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Spill It!: Figuring out How to Do It

March 8, 2011


I have a few memories of being a little girl. In one, I am clinging to my mother’s leg as she tries to leave me at daycare. I’m hysterical, and all I want is her softness, the smell of her hair in my hands.

Another is nap-time. I lie on a blue vinyl cot, looking around in the afternoon darkness of a school room. I am either drifting off to sleep or waking up, but there are strict rules about getting off the cot, and I fear I’ll break them. I think of my mother, but she feels far away, too far. Despite being surrounded by other children my age and a few cold teachers, I am alone.

On another day, I sit on a school bus for the first time ever  en route to see a puppet show in the middle of the day. I pass the street where my house is and more than anything, would like to be nestled on the soft couch instead of these sticky brown seats.

As with all children, my mother’s face encompassed all the joy and warmth that existed in the world, and seeing it at the end of the day made everything seem right again. I didn’t know that she existed without me, or me without her. Still, I felt quite proud on the occasional instance when I visited her job. Vending machines held a joy I had not known in such few years on the planet, and I liked sitting at her desk and spinning in her chair, meeting her coworkers for whom I was a mini-celebrity.

While I remember the strong desire to have my mother with me (even more now that I have my own children and feel their needs more than my own), my mother had to work. She had no choice. She was a single mom, the sole person responsible for me–for doing the grocery shopping, the cleaning, the bedtime stories; for buying shoes when my feet outgrew the last ones, or presents for my birthday; for picking me up from the brick schoolhouse and bringing me home to our rowhome in Southwest Philadelphia. She balanced the checkbook. And changed the sheets. And picked up the mail. And struggled.

When I was teaching at a girls’ school, planning my family and the adjustments I’d have to make, I asked the girls what their mothers did, what they thought they’d do when they had children. Many, if not most, wanted to be stay-at-home mothers, much to my chagrin. (So why was I busting my butt giving them a solid education and promoting female leadership if they had zero career aspirations? Was I Julia Roberts in Mona Lisa Smile or something?) The students were upper middle-class, affluent enough to go to a private school, and many of them never knew a mother who worked. When I assigned Linda Hirshman’s article “Homeward Bound” in the November 2005 edition of the American Prospect, in which she calls on women of elite universities to get to work and stop staying home with kids, the girls got angry. This woman was wrong, stone-cold. Didn’t she understand that mothering was the most important job in the world? I heard the question over and over again–“Why would someone have kids just to leave them with someone else?” (This same question was not asked of men.) So I shared my own concerns about how important it was to be able to fend for yourself even in marriage, even as a mother. They tried to make me feel better; “You’re a teacher. You’ll have the best of both worlds.” (Because as Fox News and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker will tell you, teachers don’t work that hard.)

But what about other women? I nearly pleaded as the bell rang and they walked out of the room, the scent of berry lip gloss wafting by. How are they supposed to do it? What does their staying home, my staying home, teach you, the next generation, about the importance of having a career to call your own? What might women lose if we continue to make this decision?

I was never fully honest with myself about how emotional my considerations about working and motherhood were, but of course they are hugely impacted by my childhood. I learned from an early age that dependence on a man often resulted in heartbreak and near-poverty. Pick any of the last three generations of women in my family, and you’ll find a woman trying to make ends meet with kids to feed, no money, and an absent father. That wasn’t going to happen to me. If fathers will, sooner or later, go their own way in the world, a woman needed independence and a profession. And when those men were around, using their income to wield power they didn’t quite deserve, I vowed to make my own money so I’d never have to answer to someone about the phone bill or the shoes I decided to buy.

So here I am, years later, still trying to figure it out. I have let go of my fear surrounding marital relationships and instead embraced trust for my husband, a man of strong character and compassion. Since my children were born, I have stayed home, worked full-time, and worked part-time. Still, I have not figured out the perfect recipe, the perfect plan. In any direction, it seems, something is lost.

Since I do believe the personal is political, I worry how the choices of women in my generation affect those who come after us. Can we change our society’s work culture and family unfriendly government policies if we’re not in it, making our voices heard?

Right now, I’m working part-time, thankful that my husband has a level of flexibility in his job so that we can split up the drop-offs and pick-ups on the two-and-a-half days I work. I love having days where I feel like a professional and days I feel like just a mom. Yet my son, like most children, wants his mom. On the days he has to go to school, he moans and complains. Upon pick-up, he is known to utter “What took you so long?” And while I know that two full days in school is a good experience for him, that as a family we are finding our way and he will adjust, I remember the little girl who woke up from her nap in a dim room, a girl who could not be fully comforted by teachers, who felt lost. In those moments, I ache for any moment of ours I’ve wasted away.

I can never come to an answer–for me, for other moms, for women in this post-feminist society. Working seems to bring with it the pain of not being present for your kids as much as they may need you; staying home means you are missing out on earnings and respect that you will very well need one day, not to mention the loss of power and ownership you can feel in your own house.

A mother’s bond with her children seems to be one of perpetual heartening and heartbreak, one of the saddest and most beautiful of human tales. I guess the same can be said for the state of motherhood, in any era.

What do you think? How can we make our parenting decisions from the heart while not losing any clout for women’s progress in society?

*This post inspired by the Maladjusted Book Club pick, I Don’t Know How She Does It by Allison Pearson. We’re discussing it on Monday, March 14th. Please join us!


Image: “Proud Mother” by pursuethepassion via Flickr using a Creative Commons license.

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{ 52 comments… read them below or add one }

Christine March 8, 2011 at 4:27 pm

Oh Jana, of course I’m sure you must know that I have so much to say on this issue. In fact, I may well write a post of my own in response. But here’s what I know, being a full-time mom and being raised without a mom – somewhere in the midst of everything part of it has to be about joy. If you find joy in your work, than that is important too and the effects will rub-off on your children in ways you might not see. I never imagined I wouldn’t work, it was just a given. I wanted a career, I worked hard to achieve and so now I work hard to keep it. Does that mean there aren’t trade-offs? Absolutely not. I do miss my children, and long for better understanding of the challenges mothers face in the work place. But I believe I’m setting an example that is equally as important as it would be if I stayed home. It’s about living a rounded life.

