Are You Cheating
Your Kids?

In this installment of Tough Love, blogger Jessica Gottlieb offers her opinion about moms who choose to work outside of the home.

tough love

Working mom with blackberry

Tough love with Jessica Gottlieb

The question

What do you think about women with children who work because they want to, but not because they have to? I'm having a pretty serious ongoing "discussion" about this with my sister-in-law, who says that I'm cheating my kids out of a mom because I'm too wrapped up in my career aspirations even though my husband makes "plenty of money." Is she right? I'm starting to doubt myself. And if she's not, how can I explain my position without simply telling her to butt out?

Jessica answers:

Selfish or not?

I'll be the first one to say that you can't have it all. Is it selfish for women to work who don't need to? Yes. Without a doubt.

Is it selfish that I play tennis a few days a week, and yoga when it's cold? Absolutely.

Is selfish always bad? No, but it can be.

The sad reality of being a working parent is that you aren't there when your kids need you most. I know we all think that they need us most for the big things. The first words, the first steps, the first day of kindergarten.

Kids need us most for the mundane days. Our children need someone to speak to them kindly so that their first word is Mama or Dada. They need us to hold their hands so that they can take their first steps. They need us for homework help and car rides home where they tell you about their days in ways that are more raw than at the dinner table.

You wouldn't be a world class physician if you didn't show up at the office. You couldn't be an attorney if you only came to trial two days a week. Parenting really isn't something that you can do effectively part time either.

Achieving balance

That all being said, there are plenty of good working mothers. There are women who achieve wonderful balance and find a way to get it all done while working a job (or two), and the kids are fine -- they excel even. My mother worked from the time I was in Kindergarten until I was out of the house, and for many of those years she needed to, and then for many years I think she didn't know how to stop.

The decision to work or to stay home is an incredibly personal one, and of late it has become a loaded question. Do you work? Is how I typically hear it posed to me, and the subtext is huge. Sometimes I hear it as "Do you have value outside the home?" and other times I hear it as, "Is your husband successful enough for you to stay home?"

The reality is that I hear the question differently on different days. See, even as a stay at home mom, we never really feel like we've given our kids 100 percent. There are moms who are so involved in every moment of their children's development (even now at twelve) that you can't help but flinch when they ask you if you stay home.

I guess I would ask you, "What are your career aspirations?" Is it to make more money, or is it about personal satisfaction? If you're there for the money and you don't need it, perhaps it's time to rethink. Also, if your sister-in-law is making you doubt yourself, maybe part of you agrees with her. Maybe upon reflection you'll find that working outside the home is the right thing for you regardless of income.

At some point you'll have to tell your sister-in-law that she's just droning on.

When she brings up your career for the eighty bazillionth time, try gently reminding her that you've already discussed that with her, and move onto something else.

Tell us: Can working mothers have it all? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


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Comments on "Is it selfish for mothers to work outside the home?"

Siobhan27 August 28, 2011 | 5:18 PM

I'm sorry, but this is the most ist thing I've seen in a long time. The idea that women should feel guilty for working away from home because they are shortchanging their children is ridiculous. I have never once seen an article asking that of men. This assumption that it's fine for men to work away from home without guilt or concern, while women are expected to be supermom is something that I had hoped we had finely gotten past. But clearly not. I am a graduate student who is working towards becoming an academic. And I watch so many women in this field put their careers on hold for their children, but not once have I seen a man put theirs on hold for children. That women have to decide between their own personal growth in their careers and whether or not to have children, where men have little to no pressure in this regard is really sad. People just refuse to let go the ridiculous 1950s stereotype that has been overly romanticized. Those women were not happier by any means. Furthermore, research shows that as long as children are loved and cared for, they turn out just fine--regardless of parenting style or the whether or not parents work. I am really saddened by this article, by the many comments on this article, and the failure to recognize that the supermom stereotype is hurtful for all women and, indirectly, for children as well. Especially young girls, who are told either implicitly or explicitly, you must choose between your career and your children.

J Welch August 25, 2011 | 3:57 AM

I am a SAHM, my mom was a SAHM. I guess what I don't get is the false belief that to get ME time means you need a job away from home. Like you are with your kids 100% of the time or you work. The fact is you have only 5-6 years to be with your child all day and then they go to school, at which time you'll have a whopping 6-7 hours to have all the ME time you'd like. I liked what Jessica said about the little mundane things counting, and they do. Being there right after school is a BIG deal. I am a full-time mom to 4 kids, I am fulfilled, I date my husband every week and my hope is that my girls will get to be SAHMs too. I believe in raising, not just growing kids. :)

Laura Willard January 21, 2011 | 1:24 PM

I very much agree with all of the ladies who commented before me. I'm in a similar situation as Naomi. It has been about six months since I started working more and I have made my way through feeling like I could be shortchanging my kids. I firmly believe that if I don't work (from home right now, which is perfect), doing what I love (writing), then I'm shortchanging myself. And I can't be the kind of mom I want to be if I feel like I'm missing something. Great column for sparking thoughtful discussion!

gigi January 21, 2011 | 10:37 AM

there's no right or wrong answer on this one. Each woman needs to go with her gut. I'm working several gigs from home right now and I'm having a difficult time readjusting that delicate balance that I had so perfectly managed to create when I was "just" a SAHM.

Natalie January 21, 2011 | 10:30 AM

I am a SAHM who just recently started working PT from home. For selfish reasons, I need to work. Selfish reasons like to maintain some sort of sanity and I want to use my brain for reasons other than changing diapers. I am a better mom because I am choosing to have some me time - it makes me appreciate my kids more. It makes me realize I'm lucky to have the option to work or not. I say whatever works best for each mom. Nobody else can choose what's best for you.

Naomi de la Torre January 21, 2011 | 10:05 AM

I really enjoyed this piece because as I creep back into the working world, I do have a certain amount of guilt about it. I don't always feel like I am able to keep all the balls in the air and I wonder if I am shortchanging my children sometimes. On the other hand, I love being able to write for a living and I know that I need to be able to nourish that part of myself to feel alive. Working while having a family is a delicate balance. I love this piece because it is a good reminder for me of how to keep my priorities in balance. Thank you for this aweomse installment of Tough Love.

Truthful Mommy January 21, 2011 | 8:42 AM

I love this post. It is such a personal choice.You are the best mom you can be when you can give the highest quality mothering to your children. Some mOms are just better MOms when they have an outside job. They come home and they embrace it.It's like you can't miss someone if you never leave.Others give 110% all the time because they put all their time and effort into their children because they want to make that sacrifice. It's a hard sacrifice. I don't think its for's so personal and I HATE when women judge other women on whether or not they spend every waking moment with their children. I am a WAHM, so I am home all the time. Up until last year, I thought that was where I needed to be> I'm talking no baby sitters, no date nights, no girls nothing. And yes,I judged others but now in retrospect, I think it was because misery enjoys company. I work at home because I don't want to miss the small moments. Thats the kind of person I am. But there is nothing wrong with a MOm who works outside of the home.She is teaching her children that a career and hard work are important.That she is a person aside from just being a Mommy.I think that is a great lesson to teach your children. But again, I thought I would be that person who went to work and had a nanny or grandparent watch my kids. But just like you never know what kind of wedding dress you will ACTUALLY pick to be the one until its on your the same way you don;t know what kind of parent you will be until you hold that little person in your arms.

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