Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It’s Off to Work We Go

For thirty years, Sue Shellenbarger has been writing the Work and Family column for the Wall Street Journal and I have always enjoyed reading her words. This past week, she penned a farewell article summing up what she sees as advances for working parents as well as areas where she sees problems looming.

I found the piece depressing. Perhaps the sidebar to the article helps to explain why. It highlighted four questions asked of mothers and fathers in a recent poll. They were asked if:

Being a working parent:

  • Makes it harder to advance in your job or career.
  • Has created a need to reduce your work hours.
  • Has made you feel you couldn’t give 100% at work.
  • Has caused you to turn down a promotion.

In each of these four questions, the percentage of mothers answering in the positive is larger than that of the fathers. This seems to present an underlying problem for Ms.Shellenbarger, revealing that things haven’t advanced as much as she would like over the past thirty years.

I come from a different perspective. I wouldn’t see it as an advance for the answers to be more 50/50. I actually would have liked to see the questions phrased differently.

Being a working parent:

  • Makes it harder to devote the time needed to be as good a parent as you would like to be.
  • Has created a need to reduce your time with your children.
  • Has made you feel you couldn’t give 100% at home.
  • Has caused you to turn down participating in important events, like family meals, with your children.

I think the best world is one in which a man and a woman (married to each other) support themselves and their children financially, emotionally and spiritually. The most important thing isn’t being able to manage to have children without interfering with one’s paid work, but being able to juggle everything as a family. I see it as a step back to assume that the largest chunk of both parents’ time should go towards their careers and the role of government and business is to enable that to happen.

There are all sorts of reasons for mothers to work. Some women have a passion or talent that they want to express. Others are working because they need the money. That doesn’t mean that they hate their jobs or get no satisfaction from their work. It is important to make the best of our circumstances. Yet, I suspect that many working women would have a passion for building a home and raising a family was that to be socially acceptable, esteemed and economically feasible. They don’t need universal access to cheaper childcare or stronger maternity and paternity leave policies or women being given an advantage when looking for a job so that companies can boast (or meet requirements) for gender-equity. What would serve them (and most children) would be a return to a society that views a married couple having children as the preferred norm and enables that choice. If women do choose to work, rather than being forced to do so for economic reasons, perhaps they might willingly and thoughtfully turn down a promotion or reduce work hours rather than being compelled to do so by an unbending work environment. Returning to a society that values the work involved in creating a home and raising a family as well as participating in an active community and neighborhood life would meet their needs.

Yes, times have changed and you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. Yet, I don’t see women, men or children being happier and healthier today. Instead, we see a rising rate of anxiety, depression and suicide. Is this related to our “improvements” in facilitating divorce, single motherhood and career-oriented women? Is suggesting that we can “have it all” leading to more satisfying lives or just to more unhappiness and resentment? Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. I think the question is worth examining before we assume that continuing on that path is the only way to go. 

35 thoughts on “Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It’s Off to Work We Go”

  1. What a great article.

    I have regularly thanked my wife for staying home, for the wonderful role of mothering our children, for managing and running our home and then later on working with me on our family farm.

    I get annoyed when I hear the view some people hold of a homemaker or a housewife somehow not be a vocation to be valued or admired. All I can say is that our family experience has been extremely positive.

    1. David, I think the most important factor in a woman happily focusing on the home is a husband who continually shows appreciation and openly speaks of it, not only to her and the family but to friends and co-workers as well.

  2. Great Topic again Susan and thank you for your insight and everyone else’s thoughts and observations/experiences on this very important subject. I too am worried about Ivanka’s push for Universal Daycare and Paid Family Leave. I was blessed to be a stay-at-home mom to my 3 sons and they are now grown, educated, out of the house and working. I would not change a thing even though we struggled for many years as my husband was building his career. I am a college educated woman and have no regrets about running our household and raising our children by being home despite society sometimes causing me to feel ‘embarrassed’ about stating my occupation. Which, by the way in reply to Terry’s (Sterling) message; I use my family’s name as my Employer and “CFO/Domestic Engineer” as my occupation on those forms! 😀

    Shaun Laface

    1. I love the creative job titles! You and commenter Laura both speak about the awkwardness of justifying staying home, both in our own eyes and in the eyes of society. I also felt that. I wonder what would help change that?

  3. The comments are even more telling culturally than your great commentary on the article (which I’ve yet to read.) I decided to stay at home with my children save for a couple of paid and temporary, part-time positions through the years. The eldest is now 31 and married, and though I stayed home she was a public school child. She does not hold all of the traditional moral values in her life now, and part of it is from our own failed training.

    However, we’ve changed through the years and our younger two, a 23 year old daughter and a 22 year old son, are very different. They’ve also benefitted from a home education. Their moral values, common sense judgment, and applicable skills do make them rare in their peer group. Thankfully, as a result of networking, they are meeting more people this year with like minds.

    I stayed home mostly and though we’ve had financial challenges through the years, we had some good ideas. For example, with the exception of one World Cup soccer season as my husband coached part-time for a few years, we have not purchased any cable television services and the money was used for excellent dental and health care for our family of five. For entertainment, we used the library and we’re still using it!

