Only a handful of working parents have the "village" they need to care for their children during the period in which career opportunities slam up against pregnancies, births, years of nursing, and other crucial forms of caregiving. Most of us have to buy the village, and it's expensive—so expensive that almost everyone has to stop hiring once they have paid for childcare and, in the very best cases, a cleaning service, despite the fact that there is much more to do.
To completely eliminate the destruction that childrearing exacts on your mind, body, and career, you would have to hire workers to handle your finances, home repairs, pets, laundry, afterschool commitments, errands, and shopping, among other responsibilities. Add to these costs the overtime that most working parents pay to accommodate the fact that their childcare needs extend well beyond the presumed eight hours a day, and you're talking about a lot of cash. No one has this kind of money.
Because no one can afford to fully replace themselves at home while they are at the office and because, when it comes to more important tasks like selecting afterschool lessons and resolving playground disputes, no one wants to replace themselves, working mothers have famously picked up the slack for both partners, subsidizing our market with their free labor, enabling our companies and institutions to charge artificially low prices for their goods and offer artificially high salaries to their employees.
All of this means that mothers are important, in all of the ways in which socially conservative forces routinely note. But it could also mean that mothers—especially working mothers—are exploited. They are being used as a means by their partners, our institutions, and our economy in a system they did not design, to do more than their fair share of the family's work, all without compensation. No one yet has asked or empowered working mothers to reimagine and restructure their workplaces to suit their own ends. So the basic lack of self-governance and self-determination, combined with the unpaid labor, raises the specter of injustice.
Theorists have been studying and publicizing the phenomenon of invisible work since Ann Oakley's The Sociology of Housework (1974). But especially squeezed working mothers report little progress, even though most can recall the exact, pre-marital dinner conversation in which they explicitly contracted with their partners to divide the household chores equally. Why aren't we seeing more change?
Scholars of social work, sociology, and psychology have studied the factors—like household division of labor and expressions of gratitude—that motor gender and/or sexual differences in marriage satisfaction. But there is little research aimed at understanding the reasons why the perceptions of working men and women differ when it comes to the proportion of family work they perform and, if, in fact, women's perceptions are accurate, why men have not taken up more of these tasks.