Working Mothers: Unwieldy Undertaking or Feasible potentiality?
Older generations always comment at social gatherings about the ‘good old days when things were simple and the living was easy.’ Everything according to grandparents and even our parents was easier ‘back then’ than they are now. Women typically stayed at home and raised children while husbands, the breadwinners, put dinner on the table. Things were simple because men and women had distinct roles which fluctuated very little among different households. Certain ‘expectations’ were established by society and most families conformed to this mold. In present day America almost anyone would agree that most aspects of life are not as simple as they used to be. With the presence of so many more opportunities, the distinct established roles of men and women have evolved over the past several generations. Women are no longer confined to their past confined job descriptions involving taking care of a husband and children. With the ever increasing number of women attending at least four year colleges, many women are inspired to seek challenging careers after college. The simple ‘easy life back in the day’ just got a great deal more complicated.
With so many women attending college, many are inspired to do something with the degree they obtain. Such a goal wouldn’t be so daunting if these women were content with simply having a career. Progressively women are seeking ambitious careers in all career spectra. Women want a career, husband, and in many cases children. This is where the problems and conflicts begin to arise. Having children and taking care of one’s husband could be considered a full time job in itself. How can a woman be expected to complete two full time jobs: housewife and a career? Women want to “have it all.” We want to in a sense “have our cake and eat it too.” Betty Halcomb, one of the top editors of “Working Mother” Magazine and author of the highly acclaimed book Not Guilty says, “and thus Supermom was born” (15).
Women now “want to have it all” juggling a successful career with having children and a husband. With a society that currently encourages multi-tasking it seems only natural that we incorporate this concept into the structure of our families as well. Although trying to combine these three “jobs” into one person can be considered a daunting task, there are many variables that affect what kind of “supermom” will materialize.
Working mothers is a very broad community in the sense that it covers so many different types of women. Some mothers are forced to work because they are single parents or have other extenuating circumstances that leave them with no other choice. Other mothers are able to decide whether they want to work based on their own personal needs as well as their children’s. Although mothers that are forced to work still have many difficult choices they must make, I will focus primarily on mothers who have the option of staying home or working. Factors such as the time commitment, competitive nature, and the type of job itself all greatly affect the sacrifice a mother has to make to maintain her career with the other aspects of her life.
Primarily in the last decade with the increasing number of women trying to juggle home life with a career, there are many questions that have been raised concerning the affects such an alteration has on the entire family. What are the advantages and disadvantages or having a working mother or a stay at home mom? Is it more beneficial to children for their mothers to work/not work? Once these questions have been answered there are an assortment of questions one must consider in reference to child care and employment terms as well. Unfortunately all of these factors make it very difficult to decisively affirm either working or not working as an ideal makeup of a mother.
Betty Holcomb, author of “Not Guilty,” declared “one of the most persuasive argumentation in support of working mothers,” assures that studies show there are no significant differences in child development between the children of working moms and those of at-home moms (site). Halcomb fully explores the many negative critiques expressed concerning working mothers over the past two decades and shows the great variability in the responses. It is apparent in the 1990’s that public opinion fluctuated greatly based on currently published opinions and the way in which the media portrayed these opinions. New York Women’s magazine in 1991 published an article entitled “Trophy Kids: Children of the Rich and Busy” in which they compared children of professional women with victims of domestic violence (Halcomb 20). Halcomb mentions that in Newsweek’s May 1997 issue asserts that working parents are “cheating their kids by not giving them enough love and attention” (Halcomb 21). These are just several of the many references Halcomb mentions that raise extreme claims concerning the affects working mothers have on their families. The media exploits experts’ claims so much that the general public is dramatically influenced by the current trendy study or theory released.
Dr. Spock, a once highly esteemed child advocate and author dismissed day care as merely “baby farms,” but later changed his opinion in his later book A Better World for Our Children. In this book he asserts a much more open view concerning child care in which he says they are “keys” to a better world for children and ourselves and employers need to be “more responsive to the needs of families” (site).
Contrary to all of the negative published material released in the nineties, Halcomb points out that “working women are healthier and less depressed than their non-working counterparts” (cite). She ascertains that women should not feel guilty about their choice to stay at-home with their children or to work. Halcomb says that ultimately every woman must make the choice that is right for herself.
The American Psychological Association recommends that families with working mothers “may lead to positive outcomes for children including academic achievement and fewer behavior problems” (cite). APA also supports that there are indeed benefits for adults whose mothers were employed while growing up: “Young men and women who grew up with a mother employed outside the home have more positive attitudes toward families and are more likely to believe that husbands and wives share equal responsibility for household work” (cite APA). Finally the APA states that “combining work and family roles can contribute to the well-being of women” through “parents developing interpersonal skills through interactions with their children that they can apply to their work roles” and the opposite as well (cite APA).
