is to help our two moms (our children’s grandmothers) out with groceries and other things when they need it as they are living on social security and need our help. So..again, the judgement of working mothers is just wrong. Next I have to say that I LOVE being a mother. It is the hardest job I have ever had and the most rewarding. Even though I work full time, I sit down and eat breakfast and dinner with my children most days. We eat home cooked meals seven days a week and go out to a restaurant once or twice a month. We all sit down around the table after dinner (husband included) and review home work, listen to clarinet practice and take our daughters to dance and soccer practices. I am in the PTA , a home room mom and a Girl Scout troop leader as well. We spend way more time with our children than many people we know, working or not. It really depends on the person. We know stay at home parents who have ample income to pay for everything their children need and we know stay at home parents who are on food stamps, free lunches, etc. This really is a decision to be made by families based on their own personalities and circumstances. My husband and I both work regular business hours, both make about the same amount of money and both spend time parenting. I can not believe someone should suggest that I should forgo my children because I have to work. Whether or not a mom works or not doesn’t matter to me, but when a mom spends more time sitting in front of the TV than talking to their child or counts a pop tart as an acceptable food, then that is a problem for me. So everyone has different opinions about what makes a good parent. I for one believe that the best parents provide their children’s food, shelter, clothing and saftey as well as make sure their children are well educated scholastically, religiously and socially. How it is done is up to the individual. There are many ways to get to the same place. I have amazing children who are doing well in school, are generous with others and polite. You choose your way and I’ll choose mine.

  2. Linda says:

    When I was little, there were times when my mom worked and times when she stayed at home. I have to say I was much, much happier to be able to come home from school and have her there as opposed to having to go somewhere else and wait for someone to pick me up to go home.

  3. Marlana says:

    I am a stay at home Mom for the last year. I have always had a career and that was always important to me- I liked working. I’m not the best stay at home Mom, I guess at times being alone all day gets to me…..(I’m extremely extrovert and love people)My husband feels that the house should be perfect…well it’s not. Due to my Mother-N-Law passing a year ago, some circumstances changed and my husband wanted me to stay at home and financially it was difficult for me to return with also the birth of my last son a month after my Mother-N-Laws death and also some medical problems from the birth. I have given a lot of sacrifices to stay at home, we all have- this is where this is all going. The most is financially. There are months when we don’t know how we are going to pay our bills. We no longer have luxuries such as cell phones, local TV, Blockbuster movies or going out to eat at a nice restaurant or even going shopping for clothes for anyone in the family, taking the kids to cool places, etc…. My children received hand me down clothes for the start of school this year. It is very difficult struggle. Me going back to work though would require two children to be in daycare, which means that I would have to have a very high paying job and being that I didn’t finish college, well, even though I have some good experience, it’s just not going to happen with the high paying job. My biggest guilt is that I can not buy for the children. Birthday’s this year was limited to 30.00 each child. Christmas, well, we just don’t know what’s going to happen to that. My question is this, at what point does the sacrifice to stay at home become wrong for the children?

  4. Jean says:

    I don’t beleive a lot of women plan to be working moms. I certainly didn’t. But, I am married to a teacher, didn’t plan on getting pregnant when I did and ended up having to work in order to help pay our bills. Are wives supposed to just quit their jobs and tell their husbands to wave their magic wand to come up with the money that is now gone? It’s been 15 years and we now have 3 beautiful girls, all very successful in school and their extra-curricular activities. They are respectful, good citizens. For those women that believe I shouldn’t have had these beautiful children, I challenge you to meet them and tell them that.

  5. Sue says:

    Why can’t we celebrate the fact that we have a choice? My grandmother, an elementary school teacher in the 20’s could not teach and be married. She and my grandfather were married secretly for 2 years so she could continue to do the work that she loved and for which she went 4 years to college. And that is just being married. A pregnant teacher was unheard of and a working mother?! Never.

