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Did Your Own Mother Work?

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Growing up, I always knew I would work for a living, even after getting married, and even after having children. I got my first job when I was fourteen, and from that moment on I’ve taken pride in earning a paycheck, interacting with coworkers and customers, and applying my skills, even if I didn’t always love my job and some days the only skill I applied was deftly stuffing hundreds of envelopes with nary a papercut. When I got pregnant last year, returning to work after my son’s birth was never a question; I would work, I had to work, I wanted to work. I didn’t start questioning this non-decision decision until after I became a mother and I realized that, for all the good having a job does to my bank account and my psyche, it’s also really, really HARD.

In thinking about why working is so important to me–it’s so much more than a necessity; it’s practically a virtue–I wonder how much I was influenced by my own mother, who went back to work part-time when I was two months old and who is still today working the nightshift as a hospital supervisor. Although most of the mothers in our suburban neighborhood stayed at home while their husbands worked, I’ve never felt like my mother’s career was unusual, or was intended as a feminist social statement, or was even an example of what I should strive for in my own life. She worked because she had to and/or she wanted to, and although I don’t think she was consciously showing me by example that it should be done, she was at least showing me (and other women) that it could be done. Whether I consider that pressure or inspiration is a matter of perspective.

This fascinating article by the Pew Research Center on varied aspects of working mother demographics over the years includes a graph showing the growth of women in the labor force since the 1950s, when my own mother was born to my grandmother, a working mom herself in an era when it was even less common.


When I think about how hard it is to be a working mother in 2009, when, according to the Pew Center’s findings, not only are more mothers working but more people support their right to do so, I can’t help but find inspiration in the strength my mother and grandmother showed as working moms when society’s attitude was much less positive. (In 1987, 30 percent of Americans believed women should return to their “traditional roles,” i.e., as stay-at-home mothers and homemakers, compared to only 19 percent in 2009.)    

I still wouldn’t say my status as a working mom is a direct result of having been raised by a working mom, but it definitely helps me get through the rough days to have that precedent, to know that my mother survived and thrived as a career woman, as did her mother before her, and that if I want it bad enough I can make that my reality too.  

Did having a mother who worked (either inside or outside the home) influence your decision to work after having kids? Did having a mother who didn’t work make you want to? Is your spouse’s attitude toward working mothers influenced by whether his mother worked or not? Do you think that by working yourself you’re sending your children a positive message about working moms?

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45 comments so far...

  • My mom worked, and I think that helped me to expect myself to become competent in the skills necessary to career success. In addition, it never occurred to me to have some kind of identity crisis as a working mom. So I guess my mom’s influence made it easier for me to fit into the work / professional world, so while my kids may be a “pull” to work less, at least my job is not a “push” to do so. There are other factors, to be sure, but I do think having a working mom made a difference.

    I also believe that my kids will take it for granted that they will work all their lives (or until they earn a comfortable retirement). As they grow, they will become aware of other choices they could make, but my guess is that they won’t be as comfortable in a role that doesn’t involve working with other adults and contributing daily to something outside of the home.

    SKL  |  October 21st, 2009 at 7:55 am

  • My mother worked, not by choice at first, but was thrust into “single-mom, gotta support her family” status when we were quite young. But as I read and think about this post, I think about my grandma, who never learned to drive, rarely was out of the house, except to get groceries/doctor’s appt, etc, but worked her tail off on their dairy farm–contributing to its success and their livelihood. She worked hard labor all day everyday, but was probably classified as “staying home.” I guess that was one of the original WAHM job descriptions.

    Brenda  |  October 21st, 2009 at 9:11 am

  • I don’t have kids yet, but I plan on doing exactly what my mom did. Both of my parents worked, because that is what they needed to do to give us the lifestyle they wanted us to have. When we do have a kid, if we can give the kid the lifestyle we want to with only one of us working (not picky about WHICH one of us works - whichever makes more money, I guess), then the other will stay home. If we both need to work to afford the life we want to give said hypothetical kid, then we will.

    I know my mother probably would have loves to stay home with us, but it was possible with what they wanted to provide for us (which of course differs from family to family).

    As for his (my fiance’s) attitude - he’d prefer that I stay home with any kids we might have if it is at all possible. He didn’t exactly have a stellar childhood, so I imagine it has a lot to do with the way his mother (and various other relatives he was shipped around to) raised him.

    TJ  |  October 21st, 2009 at 9:47 am

  • My mother stayed home until I was ten and my sister was eight. Then she changed careers and went into real estate.

    I work. Currently half time (my daughter is nearly four), but for her first two years I was a full -timer. If it wasn’t for the joint custody (which is to say, if she was with me full-time, rather than half) I think I would work more and have less guilt about packing in as much time as possible with her every moment she is with me.

    Half time is hard duty. Really, there is no such thing as half time expectations so I wind up packing in full time ideals into a frustrating half time /half size nonprofit package and then still having a full time home life to deal with when I am there the other half of the time. Also, I am in graduate school, halftime.

    If I worked full time and could afford it, I would buy some help at home.

    If I were to have another baby, I would want to stay home longer than I did before (six weeks, working a little from home), but I wouldn’t want to drop out of the adult world completely. I think that it is good for my daughter to see that everyone works. I think that it is important for her to have a full spectrum of options as she looks around the world and makes choices for her own future.