There is so much to say on this topic, and I’m am so so glad you’ve opened the discussion here.


Jana March 8, 2011 at 6:11 pm

I think you’ve touched on something when you refer to joy. A happy mom makes happy children, so a mom does have to do what brings her joy. The key is that you live in Canada, and I’m curious about how the treatment of workers there (opposed to the U.S.) possibly makes it easier to make the choice to work. Can you speak to that at all? The problems that occur when one works and has children is kind of what Justine is talking about below–moms may get treated differently or seen as not committed; there is no required paid maternity leave to allow moms the chance to bond with their children in that first year; workplaces don’t always give sick days or family sick days; very few places offer flex time or days to work from home. All of these things, which I believe moms have to fight for, make the workplace more family friendly, and make it easier for a mom to work without regrets. How do we get there if moms keep opting out, is what I wonder….


Justine March 8, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Oh Jana – I struggle with this EVERY DAY. I’m participating in the book club and it has definitely unearthed some of my emotions that I’ve buried inside these couple of years, knowing right now, I have no choice but to work.

I’ve made my peace with it, yet situations come up that make me re-evaluate my decision, wondering if I can find an alternative because the professional life can be brutal to mothers working full time. Not only do you have to deal with the issue of separation, you have to justify why you need to prioritize your family and go home to them when work prefers you to do otherwise. Even when working, even when you’re good at what you do, people question your commitment as long as they think that you have a family that’s taking your time away from the company. It’s really sad. And upsetting that we don’t live in a society that supports and protects the family.

I actually planned on a post about it this week in preparation for our discussion on Monday, although my subject matter is a little different than what you have here. I look forward to your post on the book. I’m only halfway through but am enjoying it tremendously.


Jana March 8, 2011 at 6:13 pm

The work environment can be horrible, which is why so many women choose to leave it. Why don’t these companies recognize that making it family friendly will actually be better for business?


Kate March 8, 2011 at 4:40 pm

Beautifully written, as always.

I was thinking about this very issue myself recently, as I’m not getting any younger, and we do want to have children. I am the third child and my mother went back to work when I was 4 years old. She was home full time with kids for 10 years, and I just happened to come at the end. I have no real memories of her being home, honestly. I do have memories of exactly the stuff you’re talking about, though–of being dropped off at a baby-sitter’s house (I had more than one; my mom wasn’t into daycare), and I pretty much hated it. The baby-sitters were just not the same as my mother. I also remember feeling absolutely elated when my mother came to get me at the end of the day.

I was kind of struck by these memories recently and it hit me that I would like, at least theoretically, to be able to provide that for my children. But it’s really unlikely it’s going to be a possibility. It might, maybe, be a possibility if I waited long enough, but that presents other problems.

I don’t even have children and I’m already torn up about it.


Jana March 8, 2011 at 7:15 pm

I know. That’s exactly what I was dealing with when I was discussing those articles with my students. What to do? I am surprised that we’re able to make it on a part-time salary. We never thought we could. But the cost of daycare is so expensive that you make things work that you formerly couldn’t. I understand your pain, and I wish I had the answer. I really do.


Karen March 8, 2011 at 5:03 pm

Jana, I think this struggle is universal for women everywhere, every walk of life, no matter if they were raised by a stay-at-home mom or a mom that worked. I decided with the birth of my first child that I would work for 6 months until my husband was done with medical school and then we would live on his residency salaray. Not much money, even less time with him – but a time in my life that I will always treasure. 15 yrs later and now with two boys – I have worked off and on and each time truly agonized over the times that I was not available for my children. The guilt simply ate at me until one day when my 6 yr old said “mom, you are always on the phone, always on call or going to work. And you know daddy is always working too.” Right then and there I decided that working just simply wasn’t for me – not the kind of work that takes me away from them in any respect. I think working when you are a mom is as personal as breastfeeding when you’re a mom – and probably as controversial / two sided. You have to do what is right for YOU. Even if that is never really coming to an answer
Great post.


Jana March 8, 2011 at 7:25 pm

Thanks for commenting, Karen. I agree that you have to do what is right for YOU. In all my anecdotal research before I became a mom, that’s what I heard–figure out what is right for me and my family. BUT. What about the question of women’s role in society? Will we lose any progress we’ve made if women who can afford it opt out? That’s my worry. I don’t want the next generation to have that legacy. I want stellar working conditions for both parents so this doesn’t have to be a choice that falls on moms and makes them have to pick either/or. Would love to hear your thoughts on this. Can we change society from our dining room tables?


Karen March 9, 2011 at 9:02 am

I agree with the Karen above, that working is a personal decision, which for me was determined in large part by necessity but is now something I am grateful for. While working, I am able to focus on projects and interact with other people who challenge me to grow in ways I might not at home. And because of this distraction of work, I appreciate the time with my son much more and feel that I can be more fully present with him and aware of his needs every minute we are together.

In response to your last question, Jana, I think we can and should be working to change society from our dining room tables, even while pursuing a career or engaging in any activities outside the home. The first and simplest way is in the way that we help our children to be both brave and compassionate thinkers, and you have mentioned this in previous posts. You are already changing the world in helping us all to identify the questions we need to continually revisit to ensure we are making the best decisions for ourselves, our family, and our world. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!


Jana March 9, 2011 at 9:22 am

Thanks for this really poignant comment, Karen. I understand that it’s important to make our kids critical thinking, and I definitely can’t undervalue that. My worry is that so much of our modeling comes from what kids see instead of what their parents say. And while I know that contributing great people to society is an important job, I worry that if there are not enough women in the workforce, making gains, then we will continue to contribute men who join that static work force and women who stay home. Saying we’re contributing to society through our kids could, in essence, mean contributing the same status quo we had in yesteryear. Please tell me how I’m wrong on this. (I want to be wrong.)


