ARCHIVAL (ABC, 5-13-12): ANCHOR: Let the Mommy Wars begin

ARCHIVAL (THE JENNY JONES SHOW, 1991-1992):JENNY JONES: Full time job or full time mom, what is a mother to do?

ARCHIVAL (NBC, 2-18-91): JANE PAULEY: Which comes first, the job or the family?

NARRATION: Since the 1990s its been hard to watch coverage of parenting without hearing about Americas ceaseless, so-called Mommy Wars, between employed mothers and those who stay at home.

ARCHIVAL (ABC, GOOD MORNING AMERICA, 10-17-09): JUJU CHANG: Do we really put our kids at risk every time we head to the office?

NARRATION: Today, 70 percent of US mothers work outside the home. Theyve become a mainstay of the American labor force.

ARCHIVAL (C-SPAN, 5-18-15):CAROLINE FREDERICKSON: We have to address the facts that women are working, and its very unlikely were gonna go back to a situation where women dont work in such high numbers.

ARCHIVAL (THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW, 1-23-07): OPRAH WINFREY: For most of the mothers in this world, there isnt an option.

NARRATION: What if this war weve heard so much about actually isnt?

ELLEN GOODMAN (COLUMNIST, THE BOSTON GLOBE, 1974-2010): The vocabulary weve been handed is one of debate, conflict, and its war. I mean, war?


ARCHIVAL (ABC, WORLD NEWS TONIGHT, 10-5-83): PETER JENNINGS: It is dinner time in a lot of American households, for many mothers who now work as well as fathers, it is often the first time in many hours they have seen their children. It is a problem.

ARCHIVAL (NBC, NIGHTLY NEWS 10-22-90): TOM BROKAW: American women trying to have it all a job and a family.

ARCHIVAL (NBC, NIGHTLY NEWS 2-26-99): BRIAN WILLIAMS: When young children are involved, theres the question. Would the kids be better off if their mothers stayed home with them?

NARRATION: For decades, anxiety about working moms has been a staple of our public conversation about parenting. By the 1990s, when three quarters of US moms held jobs, working mothers like Brigid Schulte still faced a cultural headwind.

BRIGID SCHULTE (AUTHOR OF OVERWHELMED: WORK, LOVE AND PLAY WHEN NO ONE HAS THE TIME): To be a working parent at that time was to feel really awful every day when you left the house. I felt really polluted by guilt. Im spending all this time at work and then I come home so I must not be devoting all this time and energy to my kids or Im not doing the same thing that my mother did.

ARCHIVAL (CNN, SONYA, 1991-1992): Must you stay at home in order to raise a successful and happy child?

BRIGID SCHULTE: You couldnt go very far without seeing some kind of headline about mothers in particular abandoning their children.

ARCHIVAL (1991-1992): WOMAN: A child needs a mother

ARCHIVAL (1991-1992): WOMAN: I think its very important that I work.

ARCHIVAL (1991-1992): WOMAN: Dont condemn me because I choose my kids as my job.

ARCHIVAL (THE JENNY JONES SHOW, 1991-92): JENNY JONES: Were in the middle of Mommy Wars here on the show.

BRIGID SCHULTE: At the heart of the mommy wars is a sense of ambivalence about our choices, that were not really quite sure that going to work is the right thing. Were not really quite sure that staying home is the right thing.

NARRATION: And few talking points crystallized the worry better than a single, eye-popping statistic.

ARCHIVAL (PBS, DOCUMENTARY, RUNNING OUT OF TIME 1994): Parents today spend about 40 percent less time with their children than they did a generation ago.


ARCHIVAL (THE LARRY KING SHOW, 7-8-92): BRENDA HUNTER: 40 percent less time with their families

BRIGID SCHULTE: When that statistic comes out that says, guess what. All of your fears are true. That just hit like a bomb.

NARRATION: The number came from William Mattox, then an analyst with the Family Research Council. In editorials, policy papers and interviews he highlighted parenting studies alongside all kinds of social ills.

ARCHIVAL (PBS, DOCUMENTARY, RUNNING OUT OF TIME 1994): WILLIAM MATTOX: Were living in an age after all with high teen sexuality, high teen pregnancy, AIDS, violence in schools. This is a very, very different sort of environment in which children are being raised.

NARRATION: Mattox attributed his 40 percent number to John Robinson, a University of Maryland sociologist. There was just one problem.

JOHN ROBINSON (SOCIOLOGIST, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND): I said, Where do people get this number? It doesnt make any sense.

NARRATION: William Mattox declined to go on camera, but he told us he calculated the figure by taking 1965 childcare time figures from this book, by John Robinson, and comparing them to what he thought were 1985 numbers Robinson had summarized in this magazine article. But Robinsons article contained mistakes that made the 1985 numbers appear falsely low, and Mattox never checked the underlying data.

JOHN ROBINSON: So since then, whenever anybodys called and asked about it Ive corrected them that in fact this was absolutely an erroneous conclusion.

NARRATION: But that false statistic fueled the conventional wisdom.

ARCHIVAL (PBS, NEWSHOUR, 6-17-96): ROY ROMER (GOVERNOR OF COLORADO): We spend 40 percent less time as parents with children than we did a generation ago.

