Stay or Go?
At-Home and Career Moms of Southlake
by Jessica Begley, MFT
According to the U.S. Census, 4 million babies are born each year. To put this into perspective, in our country a baby is born every ten seconds. By the time you finish reading this paragraph a new mother will enter the world or add to her already existing family. What begins as tears of joy often turn to tears of sadness when as many as 77 percent of mothers with school aged children return to the workforce (US Bureau of Labor Statistics; Women in the Labor Force: 2011). Recent census data also shows close to a quarter of married families with children have a stay-at-home mother.
From Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique to Leslie Morgan Steiner’s Mommy Wars and the more recent “Opt-Out Revolution” modern motherhood has a substantial library that coincides with a considerable number of emotions, worries and responsibilities on whether or not to join the ranks of the 15 million of our country’s working mothers.
When it comes to mothers and their varying daily schedules both home and “at the office” the Working Mother Research Institute’s (WMRI) 2011 report What Moms Choose examined the very pressures faced by mothers when deciding whether to work or stay at home. Of the 3,700 mothers surveyed, researchers found that more than a third of all mothers, working or at home, had plenty in common. That commonality was “guilt” – and 51 percent of working mothers feel guilty about not spending enough time with their kids while 55 percent of stay-at-home moms also worry about their monetary contributions to the family finances.
Maybe what all mothers should do is, recognize that a mother by any other name is still “Mother”, drop the boxing gloves and end the Mommy Wars altogether. In researching this article I’ve taken a close look at the chain reaction of events intertwined with emotions and family needs of 5 local mothers. Through a more personal approach I aim for a better understanding of who decides to stay at home, who heads back to work, and all of the push-pull factors that shape these decisions. In doing so, I’ve surprisingly found women from both sides of the fence have a great many more similarities than just guilt.
Unfortunately, guilt seems to cross the boundary lines affecting most women regardless of their working responsibilities. In speaking with our local moms, I asked “Do you ever feel guilt and if so, over what?” Four out of the 5 mothers interviewed admitted that yes, they feel guilt. Sue Dolezal, mother of one and owner of Inspired Designs Interior Decorating firm, says, “I feel guilt all the time! I feel guilty that I work not only when he’s at school but often on weekends and nights when I need to, but I am proud of the fact that I have a successful business and still try my best to spend quality time with my son, Kyle and my husband.”
"I have a newfound respect for working mothers and how hard it is to feel like you are successful at being both a mother and a part of the work force." Lisa Hudgins
Another mom, Lisa Hudgins, a broadcast negotiator and planner who travels to Dallas for her job weighed in, “Sometimes I feel guilt from not stopping to be present in the moment! I have found that going back to work has caused me to stop and be more present when I am with my kids. I find myself stopping what I am doing to really look at a picture they have drawn or to hear their precious little stories. I think I took these things for granted when I was home with them every day.” Stopping again to collect her thoughts she adds, “I have a newfound respect for working mothers and how hard it is to feel like you are successful at being both a mother and a part of the work force.”
Ashley Moore, a former teacher and school librarian has been staying home with her two boys had a different take on the issue of guilt. The mom and PTO volunteer commented; “I started feeling the tug to go back to work when my youngest started kindergarten. I found myself wanting to contribute to our savings for our kids’ college and our retirement. I had a lot more time without the boys and felt guilty about not ‘working’.”
So then, if there are so many similarities how did the Mom vs. Mom Throwdown begin? When did motherhood become a nation divided? Whether a woman is a CEO Mom, a PTO Mom, a Sales Exec Mom, or a Stay-at-home Mom she is still a MOM! It is apparent that what started as a way to clarify and describe our own individual choices has now become a means to be critical of the choices of others.
Were the prejudices and the taking of sides a gradual shift or was it purposeful? Some feel as a group that women are just catty and others feel there are real issues we need to address. Unfortunately, whatever the cause, there has been damage done. Most of which is due to slander and downright hurtful statements.
Think about it. How many times have you made a snide comment against another mother? Or maybe you compared yourself to another mother and felt jealous or slighted about your own choices. Perhaps the purpose of the remark was to make you feel better. Comparing ourselves to others and putting others down isn’t the role model relationship we want to foster for our future generations. I know we don’t want our daughters, in particular, to feel any less of themselves based on someone else’s view. After all, it was our own mothers who taught us, “if you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.”
In reality, our Southlake moms admit that comparisons do take place. Mother of two, D’Lissa Cunningham, who formerly worked as an Administrative Assistant for Blockbuster and with Liz Claiborne as a training manager, said. “When the kids were little, I would sometimes compare the day of a working mom to my 'at home' day and thought, ‘at least they get to go to the potty by themselves behind a closed door!’
Now that her kids are older Cunningham admits, “With them both in school full time, it is a lot easier. In one day, I have "me" time, "mom" time and "family" time.” And, if she ever does have some restless energy from her stay-at-home duties, she is not shy about taking up a volunteer opportunity. She is currently the Vice President of the Old Union Elementary PTO and volunteers often at school, and as a coach. “I feel it's a way I can give back for the ability to stay at home,” she says, “and because of that I feel sure of my choice.”
