Working mother - How Wise Then

Mothers at Work

. . . Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God.
(Mark 10:14)

March is Women’s History Month. Last week I hosted a guest blog about Kimberly Knowle-Zeller’s journey as a Stay-At-Home mother. Today I acknowledge the mothers who would love to stay home with their young children, or at least be at home more and work less. However, their financial realities make that impossible.

When I could not find a job after our first daughter was born, I learned how to sell articles to newspapers and magazines as a freelance writer. My income was sporadic at best, but every dollar made a difference. I wrote while my daughter napped or was busy playing nearby.

Two years later I was home with two young daughters, so writing became a bit more challenging, while the need for additional income grew even greater. One day a neighbor invited me and another neighbor to coffee, along with our children. Jean had two sons, one the age of my younger daughter and one just learning to crawl. By then my daughters were four and two. The toddlers played together while my preschooler played little miss Mom to Jean’s baby.

Two Working Moms Team Up

Jean and I soon worked out a great system. One day a week she watched all four so I could write. Another day of the week I did the same for her. Whenever we had the right combination of money, time and energy we piled all four kids into the car and took off on some adventures. No matter what we did, it was always more fun going with another adult.

As our kids got older, we were both itching to trade in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunches with adult colleagues at a job. The children were old enough now for school and day care, so we each started reading the help wanted ads.

We applied for the same editing position with a state agency, without realizing the other had also applied. We discovered this when we both made it to the top five candidates and got invited in for interviews. Eureka! This was great. We went to the interview together. We assured the man interviewing us that we could and should time-share the position.

Our Brilliant Idea

We saw no downsides to this brilliant idea. We knew we were compatible. We were already used to watching one another’s children. We could work either half days each or split the week at lunch on Wednesday. We could cover for one another on vacations or sick days. And, since we both had husbands who carried health insurance, we could save the agency money because we did not need that benefit.

The look on this young man’s was priceless. He was single, never had children, and I don’t think ever intended to have any. His response was, “We can’t do that. You decide which one of you will take the job.” To the present day, when Jean and I catch up with one anther, we debate whether I won or lost in that deal, because I took the job.

Most women want to be with their children more. Even hard-core professional women tend to change their priorities when they bring their newborn babies home. Those few weeks of maternity leave don’t begin to meet the maternal instinct to hold, comfort and enjoy their little one. Yet most women also crave more adult companionship than they get when taking full time responsibility for their young children.

All Mothers are Working Mothers

Women have always worked. The term “working mother” is redundant. To be a mother is to work – around the clock with little time off for vacations or sick days. The issue is whether women are being adequately compensated for their work apart from mothering or supported in their efforts as mothers. For the most part, they are not – in either arena.

In the past women worked with others, sharing the workload. Until the Industrial Revolution people worked where or very near where they lived. Typically people lived above or behind the family business. Or they lived on farms and literally lived in the middle of their work places.

All that has changed dramatically in the past century. The work world is slowly adapting to help women – and men –do justice to both their families and their work commitments. Some employees now offer the option of job-sharing. Flexible hours make it possible for one parent to work early and the other to work late, eliminating or drastically reducing the need for day care.

Each year more and more people tele commute, making it possible to hold down a job from a computer at home. We’ve made progress since 1975 when Jean and I proposed we time-share a position. Yet, we have much more to do.

Parenting Is Good Job Training

Children thrive best when raised by caring adults in small numbers. Companies that understand and respect a parent’s need and obligation to put the needs of their minor children first have a better chance of attracting and retaining workers. Traits that make someone a good parent also make that person a good employee. Parenthood teaches compassion, flexibility, cooperation, dedication, and commitment. Parents learn how to defer their own agendas to accommodate the needs of their children. These traits also make people good team players that can work together effectively to achieve a company’s business goals.

We could resolve many of our current social problems if we focused more on helping parents raise their own children, while also earning a livable wage in a work environment conducive to helping them be good parents. After all, they are training the next generation of citizens who will one day influence the world in which we will all live.

I’d like those future adult employees to be with their moms and dads as much as possible when they are young. We shouldn’t have to choose between raising a family or having meaningful work to do. The two are only mutually exclusive when we focus first and only on the company bottom line. That focus is tragically shortsighted. Raising children is not a luxury pastime for those who want the experience. Today’s children hold tomorrow’s possibilities. Handle with care and prayer. It matters.