Advantages for being a working mother of course include the added benefit of an elevated income, but there are several other advantages as well. Children of working mothers are more likely to be independent and mature because their mother isn’t as available as stay at-home mothers. Mothers who work feel a sense of satisfaction, sometimes making them happier people and thus better mothers. Psychologically, women may feel more accomplished and intelligent if they feel they have more to “offer” then simply being a mother (cite).
Weighing the many factors involved in whether a mother should attempt to balance a career on top of the already grueling job of raising children is extremely controversial as one can already see. There are so many factors that complicate formulating a decisive answer to such a question.
Although there have been studies recently conducted that show benefits to both working mothers and their children, there is also evidence which presents detrimental affects on the children and families of working mothers. The CWA or the Concerned Women for America reports that the Beverly LaHaye Institute claims that more than “thirty hours of childcare a week can result in a child becoming aggressive, defiant, and disobedient” (CWA). The quality of healthcare and the economic background of the children does not appear to affect the outcome. The study referenced also says that “children of mothers who back to work full time while their children are infants have poorer mental and verbal development” then stay at-home mothers (CWA).
The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Human Child Care also confirms that children need the daily presence of their mother and that when deprived of this, infants fail to develop a secure attachment to their mother, which is a necessity to a child’s development. When three year olds from an average home environment and average child care whose mother did not work by the ninth month of the child’s birth, scored in the fiftieth percentile on the Bracken School Readiness test. Children in similar settings whose mothers were employed by the ninth month of their birth scored in the forty-forth percentile (CWA).
Given the various advantages and disadvantages concerning working mothers, women must weigh the various arguments carefully and make a decision they are comfortable with accepting. Many magazines, online resources, books, and various studies advise mothers on how to balance work and family if they indeed decide to pursue a career. One family oriented website advises that “every mother has options” and that there is always at least small adjustments that can be made to change one’s situation (familyeducation.com). Countless organizations exist that offer information, tips, and support for working women as well as stay at-home moms. Several examples include: National Federation of Business and Professional Women, National Association of Working Women, and National Association for Female Executives. Companies such as Working Mother magazine is a popular magazine that caters slightly to working women.
So the question is can women “have it all?” Of course one can always try. Can women really “have it all?” The answer is that is depends on many variables: particular family, husband, job logitstics, and of course the wants/needs of the mother. Any one of these variables could make working while being a mother more difficult or easier. Letty Cottin Ponegrebin said it is a “disservice to women to market the idea to find the right formula and figure out the time table that makes the most efficient of crucial years of twenty to thirty-five” (cite). She says that we cannot be this rigid in our planning of our lives. Shari Turner a psychology professor at Boston Univeristy says that “each age defines the good mother anew in its own terms, with its own requirements, ideals prohibitions, and mythology” (cite). Turner claims now that the standards currently set for a mother is “formidable, self denying, and utterly unattainable” (cite).
Halcomb in her book cites Marcia Clarke and Hillary Clinton as famous mothers who have struggled with having a successful, ambitious career while maintaining a family (Halcomb 94). Halcomb describes how the high-profile prosecutor, Marcia Clarke almost lost her children when her husband sued for custody of their two sons, claiming that Clarke was too busy most nights working on her current case to spend time with her children. Contrary to her husband’s claim Marcia “took heat” in the courtroom for giving her boys too much attention. In reference the media, specifically the Detroit News summarized that Clarke “can’t have it all” (Halcomb 95).
There are many factors that must be sorted in determining whether women can “have it all:” a career, husband, and children. It is definitely a challenging task to juggle all three when each is its own job in itself. Janice Crouse, Ph. D. writing for Concerned Women for America, advises that the “best environment to foster a child’s intellectual development is one in which his or her mother is actively involved on a day-to-day basis” (CWA). Janet L. Srarbek in her book Planning Your Future: A guide for professional Women, Srarbek suggests that women considering becoming working mothers need to “analyze their circumstances and beliefs to determine what is right for them” (CWA). Contrary to this view, Crouse says that the “right” question to ask is “what is right for the child?” (CWA). She claims that we need to be reminded the attachment between a mother and her child cannot develop unless the child is in her daily care. Crouse is suggesting that one must put the child’s needs first while Srarbek suggests one should analyze the advantages and disadvantages of becoming a working mother.
Thus, the controversy continues over whether women can “have it all” and if they can whether it is reasonable for children to be subjected to an environment where their mother isn’t always present at home. A lot depends on each individual woman and what will make her happy and fulfilling. As of 2002, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, sixty-two percent of women with children under the age of six are working; there are obviously many women who feel that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages (CWA). Converse of this sixty-two percent, one must also consider the thirty-eight percent who still believes it is better to stay-at-home with children instead of attempting to juggle and multi-task in this insane modern society. Many of these decisions do not have concrete answers thus it often becomes an individual decision that every woman must make.