    Susanna  |  October 21st, 2009 at 9:51 am

  • I work because I have to. Since so many homes are “two income” now, the market has adjusted accordingly. Most women don’t even get to “make the choice to stay home”. They have to. My mom working when I was a kid has nothing to do with my working now.
    P.S. it sucks :(

    marcoda  |  October 21st, 2009 at 9:56 am

  • That is true. My mother stayed home because she could. Its hardly a ‘choice’ now.

    Susanna  |  October 21st, 2009 at 9:58 am

  • My mom had her own gourmet dessert business while we were growing up, so she could be home during the day & when we got home from school. I always assumed that I’d be a stay at home mom when I have kids, but given todays economy & my career…not to mention the ideals of my Boyfriend who will hopefully someday be my husband, I don’t know how I COULD be a SAHM. I may choose a different career path once I have kids that will allow for a more flexible schedule, but I just don’t know how else it could work, other than both of us working.

    But I digress…still at least a few years away from having to make that decision, and then, well, we just might win the lottery before that, so score for us!!

    Maggie  |  October 21st, 2009 at 10:13 am

  • These are such great questions, Leah. My mom did work, but not until both my sister and I were in school — and then she went to work AT our school, so I never thought of it as a “career,” just as her way of staying close to us. (Not that she wasn’t a good teacher/librarian - she was.) In fact I’ve never asked her the question — did she want to work, or did she “have” to? I think she just wanted to be involved.

    It didn’t mold me to think one way or the other. I didn’t grow up thinking women were “supposed” to work. The opposite, in fact — I always presumed I’d stay home with my kids at least until they were in school.

    I was wrong; like marcoda said, the market has adjusted so you can’t easily have a nice house in the suburbs without that second income. Unless your first income is pretty hefty, I guess, which ours is not.

    I HOPE that I’ll be a good example for my kids, that a woman can work outside the home successfully. I try to remember that when my attitude turns to “this sucks,” instead of “this is how it is (and it’s a good life).” Full disclosure: more often than not, I feel like it kinda sucks.

    Lee  |  October 21st, 2009 at 10:22 am

  • So far, several of you have said that you work because you have to. I’m in the same boat–we NEED to be a two-income family at this point–but although I’ll admit it’s frustrating that I don’t have much choice in the matter, I do know that if I DID have a choice, I’d still want to work. Maybe not as much, or maybe with a different set of expectations, but to me working is an important part of my identity, and I truly believe I’d be a lesser mother if I stayed home all day every day.

    Anyone else out there feel that way? That while it sucks to know you don’t have a choice to work, if you WERE given the choice, you’d choose to work anyway? (I hope that makes sense!)

    Leah K  |  October 21st, 2009 at 10:22 am

  • I think I posted about this in another workitmom blog a while ago, but yes…my mother worked. My grandmother and my great-grandmother, along with my Oma (grandmother on Dad’s side) and both of my great aunts also worked. My aunt by marriage on my maternal side worked. I had no other relatives on my father’s side. All of my adult cousins worked too.

    All but one of my friends growing up were products of two-parent, working families. One and only one had a SAHM.

    FWIW - I’ll be 35 in March, so this was in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. I remember my aunts’ retirements, as well as my grandmother’s.

    We were not blue collar or poor. As far as I ever knew, working was what parents did, regardless of gender, to pay the bills…and because they wanted to, as well. No one in my family was in a career path not of their choosing.

    My mother, at almost 62, still works with no desire to retire. My father, however, retired years ago (he’s 2 years older than she is).

    All I ever knew was that bills were adult things that required payment and payment could only come from an income and no one ever told me then that women weren’t supposed to provide an income for their families too.

    My decision to work after becoming a mother wasn’t a decision at all. I never even thought about not working. The reason DH is a SAHF is purely financial - he made less and we couldn’t afford daycare with two incomes, but we could afford for him to stay home with my income (though it’s tight as hell, I’ll admit to that).

    I guess I’m just really confused as to why, after all of these years and with women graduating college and pursuing their career dreams every day, it baffles me as to why we, collectively, as mothers, even think about these things. Some stay home because they want to, some work because they have to - and vice versa.

    Phe  |  October 21st, 2009 at 10:30 am

  • Totally relate to what you are saying. I grew up in family where it was the 3 of us and my mom had to do it alone. My dad did not support us and constantly skipped paying his child support, until he eventually skipped the country, moving to the states. She is still putting her fingers to the grindstone and ran several small businesses over the years to earn extra. Her days were long but she is a survivor and both my younger brother and sister are completing their degrees now.

    I am always proud of the fact that she got us through and inherited her love for work, although sometimes I wish I hadn’t. That I could be one of those moms whose only duty is to her children. At the same time feel that part of my duty as a mom is to work. Its a confusing topic for me. I often feel bad having to work late and over weekends. I run my own company and juggling family and work is not easy to say the least…

    So to answer your questions,
    Having a mother who worked definitely influenced my decision to keep on working. My hubby’s mom is a writer, a real night owl, she is wonderful like that and I suppose he is comfortable with me working because that is how he grew up. I do think that I am sending my daughter an incredibly powerful message and hopefully teaching her the value of perseverance and self discipline. Teaching her that as a women there are no boundaries to possibility or choice for her future.

    Muthablogga  |  October 21st, 2009 at 10:36 am

  • Phe–I think we think about it because although some people grow up assuming everyone works, there’s still a chunk of society that (a) thinks SAHMs are the norm and/or (b) believes women belong in the home and they shouldn’t have a choice about it. For a lot of people–maybe especially those who weren’t raised by working moms–the decision (or non-decision) to work or not isn’t just a matter of course but a topic of serious debate, and for reasons that go beyond simple financial necessity.