    We have come so far. Let us agree that we have a choice and let each mother decide which is best for her and her family.

  6. Anna says:

    I am a mother of three children three years and younger. Single but with financial help of the father in all the ways needed. This is the first time I have been a stay at home mother for I dont know I would say about six months now.. And I just think that if your a parent you do what you have to do for your family. If you have to work then you do but if you have the financial help and dont really need the work because you meet your financial needs then stay at home with the children. I have experienced both and would prefer to work at least part time so that it makes me feel like a better mother I guess.

  7. dolly green says:

    I don’t think i really had a choice to be an at home mom. I got a couple breaks where i could stay at home short term, but not indefinitely. I have two children one of each. When i was pregnant i had the choice to give my child up for adoption or keep him. By choosing to keep him i knew i would have to work to support him. I think it’s actually good for my children to see me working and trying to do things for the betterment of others. I think it’s good for some mothers to stay at home if that’s the environment where they have the choice to stay at home and if that’s what their heart tells them to do. What’s good for one isn’t for another. I think this is an individual thing. Each woman has to decide this for herself and i don’t think any one has the right to judge another for their choice. Me personally i love my children very dearly but i think it’s good for everyone to have their own thing going on. my children have school, their own battles and i have mine it’s just nice to know that we have a soft place to land at the end of everyday. So to each their own just try to be open minded. Later

  8. Melody H says:

    I have been on both sides of the spectrum in many different ways. When i first became a mother, i was legally too young to work. Once i was able to get into the workforce i felt relieved that my child’s well-being wasn’t solely in my hands at least for a few hours a day. As i got older and my situation changed (immensely) i have learned that this debate goes on because the ones saying “This way is better” , cant seem to look at the other party and put themselves in their shoes. Being a full-time stay at home mother to 3 kids now & having had to work my butt off back then, I have to say, I get it. The joys and pains are the same , though, they come from different places. My opinion is, as long as the kids are growing into balanced, well educated, and well rounded little people….does it really matter where the parents spend their day? I think what matters is where they are at the END of the day.

  9. MaryLou says:

    I have been both a stay at home mother and a working mother at diferent times in my childrens lives. It does not matter whether or not the mother works or stays at home. It matters whether or not she takes the time to love and teach her children. They cannot learn good manners or respect for others if they are not taught. I have watched other parents expect their children to know how to do things (such as how to behave in public) without teaching them what they are expected to do and then they are upset with the child. I wonder how they would feel if someone handed them a book and expected them to read it when it was in a language they did not know. People forget we do not own the children. They are loaned to us for a few years to love, to teach, and to guide to a wonderful fullfilling life of their choice. If you do your job right you end up with happy sucessful adults who love you back and give you the gift of a Grandchild.

  10. Laura says:

    I am a stay at home mom and have been for years now. I am involved in a large Moms group in plain old suburbia and I can say that this isn’t even a topic of debate amongst us. Why in God’s green earth is this still a bone of contention in our society? If you need to work, then work. If you can be at home, then stay home. I suppose some Moms like to engage in this cat fight in order to justify their feelings and decisions about their choice of child care and lifestyle. I think it’s all about not being comfortable in your own decision. If we were really comfortable in our chosen lifestyles, then there would be no need to war over this.

