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Is it selfish for mothers to work outside the home?

Jessica Gottlieb

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

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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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