    You’re right that a simple way to look at it is “Some stay home because they want to, some work because they have to–and vice versa,” but I think that overlooks the factor of how satisfied we are within that dichotomy. So many of us are not 100 percent happy with our work situations, and that alone means it’s something we’ll continue to think about (and want to discuss in forums like this).

    Leah K  |  October 21st, 2009 at 10:47 am

  • My mom worked all of my life, some part-time, some full-time. She feels if they’d been able to do it financially, her best was when she taught at the university. She had two full days home with me and could pick me up from daycare early one of the other three.
    But once she was facing a second child, and soon after that a divorce, she had to leave that and return to a job that provided steady benefits even if it also meant some travel and overnights at a babysitter’s for us. I think she still feels somewhat guilty about it and that is why she babysits my sister’s kids so often; it is something she wished her mom would have done more often for her.
    Since my daughter’s father called it quits BEFORE she was born, I knew I would have to work, but after those 1st 3 months at home, I’m not sure things would be better if I didn’t work. Like my mother, an ideal job, if I could swing it financially, would allow me to work, say 2 long days a week and three short ones (school hours). Before the economy tanked I was looking into seeing if I could do 4 days instead of 5 or 3 full days and 2 half days. May try again when things stabilize.

    Mich  |  October 21st, 2009 at 10:47 am

  • My mother worked and I think it influenced me a lot. Without her working we could have gotten along, but it did help our family afford a reasonable lifestyle. I think it also took a lot of pressure off my dad.

    I have two daughters and I would like for them to be able to find jobs for themselves when they grow up. I have nothing against stay at home moms and wont be sad if they choose to be that way. But atleast I would like for them to try.

    Lakshmi  |  October 21st, 2009 at 11:32 am

  • Leah, I work because I want to. I mean I don’t ALWAYS want to drag my sorry butt out of bed in the morning after a few hours of sleep, but I want to be who I am, and who I am is an active partner in a professional business.

    Because of the way taxes work for small business owners, I actually net very little cash after tax and daycare. I have enough savings that I could live without working, at least until my kids were in primary school. My choice to work and put my kids in “daycare” is not financially driven at all.

    At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I also believe most moms who feel they “have to work” really wouldn’t “have to” if they were willing to make tough choices. My step-niece has a young, uneducated, blue-collar husband and two young sons. Yet she does not need to work and doesn’t choose to. No, they don’t live fancy, but they are healthy and have all that they need. I guess you could say she and I are on opposite ends of the spectrum, and both of our choices are valid.

    My parents’ finances were very poor before my mom went to work, but she was a master at stretching pennies. She used other people’s castoffs to make clothes, curtains, baby linens, etc. She could feed a family on a lot less than what the government thought poor families ought to receive in food stamps. But she went to work one day when she was feeling very disrespected by my dad. Some time later, my parents went into business together (I was a year old then, her #3, and my mom was pregnant with #4). My mom ran the books and such while my dad did contract repair work. They couldn’t afford child care, so my mom did her work whenever it was feasible with us hanging around. About 6 years later, they closed the business and my mom went to work in an office 4 days a week.

    Although my mom never said so, I always assumed that she worked because we needed the money. One day she confided that the real reason she worked was to save her sanity (by then she had 6 kids and she declared she’d kill them all if she had to be in the house all day). For her, even in those days, sitting home and being basically a servant to her husband and children was too frustrating. I guess these feelings might have rubbed off on me.

    I’m glad my mom told me the real reason she worked, because then I knew that moms make choices that are best for everyone. Being a woman/ wife/ mom isn’t all about sacrifice. It doesn’t mean no longer being a person in your own right. This is what I want my kids to know as well.

    SKL  |  October 21st, 2009 at 11:33 am

  • My mom was a stay-at-home mom, except for a few years (maybe K-2) when she worked outside of the home two days a week. She did do a lot of volunteer work once my sister and I were both in school. My mom says that she enjoyed being a stay-at-home mom but wishes that she had gone back to work at some point so that she could be more independent. I don’t think she means that all stay-at-home moms are dependent on their spouses, just that she felt that way for a number of personal reasons.

    I think that my mom’s reasoning on why she wishes she had worked outside of the home did influence my decision to continue to work after having a baby.

    -R-  |  October 21st, 2009 at 12:43 pm

  • Fantastic blog! My mother had a part-time antique business and would homeschool me from her quiet shop until age 7. I can’t tell you the good memories that were forever impressed on me.

    When I did go to school my mother instantly went back to finish her undergrad, then her masters. Finally, by her 50’s she was a teacher in a private school part-time for “fun”. She did this to accomplish a dream.

    It took me several years to get over her “dumping” me though.

    My grandmother also proudly worked many jobs as a reporter and so forth. She did it all in the name of freedom.

    Me, I’m a stay-at-home mom not able to resist the pull of learning as much as I can and turning it into a part-time business.

    Yes, I think I was influenced positively!

    TLyn  |  October 21st, 2009 at 6:38 pm

  • I have been a “working mom” since my first was a tiny babe. One of the reasons I worked was because my mother used to have to ask my dad for money and I vowed I would never be in that situation. My dad would sometimes withhold money to feel like he was in charge (when he really wasn’t because he was not at home = traveling salesman). When my mom went to work she controlled the money and we always had food on the table instead of just strawberries.
    The other reason I went back to work was so their Daddy had the opportunity to change diapers, take them to McDonalds without Mom being around, give them baths at the end of the play day, and read them stories at bedtime. These times helped them form the connection they have today.

