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?