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Does your family life suffer because you work?

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According to a new study out of Cambridge University, 62 percent of Americans say yes, up from 49% who thought so in 1994. In Britain, 54% of women and 58% of men believe that when a mom works it has a negative impact on family life.

My initial reaction was to get upset, naturally, that so many people feel this way. I then thought about our family life and started to get upset thinking that crap, this is probably true. I don’t cook enough, I don’t bake enough cookies, I am not there for all of my daughter’s school events, we don’t sit around the table each night having a family dinner because our work-schedules don’t allow for that.

And then I realized something: What suffers is not our family life, but some unrealistic, idealistic, and frankly, fairly outdated idea of family life that still persists in our society, and too often, in my head. You know, intricate homemade dinners every night, a super-clean house with a beautiful garden, and a stress-free mom who is there to take care of everyone’s needs, while finding time to work out and look great. I don’t know any working mom for whom this is the reality and if this the reality that the thousands of people who participated in the study expect, then yes, it suffers when a mom works.

My favorite part of the article about the study was the quote from the researcher who conducted it:

‘It is conceivable that opinions are shifting as the shine of the ’super-mum’ syndrome wears off, and the idea of women juggling high-powered careers while also baking cookies and reading bedtime stories is increasingly seen to be unrealizable by ordinary mortals.’

This is one of my favorite quotes in a very long time. Because, uh, duh, really, us mortals should give up the ridiculous idea of a super-mom? Finally.

Do you think that when a mom works family life is negatively impacted?

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18 comments so far...

  • Nataly,

    Totally agree with you.

    And the fact is very few at-home moms have that “perfect world” either. The at-home moms I know don’t have a home-cooked meal on the table every night. They’re stressed toting their kids to activities. They’re trying to do way more than they should because, well, they’re home.

    I’m not sure that “perfect world” ever existed except in someone’s imagination.

    I think to my own childhood. My mom was at home; my dad worked. We had bits of that fantasy — always a home-cooked meal — but I know my mom felt very powerless because she had no choice on what she did with her life.

    I’d rather my kids see me happy and empowered in a slightly dirty house with takeout for dinner.

    bloggingmom67  |  August 15th, 2008 at 9:58 am

  • I don’t feel like my family suffers but I do feel like my kids suffer. I am also a working mom who really wants to stay at home with my babies. I had a stay at home mom and I have wonderful memories of her. I feel like my kids are not going to have those memories of me becaues the 3 hours we have together at night are fighting to eat dinner, take baths and go to bed. When do we have quality time and those wonderful memories that my mom gave me.

    Nina  |  August 15th, 2008 at 10:37 am

  • I feel my working actually improves my family life. But then, I am very protective of the quality time I spend with my kids.

    I want my kids to grow up thinking of “work” as a positive thing. Chances are, they will have to do it someday, so they might as well see it as a good thing. Just like, in 1950, it was smart to teach girls to see cooking and cleaning for hubby as a good thing.

    I feel that the key to satisfaction - in home life or anything else - is feeling in control. Which we all are! It is our choice whether or not to go to work each day. We have so many alternatives. We need to be honest with ourselves. Feeling like a victim of our bosses, our husbands, our past finanial choices, etc., is also a choice. If we work because we’d prefer to be able to afford certain things rather than (a) go on public relief or (b) remove our kids from all their activities, shop at Goodwill, stop eating meat, cancel the cable, and cash in our kids’ education fund, that’s a choice we wilingly make. For most of us, it’s a good choice. So let’s either embrace our choices or change them. Then we can focus more positive energy on doing what’s best for our families. And, in the process, empower our daughters so they know they can make their own positive choices when the time comes.

    SKL  |  August 15th, 2008 at 11:23 am

  • I hate the idea of supermom too. I don’t think my family life suffers at all. Yes, if I stayed home I would cook and clean more. Right now my husband helps out a lot and is around. If I didn’t work he would work longer hours and we wouldn’t see him as often. I don’t think of that as better.

    Stacey S  |  August 15th, 2008 at 11:56 am

  • Yes, family life suffers. My two hour commute means that I’m often too tired to cook dinner. We don’t have the best adult social life–I’m the calendar keeper and my travel schedule means that when I’m home I don’t want to leave my kids with a babysitter. “Mommy no work” is already a phrase my two-year-olds know. Sigh.

    spacegeek  |  August 15th, 2008 at 12:20 pm

  • Great post and some great thoughts shared here.

    Some of the reasons here are why many women are looking for work at home opportunities.

    Nataly, you mentioned, that just because we work at home, doesn’t mean we have a meal on the table each night. That’s true.

    Whether you work at home our outside of the home, there are challenges.

    Working at home does allow for a more flexible schedule that you are in control of.

    And I involve my children as much as possible in my business. It’s truly a “family” business.

    But working at home is work and it’s hard work. It takes focus and consistency. But in the long run, it’s so worth it.

    Lisa Willard  |  August 15th, 2008 at 2:01 pm

  • My family would suffer more if I didn’t work.

    Lylah  |  August 15th, 2008 at 2:02 pm

  • Interesting. I actually wonder if it would be harder for me to work from home than to work at an office as I do.

    Yes, it would give me flexibility. But I think I’d have a hard to “turning off” work. I have that problem now since technology has allowed me to blog from home, check my work e-mail from home, twitter from home — things I do as part of my office job.

