Friday, September 3, 2010

Working Moms

The desire to stay at home to raise the kids, to cook and clean, and to be a good wife has never appealed to me. Needless to say, I judged any friend or family member who decided to “waste” their education and careers to become stay-at-home moms. My friend recently told me that she was no longer applying to medical school because her fiancĂ© was recently accepted into a medical program and “they” decided that it would be best for one of them to stay home and raise their children. I nearly fainted (they don’t even have children). Couldn’t she balance being a mom and having a career? Isn’t that what women of the 21st century do?

Of course, it is easy for me to say that balancing a family and a career would be an easy task. My mom made it seem easy. She worked full time as a social worker. But she was always there in the morning to wake me up and always there in the evening to tuck me in. She attended every school play and back-to-school event, and she helped me build every science project. Needless to say, I assumed it was normal for a woman to have a career and have a family. (But I really don’t know anything about balancing a career and being a mother.) Until recently, I hadn’t had the opportunity to appreciate the difficulties that come with being a working mom.

This summer I had the privilege to work with a solo practitioner. She is assertive, eloquent, respected, capable, and great at her job. She graduated at the top of her law school class and now owns her own law firm. She is respected amongst her colleagues and is often asked to talk on radio shows to discuss emerging issues in her field. Although she is busy, because her office is close to her family’s home, she frequently sees her children either by driving them to and from school or them spending time in the office. She is able to balance a high-pressured career and have a family. At least it seems on the surface.

One day, after a busy but successful day in court, I asked her what is one thing that she knows now that she wish she had known before becoming an attorney. Her response, “I wish I didn’t go to law school. I wish I was a stay-at-home mom.” At first her response didn’t shock me. Grass is always greener on the other side. But as I let the words sink in, I thought to myself: Why do I think being a stay-at-home mom is such a bad idea?

The role of a woman has changed drastically over the last few generations. When my mom first applied to graduate school my grandmother cried for a week and asked if she would ever get married (which also could be because of cultural differences). But when I applied to law school, my grandmother told me to finish school first, then “talk” to guys. My grandmother has clearly made a dramatic shift, and she does represents the change and belief that women are and should be educated and valued highly.

We are educated. We work hard. We can do and be anything we want. But if this is true, why do I have a negative stigma with being a stay-at-home mother? Does being a modern day woman mean you cannot or should not take on roles that have traditional been viewed for women? The simple answer is to cut off all gender related roles, but how can we do that if we ourselves hold on to them?


2elle said...

I can definitely relate to your post because I feel like I have a slightly negative view of being a stay at home mom... and I'm not sure why I feel that way. I don't really judge women who choose that path, it's just that to me it seems like the lesser option when compared to (trying) to balance a career and home life. I think a lot of it has to do with the way we were raised... my mom is a dentist and I went to day care. It wasn't ideal, but it worked out and I never felt like I wasn't close to my mom.

My friend from college, however, grew up with her mom giving up her career as a computer programmer and staying home (eventually with 5 kids!). She sees that as a wonderful thing, even though she is currently in medical school. It's even something she would consider in the future. I think our upbringing has such a huge impact on what we see as normal or ideal.

Yazzyjazzy said...

My mom was a stay at home mom, and although she never regretted that, she does regret the fact that she never completed her education. She feels completely dependent on my dad, which has been problematic the last few years.

Still, she is adamant about all her daughters acting as stay at home mothers because she feels that the undivided attention she was able to give us ensured that we were always taken care of and protected. However, she is also adamant about us getting an education in order to be independent from our future partners and not have to make the devastating sacrifice that she had to. I think because of my mother's experience, I too want to be a state at home mom (if our financial situation allows it), but I want to pursue my career when the kids are old enough to be in school.

Although I consider myself a feminist and I want to be equal to a man, family always comes first for me and will be my first priority. But I hope I can balance both and be successful, even though it will be incredibly difficult.

MRVanegas said...

