Myth of the working mom

iVillage Member
Registered: 10-30-2007
Myth of the working mom
78
Thu, 07-17-2008 - 7:41am
The Myth of the Working Mom

by Ellen LuptonSeptember 12, 2006



How do you do it all?”


I often get this question, and my answer is this: no one does it all. Doing it all means, of course, having a career and having kids, and it’s one of the great myths of our era. The myth is that you can pursue these two essentially incompatible activities without screwing up either one. The myth is that having children will infuse your professional work with a wondrous energy (akin to the fabled second-trimester glow), and that having a job will make you a more interesting and fulfilled person, and thus a better parent.


One year ago, I had the privilege of sitting on a panel called “Women Rock!” at the national AIGA Design Conference in Boston. Devoted to the life issues faced by female designers, the panel sought to “offer unique insights on juggling career and family, dealing with stress, and how all the chaos offers training and inspiration for becoming a better designer, a better businessperson and a better mother.” That program blurb neatly sums up the myth, suggesting that the chaotic life of the working mom provides the ultimate training ground for getting better at everything.


So there we were on the stage, a group of middle-aged female designers: Jessica Helfand, Deanna Kuhlmann-Leavitt, Bonnie Siegler, Emily Potts (who graciously organized the panel) and myself. We all had kids, and we all had jobs. Bonnie, in her early forties, had just had her second baby, who was being patiently handled by her husband sitting in the front row. We were all relatively successful, some more prominent than others, but let’s say none of us was exactly Stefan Sagmeister, about to start carving letters in our chests with an Xacto knife. (If any of us would, I guess it would be Bonnie.)


The audience was eager to find out how to do it all, but one of the best questions came from Boston-based designer Fritz Klaetke, who asked why there weren’t any men on the panel. After all, one of the ways women manage in today’s world is having supportive partners like Fritz, who exemplifies the new model of hyper-involved, ultra-engaged fatherhood. Fritz is an excellent designer, a leader in the Boston design community, and a deeply committed dad. My own husband, Abbott Miller (who is a much better mom than I am), wants to publish a magazine called Working Father—an absurd idea pointing to our societal assumption that dads have to work anyway.


The event in Boston last year got me thinking about work and parenting and all the fudging and corner-cutting we do in order to pursue them both. Younger mothers, I’ve learned, are more likely to stay at home with their small children than women my age. I was born in 1963 at the tail end of the Baby Boom, and I grew up in a household with two working parents, always believing that work would define my life. Generation X is the swath of people born between 1965 and 1979. A common experience for this group is the “absent father” or being a child of divorce. Perhaps because of that experience, as well as the general trend towards downward mobility, Generation X moms and dads both put more value on spending time at home with their kids and less value on professional success.


A strange conversational dance occurs when two women meet and begin finding out who works and who stays at home. It’s awkward to ask directly, so you look for cues. (A mom who wears tennis whites when she drops off the kids at school might not have a job, but you never know; she could be a lawyer with a home office or a brain surgeon who works the night shift.) The infamous message board UrbanBaby assigns codes for one’s employment status: SAHM for moms who stay at home; WOHM for those who work outside the home.


Why does it matter? There’s a “mommy war” going on, and members of each side often feel more comfortable with other women who have made choices like theirs. Furthermore, we are often eager to validate our own decisions as the best ones for our children. The SAHMs occupy the moral high ground in this matter—they’re the ones who have made the big sacrifice, spending crucial years of their lives almost exclusively with their kids, refusing to hand over their babies and toddlers to nannies, au pairs, and day care facilities for eight or ten hours a day.


It seems obvious to me that mothers and fathers are the best “care givers” for small children, and research more or less bears this out. Working moms try to argue that their own kids are getting the better deal: earlier socialization, more independence, an immune system toughened by exposure to pathogens, and, above all, the opportunity to draw inspiration from a busy mother whose mental life and personal identity derives not just from her children, but also from a career. But young children, as I’ve observed them, are deeply self-involved. Until my kids reached elementary school age, they rarely took interest in either parent, beyond our readiness to entertain, protect, sooth, feed, transport and so on. Little kids want to be with their parents because we make them feel safe, whole and happy, not because they admire our professional achievements.


Knowing this in my heart, I nonetheless made my own decision to continue working while my children were small. I look at my kids now, ages eight and twelve, and wonder what choices they will make. Will they have kids? Will they have jobs? (Will jobs still exist when they grow up?) Would they have become happier and more fulfilled adults if I had quit working for eight or nine years? I’ll never know the answer, any more than I will know what kind of professional success I would have achieved if I hadn’t slowed down to have children.