    I generally like Dr. Phil, but I am disappointed in this choice of topic as I feel it does nothing but add brand new fuel to a fire which really should be barely smoking by now. Although not the orginal intended goal, I believe from the feminist movement came the ability to choose to work or stay at home. I have chosen to stay at home with my 2 children ages 6 and 8 months. I am college educated as is my husband and am fortunate that I can stay at home. I came from a family of professional hard working women who I respect, but vowed not to mirror. In my family, the women (including my mother) are all workaholics and walked in the door at the end of the day carrying the weight of the world in with them. I have a permanent image of my mother opening the door at the end of the day, moving very slowly like she was still recovering from a tough case of the flu and having a furrowed brow and weary eyes. The working women in my family care deeply about their children and careers but they are quite prone to worry and work was all consuming. There was never any time left for me when she came home. Weekends were all about cleaning the house that was neglected during the week instead of doing something with us kids. I was also a workaholic when I started working right out of college. When my husband and I decided to have kids, I knew for the sake of emotional and mental peace for our family it was the right choice to have me stay at home. There are still days where I wish I worked, but they are few and far between now. I still take classes to gain new skills and keep old ones updated in the event that something were to happen and my husband’s large life insurance policy was still not enough. Even if you are staying at home, you can’t take it for granted and must maintain a watchful eye on the future and plan ahead to a degree.

    My best friend is a working mom and a good one. She loves her child but feels she has to work to keep the family financially sound. Her son has been in day care 50 hours a week since birth and is a pretty good kid but it is hard for them. I personally can’t imagine what that would be like to leave my child for that long every day, but you do what you have to do and deal with it I suppose. I do have to say that I don’t buy into Dr. Phil’s statement of the cognitive development advantage of daycare kids. I know there is research that has published that argument, but there is also research that says just the opposite. Just based on what I’ve seen of my nephews in day care and the kids in my son’s Kindergarten class, this can’t possibly be a solid proven truth. Most likely, this research is subject to the motives of the individual doing the interpreting. Most of the kids in my son’s Kindergarten class who have been raised by SAHMs are verbally capable to a high degree, excellent listeners, extremely responsible students, have great ability to patiently focus on a task and are empathetic to their peers. I am the room mom so I’ve been able to get to know all the kids and their backgrounds pretty well. Not saying that day care kids aren’t those things, just that I don’t believe they are any more so. Dr. Phil also doesn’t specify whether or not these so called coginitive advantages carry on into life past the day care years.

    I am sure there are good and bad SAHMs as well as good and bad working moms who produce children of a wide range of abilities. I think working moms were slammed unfairly by this extremist SAHM on the show who made all SAHMs look bad and certainly does not represent the majority of SAHMs out there! Very disappointed in this choice of guest. I can’t think of any other SAHMs that I am acquainted with that would share that judgemental view. I’m sure it was necessary to stir up the pot for ratings. He should have invited extreme feminist and working mom Linda Hirshman on the show to make it really interesing. She makes the SAHM on this segment look positively angelic. Maybe for round 2.

    Most moms are good moms regardless of working or staying at home and are just trying to do what’s best for their family, so let’s be more kind to each other instead of engaging in this cat fight any longer.

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  13. Kylie says:

    I believe you can’t win!

    I have heard things like “if you’re a SAHM you’re lazy, or too dumb to get a job.

    I have heard if you are in paid work “you shouldn’t have kids if you don’t want to look after them, or that it was just too hard so you wanted to drop them off for someone else to look after”.

    I say do what is best for you!!

    and keep away from pople who put you down for your choice…

  14. Crystal Murphy says:

    For those who do decide to stay home, there is a new book recently published in Canada called: STAYING HOME AND STAYING YOU written by Cynthia Van Romondt-Mason. It is wonderful.

  15. Brandy says:

    I am a stay at home mom and I don’t appreciate being told I do nothing all day. As if watching and helping your child to learn and grow is nothing. I am from the south and very oldfasioned. My mother stayed at home, her mother and so on. So I see nothing wrong with being there if you can and you enjoy it. Being a mom is my job.
    On the other hand there are moms out there who either need the money and have to work. Some see there jobs as part of there identity. Others just love there jobs. And some need the job to be a good mom. It doesn’t matter the reason.
    I say as long as our children are put first and they are healthy physically and mentally, that is what matters. If women and mothers keep attacking eachother we will never be respected. We must join forces. HAHAHA! But really women spend far too much time attacking eachother and not supporting eachother. I say find your bliss.

