The scene is a psychiatrist’s office. Your son or daughter at age 40 is recounting an unfortunate childhood—one that did not include you opening the door when they got home from school. You did not serve milk and cookies and oversee every minute of their homework. You did not drive them to multiple after-school activities. You missed more than one soccer game. And you never were the Mom who drove to field trips. Come to think of it, according to your adult child, you didn’t do much except work. The scene ends with a lot of complaining because everything negative in his or her life can be traced to that one selfish fact.
With multiple variations that scene plays out in the head of any woman who agonizes over the decision to work or stay home. It’s only natural to think only you can provide the best A to Z care for your children. Though I have always worked my husband has talked me down from many moments of self-flagellation—like the times I was sure the baby recognized the nanny more than me.
It would be great if we could have a crystal ball to give us the assurance that our children could fare well—and even thrive—during our years as working mothers. There have been many manageable bumps along the way, but I can tell you that my two daughters (now 21 and 12) are always proudly cheering me on and very interested in my professional pursuits. It’s too soon to say, but I’m pretty sure that any future terrible mother reports will center on the many times I gave my opinion too freely more than the many days I worked.
Few books or articles ever focus on the many, many kids who turn out just fine with working mothers. The other day I came across an essay that I asked a young high school intern to write about her experiences as a child of a working mother. This smart, confident, well-adjusted young woman went to Princeton and is now at Harvard Business School—and she has been inspired by her successful mother every step of the way.
HERE ARE SOME GREAT EXCERPTS FROM THE ESSAY:
“…While some mothers may feel that their children would be better served if they stayed home, I beg to differ. My mother has worked full-time all my life in a high-powered job that has her working long hours and traveling around the world. I have benefited so much by my mother working that I cannot imagine it any other way…”
“…For the kids who have parents who are out of town or out of the house on a regular basis, there is a more immediate need to gain independent living skills. When my Mom is out of town my siblings and I have to step in and help around the house. We determine what needs to be done (homework, dinner, chores, etc.), and then actually do those things. There is no one there holding our hands and walking us through each and every event…my friends say they are more motivated, independent and mature because of their working mothers…”
“…The daughter of a pediatrician says that working makes her mother happier. The daughter of an attorney sees her mother as independent and strong. My mother is classic Type A and she is also happier when she is using her mind. Having a mother who is happy in life is something I value…”
“…Girls look up to their mothers as role models for how they’d like to be when they’re older and have families. For me it won’t be an issue of whether or not I can work and still be a good Mom. I saw my Mom do more than one thing. I know my kids will not need me to be home all the time to succeed in life. I look up to women who work and successfully run their families.”
Women who are struggling with the work/don’t work decision often talk to their husbands or other mothers—not the actual children who survive—and thrive—with working mothers. Once my daughter went off to college, and I continued to get many phone calls, emails and texts, I fully realized that “being there for you” is so much more than always standing face to face. —KAS