I agree with you, it is hard not to feel one way or another about staying at home with your children. I can see why a neutral position is more threatening than acknowledging staying at home as a valid career choice. It may work for someone, or for some time, it may work for men, women, gay and lesbian couples, etc. But we tend to protect our own choices, even if they are not really our choices. In Northern California, for example, unless your husband/significant other is pulling in some serious cash, most likely you will be FORCED to return to work by your monthly expenses. Bills need to be paid, and you may as well say returning to work at 6 weeks postpartum was your choice. No harm no foul, right? I think we need to be careful about describing our situation, our own traps, the trappings of middle-class life, as our choices.

That said, I have another comment to make. It is one thing to stay at home with your children, and it is quite another to give the financial reins to your partner. I think all women should know, truly know, their financial situation, where all the documents are, where all the money goes, etc. And last, but not least, all partnerships should have good insurance policies in place, and regardless of your employment status, you should have a nice life insurance on your own life and your spouse's, and you and your spouse should know where the policy is. God forbid you will ever need it.

Rebecca said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rebecca said...

I have very mixed views on the issue of stay at home moms.

My views on this subject are informed by practical realilities: 1) Being a stay at home mom is a luxury that most American women do not have. The fact is that in most 2 parent households, both parents have to work. History: 2) My mom was a stay at home mother with no education beyond high school and her husband (my father) ran off with his secretary and left her without a home, child or spousal support. She was a single mom at age 25 with 5 kids! She worked the hardest, low paying jobs you can imagine, just to put food on the table. So, on the one hand, I knew i did not want to be the kind of mom that worked all the time and came home exhausted and unable to have meaningful contact with her children. It also motivated the heck out of me to get and education and a career.
Following the ideal path: 3) Low and behold, I married the "dream" husband- a doctor. I put him through medical school, internship and an orthopedic residency. All this time,I was working full-time and we lived together. When he was finished with all of his training we got married and a year later, I got pregnant. I took three months off when my son was born and went back to work full time. History repeating itself: 4) When my son was 2 yrs. old- my "dream" husband divorced me and without adequate legal represenation, I found myself ia single mom, with no home, no assets but with a big difference- an education.
Struggling with reality: 5) Being a single mom and working full-time is the toughest job on the planet! So I am torn, becasue I would have loved to have the luxury to stay at home and just be a mom.....BUT...
Advantages: 6) My son is now 27 and we have always been exceptionally close. He is fully aware of the sacrifices that I made for both he and I and he is terribly proud of what both of us have accomplished.
Finally, I will say that I have no regrets at all about choosing to be a mom. I was one of the best decisions I have made as an adult. I think the question about what is a "good" mother, however, is as varied as the character of each child's smile.

Sophie said...

This post was immediately something I could relate to - but not because I have a negative view on stay-at-home moms. I grew up with a stay-at-home mom and while I have nothing but extreme respect for those who choose to do that, I know that is probably not the path I will choose.

Whether I'm going to stay at home when I have children some day is something people ask me incessantly. Many of my peers doubt that I'll continue to practice law and I often feel judged for not wanting to stay home. Just last week someone looked at me and said "you certainly don't want your child to be a daycare baby, RIGHT?" This really struck a cord with me. Even though I had the luxury of having a stay-at-home mom, I don't think it's appropriate to put down other women for the choices they make regarding their family life and career.

Growing up, I didn't know much about working mothers. My mom stayed at home, as did most of her friends. However, I've never let that define me. While my mother did an incredible job being a homemaker, that has never been my ultimate goal.

Then, in college, I witnessed firsthand how family dynamics work with a working mother. I nannied for two small children who were being raised by a single mother. She runs a successful lab in Davis and needed extra help getting the kids to and from activities after school. Although I know there were days where she was exasperated and exhausted, she was such a role model in balancing both her family life and successful career. She did not have the option to stay at home but beautifully exemplified the life of a working mom - and I was impressed with her daily (and still am)!

Ultimately, individuals need to be more careful with judging women on their family / work life choices. Additionally, I completely agree with one of the comments above - At the end of the day, I don't think being a good mother depends on whether you can stay at home or you work, but rather the happiness of the child.