    I also can’t imagine a life without my own money to spend as I want. Today I bought a house with it :)

    midj  |  October 21st, 2009 at 10:44 pm

  • Leah K - Thank you for that. I do know people (men and women both) who don’t think that women should work. I also know women who don’t want to work OR have kids.

    I suppose I always thought of your examples as more of an overall women’s issue rather than an issue that affects only mothers which is probably where my confusion lay. : )

    Phe  |  October 22nd, 2009 at 2:46 am

  • I haven’t gotten to read every comment, but I’m in the have-to-but-would-anyway boat. I have to work, definitely, without question, but I am a much better mother because I do, that’s for sure. I know I’m the best mom I can be because of the unique situation we are in — every mother’s situation is unique, right?, no matter if they work or not. It works for us, and I’m happy. There isn’t much of a choice — we do what we HAVE to do first and foremost — but if our financial situation changed (lottery, COME ON), I’d still insist on working in some capacity, definitely.

    Jennie  |  October 22nd, 2009 at 10:10 am

  • We discussed this in my PEPS group, were 90% of us are working moms. There were some interesting results, mostly pertaining to the guilt about being a working mom. Those of us whose mothers did work when we were kids (me, for example) felt much less guilt, if any, about being a working mom now. The women whose mothers were at home when they were growing up felt much worse about returning to work.

    Lauren  |  October 22nd, 2009 at 10:19 am

  • Lauren,
    I think that it’s interesting that you brought out the fact that those of us who had working moms felt less guilt about working than those of us who had moms who didn’t work. Could it be guilt by association (or disassociation) perchance?

    I come from a LONG line of working moms, so to be one, and NOT have said guilt is perfectly normal. My mom was a teacher, my paternal grandmother a merchant (who, btw, had 13 kids [11 grew to maturity] . Her mom was also a merchant as well, as was her mom. So, you see, working moms in my family is the norm, not the exception. Actually, when I look back at the times and location the women grew up in and raised their families, it totally amazes me that they were well ahead of their time. Yet they had the gumption NOT to be tied down to the same tired old lines that people tried to use to keep women from reaching their fullest potential.

    I guess I’m at that point of my life where. when I look back on what all I’ve been thru, I keep thinking that I’ve got so much more to do before it all stops.

    Jane  |  October 22nd, 2009 at 2:02 pm

  • Reading about so many women whose female ancestors for multiple generations worked, I wonder if the reality of the history of working / non-working moms bears any resemblance to how people currently view the “good old days.” My family was like that too - not only did my mom work, but both of my grandmothers did (they both had 4 kids); my maternal great-grandmother ran a store; and who knows how many others. We tend to think of working moms as a recent phenomenon, but is that just a misconception? Were the 50’s - 70’s an anomaly? One of the last chapters of Proverbs talks about the virtues of a working mom. Certainly the many of the “cottage industries” throughout history were run by women, along with plenty of heavy farm work which would today be classified as “working.” Now I’m beginning to wonder if there are a significant % of women who actually come from a long line of SAHMs (leaving out chronically impoverished or dysfunctional families).

    SKL  |  October 22nd, 2009 at 6:42 pm

  • SKL,
    You bring up a good point. When you look at it, particularly in the time frame you’re speaking of (and we both are talking about), you have to remember that women very often took some sort of job to help out the family during the 20s/30s (the Depression), in the 40s (during WWII) and the 50s (Korea). Then when men came home from the wars, suddenly we weren’t good enough. But the seed had been sown and that’s why, in the 60s, after Vietnam, the women’s movement, regardless of how you look at it, took hold and we haven’t looked back.

    Also, when I see complaints about women working and the “good old days”, I find it higly ironic that the majority of the complainers are MEN. I’d be willing to bet you $ to donuts that if somebody asked their wives (if there were any involved), that the women involved would not be so kind in their views about the “good old days”.

    I can very vividly remember an older man griping about this very topic one day I was riding the bus home from work last year. A woman, not much younger than him simply looked at him and said something about not living in the past, but learn to live in the now and for the future. You could see the disgust on his face. But you know, she was right. Very often times, the “good old days” weren’t so good when you really look at them. They were only “good” to those who couldn’t, and can’t, see past 2 inches in front of their own nose. Life, and time, stops for no one. You either learn to adapt, or you get left behind.

    Jane  |  October 22nd, 2009 at 9:45 pm

  • No one’s said this explicitly, but do you think that after all those decades of women having to work because of war or economic issues it then became a sign of stability and financial/social achievement for women to be able to stay at home? Was it a badge of honor then in a way that it isn’t always now?

    Leah  |  October 22nd, 2009 at 9:50 pm

  • “Badge of honor”?

    No, if you really look at it, I don’t think so. In the 40s, from what I got from my late mother, there was resentment from the women who got pushed aside. I mean, these were women who went into the factories, and other jobs, were trained workers, and then suddenly, poof! They were told, “Thanks, sweetie, but the man’s back and you can take your butt and go home to where you belong.” It was, you’re here when we need you, but now, you can leave.

    It was because they had no other CHOICE. My mom, who was a teacher (aka as a woman’s profession back then), wasn’t held down, even tho she held a college degree and my dad, a coal miner, only had an 8th grade education. His sisters ALL had college degrees, and only 2 of the 5 brothers did. My grandmother, tho she didn’t have but a HS education, had decreed that NONE of her daughters would have to be dependent upon a man for her livelihood, that they could support themselves.

