Career Moms

The great home versus office debate.

According to www.careerjournal.com, in 78 percent families in the United States both parents work for pay. More than half of pregnant women stay on the job until one month before the birth of their first child, and then head back to work following childbirth at a faster rate than in previous decades. The site also informs that many mothers return to work by the third month after a child’s birth, and more than half of mothers return by the sixth month.

Should mothers work outside the home?

Not many years ago, women in the vanguard rallied against women who chose to stay home and raise their children. Now we often hear stay-at-home mothers antagonizing working mothers, who may be told they are neglecting their children.

Despite the above statistics, debate continues as to the appropriateness of mothers working outside the home, particularly when mothers have small children. And studies do show that bias persists against those mothers.

In fact, many people tend to view working mothers as less committed to their children than those who interrupt their careers to stay home full time. Yet, women who work because of financial necessity are judged less harshly by both men and women than women who work for “personal fulfillment.” Why? Many men and women feel that a mother should be self-sacrificing and not allow herself personal satisfaction, other than the joys of motherhood.

We need to recognize that a woman’s sense of self shifts when she has a baby. This occurs whether she does or does not work outside the home, and whether she works financial needs or intellectual or emotional concerns.

The change in a woman’s sense of self as a mother to her new baby has been described by Daniel Stern as the “motherhood constellation.” Soon after a woman becomes a mother, various emotional factors allow her to focus on her baby and her baby’s needs. In addition, Stern stresses that a mother “desires to be valued, supported, aided, taught and appreciated by a maternal figure,” wanting a “good grandmother” to help her, take care of her and validate her new status as a mother.

It is crucial to add that a significant number of women experience conflict and/or ambivalence about their sense of selves as mothers. In the working world, some women feel more capable and empowered than those who work as stay-at-home moms. Other women feel greater satisfaction from mothering their baby or toddler than working. Some women feel conflicted about these desires, unable to easily balance the demands of mothering and working. 

To work or not to work?

  1. Should a Mom work at home?
  2. Should she work part time?
  3. Should she work full time?

The answers— it depends.

Some women are “better” moms because they are home full time, but others are “better” moms because they work in an office full time. Yet, all too often, motherhood and advancement in the workforce outside the home are mutually exclusive. Psychologically, these domains need not be mutually exclusive. Each woman needs to find the balance that works best for her and her family.

It’s important to note that a young child can easily intensify his mother’s guilt. Little ones can become needy and demanding when Mom is about to leave the house or they can easily turn away from her when they feel self-sufficient, despite Mom’s wish to spend time with her children on weekends. 

What should women do when they get home from work?

Doris Bernstein describes a typical dilemma for mothers who work outside the home. Such women are often faced with two opposing demands, such as “I should prepare dinner for my children” verus “I should work on a professional task.”

Meanwhile, men in Western culture typically experience no such conflicts. Men’s commitment to work is fixed and dominant, making women more likely to experience conflict in choosing which activity to do. Much more than men, women are likely to feel guilt— no matter what task they choose. Similarly, while at work, many mothers wish they were at home with their children. And, while at home, moms often wish they were back at work. 

How can moms take charge of their feelings?

In the Parent Child Groups at The Pacella Parent Child Center in New York, mothers learn to understand the universality of ambivalence. The Center helps mothers to acknowledge their conflicted feelings toward themselves in order to master their conflicts. This way, mothers may feel more in charge of their feelings and create a healthy balance between work and home life, prompting their spouses to participate in homemaking and childrearing activities. Now that’s something worth working on.