Thursday, January 19, 2012

Myths of the Working Mom

In life, it's easy to base our thinking around generalities and stereotypes. It's how the human brain works: We form schema that help us to order and understand the world. (Psych 101 pays off!) So, as my husband would say, "Stereotypes are useful!" But the weakness of generalities and stereotypes is that they are only generalities. Generalities that represent individuals. And, as it turns out, individuals have feelings.

I've thought for a couple of days about whether or not I should write this post because I realize my motivation for writing it: My feelings are hurt. Generally I try not to write in the heat of the moment because I can get a bit saucy. But at the same time, feelings are a kind of truth of their own. (A fact I am learning as a mother.) So I will venture to write in a balanced (non-saucy) way on the topic of working moms even though my feelings are involved.

I recently was excited to join a book study about motherhood. Since I'm new to this thing and pretty much clueless, I was excited to delve in. I was hoping to gain some vision for my role as a mother. But upon reading the first chapter of the book, I was faced with what I've read many times before: a defense against the working mom; a liturgy of why women cannot fully be good mothers if they work outside of the home. I was, frankly, crestfallen. Join me just momentarily in my pity party: Here I was, excited to read Scripture about being a mom and explore how I can be a good mom to little Alexandra only to read about how I really can't because I work. It hurt my feelings.

I thought it would be useful to break down some of these generalities about working mothers (which the author leaned on). Not that they're not sometimes true. But that they're not always true and there are women around you who may also be getting their feelings hurt.

Myth 1: Working moms work because they have prioritized their career over their family. I'm sure there are some women out there who have done this. But there are also women out there who work because they have to. In my circle of friends, I have one who works because her husband is unemployed, one who works because her husband's income is unreliable, and one who works out of submission to her husband's wishes. This myth is especially hurtful because the implication is that moms who work care more about themselves than about their babies. Each of these friends of mine would do anything for their children and the implication that they somehow love their children less is, in a word, insulting.

Myth 2: Working moms work to maintain their inflated lifestyles. This is also true for some women, but certainly not all. I for one don't work so that I can pay for my iPhone. I work so I can pay the mortgage, the heating bills, the grocery bills. This generalization is hurtful because it implies that working women are frivolous (on top of being selfish), which is just not a word I would use to describe any of the working moms I know.

Myth 3: Working moms just throw their babies unthinkingly into day care to be "raised by someone else." The way some people talk of day care, you would think moms barely slow down the car before they boot their babies out the door on the curb of the day care. And once the babies are there, some make it sound like a baby work camp, grey and forboding, where babies are just shuffled into the corner and ignored all day long, rather than the bright places they are where babies have the attention of staff all day. Perhaps there are some women who throw their babies into some day care arrangement uncaringly, but the working moms I know work hard and look hard to find the care they think is best for their babies. They research and pray and even agonize over the decision. This generalization is hurtful because it implies that working moms just don't care about their babies and are too self-interested to be bothered with the raising of their children. The working moms I know love their children fiercely and would do anything to ensure they are in the best situation possible.

OK, so that's my emotional rant. I post it mainly in defense of my working mom friends. I, being a work-at-home mom, have a "Get Out of Jail Free" card when it comes to working. But just remember that behind every generalization there is a person, and many times that person is a mom who is working so hard to care for their children who they love so very dearly. Sometimes we might talk about the generalities, assuming the people we're talking to know that we don't mean them. But they just might not realize that, and you just might be hurting their feelings. That's all.

P.S. If anyone can recommend a book on mothering that won't make us working moms feel like second-class citizens, please let me know!

P.P.S. Here are some great thoughts on a related topic.

P.P.P.S. Here is an old post I wrote on a related topic.


Anonymous said...

Love this post Amber! As a working mother I do struggle with the guilt of being away from my children. One thing I think about is that 100+ years ago, even if was home with my children, I wouldn't have really been spending quality time with them. I would have been so busy with all the time consuming task of maintaining a home. Luckily in this day and age we have things like a dishwasher, washer, dryer, vacuum, and other time saving appliances. I can go to the store and buy readymade items. I don't have to churn my own butter. So really, even though I work I probably have more quality moments with my children than a stay at home mom had centuries ago.

Michelle Marciniak

Mrs.Strongarm said...

Good post Amber. I actually had a conversation with a Dad recently who has chronic pain and can't work, so his wife is the primary income earner and he and is home with their child. He constantly has to explain to people in their family that no, he can't do more than what he does right now, because that will make his condition worse and then he wouldn't be able to do anything at all. Your friend Michelle makes an excellent point as well.

It's worth pointing out that the Proverbs 31 woman runs her own business (i.e. earns an income).

Amber said...

Great points, Michelle and Emily!

If you go to the link on the bottom of this post, there is a great quote by Dorothy L. Sayers on the topic of what "staying home" used to look like(in italics).

H.E.R. Impressions said...

Great post! Thanks for delving into this sensitive issue. My husband has allowed me to work at a crisis pregnancy center part-time as he knows it helps me keep my sanity. I have his blessing and I think that is most important. If I have my husband's blessing then I shouldn't worry what other think of my job outside the home, yes even if my mom thinks I'm sinning.

Nikki Grimes said...

Thanks for this post Amber! I often have to remind myself that I'll stand before God, and not the opinion of others, when it comes to how I raise my children. This helps me to be confident that He has blessed our decision and that I don't need to worry about what others think.

If you find a balanced mothering book please let me know!

Amber said...

Great point, Nikki!

Elizabeth M. said...

Amber, thanks for sharing your feelings : ) It is never good to stereotype, and it important to love others as Jesus did, without judgement. Nikki, I also really liked your comment.
I just read a book called "Loving the Little Years." I don't think she mentioned working or non working moms, but it is about rising above the insanity of little kids and sleeplessness and enjoying it. Nikki, you would love it. The girl is so down to earth. Amber, I think you would like it too! It is by Rachel...Jankovic? And is on Amazon for pretty cheap (and it is really really short!)

craig said...

Dear Amber and friends,
"Know Your Child" by Joe Temple is an exposition of scripture and not cultural stereotypes as far as I recall. Joe Temple does a great exposition of scripture in a depth for beyond others.
"How To Love Your Child" by Ross Campbell is one of the best ever written. Ross is a Child Psychiatrist and a committed Christian who has credibility as an experienced physician and as a practical Christian leader.
Both books emphasize understanding your individual child and how to increase that understanding as one of the basics of raising your child. As you said attack and defense are not as usefull as understanding individuals and their individual needs and how to meet them. Love, Craig Van Schooneveld p.s. As a physician I have read hundreds of books and articles on children over 37 years and most of them have at least 1 or 2 usefull things and many things that silly, superficial, or harmfull. One tries to find the germ of truth in a lot of chaff. The two books I mentioned have much more germ of truth and less chaff than any others I have read or heard on tape. When children grow older I recomment other books by Ross Campbell,M.D. or "Honey I Forgot The Kids" by Doyle Roth.
Love, Craig P.s.s. Love the bath video!