    I wonder how many on this board can remember the days of not only segregated want ads - segragated by race AND by gender. I dare say, not a lot of you. But see, I do, Want ads that blatently stated in the header, “for men”, or “for women”. For the attorneys present, look into your state laws as to how long ago it was before laws were struck down that deemed maritial rape totally legal, or that a wife was more or less looked on as property (not in those exact words, but the viewpoint was similar).

    So, IMHO, it was no badge of honor, but an affirmation that we were considered less than a man, therefore our place was ONLY at home.

    Call me a feminist if you want, but I guess I come from a LONG LONG line of them and wear that badge of honor proudly, along side the one that says MOTHER.

    Jane  |  October 23rd, 2009 at 2:31 am

  • Although I think I would work no matter what for a variety of reasons, I am in that rare case where I think the fact that my Mother didn’t work is definitely one of those intangible reasons. I was born in 66 and as I was growing up a lot of my friends mothers worked in some way or another - some part time, some careers, some volunteer, etc. My mother did not - not one single paying job or volunteer position. She married a man with 4 kids (they were teenagers at the time) and had two more with him. The older four were gone from the house by the time I was in 7th grade (my brother 8th grade) - but in the years before that the older kids took care of us *alot*. Still didn’t work once they were gone and we were in school. She is now 79 and never held a job or did anything after getting pregnant with my brother 44 years ago. I wish I could say that we had a Martha Stewart like home as the benefit, but we didn’t. House was always messy, she cooked (but nothing very good or interesting), did no crafts or home improvement/design whatsoever and watched about 4 soap operas a day and another 4 hours of TV a night. I sat out on many trips and activities that my friends went on as we could not afford it (camp, weekend or weeklong school trips, etc). Plus (it is hard to say but it is the truth), but I also never had any very stimulating conversations with her as she basically did nothing all day. I know a lot of stay at home Moms who I respect for their choice, but at 43 I had to get past a lot of biased opinion that developed from my own Mother who set for me an example of a stay at home Mom who literally did that - stayed at home - and not much else.

    Diane Feirman  |  October 23rd, 2009 at 6:46 am

  • My mom always worked. Her mom also worked, but her dad died when she was 14, so I’m not sure if she started working because she had to, but she continued to work and volunteer beyond the point where she needed to financially. I guess I knew kids whose moms didn’t work, but it always seemed the norm for both parents to work. I always wanted to have a career, and even though the first few days back from maternity leave were hard, I looked forward to returning to my job and my coworkers. And I don’t feel guilty about not wanting to be a SAHM. I think a slightly shorter workweek (either 4 days, or fewer hours over 5 days) would be nice, but otherwise I’m happy with our situation.

    slm724  |  October 23rd, 2009 at 10:17 am

  • Jane–About it being a “badge of honor,” I guess I was thinking specifically about how society as a whole (or even just men exclusively?) thought about women working in that earlier era. I know for many people, even today, when a mother stays home it’s a symbol that the man makes enough money to support his family all by himself; hence, for some people, mothers who HAVE to work outside the home can be an embarrassment because it’s an admission of financial need. Obviously that’s not the case for so many of us who WANT to work regardless of need, but I know there are a lot of people–entire communities, actually (and I grew up in a very conservative religious one for whom this is largely true), where having a mother at home full time IS a badge of honor.

    I think this is one of those things that, like breastfeeding, has flip-flopped between classes over the years. It used to be lower-class mothers who breastfed and middle- and upper-class women who used formula, and now it’s the other way around. I think the same thing has happened with working moms, albeit in different areas and at different times and for different reasons.

    Leah  |  October 23rd, 2009 at 10:55 am

  • My mother always worked but we stayed with our grandmother who did not. I have also worked since the time I was 14 and have always taken pride in receiving a paycheck and being able to take care of myself. I don’t think that it was my mom that influenced this though. I think it was actually the fact that my dad made a considerable amount more than my mom and dictated how all of the money in our house was spent that made me want to work and have my own money. My dad controlled everything down to the thermostat in the house - because he said that he paid for it. Didn’t matter if the rest of us were uncomfortable or shivering. If we were thirsty and on the go, we were only allowed to drink from the water fountains because he did not want to pay for drinks. This would be understandable if we had no money but my dad made a very, very good salary, he was just overly frugal. Luckily, my moms paycheck was solely to buy groceries and anything that we might need - and the key word is NEED because her pay was very meager. So, I did anything and everything I could to make money from the time I was young - yard sales, lemonade stands, babysitting, anything to make a buck so I could be comfortable. I never want to be in any position where any man will dictate what temperature my home will be - for monetery purposes only - or tell me I have to drink from the fountain, or my Halloween costume can only be completely homemade. I also want my kids to see that women can work too and can have equal say in how the house is run.

    Oceans Mom  |  October 23rd, 2009 at 11:52 am

  • Regarding the point about having a family history of working mothers - I come from a long line of farmers on both sides of the family. If you asked many people, even the women themselves, most of them would say the women in my family “stayed home” (at least until they were widowed in one grandmother’s case and until the kids were in school in my mother’s case). However, in all cases farm women worked relentless hours and did many activities that contributed to the household income, in addition to caring for the home and large families. Sure, they “stayed home,” but technically so did the men who worked on farms, too. Looking through this lens, no wonder I have issues drawing lines between work and personal life. I come from a long line of people for whom they were one in the same … and they seemed pretty happy that way. Food for thought.

