Juggling is Nothing New for Working Mothers
According to a recent study by Pew Research Center, family size is inching up. Women are more likely to become moms than they were a decade ago. Which means more moms than ever are working, and my daughter happens to be one of them. Not only that, more moms are putting education first before having children and, as a result, more and more are becoming the primary breadwinners as well. Great news for girls (and boys) all around the globe.
Not much of a shocker, really. Education, career, marriage, babies is a safe bet for success. And I wasn’t surprised when I heard my daughter, mother of two of our grandsons, as she talked over the phone one afternoon on her commute home about her demanding schedule, including the projects she’s managing at work and, on this particular day, the preparation she was making for a night of additional work-related commitments. She was also on her way to the elementary school to pick up her sons, at which time she’d switch back into mom gear.
Her voice is filled with ambition and a bit of trepidation as she figures out loud how she’ll meet her own expectations. She pauses as she sorts the next part of her day, and I can almost hear her sigh as she plans for supper, homework, laundry and a second to squeeze in a little downtime with the kiddos, finally tucking them in for the night. All before she shifts back into work mode when the house is quiet.
Listening to her makes me tired and stirs up memories of being a working mom when things could get pretty hectic with four little kids and a full-time career.
Some days, I wanted to steal a nap, and most nights I was asleep even before the kids drifted off, a copy of “The Three Musketeers” splayed like a blanket over me. It was quite possibly the most difficult and, yet, the most rewarding time of my life. At times there just didn’t seem to be enough hours in the day -- and sometimes there really wasn’t -- but things managed to get done. I loved my work. I loved being a mom. And there were days when career was a respite from motherhood and when motherhood was a welcome harbor from the stress of a full-time job.
Standing as a mother and a working woman, I ponder those realities as the two strong poles that created and still form my beautiful world comes together. Each role keeps my footing strong, and I benefit from the resulting balance, which serves my life on a daily basis.
Naturally, after our mother-daughter phone call, I’m sensing that familiar frustration that comes from the tug and pull of being a working mom who happens to be nurturing a family and a career simultaneously.
There were times when I felt I was divvying up the hours to get it all done, and sometimes it seemed that everything suffered a little because of it. Perhaps that did happen here and there, but the idea that what I was doing as a mom and a woman who worked was worth doing at all kept me striving to do my best. The truth of the matter is that moms who make education a priority and who join the labor force with might and purpose may actually enjoy better mental and physical health by the time they reach their 40s -- good news for my daughter and all those moms out there who may be having a day or a going through a phase where they think throwing in the towel and giving up their jobs is best.
Consider this: In a 2014 study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, authors Adrianne Frech and Sarah Damaske, concluded that, “For the mothers in our study, steady, full-time work was associated with better physical health than other work pathways, and better mental health than interrupted or stay-at-home pathways. Additionally, part-time work provided key mental-health benefits, as well as physical health benefits relative to stay-at-home or interrupted work. Health care and coverage remain a key policy issue in this country, and our research suggests that policies promoting better access to full-time work for women through programs such as universal day care, paid maternity leave and wage increases would benefit women’s long-term health and should be given closer consideration.” (Visit https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4120870/ #!po=83.3333 to learn more.)
After I hung up, I texted my daughter: “Love ya, Nat, take a deep breath -- all will come out right because you care. Please hug the boys and please tell them how proud I am of them because they are such good helpers and learners. Let them take care of you for a minute or two before you dive into your work tonight. I love you. I am so proud to have you as my daughter. Every day I am blown away with your grace, smarts and the way you approach life as if each moment is precious, and yet as if letting go of its tether is good and right sometimes and knowing when you need to do so. XO”
I was still thinking about my own experience as a working mom and how it could be rewarding and, at the same time, exhausting. Those were the moments when my work kept me excited to keep on learning, and yet, getting off the treadmill of tasks and changing it up for a bit was often beneficial to us all. Sometimes that meant easing into a bubble bath with a glass of wine, taking a walk with the kids or even having a good cry on the shoulder of a close friend.
My children, now adults, over the years have encouraged and marveled over their mother’s work paths, and I always felt that the work I strived -- and still strive -- to do was and is an important window into their own life paths. I see my grandchildren taking notice these days, and that’s good for lots of obvious reasons.
An hour after my text, my phone gently pings with an incoming text. Photos. The first one was of my grandson playing in the yard, another of my daughter outside with her boys as they soaked up the waning light of the spring afternoon. Everyone seemed relaxed and happy.
Her text read: “Did my walk, took out the trash, and chilling outside while the boys play. Then we’ll start dinner, eat, and then I’ll do some work. I’m not going to stress over it.”
Bonnie J. Toomey teaches at Plymouth State University, writes about writing, learning, and life in the 21st century. You can follow Parent Forward on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ bonniejtoomey. Learn more at www.parent forward.blogspot.com or visit bonniejtoomey.com .