Sean March 8, 2011 at 5:07 pm

Oh Jana, this is beautifully written! And it really hits home. My mom stayed home with me when I was little, but she wasn’t very nurturing. I actually longed to go to school and once I got there, I never looked back…

We waited 10 years after marriage to have Ava. Since I’ve worked full time since I turned 18, it never occurred to me to stay home with her. When the time came, I did the customary 90 days maternity leave and it was honestly the best three months of my life. I realized my priorities changed. Work was no longer on the top of my list. I arranged to work from home two days a week for her first year and kept her with me. Those days really gave us the time we needed to bond, I think. Now, she’s four and I would love to spend more time with her if I could. The thing is, she likes school – a lot. And she complains if I pick her up too early! Such an independent little spirit, but she does love her mama.

The worst part of working full time is that I really don’t like my job. I’m working on a few ventures that I can do from home so I don’t have to go off to an office anymore. I think that’s the perfect balance for me. I need something to do that I really enjoy, but I need mommy time, too.


Jana March 8, 2011 at 7:17 pm

It’s nice to be able to be home and work, but I also miss the camaraderie of the workplace. Despite the fact that I can work in slippers, I enjoy talking to other like-minded people. Now, I only interface with students. Students who don’t do their homework, mostly….


Cathy March 9, 2011 at 11:17 am

I, too, enjoy the friendship and conversation in the workplace. I’ve often thought about quitting my job and staying home and my husband is adamant that I’d be miserable. He might be right. Although I counter that I could really, really improve my golf game, especially because all of my kids are now in school.


Cathy @ All I Want To Say March 8, 2011 at 5:44 pm

I rationalize knowing that children are temporary. Maybe a long stay, but still temporary. That working will bring them a level of independence that will serve them well as adults. That they will be more out-going and able to handle social interactions with ease having done it on their own. But I am sad. Sad that I am not there to pick them up at carpool (even though my son wants to stay at the after-school program as late as possible). Sad that I’m not cooking better food. Sad that they don’t come home to a kitchen smelling of fresh baked bread and cookies.

One other thing that I’m realizing is that (for me anyway) I’d rather be home now when my kids are pre-teen and teenagers. They need me more than any infant did. I can do better than any babysitter I hire, teaching them good study habits, monitoring homework, making sure they have nutritious snacks at just the right time so as to not spoil their dinners. These are the important years to be there.


Jana March 8, 2011 at 7:18 pm

This is not the first time I’ve heard this, that teenagers need you home. My hairdresser told me, actually. She said they can get into a lot more trouble when you’re not there. What’s funny is that I didn’t want my mom home when I was a teenager, but did when I was a small child. But I understand it. Teenagers are really, really hard, and I can imagine a strong presence being important. Not to mention that they may open up more if you’re home. Flex-time, woman! That’s what we all need!


Tracy March 8, 2011 at 7:37 pm

This was the hardest thing I’ve read in a long time. We want not only to be it all, but we want to teach our daughters that they can be it all by our own example, but my daughter will, as we all do, pay for her choices. She’s going to wait later to have her own children, and god I hope she can have them. More than that, I hope she can make choices.
If all we do is remember we’re re-learning to listen to our truest selves and try to pass that along to our own children, we’re giving them all they need, all they came with. Perfection minus the marketing… I hope.


Carrie March 9, 2011 at 12:48 am

Your post has struck a cord. I just burst into big tears reading it.
I left my husband ( trust me on this, it got bad) when Hannah was just one month old. I have also worked so hard in my career. I love my job, and I’m actually good at it. Plus, in my industry, I am one of only two women at this level. For my company, who has been around since 1914, I am the first woman they have ever had in my position. Plus, several other people’s jobs depend on whether or not I do mine well. I really think my job is a big part of me, as odd as that might sound. And yet, I break down to leave Hannah. I had a nightmare the other night that a woman was screaming at me that I was choosing my work over my daughter. In real life, it isn’t a choice. I’m the only money coming in, paying hospital costs, filling the prescriptions, (there are SO many), housing, food, clothes, you get the idea. And anymore, it is barely enough. Still, it feels like I am making a choice. Like somehow I should quit and not miss a moment more than I already have. Of course, then who would pay the bills. It is a feeling not based in logic at all. I tell myself I am providing a good work example for my kids, but do they really care about that or do they just miss their mommy?


Jana March 9, 2011 at 9:19 am

Oh, Carrie. I’m sorry you’re having a hard time. You have such a hard situation, it would make anyone doubt and question themselves. But you are doing the best you can, and that’s all any of us can do.

In the book club novel (I Don’t Know How She Does It), there are a few chapters called “The Court of Motherhood,” where Kate Reddy has to answer for herself for working. Your dream sounds very much like that. While it doesn’t make it any easier on you, I hope it helps you to know you are not alone.

I’m sending you and Hannah all my positive energy. XO


Jeff March 9, 2011 at 10:42 am

Two cents from a dad and husband of a full-time working mom.

I tend to read all sorts of magazine stories and mommy blog posts about this issue because I live it every day. Hence, my strong opinions.

1. An educated woman who chooses to abandon the workforce to care for her kids is a lucky woman. Often times, I read these posts and wonder why so many women forget the fact that they are more than fortunate to have the ability to make that choice. I know I’ll get hate mail for saying so, but I’m a little tired of the complaining. Smile and enjoy the fact that you have the CHOICE to stay out of the workforce. Enjoy the fact that you married someone who makes enough money to allow you to do so in the first place. I know that my wife would like me to make more money – but not so she can quit the workforce and her career. She just wants the option and I’m working on it!

2. My mother’s mother was a single mom who worked full-time and had little support from her ex-husband and the grandparents. She did a fabulous job of being a mother. I have never heard my wife complain. Not once. Mother and daughter are as close as can be and their relationship causes envy among those who know them.

3. Further to #2, my wife learned how to be an independent woman from her mother. She need not rely on a man (me) to support her financially. She need not sacrifice her career aspirations to sit at home with the kids. She knew it was completely possible to have both and to do both well.