    Molly  |  October 23rd, 2009 at 12:20 pm

  • “Jane–About it being a “badge of honor,” I guess I was thinking specifically about how society as a whole (or even just men exclusively?) thought about women working in that earlier era. I know for many people, even today, when a mother stays home it’s a symbol that the man makes enough money to support his family all by himself; hence, for some people, mothers who HAVE to work outside the home can be an embarrassment because it’s an admission of financial need. Obviously that’s not the case for so many of us who WANT to work regardless of need, but I know there are a lot of people–entire communities, actually (and I grew up in a very conservative religious one for whom this is largely true), where having a mother at home full time IS a badge of honor.”

    Ok, I guess because of where I grew up and the family I grew up in, most of my aunts (who were married and had kids, btw, as well as working husbands) would have said that most of those people, who consider working women an enbarassment, need to grow up and get a life. While it may be a cultural or religious issue in some places, the truth of the matter is that the world nowadays simply doesn’t have time nor patience for a macho ego. And quite frankly that’s exactly what it is.

    NBC did an article on the fact that the economic picture of families have turned around due to the recession. More men than ever are now NOT the breadwinner. Some are having a problem, while a lot are not. My own hubby has often told me that if I had a job that allowed HIM to stay home, he most certainly would. Had it not been for the fact that he was unemployed last year, the fact that he had an entire year with our daughter during her senior year, could voluteer as Guard Dad and chaperone for many of the band trips and class trips (schools are always wanting for fathers to chaperone, btw, cause they need males to handle the guys), was was absolutely up his alley. Before, with him being a retail manager and working 60+ hrs/wk, 6 days a week, that simply wasn’t possible. But last year is something he has ultimately looked on as a gift and trying to make up for all the time he couldn’t. And she loved it.

    It’s interesting to note that most of the condemnation I’ve ever gotten from SAHMs were from women who could afford NOT to work. IOW, hubby make 6 figures and they flaunted it in our faces. I will respect any woman who makes the conscious decision to stay home because that’s what she wants to do, regardless of socio-economics. The ones I really respect are those who truely make a financial sacricifice. The others, from my experience, get self-rightouse(?) and self-absorbed.

    My family has worked, not because they wanted to, but because it was necessary to live. So, for some person to consider it an embarassement is just plain downright dumb, imho, and people like that really do need to grow up. As I’ve told my daughter many time when she has, on occassions, whined about how unfair life is, “The world will NOT stop changing because you want it to. You either learn how to live in it, or you will get run over by those who do.”

    Same applies to this situation. I apologize if I’m being a bit blunt, but I frankly have no patience for macho egos or anything similiar.

    Jane  |  October 23rd, 2009 at 2:10 pm

  • Leah,
    I wanted to add something to my last post. Believe me, I do know about being raised in a conservative areal. I’m originally from the tip of the Bible Belt, so far back up in the hills that in the winter, we don’t see the sun til noon and then it’s gone about 2 hr. later That said, we have a LOT of very conservative churches that are off-shoots of mainstream ones. In fact, just over the line, in Jolo, WVa, there’s a conservative one that handles snakes. They take VERY literally a verse in the Book of Mark that says that IF you have enough faith, you can take up the serpent and drink poison and it won’t hurt you. In fact, I did a research paper on it and the 1st Amendment/Freedom of Religion for my Constitutional Law class when I was at Va. Tech. Yeah, hill people are just a bit strange…I’ll grant you that. Anothre church that I know of ‘excommunicated’ the mother of a high school friend of mine because she cut her hair and wore some makeup after she decided to end her mouring period for her late husband (who had been killed in a mine accident).

    We had a young minister at our little Presbyterian church who made his wife stop taking piano lessons after she had their baby. Why? Because he deemed it HER duty to look after the child, not his and piano lessons interferred with this. On Mother’s Day in 1974, his sermon was that women should ALWAYS be subservient to men and that their place was in the home, and no where else.

    Needless to say, considering that most of the congregation were wives/mothers who also were working women (mostly teachers, including my mother), he didn’t last very long after that. My aunt, the head elder in the church, gave him his walking papers within a couple of weeks. BTW, I walked out on his sermon, and startled my parents by doing it. Mom said later that she had no idea he was that much of an idiot (her words, not mine).

    I fully understand that there are some cultures and religions that haven’t advanced to understanding that women are NOT second place. Maybe one of these days, they’ll catch up and come into the 21st or 22nd Century with the rest of us.

    Jane  |  October 23rd, 2009 at 4:05 pm

  • My mother worked from the time I was 3 months old and is still working today. Her work has always been more important than being home with me. I had babysitter, daycare, a housekeeper etc. When I got sick, she called my grandparents to pick me up at school. Did this shape how I work now with my kids? Of course.

    My husband and I own a business and I work from home. I put in a lot of long hours but I’m always there for my kids. We’re home afterschool, available for field trips and can run a forgotten lunch to the school when necessary. My mother putting her career in front of her family is what shaped my desire to be around for my kids.

    I love my work and would probably go crazy without it but…I love my kids more so the balance was important to me.

    Jenn  |  October 24th, 2009 at 7:31 am

  • As someone who doesn’t live in the US (I live in Sweden) I wonder how much of this decision is also related to daycare access or the lack thereof. In Sweden pretty much all parents work and daycare is readily available, of high quality, and cheap (around $150 a month, it’s tax subsided). So going back to work is less of a hassle to us than in many other countries. And we don’t have to weigh daycare expenses vs job income.