    So I really admire you moms who are able to balance working at home.

    bloggingmom67  |  August 15th, 2008 at 2:05 pm

  • SLK: exactly :)

    i think my family is better for it, but i also think it helps that my husband plays a huge role in making everything work.

    i find it interesting that it seems to always be up to mom to make sure everyone is happy. maybe the study should include the results of dad working/staying home affects the family.

    to me, the family as a whole has to decide what makes it happy and be involved in the choices. it’s not just mom! it’s dad and kids and, to some extent, the external family support system (extended family, daycare, schools!).

    Nataly - to your point, i agree that maybe the definition of the ideal is changing. personally, i think that is for the better :)

    kate  |  August 15th, 2008 at 11:04 pm

  • There’s always two ways to look at things. I think you’re right about the outdated way of thinking about a “good family life”. Why can’t a take-out dinner with your kids have just as much meaning as a home made meal? My children and I have shared many a memory in our minivan! Your time with your family is all in what you make it to be!

    BlapherMJ  |  August 15th, 2008 at 11:05 pm

  • The older my son gets, the more guilty I feel about working full-time. I want him to have those “great childhood memories” like I had. I actually arranged via sitters, my mom and taking three weeks off of work to have him stay home for 6 weeks this summer, so he could have a summer, instead of child care/camp/etc. I have the guilt that others mentioned about only having three hours of time each evening for my son. But you know, on the weekends, I make sure to spend time one-on-one with him doing what he wants to do - looking for frogs, building houses with blocks, etc. I find that sometimes my SAHM friends don’t do that, because they are always home, so they don’t focus as much on special time. And I do take him places, just the two of us, to have fun and unusual experiences - festivals, museums, the zoo, etc. I hope he will have the warm fuzzy “Mommy loves me” feeling the stems from his childhood.

    Candi  |  August 16th, 2008 at 11:41 pm

  • As a daughter of a working mom, looking back my life didn’t suffer because my mother worked outside the home. I never felt that I was being left behind or anything. My mother was always there for me and always knew what was going on in my life. My mother was a disciplinarian. All of my friends thought my mother was mean. Monday-Thursday was chores, and homework no TV. Friday-Saturday was playtime. Maybe I’ll understand when I become a mother but I really don’t understand this whole stay at home mom, working mom issue. I don’t understand why it is even an issue anyway. People should just mind their own business. I always thought that working to earn money for your children was part of the package of being a parent. I still feel that way. So, I don’t understand why someone should be made to feel guilty for doing that.

    hakeema  |  August 18th, 2008 at 10:43 am

  • If I didn’t work, we wouldn’t take family trips in our RV. We wouldn’t live in the nice 4 br house that’s a block from grandma. We wouldn’t have a trip to Disney planned for this fall. Oh, we also wouldn’t have gas, electric, water, and food. I don’t give a rat’s patootie if someone thinks I’m not giving my kids enough mama time & home baked goods, because I’m providing for their lives! Wish I could do it all, but I’d rather do the big stuff than the litlte stuff any day.

    ajb  |  August 18th, 2008 at 2:26 pm

  • When I was growing up, my parents were in constant financial distress, and I felt it acutely. Even though my mom worked, it was at my parent’s own business and the business failed. I knew they were worried about money, I heard their conversations, and I took that worry on myself from the time I was a very young child. I was only able to attend college because I got a full financial aid package, and I just finished paying off the loans in my late thirties. I will probably have to at least partially support my mom in her retirement - she’s still working at age 70 because she has no savings.

    My kids are growing up without the kind of concern for money I had - in fact, I’m taking them back to school shopping today on my day off, something I can only recall getting to do once as a child - and for this reason, I know that my income is improving my kids’ lives.

    rb  |  August 18th, 2008 at 3:11 pm

  • As a daughter of a mother who stayed home full time, I often wished my mother had had a career. Although I know she was content staying home and being a good wife, I can’t help but wonder if she would have been more fulfilled if she’d found her passion. I worry that my son misses me when I work but I feel more balanced when I come home. I also feel good about being able to pay the mortgage, buy groceries, provide health insurance, etc. It removes a lot of stress from our household.

    Christina  |  August 18th, 2008 at 9:48 pm

  • It is very comforting to read all of your posts. I am a working Mom. I have young children and am always wondering if everything will turn out ok in the end. The quote that I think about often when I am worried about not staying home is “The best thing you can do for you kids whether you work or stay at home is to come to terms with your choice”.

    Lana  |  August 20th, 2008 at 7:16 am

  • As one of my best friends would say, “Stop ’should’-ing all over yourself. It’s disgusting.” LOL.

    “Should” is my absolutely least favorite word. And the idea that anyone “should” be a super mom is, ironically, both a recent (historically speaking) and an antiquated notion.

    Robyn  |  August 20th, 2008 at 11:31 am

  • I’m currently working part time so that I can devote more time to my baby, but financially things are getting tight. I feel very conflicted right now. I would rather make sacrifices and be home with my baby, but at the same time I worry … It’s not just about giving up manicures and dinners out. The cost of living is rising rapidly and I don’t want to just be crossing my fingers that no unforeseen circumstances arise (i.e. broken vehicles, leaky roof, etc.) …

    Jen  |  August 21st, 2008 at 2:17 am