4. Unlike my mother-in-law, my wife has a partner in life. I’m not going to toot my own horn, but I am involved as a father as any I have ever met. This not only allows my wife to have her own life, but it shows our son that marriage and parenting should be 50/50. Way too many of the couple we know are more like 80/20 or even 90/10. You know who I’m talking about – I call them weekend dads. The ones who show up (if they’re lucky) for bedtime during the week and then get all of their parenting out of the way on the weekends.

5. We’re not perfect – no one is. But I do have all the confidence in the world that our son will actually grow up to have a much deeper respect for women. He is witnessing a woman who is actually doing it all. He’s witnessing two people taking on equal responsibilities as parents.

6. Now, we’re expecting a little girl and I can’t wait for her to witness the very same things I have already mentioned. She too, will see that it can be done. Her grandmother did it and her mother is doing it. I don’t know what lies ahead for her, but I do know that she’ll have some damn good role models.

7. In response to a comment posted earlier about how this in affecting society – it’s all about what we are teaching our kids. If our kids see highly educated women quitting their jobs and careers in order to stay home, then they’ll perceive that as acceptable for them. If we teach our kids to be independent and drop traditional gender roles, we’ll see a shift.

8. I know I’ll get more hate mail for this one too. The vast majority of the blogs and articles on this topic are written by non-working women. Mommy bloggers have the time to, um, blog. Their opinions, issues, and worries are far more prevalent than those of the millions of full-time working moms. Because between having a career, being a mother, and being a wife, there isn’t necessarily any time to blog about it.


Cathy March 9, 2011 at 11:20 am

Jeff – I love this and cannot believe you would get flame mail from it. I agree with all of your points, especially #8. In the book we’re reading, “I Don’t Know How She Does It”, the author makes a point about the discomfort between working moms and non-working moms – each one having some jealousy toward the other but feeling the need to posture that their own decision is the best. I think that’s true. The grass is always greener on the other side – or sometimes it appears so anyway.


Jeff March 11, 2011 at 3:52 pm

Thank you. Very much appreciated.


Liz@LovingMom March 10, 2011 at 10:19 am

Jeff this is a great response. I am a mommy blogger and I am a full time working mother. I feel like often the working moms voice isn’t heard, mostly because we don’t always have the time. I am very proud to be a working mother, I have worked very hard to get to where I am in my education and professionally, I am proud to have a daughter who will learn from me that women can be strong, have a career, and raise a family.


Jeff March 11, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Thanks Liz. You’re 100% right – the voice of the working mother is not heard.


Jana March 11, 2011 at 6:15 pm

I didn’t respond earlier because even after your comment, I’m not really sure what your opinion is. You and your wife contribute both financially and domestically to the house (that’s great!). But let me ask you about this: “If our kids see highly educated women quitting their jobs and careers in order to stay home, then they’ll perceive that as acceptable for them. If we teach our kids to be independent and drop traditional gender roles, we’ll see a shift.” You’re right, but what is your opinion about either side? And what do we see happening more predominantly?

Our kids DO see highly educated women quitting their jobs. What does that mean about our society, and should we try to prevent it? I do think that all mothers stay home for some amount of time–whether it’s six weeks to three months to a year. But whether moms choose to stay home or not in the long run, it has a lot to do with the way our society works. Many moms feel that they have no option with an un-family-friendly workplace and husbands who are unwilling to compromise. (Husbands unlike you, I take it.)

Further, how do we teach our kids to drop traditional gender roles if not by modeling? I want my kids to feel comforted and safe and still see women and men as equally capable. How does a woman go about that if she is solely in the domestic sphere and her husband is in the professional one? These are my concerns.

I strongly believe in the “regime effect,” something Linda Hirshman refers to in the aforementioned article (link in post, above). She talks about how the choices elite women make leave a mark on society because they are part of the upper and powerful class in America (or, they are by extension of their powerful husbands). If they opt out of the workforce, it is going to be the dream of every rich and poor young girl to do the same. Maybe the question is not whether women actually stay home, but what women and men think is the ideal place for any woman to be, a place which fully cultivates her talents.

As far as working mom blogs, I read quite a few, so I would disagree that the voice of the working mother isn’t heard. (Though I do agree that it at least started as the realm of the SAHM. It did for me, at least.) I am always amazed that these women manage to keep up their blogs, but they do, and I am grateful. I am a working mom, for instance. I don’t work every day, but my job is really a four or five day job that I cram into two-and-a-half. I think working moms as much as stay-at-home moms want a place for themselves, and blogs can become that place.

Here are some working mom blogs I enjoy–and for some, the work is writing:

A Wrinkle in Time–

Coffees and Commutes–

Average Supermom–

Scary Mommy–

The Happiness Project–


Here Where I Have Landed–

The Never True Tales–

The Absence of Alternatives–

Not to mention the two women who responded to you–Cathy from All I Want to Say and Liz from Loving Mom Two Boys (plus one new girl!)

And these are only a few of the ones out there!


Jeff March 14, 2011 at 11:36 am


Thanks for the reply. I’ll try to cover your points/questions as best as I can.

You’re right, but what is your opinion about either side?
-I think that the non-working mother is selling herself short. As I stated, I think it is possible to do it all. Is it easy? No. But it’s certainly possible.

And what do we see happening more predominantly?
-In my circles, I see more and more highly educated women abandoning their careers, the dreams that go with those careers, and to a degree, their independence. I see these women searching for and finding highly paid men to marry. I see these women becoming the housewives of the 1950’s only now with iPhones, enormous SUVs, and post-graduate degrees.

Our kids DO see highly educated women quitting their jobs. What does that mean about our society, and should we try to prevent it?
-I wouldn’t say that we should try to prevent it. It is still a free country. I think it means that as far as women have come in this country, there is still a deep desire to be the wife, the mother, and the caretaker.

Many moms feel that they have no option with an un-family-friendly workplace and husbands who are unwilling to compromise. (Husbands unlike you, I take it.)
-Well, this one is clear. Maybe women need to look for other qualities in the men they choose to marry. Instead of looking at a guy’s income potential, maybe women should spend some time observing how they interact with children. Or get a dog – see how much of the walking, feeding, cleaning, playing he does.

