I think I am becoming a curmudgeon! So many things seem to irritate me. Is that a symptom of being old?
Last week I watched Oprah and the topic of the show was Working Mothers and Mothers Who Choose to Stay Home and Raise Their Children. I was irritated by the terminology. Having raised four children, my experience and my opinion is that all mothers are working mothers. Some mothers work full-time inside the home raising their children and some mothers work outside the home in paying jobs. The subtle implication in using Working Mother for those mothers who have jobs outside the home is that Mothers who elect to stay home aren’t working. They are just taking care of children.
Someone has to take care of children. Some mothers elect to do it full-time themselves. Other mothers find someone to provide care for their children during the hours that they are employed outside the home. Many mothers have no choice. They may be widowed, they may be divorced, or the father of their children may have abandoned them. They have to work outside the home and also provide the parenting. In poor families, everyone who can work does so. It is necessary for survival.
Taking care of children requires many skills. A current term heard frequently and usually associated with important busy people, is multi-tasking. It is a term that aptly describes the skill most necessary to being a traditional homemaker and mother! After many years experience of home making and child rearing, I decided to join the work force outside my home and I quickly learned how little value was placed on the multi-tasking skills required to run a home and raise children. Prospective employers were unimpressed with homemaking and child rearing listed on a resume as skills.
For the first 18 years of my marriage, I was a full-time homemaker and mother because that is what was expected of me. I do not regret having done so. Being a full-time homemaker and mother has its benefits. It also has its frustrations. Working outside the home also has benefits and frustrations. I decided to “go to work” (as if I hadn’t been “working”) when my youngest child was 8. I worked for one year as a secretary for an Army educational program and realized that I needed to complete my education in order to be able to pursue what I really wanted to do. At the age of 39 I had the opportunity to return to college. Nineteen years earlier I had dropped out in my senior year in order to marry my husband, a young lieutenant with orders to move. Not even my father who highly valued education objected. Girls grew up to marry, take care of their husbands, and have children. Even girls who had to work because of limited financial means shared the dream of marrying and having children as their career goal.
I graduated from college and continued to earn a Master’s degree. At the age of 41 I started my first full-time job outside the home and I worked until retiring at age 65. After a year or so of retirement I started working again part-time and I plan to continue working as long as I am able to do so.
Instead of debating which choice is of greater merit, staying at home to raise your children or working outside the home, why don’t we try to support women at home and in the work force to handle their responsibilities as mothers?
It is not a simple choice, and sometimes it isn’t a choice at all because so many women have limited options. I think I was irritated by the superficiality with which the issue was treated. I was also irritated that the role of fathers didn’t factor into the equation. And I was most irritated by the assumption that at home mothers aren’t “working.” Raising children is the most difficult job I’ve ever had. And the most important.
It is at once the most overwhelmingly frustrating and exasperating task and the most joyous and rewarding experience to make human beings out of children.
Rabbi Neil Kurshan