Mothers who remain at home rather than going out to work have been undervalued by the government, trade secretary Patricia Hewitt says.
Ms Hewitt said Labour's policy had been a mistake
She said the Labour Party had mistakenly given the perception that it was better if all women got jobs.
Changes to tax credits to give more money to mothers who stayed at home had helped correct this.
However, the government had failed to persuade the public to value women who stayed at home, she said.
"We have got to move to a position where as a society and as a government, we recognise and we value the unpaid work that people do within their families," Ms Hewitt, also the Minister for Women, told the Daily Telegraph.
She said that included not just mothers but also fathers and people caring for elderly relatives and people with disabilities.
Although the women and equality unit within her department had said women should go out and work to help the economy, Ms Hewitt argued that parents who stayed home contributed to the long-term health of the country as well.
"The starting point for getting it right is to make clear we value and will reward time spent with families as well as time spent at work.
"What's most important to people is their most personal relationships, what makes most people happiest is a good marriage, a good family life," she told the newspaper.
Her comments came as a survey of 2,000 women with young children suggested two out of three would rather be a full time mother than return to work.
Those who did work were "wracked" with guilt, with 92% wishing they were at home with their child, the survey in Mother & Baby magazine showed.
Most of the women surveyed said they felt they were missing out on their child's early years and many complained of being tired or stressed.
One in 10 had none of their salary left after paying for childcare and most
still had to do housework or take time off if their child was ill.
Magazine editor Karen Pasquali-Jones said the vast majority of working mothers with young children longed for full-time motherhood.
"It is time the Government stopped trying to make mothers feel they are in
some way letting society down if they don't return to the workplace.
"Motherhood is a demanding full time job on its own but sadly it is greatly
undervalued by modern society."