When I entered the workforce in 1985, the concept of a full-time "working mother" was mostly untested. The suggestion that mothers who worked "too much" would experinece loads of guilt if they missed any of their children's firsts (e.g. steps, words, smiles) was widespread. In fact, it was suggested we'd experience guilt if we missed anything. I often wondered how men managed to weather these losses, but nobody ever seemed to write or talk about that subject.
Most of us who decided to take the risk and work full-time while raising our kids thought about the guilt consistently, if not constantly. Friends, relatives, the media, and even schools helped keep the concern alive with comments like "Thankfully I don't need to work", "I don't know how you do it", "Let us at least consider the possibility that many women, deliberately rejecting the values of male careerists, are discriminating against the job 'rat race' and in favor of their families", and/or "Can you be at the school at 10:30 am on Tuesday?" For me, that last comment was the worst.
It seemed like all of us dual-career couples ran ourselves ragged attempting to be sure that neither our kids nor our employers would be short-changed when it came to our time. We carved out time for the kids, we burned the midnight oil for our companies, and once in a while we took time to talk with each other about it. (It's probably worth mentioning that it wasn't always pretty either.)
Imagine my surprise when my kids left for college and I wasn't overcome with guilt (as I wrote in the story "Surprise Contentment"). I was also surprised when I read a recent New York Times article, "How Parents Are Robbing Their Children of Adulthood" which stated, "Today's working mothers spend as much time doing hands-on activities with their children as stay-at-home mothers did in the 1970s."
This left me wondering: Is guilt still a thing for working parents? I'd seriously like to know. Please comment below.
Pointer to an interesting HBR article about working parents
If you spend time wondering how your career and/or your spouse's career might affect your kids, you'll want to read this HBR article: How Our Careers Affect Our Children by Stewart D. Friedman.
Here are just a few of the interesting insights provided by studies outlined in this relatlvely short article:
Pointer to short video about the value of the roles we model
People work for many reasons. We often assume that people work to support their families which is often true. But how often do you stop to think about how your work, and the example it sets, benefits your children beyond putting food on the table and a roof over their heads?
Kathleen McGinn, a Harvard Business School professor, explains how our careers help our child in this short video (2:26 min).
When you do a lot of reading about working parents (like we do), there are a few topics that surface consistently, and one of them is guilt. Interestingly this word is rarely associated with working fathers. But it is common to read about working mothers who claim they are racked with it. I find this surprising and confusing.
It's not that surprising (at least to me) that some people want working mothers to feel guilty. I get it, and I've met those people. Some people fear change, like the changes that have been occuring over the last 50 years as mothers' work has transitioned from home-based work, to less work (think washing machines and dishwashers), to paid work outside the home. Apparently those who are bothered by these changes want to either slow the pace of change or stop it completely so they try to convince mothers that it is somehow wrong when they strive to make contributions beyond the home and family. (Unless it's volunteer work. Apparently everyone admires volunteer work.)
Dictionaries vary slightly when it comes to defining the word "guilt". For the purpose of this article, I prefer the definition found in the Cambridge English Dictionary; "a feeling of worry or unhappiness that you have because you have done something wrong, such as causing harm to another person".
I get that some don't like change and want to discourage mothers from pursuing careers. Maybe they want to justify their own choices. Maybe they can't see how a mother's career, just like a father's career, can provide benefits for the children she is raising. Or maybe they don't like the fact that the presence of women often changes a work environment.
But here's what I don't get; why do women waste time wrestling with these crazy and out-dated judgments? Given all of the research that shows that women who pursue careers often raise kids who become capable, happy adults (and sometimes the most capable, happy and fairly paid when they pursue careers of their own), isn't it crazy to feel guilty about working today?
Some claim that a mother shouldn't work if her spouse makes enough money to cover necessities for the family. And I've never (and I mean never) heard anyone claim that a man ought to cut back the hours he works if he makes more than enough money to cover his family's necessities. I've also never heard anyone suggest that a father shouldn't work if his wife is able to support the family (although I do know of a few men who abondon their careers when this is true).
If we're going to stop associating the word guilt with working mothers, and please, let's do this, mothers need to lead the way. If you are a mother (or father) and truly feel guilty about working (meaning you actually believe that you are hurting someone via your career) quit your job! A feeling of guilt implies you know you are doing something wrong and you shouldn't be doing it. So don't do it!
Otherwise, don't let people scam you.
Submitted by The Mama Politic
My husband and I both work. I'm an academic researcher. He's a sociologist. We have a daughter who recently turned one and older children from my husband's previous marriage.
For now we're prioritizing my career, although neither of us is slacking on the job. His strong support is enabling me to advance in my dream job as an applied research faculty member at a large university. I feel lucky to have his backing along with somewhat flexible work hours. We also have great daycare which we appreciate. Our caregiver is wonderful, and our daughter appears to be thriving. Lots of things are going really well.