    I think it’s important to have solutions that makes the work/parenting act easier on the parents. Though that said, as someone who has always worked full time with kids for 10 years, it’s never easy!

    Johanna  |  October 25th, 2009 at 1:19 pm

  • My mother was single with 2 children and minimal child support. She had to work, including several week-long out of town trips a year. I vividly recall her missing my birthday because of one of those trips. We all lived with my grandparents and Grandma didn’t work. A lot of the time when Mom got home from work she sat on the couch and watched TV and I only got her attention during commercials. I resented her for that. I wanted more time from her than what I got. Of course now I realize that after 40 hours a week at a stressful job, she needed the down time. When I moved out, at 18, of course I had to work. I didn’t realize that I wanted to be a SAHM until after my daughter was born. And of course, by then, it was too late. We were locked into needing 2 paychecks. I had the opportunity to stay home twice for short periods of time, and loved it. DD #2 is due in March, and now we are exploring the option of me staying home, because my check would only cover daycare and health insurance. But hubby will have to work a full time and part time job for us to remotely survive. And I will probably have to babysit at least one child full time to cover a private health insurance policy for the kids and probably a part time job for groceries.
    I want my daughters to go on to college (unlike me) or at least some kind of skilled training so that they have the earning potential that I do not. But I also want them to realize that when they have children, they may not want to work. So when they settle down with someone, it needs to be discussed, and if at all possible, prepared for. I want them to have the option to make the choice.
    BTW, My Mom told me that if she had stayed married, and if she would’ve had the choice, she would’ve stayed home and had 10 kids. That was her true desire. Grandma had no regrets, ever, about being a SAHM. My sister is a single mom who would not want to stay home unless she had a millionaire hubby and she could shop all day. She tells her daughter constantly to go to college so she won’t have to depend on a man to take care of her.

    Erica  |  October 26th, 2009 at 8:48 am

  • “She tells her daughter constantly to go to college so she won’t have to depend on a man to take care of her.”

    Your sister most defintely has the right idea. Let’s home her daughter heeds that very WISE advise. Regardless of anything else your sis might say or do, that is over and above the smartest thing she could say to her.

    Jane  |  October 26th, 2009 at 9:07 am

  • This would be a really interesting poll topic: what percentage of the working moms here had moms who worked?

    Mich  |  October 26th, 2009 at 2:31 pm

  • My mom stayed home–and HATED it. It’s not that she didn’t like being a mom, but she was only involved as a mom as a teacher. She never played with us. I don’t think she knew how to play.

    She went to work part-time the minute I started high school, and full-time when I went to college.

    My whole childhood, she kept telling me that I had opportunities she didn’t, that I could grow up to be ANYTHING I wanted to be.

    With her encouragement, I did just that. I wanted to be a violinist in a major symphony orchestra, and I made sure I accomplished my career goals before I even thought of dating seriously, let alone getting married.

    What I learned much, much later, is that yes, I can be anything I want to be–at a huge cost. Balancing career and family (hubby plus 3 kids) is more difficult than I ever imagined, especially as for some crazy reason, I like being far more involved with my kids than my mother was with me. Not that she wasn’t a great mom, just that my style is very different from hers.

    Times are different, though, too. Even though I work full-time, I was able to nurse all three kids for at least 2 years each,. My mother was told by her doctor (way back then) how much better formula was.
    While I am not able to homeschool, I can do a lot of home-supplementing of school. My kids always came with me on tours as babies, toddlers, and even into primary school years.

    It’s interesting to think that if I had grown up with a mother who had such a different parenting style–say, one who played with us, and homeschooled, etc., I might have made some very different choices in life. I would probably have married at a much, much younger age, stayed home with the kids full-time, and had a much easier time as a younger mom.

    And professionally, I probably would never have achieved anything close to what I have.

    I’m really glad it worked out the way it did. I can’t help wondering, though, what thoughts and values my own children, especially my daughter, will take with them when they become parents.

    Taximom  |  October 26th, 2009 at 5:12 pm

  • I definitely think that having daughters go to college, start a business or learn how to make money is one of the most important things that we can teach them. Women should never have to be dependant on a man. Even if you meet the most wonderful man in the world, if he is does not have a ton of money, you could always be left with nothing should anything happen to him. I have a friend who had three kids, never worked a day in her life as the first one was born when she was 18. She never managed money or knew anything about finances, she only cooked, cleaned and managed the kids - which is hard work, don’t get me wrong. But at the age of 28, her husband was in a terrible car accident and was killed. they had no life insurance, no savings and she had no means to support herself and her children. Her friends threw a fundraiser to get her through a few months of expenses. She remarried one of her husband’s friends a little over a year later (no she hadn’t been having an affair with him prior!). But basically, with no job experience, three kids and money running out, what other choice did she have? I’m sure she loves her new husband but the situation is bad enough as it is, why add lack of financial and working knowledge to the picture?

    Oceans Mom  |  October 27th, 2009 at 6:09 am

  • Oceans Mom,
    You bring up a VERY good point and something that ALL women, regardless of socio-economic status, needs to heed. A lot of women like your friend do not understand that when something like that happens, they are left desitute, with absolutely NOTHING. It’s not only those in the low income status that this sometimes happens to, either. I’ve known women, whose husband literally worked all their lives, and their wives stayed home with the kids and never worked a day, nor had any marketable skills, suddenly have to face the cruel world of reality when hubby dies. They, too, have never handled money nor managed a thing because hubby did it all. They don’t know how to even balance the checkbook. Why? Because hubby paid the bills and “took care of them”.

