The choices of working women with children

By Eileen L. Berman, Ed.D.

There are two distinct roles women can play when they are married and have children: working mom or stay-at-home mom. Each role offers different rewards.

Women who need to or elect to work need to make that choice, albeit a difficult one, if they are involved in a career and also want to be a significant force in their children’s lives.

For those women who decide to be stay-at-home moms, the risk is feeling that you are a “non-contributor” financially, that you are not fulfilling your “potential” and that you have no worthwhile purpose in your life.

Both extremes are difficult to manage. For those women who have no choice but to work, the choice is pretty well made for them. They need to work in order for the family to survive. To do it all … to become superwoman … is the trap they can fall into.

And for the stay -at-home moms, the necessity to see their role as “worthwhile” is the biggest obstacle they face in this materialistic world of ours. What do this mean?

The stay-at-home mom must see her choice as giving her a chance to bring up her children her way … to have the time to enjoy them … develop a real friendship with them … explore all manner of things with them … and take care of the house, the shopping, meal planning and preparation. She has a chance to be involved in the community as well.

This is her reward…knowing she is playing an integral part in the management of the household and the children. And this is her central purpose at the moment. This is far from having no purpose because she is not a working mom. This is a luxury she has now until the children are in school full-time and she may elect to join the workforce.

This choice brings a significant contribution to the financial stability of the household as well, since you do not need an added expenditure for day care. That money can now be saved and used to build a reserve….and that is quite a contribution to the household budget at the present time.

And for the working mom, she needs to see herself as integral in the lives of her children by being in a position where she has the flexibility to be with her children when necessary, to be available to them at all times, and still carry on her professional responsibilities. Can she be on a career ladder at the same time? I think in the early years when children are not in school all day, it will be difficult. But these are all choices women need to make. And with each choice comes certain fundamentals of good organization, planning, time for the family and time for yourself.

Is either of these choices easy? No … but they each have their own rewards. And, remember, nothing is forever!

Dr. Berman is a psychologist/consultant in Rhode Island and a regular contributor to “Personnel Perspectives.”

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7 Comments

  1. Maria

    There is such a push in our society for moms to work – just barely getting by seems like it’s not a worthy option, so when working moms try to do it all, I agree with Sam, the strains are significant. It does not matter that I do have an active and supportive husband. The bottom line is he’s not the mom. Though, his involvement does allow me much more opportunity to “get by” with a partial smile on my lips. It seems to only get harder, though, as they get older. I thought, naively, that it was so difficult for the beginning.

    • In many ways I believe you ARE trying to do it all! The husband is a partner in this….but he has to “partner.” This means that BOTH husband and wife become mother and father….and help each other in as many ways as possible. But both have to agree on a strategy and a plan. Foe a woman to assume it all is an enormous mistake.

  2. Melanie Zamichieli

    I feel I do both…working mom and still have the “second shift” of stay at home mom (shopping, laundry, meal planning, running activities, etc.) and luckily I have a husband who helps with the kids (getting them off to school, coaching their sports)

    Yeah, it takes away from my social life a bit…it is a real commitment to make time for my marriage and friendships….but I wouldn’t change it …for sure

    • Having an involved husband/father appears to be key to much of the angst inherent in being a working mom….or a stay at home mom. But, then, there is the larger world out there….and the question is how long before the workplace will acknowledge that the working mom needs to have as much flexibility as possible in order to maintain her stability at work and at home.

  3. Sam Connelly

    The line “both extremes are difficult to manage” resonates with me. My experience as a working mother who was a stay-at-home mother for a year and who is friends with moms in both camps is that we share this in common: a nagging sense of guilt regarding our choices and a flawed perception that “the grass is greener.” Working mothers are forced to multi-task and often feel overwhelmed and pressed for time, while those that stay at home feel that they are taken for granted or have no purpose. Though there may be exceptions, of course, I’d argue that the difficulties moms face have contributed to the rising incidence of divorce. Think about it – what marriage wouldn’t be impacted by strained finances, stress, anxiety, lack of sleep and exercise?
    As a community of women, we need to work harder at supporting each other and the choices we make for the reasons we do. But, on a larger scale, the workplace is failing us. It is not keeping stride with the progression needed to support the family nucleus and keep it whole. As technology, medicine and education have evolved (somewhat) in accordance with the times, a large majority of work industries have not evolved at all and many, in fact, are still modeled after an era when men alone dominated the work force. Thus, women are either forced into careers that offer little flexibility or to abandon their careers altogether.
    As a society, we need to encourage employers to allow women to strike a happy medium- allow them to be an integral part of the workforce while also caring for her children in a substantial and rewarding way. Some viable measures to attain this? Providing appropriate maternity leave for pregnant and nursing mothers as well as private, clean accommodations for lactating mothers; allowing “flex hours” so that a mom could work through her lunch so that she may end her day early enough to meet her child at the school bus, considering job-sharing between employees so that more part-time options are available, and recognizing that a significant amount of work that occurs in work could be done just as well – if not better – from home.
    Creating an environment that recognizes the importance of family as a vital part of our culture will reap rewards for the employers as well. Employees who are less stressed tend to be healthier, which means fewer sick days; more energized, which means focusing more clearly on tasks and creatively problem-solving; and an overall sense of satisfaction, which leads to longevity and fewer dollars spent on training new hires.
    What we really need to ask of our bosses is compassion, empathy and perspective – not just for working moms, but for all of us, with or without children- and to recognize that we face trials and tribulations. Sometimes, a little kindness goes a long way in increasing productivity.

    • Sam….this is worthy of its own special blog! You have expanded on my original theme….and beautifully so. I…and I am sure….most women….would agree with you across the board. I guess the bottom line is still….women are continually seeking their rightful place in the world. I question whether we shall ever be able to achieve parity given the nature of motherhood and the fact that women’s needs will take second place to the “job.”

    • Melanie Zamichieli

      Well said. I do feel the pit in my stomach at the end of teh day when I am trying to tie up loose ends. Working through my lunch to retrieve my kids off teh bus would be a perfect solution. There are companies that are “bending” with the times, but not enough. This type of “flex hours” will not happen until more working women with families attain higher status levels within companies. Someone who has walked the walk will have to fight for it.

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