Further, how do we teach our kids to drop traditional gender roles if not by modeling? I want my kids to feel comforted and safe and still see women and men as equally capable. How does a woman go about that if she is solely in the domestic sphere and her husband is in the professional one? These are my concerns.
-That’s a tough one – not sure there is a great solution. Ideally, I would say introduce others to the conversation – whether it be relatives, friends, or others in the community. But I do say ideally – because we all know that kids develop many of their ideals from us.

I strongly believe in the “regime effect,” something Linda Hirshman refers to in the aforementioned article (link in post, above). She talks about how the choices elite women make leave a mark on society because they are part of the upper and powerful class in America (or, they are by extension of their powerful husbands). If they opt out of the workforce, it is going to be the dream of every rich and poor young girl to do the same. Maybe the question is not whether women actually stay home, but what women and men think is the ideal place for any woman to be, a place which fully cultivates her talents.
-I agree 100%. I think it’s why so many people try out for reality shows. It’s instant “success.” I can be rich and famous too. I don’t think there is such a thing as an ideal place. Again, this is not the 1950’s.

As far as working mom blogs, I read quite a few, so I would disagree that the voice of the working mother isn’t heard. (Though I do agree that it at least started as the realm of the SAHM. It did for me, at least.) I am always amazed that these women manage to keep up their blogs, but they do, and I am grateful. I am a working mom, for instance. I don’t work every day, but my job is really a four or five day job that I cram into two-and-a-half. I think working moms as much as stay-at-home moms want a place for themselves, and blogs can become that place.
-I know there are plenty of working mom blogs out there. I also know that they pale in comparison to the number of non-working mom blogs. I also know that the most influential mommy blogs are not of the working mother kind. I do acknowledge that writing a blog can be a full-time job, but to me, it’s just not the same thing. When you can drop off and pick up your kids from school/activities, do all of your household errands, go to yoga, cook dinner, and still have time to blog (while wearing sweats), it’s just not the same. Is it easy to balance all of that? Of course not. But throw in another 40 hours at the office and then talk to me about balance.

Jana March 14, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Jeff, I think you’re right, that a lot of women are abandoning career and degree and marrying someone with a lot of income potential. I’m with you that it’s more important to find a partner who wants to share in the household responsibilities. I much more want a “partner” than a person who makes a lot of money. I can do without iPhones and SUVs if I have a true meeting of the minds. Thanks for addressing all of these questions and continuing the discussion! I appreciate your willingness to engage in this topic since a lot of men consider it more of a women’s space. It’s not. It’s something we all need to consider if we’re going to have happy marriages and happy kids. (And be happy people.)

Julie March 9, 2011 at 11:58 am

This post made me feel worse than I have in a long time. I am sitting here, at work, picturing my son and daughter (3 1/2 and 1 1/2) asleep on their blue cots at daycare just a few blocks away from me. I read these blogs to commiserate, to feel connected, to get inspired, but sometimes I wonder what the heck I am doing. I just feel awful. On one hand I would love to be able to stay home with my kids and teach them and challenge them and spend time snuggling on a daily basis. But am I really cut out for that life? On the other hand, I went to college and then grad school so that I could work in a career and leave a mark on society. To set an example for both my children regarding work ethic and determination and balance. I want to have it all, but not a month goes by that I don’t pull up this old spreadsheet, comparing my salary and benefits to my husband’s, and never finding a way to make it work on just one of our incomes, not really knowing if we would want to anyway. The guilt is heavy and thick, but I have to remember this is not about me. It’s about my two little monkeys, who appear happy and well-balanced, who seemed nurtured and cared for during the working hours…and who hopefully do not wake up on their little blue cots wondering where I am.


Jana March 9, 2011 at 1:05 pm

I would hate to think I made you feel awful. I was trying to represent the range of emotions from mothers who do and don’t work, or who work part-time, like I am currently. I was trying to express how important it is to make a better society for our children by working, but also the difficulty of being with our children as much as we may want to be. And just so you know, I think the cots they make nowadays are more comfortable. The daycare I went to as a child didn’t have the most friendly teachers, and I know that there are plenty of other good ones now available.


Julie March 9, 2011 at 2:39 pm

I didn’t mean to imply that my feelings are the result of your post – quite the opposite. As usual, you write on a topic that resonates with me and so many other moms out there. My own issues with “working mom guilt” are just that – my own, but it helps to know that there are other moms out there who are feeling the same way. And I keep telling myself that I can’t walk around feeling guilty all the time because that certainly isn’t something that’s good for anyone – my kids included. We all must continue to fight the good fight – hoping that trying the best we can is somehow good enough. There will always be bad days. Thanks for always sharing such an honest perspective!


Jana March 10, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Phew. Good. :)


Gale @ Ten Dollar Thoughts March 9, 2011 at 5:36 pm

Jana – Thank you so much for this post. As I read it I felt like I was exhaling a breath I’ve been holding in for weeks. You said so many things I’ve been afraid to say myself.

“What does their staying home, my staying home, teach you, the next generation, about the importance of having a career to call your own? What might women lose if we continue to make this decision?”

Those questions are the ones I’m afraid to speak aloud. Women who choose to stay home frequently offer the refrain “What is more important than raising the next generation?” In a sense I see their point. But if all I do is raise a kid, and all that kid does is raise a kid, and all that kid does is raise a kid, and none of those offspring ever goes out into the world and does anything besides procreate, what’s the value? The idea of “raising the next generation” is only inspiring if you’re raising them to do something great. (For all their faults, this is one thing the Kennedy family got right…) And I believe that a big part of the way you raise a child to do great things is to set an example.