    What hubby DIDN’T do was prepare the wife for the realities of life. They lived in a fantasy world. A LOT of my late MIL’s widowed friends were just like that. Looking back, I really felt sorry for them because they had no way to deal with reality.

    It’s one thing to make the choice to be a SAHM. It’s completely another to remain, imho, totally ignorant of the world around you and not have some kind of marketable skills. No mother, in this day and time, should EVER be guilty of allowing her daughter to be the 2nd. To me, that is absolutely unthinkable and unconsciousable.

    We owe it to our children to be their role model. That means showing them how to be a responsible adult. And that also means how to standi on their own 2 feet, and to not do so is irresponsible. IMHO.

    Jane  |  October 27th, 2009 at 5:25 pm

  • Jane, you care correct! It can happen to anyone in any socioeconmic or age group. I just remembered a customer that we had about a year ago in her 50’s. Her husband had a business that did very well and he died suddenly and we had to try to sell her house quickly as he had not saved any money for this purpose or had life insurance. She did not know the first thing about his business so the business went under and she was destitue. She went from living very well to nothing very quickly. It is a scary thing to have no knowledge about financial matters in a world where you need this to survive.

    Oceans Mom  |  October 28th, 2009 at 5:53 am

  • Oceans Mom,
    One also has to remember that death isn’t the only factor in a woman getting left in that way. Divorce is another way it can happen.

    Many MANY moons ago, back in the early 70s, my parents and I used to go to Daytona Beach every 4th of July. We used to stay at a little effiencency motel a block off the beach. The place only had about 8 or 10 units at most. Once summer, there was a lady, probably in her 40s, that had her teenage son and daughter with her. They were staying in one of the units. Mom struck up a conversation with her one day when she saw her sitting outside in the small courtyard, working with a court reporter transcription machine. Turns out, the lady was practicing and told mom that she was taking classes to become a court reporter.

    She also told mom that she had been a SAHM from the time she and her ex had gotten married, which was shortly after high school. He went on to college (paid for by his parents) and then grad school. She stayed home and NEVER worked outside, cause that’s “what a woman were supposed to do”. After all, her husband would support the family.

    Well, guess what? He found another woman, she told mom, who had a degree, and was smarter and more interesting than she was. All she had ever done was take care of the kids, keep house, and volunteer at the school functions. He’d paid the bills, gave her an allowance, etc. After all, that’s what husbands do, she said.

    She got left with the house and no money, both kids, and no skills. For the 1st time, she had to go out and get a job and she didn’t know how to do anything. Now, mind you, this was the early 70s and “transferrable skills” wasn’t exactly known back then.

    Her comment to my mother was that she fully intended that her DAUGHTER would NEVER be faced with the fact of being so naieve or ignorant, if she could help it. She also told my mother that she couldn’t believe how blind and dumb she’d been all her life.

    At least she had the gumption to try to help herself. But this scenerio plays itself out, even now, and that’s VERY sad that women allow themselves to be so blind.

    Regardless of whether you make the decision to be a SAHM, WAHM, or WOTHM, be eternally thankful to those before you that you have that CHOICE. And make damn sure that you keep current so that God forbid something EVER happen, you’ll be able to stand on your own 2 feet and take care of yourself. That’s the role model we should be for our children, and particularly our daughters.

    Jane  |  October 29th, 2009 at 4:21 pm

  • My mom worked full time outside the home, as did her mother in the 50s and 60s. In fact, both were the primary bread winners in their families and are/were respected leaders at their jobs. I think having a mom and a very influential grandma who both worked while raising children did influence me. I think the fact that I admire and respect both of them so much–they are incredible women, and we all have a very close relationship–made them sort of my heroes and first major role models, so when I was a kid, I always thought that when I grew up I wanted to be like them. I hope my children get half the inspiration from me that I got from them.

    It also helps that they’ve both been so supportive of my decision to go back to work after baby. Both attempted to be SAHMs (my mother tried once, my grandmother tried twice), and both ended up back at work because they were deeply unhappy at home. I have always felt instinctively that I wouldn’t be happy at home (even before my mom and grandmother told me about their experiences), so hearing this from them really helped to give me confidence that I not only could be a good mom and work, but that I’d actually be a better mother because I was working.

    I think the final thing is that having a mom who worked–and her having a mom who worked–showed me firsthand that kids with working moms can be healthy, happy and successful, with great relationships with their mothers. When I read things that say that children of working mothers are somehow permanently damaged by their mothers’ choice, I only have to think about my own wonderful life and know that these things are simply untrue and not worth listening to.

    My husband’s mother is very progressive and was either in school full time or working when he was growing up (and is now the primary breadwinner in their family.) She had a huge impact on how my husband thinks about women, period, and I’m grateful every day for her influence. He’s very supportive of my going back to work.

    Katie  |  October 19th, 2011 at 10:09 pm

  • I beleive that I commented on this post a long time ago when it first came up. However, now my son is older, he’s 4, and he is able to speak pretty well. He said to me recently “When I’m older, I can work. Just like you!” He said this with a huge, proud grin on his face. More recently, he said “Mommy, when I grow up I want to work with you so that I can make money too. Would that be okay?” Although I am thinking in the back of my head that I would rather he have a more stable job than real estate sales, I smiled and said “Of course”. The point is that he is with me more than his dad, even though I also work full time, and he is proud and wants to work too. This is never a bad thing to instill in a child.

    Oceans Mom  |  October 21st, 2011 at 6:34 am

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