Late last year, Pew Research came out with a report on the state of two-income families. One of the most striking observations was the fact that a high percentage of full-time working mothers say they feel rushed and believe they are not spending adequate time with their children. Ninety percent of full-time working mothers say they often feel rushed, while nearly four in 10 believe they spend too little time with their children.


This finding came back to me when I ran across a comment from John Stuart Mill in his Essays on Equality, Law, and Education. While Mill was not a huge fan of mothers educating their children in academic subjects (sorry, homeschool moms), he did recognize that mothers are the most important moral educators children have. And as Mill explains, this moral education is not simply taught in brief, daily sessions. It is taught in the continual interaction between mother and child:

“The education which it does belong to mothers to give, and which if not imbibed from them is seldom obtained in any perfection at all, is the training of the affections; and through the affections, of the conscience, and the whole moral being. But this most precious, and most indispensable part of education, does not take up time; it is not a business, an occupation; a mother does not accomplish it by sitting down with her child for one or two or three hours to a task. She effects it by being with the child; by making it happy, and therefore at peace with all things, by checking bad habits in the commencement; by loving the child, and by making the child love her. It is not by particular efforts, but imperceptibly and unconsciously that she makes her own character pass into the child; that she makes the child love what she loves, venerate what she venerates, and imitate as far as a child can, her example. These things cannot be done by a hired teacher; and they are better and greater, than all the rest.

Mill’s words provide important food for thought. Modern society has made many mothers feel they need to work full-time in order to have a nice home, the latest cars, impressive vacations, and other “essentials” of the American dream.

But in pressuring mothers to work full-time, have we unintentionally reduced the time they have to be the “better and greater” teacher of morality and character? And if so, do we need to reconsider the mass societal encouragement of the two-parent income?

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