Crystal posted yesterday on a family in which the mother just had her 16th child. (Assuming no premies, no twins, and no adoptions, this woman has spent 12 whole years of her life pregnant!)
I want to make it clear that I very much support the rights of families to have as many children as they want, and would certainly never fault a woman who wants to devote her life to childbearing and childrearing. Of course, I also support families who place their children in day care so that spouses can fully pursue their professsional goals. The following thoughts come to my mind (I posted virtually identical comments on Crystal's site where they seem to have generated an interesting discussion):
I think large families like this raise interesting questions regarding a mother's role. It is accepted wisdom in many circles that children are best served by a mother who stays at home rather than a mother who places them in an institutionalized day care setting. But when mother has 16 children, doesn't the family itself start to resemble day care? The main benefit I received as the child of a stay-at-home-mom was constant, individualized attention-- but clearly this degree of maternal involvement in my life would not have been possible if I had had fifteen brothers and sisters.
I think the idealization of a fruitful stay-at-home mother by religious conservatives is at odds with the criticism of women who place their children in day care. This contradiction reinforces my belief that telling women to stay home usually has little to do with what is best for children-- and more to do with limiting women's ability to participate in public life "just because."