Many women today are facing choices that their mothers never had to face. One of these choices is whether or not to go back to work after having a child. This was practically unheard of in the 1950’s. In the 1990’s it is not whether the mother will or will not go back to work, rather a question of when. When did the choice become set in stone? Why do the mothers of today have to work outside the home versus working in the home, much like their mothers did.
When one thinks of the subject of working mothers, many differing opinions come to mind. What will happen to the child, will the mother have sufficient time to bond with the baby, how will household chores be divided, and so on. When thinking of working women, two models come to mind. One of which is paid employment that has a protective and beneficial mediating effect. Employment protects women against certain negative aspects of being full-time homemakers and mothers, such as monotonous housework, dependence on the male partner for financial and emotional support, increases self-esteem because they are contributing to the world they live in. These women receive a renewed interest in life because they are in the thick of it. They are living life to the fullest. This model is the one that is constantly referred to as “bad” because it paints the woman as someone who does not really care about the effect of working will have on the baby. In fact, most of these mothers have made this choice with painstaking care. They are constantly feeling what everyone is thinking, and this in turn causes undue stress on these mothers.
The other model of the working mom is the one most people think of when discussing working mothers. This model is one of a woman having too many demands of her –housewife, mother and paid employee – which may lead to role strain due to fatigue and role overload. The competing demands of such roles may also lead to conflict and psychological stress. Both of these models can be seen in the working mother at any given time. They are simply a fact of life, a by product of the world in which we live. Mothers are constantly jumping back and forth in these roles, striving to find a sense of balance. But is there such a thing? Most of the time the scales are tipped one way or another, there is never a true sense of balance. I believe this is how the mothers survive. If the scales were balanced, it would seem that they would either be cruel heartless women, simply concerned with their jobs, and caring less about their children. This is simply not the case. It seems that the ideal situation is when the father helps around the house, as to alleviate some of the stress the mother feels from working and the ability for the mother to have a flexible schedule.
Role decisions within the family unit need to increase when the mother returns to work. In order for both partners to be happy and feel fulfilled, there needs to be a clear definition of roles with in the family unit. This is something that should be discussed and decided well before the mother returns to work. In making role decisions, the parents must somehow combine their perceptions of the rewards and costs associated with each role in order to determine which combination of roles will provide them with the best role position. In other words, they need to figure out what they can do best for the family when they both parents work. If this is accomplished, the family will function better as a unit, and stress will be alleviated for all.
Another set back that is constantly facing working mothers is that their work is looked upon as optional, it is also viewed as less important than their partner’s. When these attitudes are confronted, it makes the transition for the working mother all the more difficult. The constant backlash from the public makes these mothers feel so guilty that some may even quit just to alleviate the stress. In order for working mothers to feel needed, and to have their work mean something, others need to look upon their work as something substantial, something important, not simply an option. When workplaces provide flexible scheduling and childcare services, these are the first steps in getting working mothers into the workforce and alleviate their feelings of guilt.
Many working mothers today are facing the reality of the “second shift”. This is where they put in a full day of work at the office only to come home to start their “second shift”, the one that entails all the housework and the raising of the family. Mothers feel that they have no choice in the matter, in order to be the “perfect” mother, they need to put in this shift, because it is their responsibility. But why is it their responsibility? Why does the father feel it is his right to come home and relax, when the mother is busy fixing dinner, and disciplining children. In order for the working mother to keep her sanity, the father needs to jump in and help with the chores that were previously held by the homemaker. In this day and age, the ideal homemaker is a thing of the past. Many women today want and desire careers and a place in this world. They want to stand on their own two feet, to become a self-sustaining individual, free of dependence on another individual.
When the mother considers the idea of working and raising a family, many things need to be considered. The responsibilities need to be divided evenly so as to alleviate the stress that will evolve due to all the changes. For the working mothers, understanding is first and foremost needed in order for the psychological well being. They need to feel that their work is important, and necessary, and that they are not sacrificing their child’s well being in order to benefit themselves. The danger involved is that the mothers could feel so guilty in working that they feel that they are abandoning their child to the caregivers that they are in contact with daily. The mothers need a support system in order to survive the roller coaster involved when they go back to work. If all these factors are taken into consideration, the transition to working mom will be that much easier for the entire family and the child will not suffer.
Brannen, Julia, Moss, Peter. Managing Mothers: Dual Earner Households After Maternity Leave. London: Unwin Hyman, 1991.
Mahony, Rhona. Kidding Ourselves: Breadwinning, Babies, and Bargaining Power. New York: BasicBooks, 1995.
Thomson, Elizabeth Jean. Employment and childbearing Decisions of Mothers of Young Children. Seattle, University of Washington, 1979.