mother work

FYI for any new readers…I was a married-stay-at-home-Mom for eight years–from the time my first child was born until my youngest entered school.  Now I’m the single mother of two teenagers who works full-time at a white collar “desk” job.   The topic of ‘mother-work’ has been on my mind with the recent media kerfluffle about Mitt Romney’s wife and her full-time care of 5 (or 6?) sons.


Mothering my young ones was a delight.  I relished the hours spent with the babies–feeding them, reading stories, and holding their small soft bodies close to mine.  I kept my schedule fairly wide-open so we would have plenty of time for spontaneity and long swings in the park and afternoons of sidewalk chalk.  My kids didn’t attend preschool or have many ‘extra’ activities because there simply wasn’t the money for it–staying home with the kids meant many financial sacrifices and as a result our lives were simple and uncluttered.  We went to the library and the beach nearly every week.  I sang them to sleep at night with lullabyes in the rocking chair.  I was a PTA Mom and volunteered many hours every work in church and for other non-profit organizations.  I wrote book reviews for a small literary journal and studied French and yoga.  Rarely did I ever tell anyone that I “didn’t have enough time” for visits or hobbies or watching the sun set–because what I did have, then, was time.

But of course…my schedule was monotonous, with never-ending housework.  And there was potty training and stomach-sickness and tantrums that could last for hours.  Careful budget-keeping meant a lot of financial pressure at the end of every month as I would cross my fingers and hope that we could stay in the black.  I found little satisfaction in keeping the home tidy when two toddlers could undo a day’s work in the blink of an eye.  My spouse usually took our one car to work so I had little freedom outside of walking around the perimeter of our small suburban neighborhood.  No one noticed when the dishes and laundry were clean, but everyone noticed when they weren’t.  And I found few local friends who shared my bookish interests.  My spouse’s business life included late-night parties and weekend trips and office shenanigans, while my social life was playing hours of solitaire on the computer in our bedroom as I waited for him to walk in the front door. My small monthly allowance ($20 or so) usually went to trips to the Goodwill to buy clothes for myself and the kids.  Or sometimes I would deposit the money in my own long-term savings account.


When I began working full-time I was amazed to have an office space all to myself.  I can remember having to stifle the impulse to hug my laser printer–never having had such a nice piece of equipment all to myself (not to mention my iMac and PC laptop and all kinds of other tech-toys that were tucked away on my shelves).  Getting up and dressed professionally and commuting early to work felt “real” and adult.  Getting paychecks and learning about everything from taxes to retirement funds made me feel powerful and in charge of my future in ways that I never had when I was dependent on my spouse’s income.  I still feel a bit guilty even taking a lunch hour when there’s always plenty of work to do at the office and I consider how much money they pay me every month.  Perhaps the biggest luxury of my job is my modest travel expense account for conferences, seminars, and institutes–to be paid for travel

But of course there were and still are many days that the alarm rings too early in the morning, or there is too long a long list of “To Do” errands on my way home from the office (in addition to an hour-long commute).  So much so that I walk in the door exhausted and grumpy and realizing that it’s now time for me to cook and clean and offer attention to my kids even though my own physical reserves are spent.  Laundry is done at odd hours and sometimes mildews in the washer before it gets into the dryer, I’m often forgetting something important in my rush to & fro.  Facing the fast-looming expense of putting two kids through college is quickly deepening the worry lines between my eyebrows.  I find that I am constantly telling colleagues and friends that “I don’t have enough time.”

To Compare…

Perhaps there is little to compare between the life of a cash-strapped housewife-Mom and that of a single-mother with secure and satisfying employment.  As a SAHM I had time, but not money.  I had a lot of joy in raising my children, but little autonomy.  And I craved an adult world of conversations and non-snot-soiled clothing.  I now carry many more obligations and have little discretionary time, but there are other kinds of satisfactions that come from feeling valued by my employer and co-workers, and getting tasks accomplished each day.  In both situations I have not been desperately poor or desperately overstretched or desperately unfulfilled.  I chose to be a mother and then I chose to go to work.  Once those choices were made I lived with the consequences–good and bad.

But what’s relevant to the political brouhaha, is that there are challenges and downfalls of both scenarios–so much so that being on one side of the fence and looking down on women on the other side is hardly productive or helpful.  Rather, I would hope that we could realize that it’s hard work to care for children and hard work to balance earning a paycheck with family responsibilities.  Instead of spinning into endless cycles of finger-pointing, I’d like for politicians to work harder to make mothering valued–by, say, making it possible for SAHMs to earn social security benefits or to contribute to Roth retirement plans, and to make workplaces more caregiver-friendly by facilitating flexible work schedules or on-site childcare.

More than anything, we have a long way to go, as a society, in valuing the labor of women–the mundane daily difficulties of maintaining a home and the thankless work that goes into managing the needs of young children.  If, as Mitt Romney says, his wife’s job is more important than his, I would like to know how he will translate that into family-friendly policies that support the important work of caregivers (especially those not married to billionaires).

5 thoughts on “mother work

  1. Margie Bell

    Yeah, Jana. Both jobs are challenging and worthy, only different. Why don’t people get that?

  2. Tina

    Man – you have just described my life! I love this post, and can only say Amen to everything you wrote.

  3. Jensie

    Ah! Bravo Jana. If anyone could explain, it’s you. Why does it have to be one or the other? And why does it have to be so divisive? ALL moms are important and do important work, but the same can be said for all women, all men, all dads, wait… that’s everyone….

  4. Pingback: Get to work (and get a life)… | Jana Remy

Comments are closed.