I vividly recall a bath-time conversation when my son Jay was in second grade. With his head covered in a foamy helmet of shampoo, he announced, “Most of my friends’ moms don’t work.” Dismay lurched deep in my gut. “What do you think about that?” I asked. “I dunno, “ he said.


When I ask him the same question now, he says he likes my job because I teach him “cool design stuff,” like how to use Flash and how to publish his designs and animations on the web. My younger daughter, Ruby, feels similarly. Getting dressed for camp recently, she announced, “Mommy, you’re cool.” “Wow,” I said. “Why do you think I’m cool?” (Surely it wasn’t because of my Lands End circle skirt.) “Because you’re a designer, and we get to design things together.” My tween-age children are now finding value in my professional skills. My work has become an opportunity for creative companionship with my kids. Indeed, design is becoming part of their own identities, for now, as they each stake out a place in the world of digital media and visual art—areas full of intrigue and possibility.


At that same conference in Boston last year, Alex Isley organized a breakout session about teaching kids to be designers. He argued for the social importance of teaching your own kids—and all the others kids around you—to be designers in their daily lives. David Peters, another “working father” attending the conference, talked to me and some other parents about organizing events for kids for the next AIGA national conference, so we can bring our children along and have hands-on activities for them to do all weekend. My kids and I would like to be the first volunteers to staff the booth. We’ll do the best we can, and we’ll be working.


http://www.aiga.org/content.cfm/the-myth-of-the-working-mom

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Pages

iVillage Member
Registered: 01-07-2007
Fri, 07-18-2008 - 8:42am

I see, I didn't even think about having more than one child--I'm really so ignorant to a lot of this stuff!


Thanks for explaining.

iVillage Member
Registered: 01-07-2007
Fri, 07-18-2008 - 8:43am
That makes sense, I hadn't considered having more than one child.
iVillage Member
Registered: 01-07-2007
Fri, 07-18-2008 - 8:44am
Yeah, I didn't think about that.
iVillage Member
Registered: 01-05-2000
Fri, 07-18-2008 - 11:18am

Well, if I had quit when Joy was born, I would have been out of the workforce about 12 years as she is 6 years older than Angela. Then when Angela was 13, I would have have to quit again when Dylan was born and not go back to work for another 6 years. So I would have only worked 7 years between Angela going into 1st grade and Dylan being born. And not go back to work until 4 years ago. Kindergarten here is only half day; either 7:45-11:11am or 11:11am-2:37pm (on Thursdays: 7:45-10:46am; 10:15am-1:16pm). Full day is 8am-2:20pm and 8am-1:16pm on Thursdays. Before and afterschool care is only for 1st-5th at the school, not Kindergarten.

Chris

The truth may be out there but lies are in your head. Terry Pratchett

iVillage Member
Registered: 01-05-2000
Fri, 07-18-2008 - 11:27am

That's because you only have one--at least for right now. The rest of us have had to juggle more than one for a few years now. And it gets really interesting with one in high school and one in diapers all at the same time.

Chris

The truth may be out there but lies are in your head. Terry Pratchett

iVillage Member
Registered: 10-04-2007
Fri, 07-18-2008 - 11:33am
I think, as a general rule, most parents do a pretty good job of both.
iVillage Member
Registered: 04-22-2005
Fri, 07-18-2008 - 11:33am
I guess the one in high school probably wouldn't take kindly to being put in charge of changing diapers, LOL.



Photobucket












Avatar for 4thekids2001
iVillage Member
Registered: 03-26-2003
Fri, 07-18-2008 - 11:36am

Well, I've been SAHM for almost 12 years, our youngest just turned 3, he won't be in Kindergarten for 3 more years. That's 15 years for me. At that point I doubt I'll go back to work.


iVillage Member
Registered: 01-05-2000
Fri, 07-18-2008 - 12:17pm

She didn't do cloth. When any of the girls watched Dylan, he was in disposables. It's kind of funny because when Alex was about 18 months, Joy switched to cloth because of his persistent diaper rash. Oh, and Angela says that she will remain child-free and be the aunt that spoils her nephews and nieces and then hands them back. She also prefers 5 yos to babies.

Chris

The truth may be out there but lies are in your head. Terry Pratchett

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-26-2007
Sat, 07-19-2008 - 12:56am
I guess that's great if you only have one child. Or if all 12 of your children are born in one litter, but with most people, it doesn't work that way.

~~~~~~~~~

Kitty

~~~~~~~~~

Kitty

"BTW, I hate Lifetime. Their movies will suck you in and all of a sudden you've watched 3 in a row, used every tissue in t

Pages