Bob, is Sally helping you with the kids?

The term “working mom” is sexist and I die a little every time someone asks me if I have a job or do I take care of my daughter. I mean, do you ask men the same question? “Hi Bob, how goes the work/home life balance with your newborn? Are you able to manage it all? Is Sally helping you out?” Or, better yet, “Frank is such a go-getter, I could never imagine leaving my child with someone else, but those career dads are something special!”

No? You don’t? Too bad, because you certainly should. I mean – shouldn’t men also experience the daily mind-mashup that a lot of working/nonworking moms experience? Just consider the level of anxiety that some women face when being bombarded with those sorts of personal “small talk” questions. It is like playing Russian roulette, you never know when a toss away question, like “Can you meet us up for happy hour or do you need to get home to your child?”- could elicit a reaction equivalent to “I will cut you if you don’t back off!”

While I jest, the theme of working, not working, or a combination of both – is a serious matter as it related to balancing a family. I assume that we are all progressive in thoughts as it relates to matters of family matters, but I want to say generally; – regardless of gender, most people hope to attain a career that is rewarding, yet allows sufficient time to spend with friends and family. However, when deciding to add children to the equation, the matter of working versus not working becomes a gender specific issue. 

Anna, a 33-year old mother of one, had worked for the U.S. federal government for many years. She had a secure position that provided financially for her and her spouse; however, when she was preparing for the birth of her first child, she recognized that she needed to make some professional changes. “Although I was making a good income working for the government, I was miserable at work and not happy with the direction my career was going. I could not justify leaving my child in someone else’s care to travel 80 miles each day,” said Anna. Ultimately, she decided to quit her job to remain home with her child; but recognized that if her career was progressing more favorably, she might have chosen differently.

Many women wrestle with the desire to do something that feels so natural, like caring for your child, and the need to also stimulate your brain, impress your friends and use big fancy words, instead of memorizing “The wheels on the bus goes round and round.” The choice tugs at your heartstrings. Anna explained that every now again she gets a little anxiety over her decision, but quickly remembers why she chose to remain at home. “It is not an easy transition to go from career life to full-time mom and my idea of who I am and where I’m headed is an ongoing project. Taking a time out from the working world has given me a chance to regroup and realign myself with the happy, healthy life I strive to provide for my son, my husband, and myself.”

Choosing to give up a major source of income is certainly a hard decision to make and is only an option for a few in the U.S.; many families rely on double incomes to sustain their livelihoods. When deciding to remain at home, families often have to factor in the immediate loss of a second income, but also the long-term effects on lifestyles. Kristi, a 36-year old mother of one, explained that remaining home was not an option for her and her family. Kristi stated, “I have contemplated working part time [but] never really considered not working, because I can’t really justify not going to work … I think I’d be bored to tears at home all day! A lot of my friends with small children have quit their jobs or chosen to go part time. [But] I don’t want to put that kind of pressure on my husband. While we could live on his salary, I don’t feel we’d be getting ahead…”

Kristi had owned and managed a Subway franchise for several years, which required her to work extensive hours, up to six days a week. Balancing her home life and maintaining her career grew to be unmanageable and she had to make some changes. She chose to take a lesser- paying job as a teacher’s assistant and currently works a 40 hour, five days a week, work schedule.

Ok, so we all have our choices and people can choose to work, not work, or do a combination of both (working part time). However, when it comes to the behind the scenes view of a balanced home, many women are often unable to think about the hours and time related to managing a home. While Anna and Kristi can both estimate hours worked on a job, they are unable to state the total amount of time dedicated to nurturing and supporting their families. Kristi stated, “it’s hard to calculate how much time I spend cleaning [budgeting] because it is interspersed with other stuff… it just seems to be an all-day thing when I get home, until I go to bed.”

We all know that the life of a mother is an all-consuming role; whether we work a conventional job or remain at home full-time, mothers provide their families and communities with countless unpaid hours. Yes, men/partners are sharing more of a role at home in nurturing the family; however, conventional roles still play a part of our psyche when it comes to how we think, process and project on others. So, when marinating on the question, “Are you a working mom?” think and say yes, of course I am, raising a child is a ton of work. At the same time, ask those working dads the same questions to promote and foster a healthy conversation about balance.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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