Family and Work or Work and Family?

As so often happens in life, I had two starkly different experiences within close proximity of each other. Yesterday, I attended the funeral of a wonderful woman who passed away at 93 years young. I was fortunate to sit near her in synagogue and at a weekly Torah class for the past few years and sharing a greeting and a few comments with her always gave me a lift.

As he eulogized his mother, her son provided some context for those who, like me, knew his mother as a vital, active, loving senior but who hadn’t known her in her younger years. He spoke of his mother going to work as a secretary in order for his parents to afford a private Jewish education for him. When she was directed to post an ad for a regional sales manager, she told her boss that she could do the job. Although in those years a woman sales manager was highly unusual, he gave her the chance to prove herself, which she proceeded to do. Yet, as her son pointed out, while she certainly took satisfaction in her work, the goal of working was to build her family and its future. Family and faith were always the priority. Yesterday, about sixty of her descendants paid loving tribute to that choice. 

Today, wanting to get a feel for what the general culture is offering, I tuned into a podcast aimed at young mothers. The hosts of the show were interviewing a successful writer who has two children, an infant and a toddler. The guest made the point that it is vital to get as much help as one can during the fleeting years that one has small children, so that one can retain focus on one’s career. After all, she said, (and I’m paraphrasing), your career is going to be the entire rest of your life.

Being able to choose to hire childcare so that one can focus on work is, of course, a privileged woman’s option. Mothers who are working so that there will be food on the table and a roof over their family’s head do not have that choice. But, the bottom line is, that while working for money and family may need to co-exist for many mothers, there is a subtle and not-so-subtle difference in how one lives based on which is the priority. Do we take time off from work in order to have children or do we take time away from our children in order to work?

6 thoughts on “Family and Work or Work and Family?”

  1. I should have mentioned in my prior post how much I appreciate both you, Susan, and your husband. As I have grown older, I have this unquenchable thirst for knowledge that I did not have the maturity for when I was younger. This is especially true while trying to learn the Bible. I must confess that, as a former Catholic, I have no use for organized religion. I laugh when I think of something my deceased brother used to say about churches. He’d say, “Look up churches in the yellow pages; they’re under businesses!” (I still chuckle when I think of him saying that.) Anyway, my concern in studying the Bible alone each day is that I will misconstrue it’s original meaning. I think Rabbi once said that the King James Bible did not do any favors in gathering the true text of what God was saying. Perhaps that is why I read both your posts with such great interest. I really strive to learn, “What does God want from me? Am I doing His will? Is He satisfied with the way I have raised the two children He entrusted to me?” Anyway, reading the Bible from an Orthodox Jewish perspective has greatly influenced me and I want you both to know that…

    1. Claire, we very much appreciate hearing that our words help you get closer to the Bible. Isn’t it true that as we get older we would cherish the years we couldn’t wait to get through when we were younger when our days were full of studying?

  2. My grandmother was a very successful businesswoman from 1940 until her death in 2003 at 97 years old. Her company did $50 million a year which I find hard to comprehend for a woman who never went past the 10th grade! My grandfather never went past the 3rd grade in 1908. I greatly admired both of them and always thought that I would grow up to be just like my grandmother. In some ways , I did. I learned from both my parents and grandparents the value of hard work and thus, developing a good work ethic. In the end, I took a very different path though once my two children came into the world. I had them later in life at 37 and 39 respectively. I originally decided to stay home until they entered school at which time I would then return to work part-time. I had even taken a CPA review course at 44 to finish what I started in college. Funny thing happened! I never returned to “paid” work because I ended up homeschooling my children. It had NEVER been my intention to homeschool and I could have never imagined doing so. After passing my CPA and anticipating helping my husband earn some much needed money, it came to my attention that my son was not flourishing in the public school system. I ended up pulling him out because I refused to have him fall through the “cracks.” I also did not like the identity politics and indoctination that was occuring in the school system. To be fair, most of the teachers I spoke to didn’t either; they were in large part “closet conservatives” not wanting to lose their pensions so they decided to just go along to get along. Like me, they expressed that the Common Core was a disaster! Oddly enough, my husband and I always saved for retirement. We never had money left for ANYTHING except Christmas and retirement savings (okay, food too😉.) While all our friends had moved up into bigger homes, we still continued to live in the starter house I had purchased before getting married. Well, almost 20 years has gone by and God has blessed us quite well. On one income, we have amassed a comfortable sum of money. We still “feel” poor because after saving and paying the bills, there’s still never anything left over. We laugh and tell everyone its forced “poverty.” We save and have nothing now so there will be something later. However, I was able to enjoy all the wonderful years and memories I had with my 2 children. That is something I will never regret despite things we never had. You just can never get those years back! Being home doesn’t guarantee anything as we have the same cultural problems with our children at times as working mom’s do. Somewhere though, I must confess I struggle with the image of my grandmother being a successful businesswoman and my never having accomplished that. At 55, I’m not sure I will ever get that chance either. I do remind myself that is still up to me to write “my own ending” and I think of Colonel Sanders who, after repeated failures, finally struck it big at 65 with KFC! When I think back on my grandmother though, I recall her sad ending where some of her own children and grandchildren betrayed her (as money will often do) after she had been very good to them. She had a successful business but never any peace with her own 4 children and some of her ungrateful, selfish grandchildren. My biggest challenge, even though we will have enough to retire on, is the great fear of becoming “irrelevant.” I may be too old to be hired in 3 years when my son graduates from high school and I will be 58. That’s not old to me because I still feel 18 and want to succeed in some way. After years of both hard work in a “paid” career and years as a mother in an “unpaid” position (that demanded more time and energy), I can’t imagine having “nothing” meaningful to do once my job as “mother” ends on a day to day basis. I stress over how I will stay busy in a purposeful way where I’m not just sitting around waiting for the end of my life to come. I remember a line from the mini-series back in 1983 called “The Thorn Birds.” It said, “Nothing is ever gained without a disadvantage.” Maybe that is true. I would bet that working women on some level regret not having been home with their growing children and having the ability to de-stress from the demands of both work and family. On the other hand, stay at home mom’s have to reconcile the (wonderful) choice of not becoming “someone accomplished” and not having the extra money to have that beautiful home with its dream kitchen and large family room or the money for a few much needed vacations…I suppose that it’s natural to wonder about the road we didn’t travel as opposed to the wonderful one we did.☺

    1. Claire, what an interesting family story about your grandparents. I think your ending sentence says it all – life is made up of decisions and I would venture to say that unhappy people imagine how wonderful life would be had they chosen otherwise and happy people appreciate what they have. A number of years ago, I wrote a Musing you might enjoy:

  3. Marie Ferrell-Mewes

    Sad to say that at 50 I returned to work due to a divorce. There was no option as I needed to support my youngest son age 14 and myself. I finished my degree took advanced work and managed to move from Executive Assistant to Facilities Director of a 4-year private college. More hours, more work, plus benefits that included a 4 year fully paid degree for my youngest son. I missed the time I would have had with my then young grandchildren during those years. The years can never be reclaimed. But you do what is the highest priority. Feeding, clothing, housing and educating your children! I will never regret those years as I had many opportunities to see my son and his friends on campus and developed many attachments to students that are still vital to my life. God blessed me with an opportunity and a new life that gave me many sweet memories for my retirement.

    1. Marie, it sounds like you took a difficult time in your life and made the best of it for your family. I hope you are enjoying your retirement.

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