7 Myths of Working Mothers
Why Children and (Most) Careers Just Don't Mix
By Suzanne Venker
Review by Jerica Griff
If separating is hard for you - set up opportunities to practice separating. For example, arrange to drop your child off at someone's house additional times each week until it becomes easier for you… When you pick your child up, don't be overly emotional. It's OK to act glad to see her, but don't start crying and hugging her excessively - to do so only shows your child how hard separation was for you.
- E. Christophersen, Ph.D. in "Preventing Separation Anxiety"
No wonder children are growing to adulthood with serious misconceptions about commitment and attachment! The most important people in their lives, parents - and particularly mothers - are being taught that leaving their children should become easy and natural. In 7 Myths of Working Mothers, Suzanne Venker examines why increasing numbers of mothers are entering the workforce, and how this decision resonates in their children's lives.
If motherhood was understood by society to be a full-time job, Venker believes it would not be regarded as something to be done "on the side" of a career. She is quick to acknowledge, however, that accepting motherhood as a full-time position does not translate into 18 years out of the workforce; it only means creatively seeking ways to work around your children's schedule.
Many working mothers fail to realize that day care centers and nannies are raising their children, relegating the mothers themselves to the role of a babysitter. Feeding the children and putting them to sleep is a far cry from true motherhood. As Venker writes, "The real work of mothers is done when no one is around." She goes on to debunk seven fallacies that keep women away from their children.
The first deception Venker tackles is the idea that "Men have it all - why can't we?" Men don't have it all. Many dads miss out on a large portion of parenting - first steps, first words, soccer games, piano recitals, etc. - because their commitment to providing financially for the family means traveling, late nights at the office, and weekend functions.
Second, many women believe that staying at home full-time means throwing their education and work experience out the window. Before they ever have children, before they look into the eyes of their own flesh, before they have spent even one hour watching this new life sleep, they completely dismiss the idea of staying at home full-time. After all, they have spent the majority of their developmental years preparing for careers. Venker acknowledges that a mother's education is of great benefit to her children, but only if the mother is present to impart that knowledge to them. Statistics show that children of mothers with advanced degrees or work experience have a great advantage over their peers. Instead of "wasting" their education, many moms have found resourceful ways of pursuing other interests without compromising the health and well-being of their little ones.
Third, many believe that women who choose to stay home with their children must be wealthy. Venker contends, however, that except in single-mother households and other specific exceptions, the choice to put children first has nothing at all to do with economic status and everything to do with budgeting and self-discipline. In fact, most women's second income is almost entirely eaten up by commuting, childcare, eating out, work attire, dry cleaning and taxes.
Fourth, some women believe that their stress level in balancing work and family could be lowered if only they had more support. The feminist movement completely negates this excuse. There has never been an easier time to be a working mom. Working mothers are often puzzled and surprised by how well-behaved the children of full-time moms are, and they wonder why their kids are having trouble in school. But, Venker argues, as with anything else in life, one cannot expect the same outcome with an eighth of the time investment. No company would allow an employee to hire someone else to do her own job, so how can a mother expect to hire someone else to raise her own offspring?
Fifth, many women claim that they are better moms because they work. Venker counters with the argument that consistency is the most controlling factor in the health and well-being of children. By being removed from the home, working mothers often neglect kids' basic needs (proper amounts of sleep, healthy diets, regular exercise, consistent discipline, help with schoolwork, etc.) because they are unable to see to those needs themselves. How is this being a better mom? Still, we wonder why kids are falling asleep in school, overweight, or coming home with less than flying colors on their report card.
The sixth myth of working mothers is the claim, "My children just love day care." Psychiatrist John Bowlby disagrees: "A home must be very bad before it can be bettered by a good institution." Because children have a basic desire for the familiar, red flags should appear when children do not want to go home with their parents. As anyone who has worked with children can attest, the things children claim they want are not usually the best things for them, whether it be candy, staying up after bedtime, or playing video games all day.
The final deception of working mothers, according to Venker, is the idea that women can "have it all planned out." Thus many women plan their lives around their careers while postponing beginning a family. They wrongly assume that fertility and children will fit as easily into their planners and lifestyle as any other appointment. Venker encourages young women instead to choose careers that are conducive to motherhood, to live near parents or siblings who could help out with creative work schedules, and to be financially responsible. Taking these steps will make the transition to motherhood smoother when the time arrives.
It is distressing that the incredibly fulfilling, joyful responsibility of motherhood is often looked upon as a dull waste of an intelligent woman's time. Venker does an excellent job fighting back against society's prejudices. Her hope is that anyone reading 7 Myths of Working Mothers will encouraged by the mounting evidence that the best place for the next generation is right at home. Mothers who are the primary cultivators of knowledge for their children will no doubt reap extraordinary rewards.
Jerica Griff, a Spring 2004 Witherspoon Fellow with the Family Research Council, is currently interning with the Georgia Family Council. She is a recent graduate of Colorado State University with degrees in Business Administration/Marketing and Music.