The Over-Working Mother
By Marie Anne Miller
The Working Parent
Since the 1950's, the number of women going into the work field has risen steadily year-by-year. This change has affected the way men and women are married as well as the way men and women parent. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women now represent 46 percent of the U.S. total labor force (http://www.dol.gov/wb/stats/main.htm). When women used to mainly be housewives, they are now doctors, lawyers, business owners and CEO's. Most people think this is progress and although a woman's ability to choose is progress, it is unclear whether or not the fact that progress entails a mother working full time as well as being a successful mother and wife.
With more and more women entering the work force, more and more children enter daycare. Most companies give a mother 12 weeks of maternity leave. This counts for only the first 3 months of a child's life.
According to a report by Jay Belsky published in the mid-1980's, it is a "risk-factor for a child to enter day care in their first year. This report surfaced during a time of change in America. The 1980's represented a new world for women and the working world. This report came as a shock to working mothers and the child-care field. "The report drew immediate and intense reactions from many researchers, day-care workers and parents." If it were true that infants are at risk when both parents work and place their infants in early alternative care, there would be serious implications for all concerned." (Human Development, 233)
In today's age, families are used to the income of both mother and father. We have become accustom to many luxuries including cell phones, high speed Internet, premium cable and even 2 cars per family. Have we sacrificed our families well being for cable and entertainment? I think we have. According to Jay Belsky's study: "Clearly, the lifestyle of dual income parents was being challenged." It is possible for a family to live comfortable yet frugally for the sake of themselves and their children. Most families in Orange County, California would disagree. According to www.orangecountyrealestate.com, the median home value in Orange County is $665,000. After doing some research, I found that a mortgage payment on a $665,000 home would be approximately $4000 a month. Ouch! Most dual income families would not even be able to make a payment like that. Maybe this is why many young families are moving out of Southern California.
Time spent with a child is not the only factor in regards to working mothers. It is also the quality of the time spent. Most full time working adults our out of the house about 50 hours per week. This number accounts for actual working hours, lunches and commute. This number does not equal time spent getting ready for work or even the amount of hours someone might work at home. How can a mother be rested enough to complete the demands of motherhood? Most people without children are tired after a days work and working mothers come home to a completely different type of job. These observations are not only for the welfare of the child but the adult as well.
What about the fathers? Most will say that the progress in motherhood extends to fatherhood as well. For example, someone arguing these points will conclude that fathers will take on the extra burden that mothers take on as workers. Is this true? I have heard that more and more fathers are choosing to stay at home while the women are working. This is not the same as a dual income family. Studies show that husbands are not taking on any more home duties to relieve the mother. This shows that women are not only working full time but also mostly dealing with making dinner, cleaning the house and doing laundry.
In only that past 20 years, the number of single earning husbands has decreased from 59% to 31%. (http://www.statcan.ca/english/studies/75-001/archive/e-pdf/e-9811.pdf). The roles of families have changed dramatically and some changes have made fathers rethink their roles in the family life. According to an article by Katherine Marshall: "Since the advent of industrialization women have largely been responsible for most household and family work, and men for paid work. However, with the long-term rise in women's labor force participation, and more recently, men's growing involvement with child-care, parents roles are becoming less traditional." This change is mainly the fact that many more fathers are staying at home with children. I think that parents are realizing the value of a parent staying at home and are more flexible with traditional roles. This still shows that parents are valuing single earning families in recent years.
Being a stay-at-home-mom is much more beneficial for the child (children), the husband and the mother. Although the income is a negative point, the benefits for the family having a full time stay-at-home mom outweigh the financial burden. With being at home, the wife can deal with taking care of the children, the husband as well as taking care of the house. This lifestyle seems to be now archaic and old-fashioned compared to the ideas of many families in America. It is almost looked down upon for women to have the goal of being a housewife. With the national divorce rate in America being at almost 50%, the value of marriages is suffering. It is difficult to give an exact reason on why the institute of marriage is suffering. Some say it is because the definition of the family unit is changing and others say it is because the values of Americans have changed.
What about the single mother? Sometimes life does not go as planned and a mother is left dealing with children alone with maybe a child-support check coming in every month. Martha Zaslow and Carol Emig wrote an eye-opening article on the realities of when lower income mothers go to work. According to this article, most of the government attention goes to middle class single mothers and sometimes ignore the hardships of the lower income single mother. The surprising result of many studies is that when a lower income mother works, the child's grades and general welfare is more positive than children of lower income mothers who do not work: "Furthermore, research suggests that favorable working conditions and higher wages among employed low-income mothers have positive implication for their children. Another surprising fact from this article is that while boys tend to have more behavioral problems when a single mother is working, girls tend to benefit emotionally. One distinguishing factor with these families is that most of these mothers were welfare recipients and that fact could be a determining factor on the outcome of the study.
Another factor in the satisfaction of working mothers is the level of guilt and anxiety a mother feels when she leaves her child and goes to work each day. Although many women feel more fulfilled when they have a career, the guilt still shines through. Sometimes a feeling of jealousy is sparked when a child is more attached to a caregiver than to a mother. This feeling is natural and difficult to overcome. Although these mothers might be satisfied with every aspect of their working motherhood, their anxiety still creeps on when they leave their baby or toddler at daycare. This could also lead to over compensation with gifts and toys and generally leads to dissatisfaction at the mother's job.
Society often does not value the role of a stay-at-home parent. Many view it as going backwards in a day of progression. According to an article in Dallas News: "Just because they don't earn a salary doesn't mean stay-at-home parents don't provide a measurable financial value. Childcare, transportation, cleaning, cooking and other household duties are all important, expensive tasks, the replacement value of which is often severely underestimated. An analysis by Salary.com found that today's 5.4 million stay-at-home moms would earn $131,471 in annual salary, including overtime pay, if they were doing the same work for an employer." (http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/bus/stories/1219dnbusperficover.2b3038d.html).
So what is the answer? How do we make the decision of being a stay-at-home parent or a working mother? It is not an easy answer. The only thing that we can control is our own actions. I have made it a priority to plan my own life before I have my children. That way, I won't be able to say that I didn't have a choice in being able to stay at home with my children or not. My goal of having children will have to wait until I have gained my education. I will be able to have a career at home as well as have a child. I have also given up on my idea of having 3 or more children. I would rather give 1 or 2 children my quality time and money than running around not being able to spend time with 3, 4 or even more children. I am sure that the quality of my own marriage would be affected if I were supposed to be out of the house up to 50 hours or more per week and take care of children and a husband. A marriage needs attention just like children does and I think that many mothers put their marriage on the back burner to be a super mom.
Many mothers today have been successful at having a career out of their house. This way, a family can have dual incomes without sacrificing time with their child. Although some people might say it is too difficult to have children at the workplace, whoever said being a parent was easy?
Human Development, 9th Edition; Grace J. Craig & Don Baucum: Page 233
US Department of Labor: http://www.dol.gov/wb/stats/main.htm
Orange County Real Estate: www.orangecountyrealestate.com
Stay-At-Home Dads by Katherine Marshall: http://www.statcan.ca/english/studies/75-001/archive/e-pdf/e-9811.pdf
Dallas Morning News; Full Time Parents Often Undervalued: by Pamela Yip
About The Author
Marie Anne Miller is a full time student of Human Development at Hope International University.