ARCHIVAL (C-SPAN, 5-23-99):PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Because more and more parents are working outside the home, they have less and less time for their children

STEPHANIE COONTZ (HISTORIAN AND AUTHOR OF THE WAY WE NEVER WERE): It resonated for people because we were used to this idea that women were supposed to be staying home and taking care of their kids.

ARCHIVAL (THE LARRY KING SHOW, 7-8-92): BRENDA HUNTER: Children are starving for attention from their parents.

ARCHIVAL (CNN, CRIER & COMPANY, 3-3-92): CATHERINE CRIER: Am I hearing a call for working mothers to go back home?

NARRATION: Yet much of the media narrative about perceived harm that working mothers inflict on kids has missed a surprising fact.

MELISSA MILKIE (SOCIOLOGIST, UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO): Over time weve seen something really amazing and dramatic in American parenting. That is, particularly for mothers, they have marched out into the labor force in great numbers and they have done this at the same time they are increasing their time with children in what we call primary care time.

NARRATION: Thats right. Parenting time is increasing. By analyzing time diary data from parents, Milkie found that working mothers by 2000 spent as much time interacting with their children thats reading and playing with their kids, changing and feeding them as stay-at-home moms did in back 1975. And over the years, even total time with kids has gone up on average.

MELISSA MILKIE: How could this possibly be? Mothers have given up other things. Housework, some of their leisure time, a little bit of sleep. Theres less spouse time among married parents. So lots of changes have added up to this amazing feat of mothers spending the same or more time with their kids than they did in the past.

NARRATION: And some historians say mothers having full days free to devote just to their kids are a more recent development than you might think.

STEPHANIE COONTZ: Throughout most of history moms did not spend a lot of time with their kids. People worked on farms or small businesses. It wasnt until the 1920s that a bare majority of children transferred into families where the man earned the income and in the 1950s we began to think of it as the traditional family.

ARCHIVAL (LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, 1958): HUGH BEAUMONT (TO SON): A womans place is in the home, and I suppose as long as shes in the home she might as well be in the kitchen

STEPHANIE COONTZ: People have been looking at the Leave it to Beaver re-runs that have a wife just waiting for all the kids to come home. When I interview kids raised in those homes, their women, were much too busy doing housework, mopping floors, preparing for the husband to come home to spend much developmental time with them.

NARRATION: More recently, sociologist Amy Hsin has studied the impact that time spent parenting has on kids.

AMY HSIN (SOCIOLOGIST, QUEENS COLLEGE, CUNY): Theres so much anxiety, so much emphasis placed on spending enough time with your children.What we find is that sheer quantity of time doesnt really matter. Its really the specific types of activities you do with that time that matter.

NARRATION: Hsin and her colleagues found that reading with children, sharing meals with them, interacting with them does, of course, have benefits. But so do other things.

AMY HSIN: Parental education really matters. Growing up in a safe neighborhood matters. Attending a good school matters. The effect of time is a drop in the bucket if you consider the whole set of factors that actually have meaningful impact for children.

NARRATION: And preoccupation with mothers time has contributed to the enduring one-sidedness of our public conversations about raising kids.

ELLEN GOODMAN (COLUMNIST, THE BOSTON GLOBE, 1974-2010): What about the fathers? We kind of let them off the hook.

BRIGID SCHULTE: Nobody was telling fathers that it was time for them to leave work earlier or spend more time with their kids. Nobody was telling fathers that they needed to quit their jobs, that they werent doing the right thing with their lives.

NARRATION: Since 1965, married fathers have nearly tripled the amount of childcare they do good news thats tempered by one nagging fact.

PAUL RAEBURN (AUTHOR OF DO FATHERS MATTER?): Mothers still spend almost twice as much time with their kids as fathers do, but the gap is shrinking. And we should encourage families to make sure that gap shrinks and disappears.

NARRATION: Research suggests that fathers taking part in childcare produce a whole host of benefits for children, from better language skills to more empathy.And fathers who get involved early tend to stay that way.

PAUL RAEBURN: Fathers are important emotionally to children. Fathers are important in terms of play and the time they spend with them. Fathers who spend time with their kids, even from the very earliest moments after birth, are likely to have better connections, things that can last a lifetime.

BRIGID SCHULTE: In those early moments when the baby first comes home, thats when the family dynamics get set. Whats the one policy change that could really make a difference for, for women, for work in family, for gender issues? And more than anything Ill say, Parental leave for dads. Solo parental leave for dads.

NARRATION: And some argue that discussion of those kinds of policies has been overshadowed in decades of debate over whether or not individual women should be working.

ELLEN GOODMAN: Because were featuring mommies throwing food at each other were not talking about the need for universal child care, the need for flexible hours. We havent had a real significant piece of national policy since the Family and Medical Leave Act which was 25 years ago.

BRIGID SCHULTE: And the fact that so many people are combining work and family is a real testament to individual families and their ingenuity because our companies, our culture and our, our national policies dont make it easy.

ELLEN GOODMAN: The Mommy Wars is very parallel to the way the media covers everything. Conflict R. Us., you know. Lets put it all in terms of a conflict.

ARCHIVAL (THE DR. PHIL SHOW, 10-14-09): DR. PHIL: You think working moms are selfish.

ARCHIVAL (CNN, ANDERSON LIVE, 1-11-12): ANDERSON COOPER: Youre saying stay-at-home moms are lazy?

ELLEN GOODMAN: The media only does feelings that are absolute certainties hurled at each other. And thats what happened with the Mommy Wars.