The choices of working women … Part 2

By Eileen L. Berman, Ed.D.

As long as you are a working woman in a domestic relationship – with or without children – the chances of your being stressed and feeling overwhelmed are high. The last blog on this subject led to quite a few comments with the theme that life is difficult for working moms no matter what you do. Many said that although their husbands “help” them, they are still left with the majority of the work. One, in particular, stated that  “…marriage today is impacted by strained finances, stress, anxiety, lack of sleep and exercise.” That’s’ a sad commentary which leads me to today’s blog in an effort to address some of these issues.

Just recently I talked with a young woman who, because of financial reasons, decided to leave her child home with her husband and return to her full-time job. However, this decision and ensuing experience filled her with guilt over leaving her toddler. She also questioned her husband’s ability to take care of him properly. Thus, she was extremely anxious about the whole situation as she felt she should be home fulfilling her motherly and wifely duties.

These feelings are being brought on by the woman herself which have been triggered by her situation. She is so guilt-ridden at leaving her child that she is building up an arsenal of stress.

How does this mother see her role? She felt she “should” be with her child, and that the domestic side of her life was her responsibility. According to her, mothers are supposed to do certain things, and if they do not, they are somehow deficient. This was her idea of a woman’s role, which she learned by watching her own mother as she was growing up. How then could her husband begin to fill in for her and help her if she diminishes his role and amplifies hers?  

Many couples see certain domains as being gender specific, which, in fact, they are not. Who does the laundry … the shopping … the cleaning … the cooking? Who picks up the kids after school? Are these chores gender specific?

What about their finances? Do they have a budget? How much debt do they carry? How can they pare down their costs so as not put a heavy financial burden on the family? Every couple needs to have an honest discussion as to what is expected of each one vis. a vis. the house, the children, the finances.

The important thing to take away from this article is the need to have an open dialogue with your partner … and, particularly … with  yourself. What can you do to make your life easier and more manageable? If there are children, they need to share in the running of the house. With or without children, however, the husband has to be an equal partner in the household. To have this happen, the wife has to learn to let go and not see herself as the only one who is capable of being in charge. It’s a generational shift from her own mother’s role as to what is necessary today in a two-income family. While it is not an easy shift to make, it is a necessary one if you want to have the time to smell the roses!

Be aware, that there is no one size fits all! Each of us has to take inventory of our own behaviors and then carve out a lifestyle that serves our purposes. Only then will we lower our stress level and make our lives more fulfilling.

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

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6 Comments

  1. I think that Eileen has brought up an incredibly weighted, and multi-faceted topic here. As a mother and wife, I often feel overwhelmed and sometimes inadequate. I, of course, want to be the best mother and wife that I can be. That being said, I believe the only one holding me to impossibly high standards is…me. My family loves me no matter what and somehow, in spite of this, I still believe that I am a failure if I can’t do it all.

    I have so many conflicting feelings on this whole issue. I absolutely loved being a “Stay-at-home-mom” but there are also parts of me that enjoy now being a working mom, albeit part-time on the work aspect. I do, however, find myself feeling guilty if I’m at home – feeling as though I should be contributing more financially to the household but on the other hand, while I’m working, I feel guilty that I’m not at home caring for my family and my household duties. It’s a double edged sword…

  2. Melanie Zamichieli

    I feel anxious most of the time. And I eat well and exercise often, yet this feeling is still inevitable. It is difficult for me to decompress from my day at work, be calm and happy for the kids when they come home, and prepare for the “second shift”. I love snuggling with my kids on Friday nights to watch movies, reading to them before bed, playing soccer, and quizzing them on their spelling words. I also love having them involved in various activities to expose them and open their mind to possibilities. But having all this means I have had to make trade offs. I do miss some of my friendships as that has fallen off too much. I feel isolated and alone at times. I also am working on the most important person in my life…my husband. The craziness of work/family/life means he sometimes gets the fuzzy end of the lollipop. It is a constant intention to make sure he knows how special he is to me and some days I do well and others I fail miserably. I don’t have a solution of how to hold it all together better. I am trying like every other working mom. I just keep doing my best. I eat well, exercise daily, let my family know I love them, and am present for my students and their families. What I continue to work on is being kind to myself and forgive myself when I just don’t get it right.

    • As Justice Sonya Sotamyeer said in her latest interview…and can be found in her latest book which is a memoir….women who work and have children cannot have it all! There is no way that a working woman can find the time to do everything she wants to do. She has to come to terms with this and realize what she does and can do is perfectly OK. But the involvement of the entire family…as stated in my article….makes life a heck of a lot easier!

  3. Part of the stress of working women is the belief that one has to meet impossible standards in all arenas. Be a dedicated professional working 40-50 hours a week, have a spotless home with beautiful decorating, have children on the honor roll who also participate in 2-4 activities each week – and often be expected to be in great shape, too.
    We let media and others create unreasonable expectations and portrayals. Working women are not going to have the time to volunteer and clean house like stay at home moms, nor should they have to hire maids and should be able to ask children and spouses to help. Stay at home mothers are not neglecting society for focusing on their children, caring for family and often helping out at school, religious venues and kids’ activities like Scouts.
    And the idiotic belief that kids must play an instrument, be in a sport, volunteer and have an “art” of some sort drives parents crazy with the logistics. To some degree, colleges are to blame for demanding lines on the application for an art/musical skill, sports, logical or mental ability like being in chess club or debate and volunteering of some sort.
    We need to stop demanding and expecting people to meet impossible demands. Then parents can spend more time with their kids than schlepping to mandated events. And parents don’t feel a need to work two jobs to pay for “enrichments” and can instead actually save for college. And kids who work in high school aren’t deemed “less qualified” for college than those whose parents spent thousands of dollars on league sports and music lessons. We’d have less demonization of stay at home mothers if we recognized that they contribute in their own way. And we would have less guilt among working mothers if they weren’t expected to volunteer and keep house like stay at home parents.

  4. Maria Burkie

    I agree that we have to “let go” of what we feel our role should be and adapt to the role it needs to be as a mother, worker, and wife. While I know that my husband’s way of “tucking in the kids” or “folding clothes” is not what I would do, I know that it is also giving to the family in a way that is more than acceptable. And, I love that my kids see us in less traditional boxes – I feel it grows everyone in the family. : ) Maria

  5. It is truly important to find your own harmony. Whether it is staying at home with a kid or working and leaving a kid with a nanny – find what you really want and do it. To make sacrifices is not good for you, for your child or for your relationship.

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