I wrote a post on a related topic last month and felt so defensive toward some of the responses from SAHMs. I don’t understand why so many of them assume that my decision to maintain my career is a criticism of their decision to stay home. I responded in support of their decisions to stay home, because I do support that choice. But every time a SAHM says, “What’s more important than raising the next generation?” what I hear is, “Gale, you have the most important job in the world and you’ve farmed it out to someone else.” If I can be supportive of their choice, why can’t they be supportive of mine? (As an aside, I got great support from fellow bloggers who are SAHMs. It was from some real life friends and family members that the responses were a little more frustrating…)

I was raised by a SAHM and I’m glad that I was. I never had the experience you describe of being left at daycare and longing for the scent of my mother’s hair (talk about a heartbreaking story!). But because stay-at-home motherhood was the example that was set for me (and for both of my parents when they were kids, and by most of my friends’ parents when I was a kid) it was HARD to break that mold and continue to work after my son was born. Thankfully I have a strong group of girlfriends from my MBA program who are almost all working mothers by choice. That camaraderie helps a lot. Nevertheless, my sister is about to have her first child, and she has already submitted her resignation. My sisters-in-law who have kids quit their jobs after maternity leave. And sometimes I feel like the bad mom for working when I could choose to stay home.

We’re lucky. We can afford a nanny and our son (now 2 years) has stayed home with her since he was 12 weeks old. She is wonderful and a part of our family. I’m thankful for that every day. But it’s still hard. Hard to walk out the door some mornings. Hard to go to the gym after work. Hard to cook dinner from scratch after a long day. Hard to go volunteer at the children’s hospital every Sunday. Hard to find time to write decent and thoughtful blog posts. And yet, I would not give up any of those things because I want him to grow up seeing a mother who works hard (even – especially – when she doesn’t have to). I want him to see someone who pursues her goals and interests. I want him to see someone who values physical fitness and healthy eating. I want him to see someone who values service to others. And I want him to grow up knowing that the world doesn’t revolve around him alone.

I’ve drifted far afield from your original point, and for that I apologize. But this post touched me in profound ways and I felt compelled to explore a few tangents. Thank you again for this. Thank you for having and voicing your opinions. And thank you for giving me the opportunity and the courage (away from my own blog in a place where my real-life friends and family members won’t find it) to offer my own thoughts.


Jana March 10, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Thanks for the comment, Gale. I’m really glad to hear that you’ve also thought about that “contributing” cycle which to me isn’t enough impact. For some, it works, but I am too much an activist for it to be enough for me. (Though I have to say right now, I am plenty happy with my situation.)


Kate March 10, 2011 at 12:22 am

First, I am a SAHM. I am grateful for the opportunity to be home. And I know how lucky, deeply lucky, I am to make a choice. However, my choice is based in no small part on my husband’s work. Not just the financial side, but his time commitments are unpredictable. Travel is involved. Things change in the course of each day. Coordinating schedules with him would be shockingly awful. So, to work, I would need full time care for my girls. Which would mean I would need full time, well paying work.

And there is this – it brings me joy to be with my girls. No job has held me so captive. I haven’t found my calling that makes money. Yet.

I think I have to write more about this, about how I was raised too, about our responsibilities to family…..


Jana March 10, 2011 at 1:58 pm

This is key. I was more willing to embrace a stay-at-home role when my husband’s job was inflexible and far away. Someone needed to be around for the kids. Now that his job is better, I love having him home more, too. This is what I mean by changing the workplace. And I don’t know how we’re going to do it soon enough!


Kate March 10, 2011 at 12:25 am

I meant to type responsibilities to society. That one is fraught to me.


Liz@LovingMom March 10, 2011 at 10:14 am

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, especially with my recent return to working full time and putting my 2 month old daughter in daycare. For me staying at home was not a choice, it was forced upon me by and horrible working situation – I enjoyed it as best I could, knowing that money was tight and wanting to be able to return to work.

To be honest, I enjoy being a working mother, I like the person I am as a professional and somedays I really feel having this role outside of the house makes me a better mother. I provide 2/3rds of our family’s income, with me working my children will be able to attend the private school we want them at, they will be able to enjoy out of school activities that were unavailable to me as a child (due to financial constraints). I am also lucky that my husband and I have been able to work out our schedules to minimize the time our kids are in daycare, and with my father’s help they also have 2 days a week out of daycare with him.

I can’t help but wonder if my daycare/preschool experience as a child has also helped ease the burden for me. I loved my preschool. I vividly remember my caring teacher (Mrs Pearson) and my best friend (Tina) I was so very happy to go there every single day!! Tommy now is having a similar experience, he adores his teacher (Miss Jeanne – who happens to be the mother of one of my close childhood friends), he loves seeing his friends. The teachers at the center my kids go to are very warm and loving – I know it is a healthy place for my children.

Sometimes I feel guilty for NOT feeling guilty for working. I am constantly asked (sometimes even told) that I must feel awful leaving my kids each day as I go to work, but honestly I don’t. I know that I have found a wonderful environment for them to spend their days and I am a better mother when I work. I know that my daughter will be raised knowing that there are many options for families, she can stay home if she wants, she can work if she wants, she can find a husband who stays home while she works (an arrangement my husband and I once had, but didn’t work out for us in the end). Being a working mom entrenched in the world of mommy blogging doesn’t help either. As Jeff pointed out, so many mommy bloggers stay at home or have jobs where they can work from home, it adds to that I feel like I should feel guilty feeling.

I am a full time out of the house 40 hours a week working mom and I am proud of it. My kids still have wonderful experiences inspite of it, and some times because of it. And I make sure to work even harder to make our moments together count even more, and make sure they never doubt how much I love them!!

(sorry for the long response…I really have been thinking a lot about this lately…)


Jana March 10, 2011 at 1:56 pm

I’m so glad to hear that you are handling this with grace and happy for the decisions you’ve made. That’s where we all want to be, I think. And you’re right about daycare/preschool memories having an impact. I know that my experience isn’t the same as his. When he was in full-time daycare, I never worried about him because I knew they were taking great care of him.