  16. yvonn Lenders says:

    Hi Dr Phil,
    Here in Australia, many people watch your Show, albeit a little behind the dates in the USA.
    I watched the show about Stay -at- home mums v. Working mums and was appalled to here a comment that a stay at home Mum was ONLY a mum, i..e. a lady with very little status.
    Well I would like to comment that in my opinion, Motherhood is the highest calling that a woman can aspire to AND that mothers are the childrens’ first teachers!

  17. tn requin says:

    I am a stay at home mom and I don’t appreciate being told I do nothing all day. As if watching and helping your child to learn and grow is nothing. I am from the south and very old fasioned. My mother stayed at home,

  18. uggs outlet says:

    I think I’m going to do this for my daughter’s sweet sixteen! Thank you so much for this wonderful post.

  19. Pam the working Mom says:

    First of all stay at Mom’s do have a job and it is not an easy one. To be honest I can’t ever remember my Mom sitting around doing nothing. She was wonderful and I would never insult her by saying she didn’t have a job. With that being said, I understand that it is a tough job even though I have always been a working Mother. I worked prior to having my children and continued to do so for financial reasons in the beginning but then I received promotions and to be honest, I like what I do. I am successful and very fortunate that my kids respect and approve my decision.

    I find it unbelievable in this day and age that we still continue this fight. I would never put down anyone’s choice to be a stay at home mom and find it unbelievable that someone puts me down because I made a choice to be a working Mom. My kids are now grown and they have turned out very well. I probably put more stress on myself because I felt that I made the choice so they should not suffer from that choice. My husband was military and was gone quite a bit. I was a single mom most of the time but my kids played sports, joined clubs and other activities. I helped with homework, we played games, watched movies and for the most part dinner was usually a home cooked meal. I think these are things that stay at home Moms do with their children as well. I cleaned my own house and when my husband was away, I maintained the yard, cars, etc. Oh and I took care of all the finances. Again, I repeat that my kids are no different than kids that grew up with a loving stay at home Mom.

    So my point isn’t the argument about whether you work outside the home or work at home as a stay at home Mom. My point is that you take quality time for your children. There are many stay at home Moms that do not invest more quality time than career Moms. I have seen some stay at home Moms put the kids in front of the tv and ignore them. I also have seen career Moms do the same thing. So for the mom who said that if a woman couldn’t stay at home with her kids then maybe she shouldn’t have them, I challenge you to say you are a better Mother than I am. You are an insult to all Moms! There is no reason to make a woman feel guilty about her decision to be a stay at home mom or a working mom. Women have enough pressure without this added stress. There are alot of great Moms and some stay at home and some work. There are also alot of bad Moms and they stay at home and they work. So get over it and move on. Let’s support each other in our decisions. And for those Moms that did stay at home and you were my child’s daycare provider, I say THANK YOU! Because you were there for me when I made a choice and you respected that choice just as I respected your choice and was able to provide you with financial assistance to continue with your choice to stay at home.

    Lastly I have to say, one day my daughter will be a Mom and I hope that she can make a decision that works for her. I will respect and support her no matter what that decision will be. Instead of arguing let’s make the future better for our daughters and their daughters to come!

  20. Gina says:

    I thought being a SAHM was the best thing for my three children; ages 8,7 and 7, but after going through a divorce and custody battle I found out it was not in my best interest or my kids. I had a career before children and in this ecomony I can’t find a thing since my skills are so outdated.

    My former husband ended up getting custody of my children.

  21. Ashley Hill says:

    I am currently working on my masters degree in public health. I am not currently working and I am 21 weeks pregnant. I will probably be able to stay at home for the first 8-12 months of my babies life but I have anxiety that is not long enough; while still wanting to pursue my career and get a fellowship at the CDC. Is 8-12 months after my child is born long enough to be at home?

