Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Who says stay-at-home moms don't work?

Has anyone actually looked at the schedule that today's kids are expected to follow and, right along with them, their moms? I think about this whenever I see a debate about working moms versus stay-at-home moms. I know somewhere out there are statistics about the number of hours stay-at-home moms put in at their "jobs" in any given week. Trust me, compared to this, the 40-hour work week some mothers have outside the home is a piece of cake.

I touched on this topic in my latest book, MENDING FENCES. Marcie Carter has always been a stay-at-home mother, who genuinely loves every second of her involvement in her children's lives. She bakes. She participates as a volunteer at her children's schools. She makes gourmet meals, keeps a spotless house and -- though it's not in the book -- I don't doubt that she probably drives more miles to get her kids to activities than some long-distance truckers put in during a week.

Then there is her neighbor and best friend, Emily Dobbs, who went back to work as a high school English teacher the second her own kids started school. She needs the fulfillment of that job. It makes her happier and, in a way, she's setting her own example for her son and daughter about life's possibilities.

I grew up with a mother who worked. She happened to have a job with a direct mail advertising agency mere blocks from where we lived. I did two things immediately after school. I stopped by her office to tell her how my day had been, then went home to the apartment complex where my grandparents lived only doors away from where we lived. It was my mom's boss who gave me my first after-school job...alphabetizing mailings lists when I was eight or so. He was also the first to say it would be a total waste of my brain if I were to simply get married and raise a houseful of kids. He, along with my parents, made me believe at a very young age that I was smart and talented and could do anything I wanted to do. I owe all of them for instilling that belief in me.

Now, however, with years and years of perspective, I don't think he was entirely right about one choice being better than another. It's never wrong to want to make sure your kids get off to the best possible start in life. But it is just as important that a woman find the fulfillment she needs in her life. It can make her, in the long run, a better example and a better mother.

Does it sound as if I'm taking both sides of this? You bet I am. Because in the end, this is a very tough decision every woman needs to make for herself. I know my mother would have gone stark raving mad if she'd been consigned to baking cookies or hauling me and my friends from one activity to the next. I didn't miss out on one single thing because she made the choice to work. I taught myself to bake cookies. I found friends whose mothers liked piling a gang of kids in the car to go places. As for getting meals on the table, frankly, my dad was a better cook, anyway. My mother taught me self-sufficiency and independence and that there are no limits to what I can accomplish. Not bad lessons.

If you've wrestled with whether to stay home or go to work or if economic demands have necessitated that you find a job, tell us about how you made peace with your decision, whatever it was. Maybe this is a bone of contention with your husband. If so, tell us about that, too, and maybe someone here will have some advice for you. We're here to share this kind of thing...just between friends.

Sherryl Woods

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