Mary March 10, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Jana —
As a newbie Attitude Adjustment fan, I just wanted to thank you for brightening up my work day with your blog. I can relate to so many of your stories! I remember being 4 years old, sitting by the door in daycare waiting for my mom to pick me up after work, and feeling like such a big shot if I got picked up early! I’m also a former Southwest Philly girl who, by the way, zealously avoids the crazy speed-walker in my neighborhood (where do these people come from?!). Thanks for the laughs and the memories, and please keep them coming!


Jana March 10, 2011 at 1:54 pm

So glad to have a new fan, Mary. I’ll see if I can round up any other Southwest Philly memories….


Becca March 10, 2011 at 11:28 pm

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful post. I’m trying to pull myself out of Walker World (loved your nod to his insanity) and into the blog-o-sphere again, and this is such a great post to come back to. I’ve thought a lot about how my choices re: work and motherhood affect me. For example, I could have gotten a promotion to director of rehabilitation services–and been damn good at it, thank you very much– but only if I worked full time, which I wasn’t willing to do while my kids were young. And I could have gone back to get my PhD but–you guessed it– only if I was willing to go full time, which I wasn’t with young kids. So I’ve limited myself professionally to be home with my kids, for sure. I think I made the right choices….and yet I’ll be honest and say that I haven’t spent a ton of time pondering how the choices we make as women right now affect the choices that will be available to our daughters…. wow. Something to ponder for a while.


Becca March 10, 2011 at 11:30 pm

Affect? Effect? I’m nervous I chose incorrectly because it’s YOU, the queen of grammar. But I think I got it right. Affect. Yes, that’s it. (Right?)


Elizabeth March 12, 2011 at 9:41 am

I have no answers to the question at hand. Go to work?Stay at home? A little of both? I’m always back and forth about what’s best for all concerned. However, your quote”A mother’s bond with her children seems to be one of perpetual heartening and heartbreak, one of the saddest and most beautiful of human tales” really moved me. So true.


Dana Udall-Weiner March 12, 2011 at 3:11 pm

I love how you weave the personal and political, the idealized and actual, into your posts, Jana. These questions are so thorny, and I struggle with them every day. I am privileged to be able to work part-time, so that I have the advantages of lots of time with my kids, as well as a career of my own. But even this is not ideal. And when it comes to the question, “How does she do it all?” it’s never directed at men.

Thanks for your wonderfully nuanced and authentic words.


Alex@LateEnough March 12, 2011 at 4:05 pm

I think that the problem isn’t necessarily elite university graduates since the majority of SAHMs are actually low income, undereducated women. It’s an issue of childcare options and minimum wage first.
And the best examples in my life have always been men and women who have joy and integrity. Whether that’s pushing glass ceilings or washing glasses.
With that being said, the best thing I could’ve done for my family was stay home. The best thing I could’ve done for society was to go on to medical residency. It was one of the most difficulty choices I have ever faced, but I don’t regret my decision as selfish as it was.


Finola March 13, 2011 at 12:16 pm

This post really resonates with me Jana. I have always been a working Mom because I needed to be. Luckily in Canada we get one year of maternity leave though, so at least I had two years at home with my girls. Because my husband is self-employed, when we decided that we wanted a parent to stay home for a couple of years, it needed to be him. I never quite got used to it though. I think working part time would have been just the perfect compromise though. I think it’s too hard when we try to do it all.


Kristen March 16, 2011 at 8:19 am

I read this post over a week ago and I’ve been turning it over in my mind since then. I’ve been thinking about this for the past 9 months–I’m currently 9 months pregnant, my husband is in medical school and I work from home as a writer. For the foreseeable future, my husband and I will be filling traditional gender roles: he’ll be a doctor, I’ll be a stay-at-home-mom (no matter how much writing I do, if I’m home every day with kids, this is how they’ll see it). Can I feel OK about raising my kids like this?

Like many of your commenters, I have strong memories of my mom leaving me to go to work or school. When I was under 10, she went to night and weekend school to get her BA. She would leave her watch with me so I could smell her (rather, smell her perfume, Charlie). When she started working and wasn’t home by 5pm on the dot, I would call her at work and feel such disappointment if she was still at work. Yes, my mom’s absence from my life as a child had a big impact on me. But, at the same time, I have equally strong memories of my dad coming home from work at night and being home on the weekends. In my mind I can still hear his work truck start up in the morning and I can still smell the grease and oil on his hands in the evening.

What does this tell me? I, along with many commenters, have memories of missing my mom because she was the primary caregiver in my family for many, many years. It seems that many women now stay at home and forego careers (or put them on the back burner) because they don’t want their own kids to grow up missing their moms. Thus perpetuating the gender roles that get women nowhere in the professional world.

But what if we flip the coin? What if my dad was the primary caregiver when I was growing up? Something tells me I would have missed him just as much as I missed my mom and those “missing” memories would be just as strong. Perhaps modern moms aren’t staying at home because they need to recreate the loss they felt when their *mom* went back to work, but rather they stay at home to fill the void they felt when their *primary caregiver* went back to work. Maybe it’s not a mom thing but a nurturer thing.

The solution: top-down family leave policies that allow individual families decide who is the primary caregiver. In Sweden new parents split (the very generous) family leave. When a new baby is born, a couple receives something like 2 years of time to share between them and it’s up to them to decide how to split it up. In the case of my sister-in-law and her husband, they both stayed home with their new twins for the first 3 months and then took turns going back to work for a few months at a time. Not only is the national policy family-friendly, but it forces the private corporations to be family-friendly as well. I bet when I talk to my niece and nephew 20 years from now, they won’t have the same “I missed my mommy” memories that I have, but, instead, will have “I missed my parents” memories.

And, of course, the flip-side to all of this, I will always hold my mom in the highest esteem for teaching me from a young age that you can be a mom, go back to school, and start a professional career with a husband who works full-time and 3 kids, despite the fact that I can’t smell Charlie without getting a lump in my throat.


Jana March 17, 2011 at 7:48 am

Wow. Thanks for sharing this, Kristen. Your story of the watch hits home, though I don’t remember my mom giving me anything specific. I do remember loving the smell of her, though. (I, on the other hand, have taken to wearing Tom’s apricot deodorant which wears off quickly, so I think I smell like I belong at Woodstock for much of the day.)

