For those who have chosen the career of full-time homemaker, there are conflicting signals everywhere. On one hand, mothers are considered nearly sacred. On the other, a career as a housewife is sniffed at.
While special-interest groups, magazines, and women's professional networks have sprung up for single mothers, working mothers, women in nontraditional careers, and female athletes, the traditional stay-at-home mom has been played down. Success more often means money than how well a home is run.
Some schools with home economics departments have stepped down a focus on home management, stressing more marketable fields, one home economics specialist reports, so as to compete with different departments for funds. The worth of a department is sometimes measured by how much the graduates earn afterward.
The US Department of Labor does not consider homemaking an occupation, even though a national magazine estimated last year that the current worth of a mother's work is around $35,000 a year, while some say the figures should be more like $41,000.
The recent White House Conference on Families, in Baltimore, called for more recognition of the "intrinsic value of homemakers." It proposed giving equal financial status to homemakers and their spouses, including equal social-security benefits. (As of now, a nonworking wife must be married at least 10 years before she will have a share of her husband's social-security benefits.)
Some states, such as Pennsylvania, now recognize the contribution of a homemaker, and payments in divorce and custody settlements have gone up as a result.
While working women are developing networks to give one another support, homemakers have been using kaffeeklatsches for years as a place to talk and share ideas. A few attempts at national organizations for homemakers have met with mixed success, although several are still in the works.
Mothers are glorified in song and story and put on a pedestal for their selflessness, poise, and wisdom. The people who are mothers are more realistic than this, and although they love their job, they also have a sense of humorabout the not so pleasant moments. But many, who see their job as a chosen profession, would not trade places with those in the outside "working" world.