    We also don’t watch television, unless we’re in a hotel or have checked out an old series from the library, which we recently did on DVD (with an interesting Cold War, BBC produced, four part mini-series “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.”) As a side note, I highly recommend it.

    We worked around our limited income and sometimes we didn’t choose good investments sadly. But we’ve come a long way and it was important to us that we were grateful to be able to choose between such frivolities as television or healthcare with our limited resources. We’re still grateful for the many choices we have to make with our limited resources.

    I was close to attending graduate school at UW once, when our children were young. I’m so very glad that I did not do it. It didn’t hurt to hear my eldest daughter at age 11 say, “Why would you do that to us?” This was after she learned that I had applied to the economics department. It’s a joy to know, in my family’s case, that I made the best economic choice for everyone involved including society at large.

    1. LJ, thanks for sharing your story. It is galling for the assumption to be made that all women would rather have careers if they were given the choice.

  4. Thank You again for another real life truth that has changed our world for the worst. I consider myself very fortunate having grown up in a time when it was the norm for mothers to be at home taking care of the family. It was such a comfort to me knowing that my Mom was always at home taking care of business. It built into me a spiritual security that could not be replaced with money. We were poor because my Dad was an irresponsible alcoholic, but I could always count on my Mom to be there for me and my many siblings.
    I have been fortunate to be a “House Manager” even though I did work part-time for awhile when my kids were in their early teens because we needed the money.
    From time to time, I donate/take polls for President Donald Trump. The form will only be accepted if you mark your status as retired or you must put down who your employer is and your occupation. I put down that my employer is “My Family” and my occupation is “Household Manager”.
    Terry Sterling

    1. Terry, I am pretty sure the form you’re describing is a federally-required form for all candidates. But what an amazing point you are making and a great solution that you concocted.

  5. I believe this topic is greater than a woman’s choice, or lack thereof, to work outside the home. Coming from a poorer, traditional, rural area. I have witnessed the negative cultural side of not having an income source, and how that affects women, Mothers and their children. I would love to believe that in an Ideal situation, all human beings have the best intentions for each other and behave accordingly; but I have a lifetime of experience to know that is not the case. Marriage should be a Partnership of two, different, but equal people and is made of two human beings; two sinful human beings, influenced by other sinful human beings. When finances become low/scarce; people can become mean,ruthlessly unGodly; very bad things happen in the name of money or lack of. It’s easy to say that those people are not God’s people and should not be yolked in marriage; But only God knows their heart, before we witness their choices.

    1. Wendy, I agree that lack of finances is a major source of tension and difficulty. I’m not sure that pushing women into the workforce is the best answer.

  6. I’m a working mother after separation from been and lengthy legal fees I was oblige to put my son in hidden for his safety from been kidnap thanks to faith in the Word of God I could provide well for him, now in my winter of my life I’m pinch financially.
    I have no regrets for doing what I did for my son.
    But when all is said and done mothers end up with the shorter end of financial status.

    1. MA, I would love to have a broad societal conversation of how we can protect mothers without making women feel that they must have careers in case their men turn out to be bad guys. Of course, most aren’t, but I think we encourage women to assume the worst about men.

  7. Oh Susan you got it so right. I worked I was always tired. My husband worked less so he did a lot of carpooling, taking kids to Doctor and Dentist appointments. Some would say, “So What”. These are times that your children tell you the little things of there day, and I missed them. Did they survive? Yes of course. They are now all men contributing to society. But I would have preferred to stay home and not miss all those small moments. I also always felt conflicted as to not giving all to my job, because I gave to my family and not giving enough to my family because I gave to my job.

    1. Beth, knowing your sons somewhat, you have a great deal of which to be proud. I know you wish you could have worked less when they were little. Shabbat Shalom.

      1. I have the great blessing of being able to stay home with my 4 children. I have also witnessed several of my mom friends who experienced the pain of having to work and put their kids in daycare usually because of financial need. A lot of times these families if they learned to budget better they would find that they could save their family more money by staying home than going to work and having lost of their income going towards childcare and restaurant and gas and clothing costs.
        I have gotten the occasional hurtful comment that implies staying at home is somehow less important of a job than if I were to have a “job” that pays income. But I know in my heart that this is the better choice for our family. And I have four daughters that I hope to teach them the importance and high calling of being a mother.
        I do have a college degree that I received before I got married. And I worked in mg career field for a few years prior to getting married. And when I first stayed home I did struggle with my sense of identity. Like who am I if I’m not working a job?
        But I have learned that being a mother and being there (present for my kids) is so much more important of a job than any job out there. Because I am raising these girls to be a force of good for their generation and I want to pass down to them the importance of family above all else for the bedrock of society is strong families.

  8. I’ve experienced being a full time working mother and a homemaker. I miss being a full time homemaker more, even though I wasn’t “earning income”. Cost of living is too high to live on one income. The best compromise we came to, was picking up a part time job and my husband working full time in his business. I still have more flexibility with our kids than if I worked full time. It’s not ideal but it works for now.

    1. DD, we do what we have to, but we don’t need taxes going up or costs of goods going up so that we can make sure that childcare is universal. That just forces us to use it when we don’t prefer to in the first place.

