As I continue to read the articles and opinions that pop up each week on the topic of working motherhood, I’m struck by something often missing from these conversations: working motherhood is a) not always a choice and b) even when it is optional, it’s not a selfish act.
I’ve written in this blog about my enjoyment of work as a way to get adult time, stimulate thinking, and exercise more than just my mom muscles. I think it is also important to talk about the necessity of working motherhood for many families and the desire to work for the health and happiness of one's family.
Income is necessary to cover food, shelter and clothing, but the parents I know also desire to save for a good education, to enjoy family vacations, holidays and gifts, create a happy childhood and give the best chance at a productive adulthood possible. For many families, doing this isn’t possible on just one income (or, mom may be the only income). More than half of women work outside the home full-time and one in three women are the sole earner in their families.
Working mom dialogue, especially in the media, seems to center on whether a mom should or should not return to work based on how guilty they feel or what their personal objectives are, rather than the necessity for mom to work; it also tends to completely ignore the reasons fathers work. Of course, fathers can derive personal satisfaction from their jobs and have career aspirations, but working is also their contribution to one of the most basic requirements of parenthood, providing financial security (and all that stems from that) for children.
Moms, and dads too, that stay-at-home full or part-time with the kids are able to provide for their children in another critical way. Full respect there. But I’m really struck by those who push “mom guilt” over working; I’m especially surprised that this guilt is still quite pervasive coming off of the worst economic conditions of our lifetime, when bringing adequate income was concern for many. And, work is, well, hard work!
I personally feel sad or disappointed when I can’t spend as much time with my daughter as I want. But I think that’s a really different emotion than the feeling that my time working is “bad” for my daughter. Yes, it’s important to strike some sort of balance (I have had to adjust my schedule significantly after becoming a parent), but working is not an abandonment of my daughter. My financial contributions are a component of her health and success. As a working mom, I’m also a role model to her on pursuing education, career and making a difference as a woman in the professional world. I completely respect and congratulate families that can make it work on one income and have a stay-at-home parent (which is an incredibly difficult and complex job in itself!); kudos to you. However, mom going to work is part of parenting for many families; a necessity in many cases, and even when it is is a choice, it's not a selfish choice, it's yet another sacrifice and contribution by mom for the betterment of her family.