Ame Mahler Beanland is a mother of two, an award-winning graphic designer and a New York Times bestselling author. The co-author of Nesting: It's a Chick Thing and Postcards from the Bump is currently at work on her first children's book. Sure in her own path at home and at work Ame commented, “I try very hard not to compare myself to other mothers, just as I never want to compare my kids to other kids, but I'm eager to learn from other women. I think it was Oprah who said, "A mother's face should light up when her child walks into the room." That's so easy but so powerful. I'm fascinated by how some women seem to embrace or understand motherhood so naturally, with such ease. When I see a mom who rolls with things and lives in the moment, I take notes. I want to be more like them!”
Unfortunately, all mothers don’t always act the way Ame described and sadly at some point someone questioned a mom’s decision, and then someone else said something in response and it all snowballed! And from that time forward our perception of those statements have morphed and mutated so now we accept them as our realities. That judgmental tone and those ever-popular probing questions are the fuel that ignites the flame in today’s Mommy Wars.
Hello! We are all significant and we are more alike than different. According to the WMRI report all moms also worry about the state of the family home. A majority of working moms, 55 percent, feel guilt about the cleanliness of the house, especially the kitchen. Stay-at-home moms don’t necessarily feel like domestic goddesses either and 44 percent claimed to frequently feel bad about the dust bunnies under the bed and worry about feeling judged.
Whatever name or label you place on us, we are vital to the growth and development of our children and the economy. For many mothers and families in today’s economy maybe the choice to work wasn’t really a choice at all.
Lisa Hudgins said, “Realistically, there was no choice.” After 10 years at home Hudgins went back to work in broadcasting because she needed medical insurance for her children. For Sue Dolezal the choice to open her own decorating firm was similar. “My choice was in part due to finances,” she said, “but for the most part by desire. Until I had my son I always had a corporate job. After quitting that job and staying home for a few years, I had a burning desire to start my own design business and I was fortunate enough to be in a situation to do so.”
So you see, whatever the reason, whatever the cause for our decisions, we are all mothers sacrificing through the labor of love to do what is best for our children! Working in the home or outside the home, there are things you give up and things that make you feel envious of other mothers.
Sue admitted, “Do I ever feel jealous? Absolutely! I work so much that I have little time for lunches with friends, and I barely find time to work out but mostly I am just thankful that I am able to have a family and do what I love.”
Ashley too has a bit of envy- hers over financial security, “I have always felt blessed to have the choice to be a stay-at-home mom and not work outside the home. I have never been jealous of working moms except I do envy their paychecks and wish I had the financial benefits of working moms. Unfortunately, there are no 401K match plans for stay-at-home moms.”
Stay-at-home moms are unfairly perceived as academically challenged and blind to the things they could become if only they had some ambition. And sadly, the other end of the spectrum appears to be just as judgmental. Working mothers are all too often perceived as greedy, self-centered, work-aholics, who let others raise their children.
As a group, we mothers must learn that neither side could be further from the truth. We must stop assuming we know what the other mothers are feeling and saying. Most importantly we have to stand firm in our own choices and stop worrying how others look at them.
I would like to think the Mommy Wars are just the result of a huge misunderstanding. If so, then we all need to adjust our thinking, open our eyes and accept that maybe, just maybe, each mommy has made the right choice for her family.
"We all have a purpose and raising the children we've been given is one of them. We just have to find the right path to move along in the process." D'Lissa Cunninghmam
As women we often strike out at things that make us feel inadequate, and there is no other topic more proficient at making all of us feel that way than mothering. It might surprise you to know that we judge ourselves most harshly. The WMRI stated that of the women they surveyed 96 percent of mothers (49 percent of working mothers and 47 percent of stay-at-home moms) overwhelmingly said they were their own worst critics.
So, how do we lighten up on each other? The answer may not be clear-cut but our local moms have suggestions that may quell the endless Mom-on-Mom crimes. Ashley loves being able to devote her time to being there for her kids and being actively involved in their daily activities as they grow up. She said, “I am so grateful I can do those things without my time being committed away from my family and that I get to do it with the support of my husband. But, that's my choice. Whether moms choose to stay home with their family or work outside the home is a personal choice with pros and cons on both sides. The path I have chosen is my path- there is no right or wrong choice.”
Truer words were never spoken, it’s a mother’s choice. It is as simple as that! The decision regarding where, when and how we mother should not be decided by anyone but ourselves. D’Lissa agrees, “It would be great if we could all support each other with whatever decision is made. We are all individuals and have different roles to play while in this world. It's important to follow the path that we feel chosen to live. We just have to find the right path to move along in the process.”
It’s important that all moms, regardless of where they work, find happiness in their decisions, because a happy mom raises happy children. “To work or not to work,” that is the question. It will always be the same, yet we should rest easier with the understanding there is no right or wrong answer.
Jessica L. Begley, MFT is a proud stay-at-home mother who lives in Southlake with her husband, two daughters and their golden retrievers. Jessica is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Child Development Specialist.
Pictured: Stay-at-home mom, D'Lissa Cunningham and broadcast negotiator, Lisa Hudgins
Photo Credits: Bludoor Studios