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"Most women," says Boston Psychologist Rose Olver, "almost have to defend themselves for staying at home these days. I think it is unfortunate. I would prefer it somewhere in the middle, where we all question our lives, and there is a good deal of choice—and acceptance."
For the first time in American history, the Census Bureau reported last year, the average household consisted of fewer than three persons. Marriages are declining, divorce rates increasing, more women remaining single longer—and having fewer children if and when they do marry. As much as anything, it is this widening of domes tic alternatives that has led women to assert themselves in the world outside the home.
Husbands and wives are working out new arrangements in which the men—supposedly—share household chores equally. "When we first got married in 1968," says Joyce van Deusen, an official of the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Human Rights Commission, "I taught school and Bob was in the military. I did the laundry, kept the house, and Bob read, sat and ate." In 1972 they drew up a contract covering the household chores, and the arrangement is second nature now. Very often, however, Americans follow the Soviet and Eastern European pattern of "liberation"—women are theoretically equal, but their new freedom merely means that when they return from their jobs they still have to do all the housework. "It's the same old baloney," says Polly Ely, who works as a counselor in a rape-crisis center in Cedar Rapids. "I come home so tired I can hardly see, and John flops down with the paper while I stumble into the kitchen."
Some couples have reversed their traditional roles—the men stay home and tend house and children, while the women go off to work. The practice can be enlightening and often demoralizing to the househusband. The man finds himself lolling distractedly around the house, watching soap operas, complaining when his wife comes home late from the office.
Even for the best organized women, meeting the multiple demands of career and family takes great effort. Carla hills and her husband Roderick, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, get up about 6 a.m. Before leaving at 7:15, she tries to spend some time with at least a couple of their four children—braiding a daughter's hair, playing with another for a few minutes. She keeps a kitchen bulletin board, telling who will be home for dinner (one of the parents always tries to make it), listing each child's chores and times for piano lessons. Both Carla and Rod bring home work at night, but they often pore over it in the living room in order to sit with the children. Says she: "I often feel like a piece of salami, with a slice here for one and a slice there for another, and there isn't enough to go around."
Mothers and fathers, increasingly aware of sex stereotyping, sometimes seek out schools where their children will find different expectations. At