I would love to read or explore more about this issue that possibly, women are staying home in order to compensate for what may have felt like a loss in their own childhoods. Others, I think, stay home because it’s what their moms did, and maybe they don’t want their own kids to miss out on what they had as children. No one wants to do “worse” than her parents.

You seem like you have some nice memories, and I can’t say I’m not a little envious that for you and many others, there were two parents’ smells and noises to look forward to. Since I wrote this, I wonder if the feelings of missing my mom were a little sharper because she was the only parent I had. Maybe in those impressionable formative years, it made my life seem a little more wobbly.

As far as having your own children, those first few months are so precious in order to adjust to a new role. I can’t imagine trying to go back to full-time work six weeks or even three months after my baby is born. It just doesn’t seem like enough time, and I have been lucky enough with my two to have down time before working again. I can’t emphasize enough, by the way, how much blogging helps!

Now, I wonder if Stieg Larsson’s book would have been as popular if instead of writing about rape and coffee, he wrote about maternity and paternity leave. Because in my eyes, that’s what makes Sweden a utopia. (With the exception of cold, cold weather.)


Elisa March 18, 2011 at 6:42 am

thanks for writing an interesting post. I’m writing from Denmark – where almost every woman works. I believe we have a great welfaresystem, but to make it work financially, it’s based on income taxes from as many people as possible, so therefore the option of staying at home is finacially difficult. And “surprisingly” the discussions on staying-at-home moms tends to patronize the women who wants to stay home. “Why would you want to stay at home when we have good daycare systems and good schools – it’s important for you to evolve on your own, with your career!” As I see it, these arguments are just about the opposite of the arguments of the us women i’ve been reading above.

I think it’s important to find out what is best for you. Happy moms are the best, both for the kids and for the mom. But I also believe that the structures of society lays strong norms for what kind of behavior and discussion is possible in the particular society – it can’t be a conincidence that “all” women in Scandinavia is working and not concidering staying at home, while “all” women in the US is guilty for not staying at home with their children. ( I know i’ve exaggerated a bit here! – just to illustrate my point) (I also recognize that, despite both countries are western, there are cultural differences and political differences that makes it more easy/ more difficult to juggle work and kids)

What comes to my attention reading the blog and the comments is that the norm is that this is a mom-problem. Why is that? Why is juggeling work and kids not a parent-problem. Here in Denmark, and I belive also in the us, women came out of their homes and got to work in the 70’s. That’s actually not so long ago – changing the cultural norm “women tends to the kids” to “both parents tends to their kids equally” problably takes longer to assimilate into society. We are still, to my regret, telling our girls to be princesses and our boys to be heroes. I believe that todays parents has an important job to teach our daughters to be both mothers and working women, but just as important to tell our boys to be both fathers and working men.

Ok, I think I’ll stop here – there’s just so many exciting aspects of this problem. Just for the record – I’m a working mom – but right now I’m working on a thesis, which makes me flexible juggeling work and kids. My three kids twins, 6 y o, and my youngest 1 1/2 are all in daycare – they mostly love it – and it’s also hard to wave goodbye on the days they rather would have been home. And – luckily, I have a great husband, who is a active father – a 50/50 household.

and now I really have to get back to work…;)


Jana March 23, 2011 at 8:17 pm

Sorry I didn’t respond sooner. I really appreciate this comment and the perspective you bring. Those Scandinavian countries really have it figured out, huh? We were over here dreaming of Sweden, but it sounds like we should also be dreaming about Denmark.

This is what I love about the blogosphere–having the opportunity to hear from so many people, from all across the world. So thanks for sharing your views and your situation here, and for your support as I and other American women continue to tackle these issues in a country that hasn’t quite figured it out yet.

Hope you’ll stop back to An Attitude Adjustment again!


Elisa March 24, 2011 at 4:21 am

well, yes I think scandinavia is a great place to live! :)

i’m sure i’ll stop by again, – i kind of like your site


Chipo March 22, 2011 at 2:01 pm

A lovely post. I came across your post as I was puttering around with writing my own post about the difficulty of finding the words to guide my 11 year old daughter toward her professional future. You took the words right out of my mouth! I too was the professional woman who was determined to be able to make it on her own – just in case the marriage thing did not work out. I worked hard to fight my way up the corporate ladder until I made it into a position as an attorney. Then I had my kids…and decided to stay at home. I am 100% sure that staying home is the right thing for me and my kids, BUT, I worry often about what my choices are teaching my VERY talented daughter. I want her to aim high for herself, but I also want to warn her about the many difficulties associated with being a modern day working mom AKA Superwoman. How does one prepare your daughter for the current realities without crushing their little spirits? I choose to tell her to simply follow her dreams and do what she loves (and do it well), never compromise who she is at her core, and it will all work out in the end. For now, I remain silent about the many obstacles she will face. When the time comes, hopefully I will find the right words to present them to her without harming her resolve to succeed.


D. Bryant Simmons November 16, 2013 at 7:30 pm

Wow, Jana. Okay I guess I’ll start with a ME TOO. And then I’ll share a little story. I’ll keep it short.

My mom worked full time all my life. And then for a few days in 5th grade she took some time off. Meaning she was there when I left for school and there when I got home. Upon hearing this news (according to her) I was so excited that she felt bad and good at the same time. And what you said about the relief that comes at the end of the day when you finally see your mother’s face, so true. What I remember most about that day was that I had this confidence that no matter how horrible school was it would all be okay because I was going home and my mom would be there.

Now, I’m a writer and I work from home and it kills me that there are times when I have to close my door and try to ignore my daughter’s cries for attention because I’m working. Even though I’m physically here, I’m not available. And I go back and forth on whether that’s better than sending her to daycare and not seeing her at all for hours at a time.

This is not to say that mothers who work are bad mothers. But I can’t help feeling like I AM a bad mother because I can’t give my girl every single moment.


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