  9. I managed to keep from having to work during my four’s preschool years except that I took a job when my youngest son, Joshua, was a little half past three years old. To avoid daycare, I worked the second shift, so it seemed that Josh would stay awake until I got in the door and then fall promptly to sleep. It was as though he couldn’t rest soundly until he was assured that I’d made it home safely more than any ‘oh no, mom’s home now i have to mind’ sentiment. And now, with bittersweet nostalgia, his precocious words haunt me as I remember him once say to me, with much earnest, “Mom, We need (to have more) family time, Its not family time without you here.”

    This same child also suggested homeschooling as soon as, I supposed, his first learning that there was such an option. If I could’ve been the parent my child had then hoped me to be, I often wonder, how much more the man might’ve he grown to become.

    1. Nancy, you did the best you could with the resources you had at the time. Don’t beat yourself up.

  10. In my humble opinion, this topic has caused a whole lot of our problems. When a woman with underage children returns to work, SHE IS USUALLY TIRED AT THE END OF HER WORK DAY – AS IS HER HUSBAND which leads to irritability and probably fights which leads to divorces, which leads to troubled children and even more financial difficulties.

    1. Lisa, the idea of venerating careers also leads to not getting married in the first place or not having children until one’s late thirties which brings with it a host of other problems as well.

  11. This is such a global frustration. I enjoy my profession – but I love and treasure my children more and would prefer to homeschool them if it were economically feasible. It really does feel depressing to think that no matter what, we are somehow being set up to just become some mindless drones. Sigh. Homeschooling is frowned upon, yet professional mommy with a nanny with different values is celebrated. So frustrating.

  12. Millions of second earners in a household who place children in daycare actually generate no net income after real costs and higher taxes.

    1. Phil, the math is very interesting when numbers are crunched. If you are told you will be miserable by staying home, you probably will be miserable staying home.

  13. Marie-Anne Harkness

    You nailed it Susan. Thank you for often putting my thoughts into words. Words are powerful. I am grateful for your insight and willingness to speak the truth.

    1. Marie-Anne, it is important for young women to hear that their career’s, which may be exciting and rewarding now, might come at the price of family (as they put off marriage and children or have fewer children) and may be a source of regret down the road. They do not hear in college that many women find building a home and raising a family to be fulfilling and that it doesn’t preclude having other interests or even successful careers down the road.

  14. I am responding not as a woman who married and had children, rather as one who has observed the emotional toll working outside the home took on women I know. Being anecdotal, I will be interested to see how others view the issue. Without exception, the women I knew were thrilled when they learned they were having a baby. Without exception, they all thought juggling work and family would be a piece of cake. Without exception, they all learned quickly that the cake had a lot of bitter mixed with the sweet. They all found it difficult to return to work at the end of their maternity leave. None of them had the benefit of leaving their children with family members so their babies went into daycare. They all learned how hard it was to leave a sick child to go to work when they couldn’t take leave because of work responsibilities. And believe me, their children were sick a lot because they were constantly exposed to other children’s germs. One or two were fortunate enough that they eventually left the workforce for a few years, until their children were old enough to start school. Every one of these women who could not quit working quickly expressed regret that they could not stay at home to raise their children. Based on this small, admittedly anecdotal evidence, I think we are on the wrong path. I don’t know how we get back on track to creating healthy families, but we somehow need to make this a priority. Bottom line, I agree with your musing completely. Btw, my heart drops every time I hear our President tout how more women than ever have been added to the workforce. I support a woman’s right to work when she wants to, but we seem dedicated to driving women out of the home and into the workforce.

    1. Joyce, I also cringe every time I hear the President tout the increased number of women in the work force as a source of pride. I get it politically and I think that he isn’t being exposed to another view. I worry about Ivanka’s influence in this as I think she agrees with the Lean In movement and Sue Shellenbarger’s point of view. I hope that if this actually comes to legislation, those around the president will provide an alternate picture.

  15. I am a married mother with a young child and i would rather spend more time with her but my husband can’t afford the bills and our needs.its really depressing in the winter when he only ploughed snow.plus I have problems with fatigue.do I want to clean houses for up to 6 hours a day? No I don’t.but since my husband can’t afford basic needs what can I do.does this cause resentment.yes sometimes it does.especially when income tax has not been shared with me and is used to catch up on bills that could have been paid with a real winter job.

    1. I always enjoy your wisdom, Miss Susan. What is truly degrading to women is to treat us as though we must be corrected through the artifice of equality. We are equal in value to men, but not in form or function. I am quick and firm to correct people who comment that I was “just a homemaker” during much of my adult life. Man evolves because of our godly administration of feminine arts. We all suffer when the opportunity cost of forced equality is human misery.

      1. Heidi, I would have been humiliated to call myself a ‘homemaker’ as a young woman. That is the message I received from the culture and school.

    2. Emma, I hope that you and your husband find a wise mentor to guide you. Financial resentments are poison to a marriage. I applaud you for doing what you have to do and hope that you and your husband can change things so that your work is not needed.

Comments are closed.

Shopping Cart