Still, it isn't easy. One of the things I find hardest about being a working parent is balancing career objectives with this feeling that I need to "do it all". And look fantastic doing it! As the sole cook in our family (long story), I need to get dinner ready each evening. Given my food allergies, this takes some extra effort. And to make things extra challenging, my daughter just started becoming incredibly fussy when we get home at the end of the day. Trying to make dinner and keep her happy is starting to feel like a losing battle. Between my Type A personality that has me wanting to make a great dinner and her unabated screaming, feelings of frustration and uselessness often take over. Hopefully this is a temporary phase.
One way I am staying motivated is by training myself to say, "Screw that!" to a lot of things. I didn't puree my daughter's food when she was younger, I don't make bento boxes, and right now I just feed my daughter everything we eat - spices and all. She has slept in her own crib since day one, and I never breastfed because post partum depression required me to take a mood stabilizer. Sometimes I feel like I can't possibly be "enough" at home. Interestingly, many things seem to come more naturally to my husband than they do to me. Maybe it's because he has older children and has done this before. Still, I feel like I need to do it all, or at least I want to do it all. These feelings and challenges are helping me learn the value of prioritization.
As I ponder the way we negotiate this life, I think about my need for my husband to support my career goals and understand my need to go to work every day. We are far from perfect, but he definitely has my back professionally. This may be difficult for some couples to understand. Maybe the fact that we both had working moms is why it feels right to us.
Some friends who don't get it give me flak. They warn me that I'll regret not putting our daughter to bed every single night, and they're concerned that I've never cried when I've taken her to daycare. When our daughter was six months old, I changed jobs so I could spend more time with her, but some still seem concerned for me.
My husband and I take this all in. We also know that our daughter is healthy, happy, and developmentally on track. She clearly loves us. Because we need our work to feel fulfilled, we truly believe that we're making choices that are best for her, our marriage and our family. It just feels right.
Submitted by Susan Sarate
As a wife and mother to two kids, I've always wanted the best for my family. I was raised by a strong mother and great father and feel so thankful that I grew up in a happy home. My mom, who raised me back in the 70s, convinced me that when a mom worked the kids lost out and the mother would eventually be filled with regret. I believed her. Why wouldn't I? She was a great mother and full of fun. She made our lives fun. The thing is, back in 2006, just as my own family was taking shape, she died. She didn't live long enough to answer my questions, understand my family dynamics, or witness the changes that have occurred over the last ten years.
There it was again: the “sting”. Let me explain what I mean. I was talking to another mother about my work and how I manage it all; young children, an 80% work schedule, and a husband who is out-of-town traveling for business most week days. The other mother, who works a 40% schedule, has grown children, and a husband who is home most evenings, asked, "How can you work that much? You don’t have any time with your kids." Ouch. That hurt.
I noticed that I became defensive when I replied to her, “I have time with my kids in the mornings and evenings, on the weekends, and during our joint vacations. And all my female colleagues in the United States work full time, and they often have more children than I do.”
Why did this bother me so much? I think it was because her statement implied a judgement; she does it right, and I do it wrong.
These opinions and judgments often come from mothers who have the luxury to work just a “little” or not at all. And sometimes their judgments contain defensiveness because my situation highlights the fact that they could be working and earning more.
Why can’t mothers respect each others' choices? Why do some feel compelled to provide opinions and even judgments? Do fathers criticize their peers who work full-time and/or travel as part of their jobs?
It makes me sad that women and mothers criticize each others' career choices. Maybe we do it because we sometimes have more choices about our lifestyles. And women probably spend a lot more time than men questioning whether or not we've made the best choices for our families and ourselves.
But, please, do not burden your fellow sisters. Let's support each others' decisions. That would be much more helpful for ourselves, our children, and our society. We're all trying to do the best we can!
Submitted by Ann Brauch
When my daughter Kirsten was a senior in high school, she called me at work one morning toward the end of the school year very upset. She had overslept. And wouldn't you know that it was the morning of her AP Spanish exam. She flat out missed it. I felt horrible knowing that if I'd been a more attentive mother, I could have prevented the situation and the angst that followed. Kirsten was no slacker, and I hated thinking about the consequences she would endure in spite of all of her hard work.
Another mother, a friend who happened to be at school that day, overheard the teacher ball Kirsten out for the transgression in no uncertain terms. Apparently she did not go easy on her. Kirsten was and is a strong young woman, and interestingly, she didn't tell me that part of the story. She accepted full responsibility for her mistake.
Luckily all was not lost, and a make-up exam was offered and taken. I'm sure you won't be shocked to read that Kirsten went on to college, graduated, and is now gainfully employed by a software company in the healthcare field. The mistake did not ruin her life. In fact, I think she learned a lot from it. For starters, I don't think she's overslept since!
As I look back on this experience with the benefit of hindsight, I can see that it was valuable. If I hadn't had my own work and priorities, I might have prevented the situation, and the lesson might not have been learned. At least not then. In some unexpected ways, I think the fact that both my husband and I work has required each of our kids to develop a strong sense of responsibility. And that is serving them well now that they are young adults.