  22. Tara says:

    You know, Im pretty sure that the SAHM made the comment “you shouldn’t have kids if you cant stay at home with them” refering to the mothers that are married, have a home established, and just CHOSE to go outside the home and work so they “feel like they have self worth”. To me, I fully agree with that statement.How is it far to have a child, and not be prepared to sacrifice anything for them? Most of these “career” women never do. Most will have a child,work right up until the last day they can, have the child, never even try to breastfeed (which we all know is the healthiest start for a baby) because of their own selfishness, then be right back to work with the child in a daycare AS SOON as they meet the minimum age requirement to be there. Why? Because they want the cute little kids that they can take pictures of and put on christmas cards, but they dont ever want to sacrifice anything for them. They don’t want to take the time, effort, energy out of their own lives to give to their children. Most will say they do it to make ends meet..but is this REALLY true? Probably not. Just a few short decades ago, it was the “normal” for a women to stay at home and the husband go out and work, earning the money and food for the family. This is the way the bible says a man and women should go, it is clearly set and has worked for centuries. The only difference now is women insist on equal rights and their own independant selfish pursuits. So, I agree, if you cant stay at home and raise your own family, dont have them just to push onto someone else to raise.

  23. Stephanie says:

    I am a single mother to an amazing 15 month old son who I love and adore more than anything in the world. I am also an Airman. I have been in the Air Force almost six years now and both my son and the Air Force is my world. I never even thought about getting out to raise my son because I myself can not, not work. Don’t get me wrong, it pains me everyday having to leave my son with day care providers but I feel like my sacrifices not only ensure he has what he needs, but also I am keeping my country safe by doing my job to the best of my ability. By staying in the military, I knew that I would eventually have to leave my son due to deployments and I dread the day that happens. His father and I have been trying for a few years now to figure out our relationship. Both of us are military and currently stationed on opposite ends of the world so without being married, there’s no way to be together. He and I met a few years ago and fell in love. We dated for almost a year when I found out I was pregnant. We thought we were ready to get married because it would be easier on us as a family but the more we planned, the more complicated our relationship got. We ended things because of his infidelity and our lack of communication after he left. He tries to be a part of our sons life. But its expensive to fly back and forth from California to Germany. He sends money when he can and skypes with him when our schedules allow. I just don’t understand how people can be so ignorant when they say that mothers who work shouldn’t have children until they are prepared to stay home with them. I have taught my son more than his day care providers have and I am also dedicated to bettering both of our futures by working to provide for him and pursuing my bachelor’s degree at the same time. I commend all working moms for providing for their families if that is their motives and if staying home is what you want to do, then so be it. You shouldn’t judge someone just because of the life they are leading when you don’t know anything about them but their outer shell.

  24. Marissa says:

    I dont understand why this is even an issue. Single mothers do not generally have the option to stay home and that is fine. Doing what you need to do to support your family is whats important. If financially you can stay home I think you should. I plan to if I am able, my son is 11 months old and personally I couldn’t imagine leaving him for eight hours a day. At the same time some women are actually better mothers because get to leave the house and spend time doing what they love. I know I’m better about playing with my son if I get an hour or two of painting during the day.

    Staying home is not nothing. And having a career and a family is no small feat. I don’t see why we can’t just support each other and stop fighting over something so ridiculous. Its a personal choice. Let each mother choose and get over it already

  25. Katy says:

    I think it’s not fair to try to compare the advantages of staying at home versus working… There are so many variables that influence the advantages/disadvantages! At the end I think that it’s not only about the amount of time you stay with your kids, but about the QUALITY time that you spend with them. And how about the father? Why isn’t a debate about the amount of time the father invests in his family?

  26. Sally says:

    As a single mother, therapist and owner of my own practice, I do not have the option of staying home. I respect though those who do stay at home with their kids. As moms we all should know that no matter if you work or stay at home, the toughest and most important job is raising our children. For me that comes first no matter if I work or stay at home. It’s the toughest yet most rewarding job out there.

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