Wednesday, February 17, 2010

On Women, Careers, and Children

I’m thinking a lot about the “choice” of motherhood and career, and whether one has to make a choice, or whether we can have it all. It’s been a very draining experience to think through all this. Some thoughts…. (many raised in Gender and Law by Bartlett & Rhode):

  • A study of women who received MBAs from the University of Chicago School of Business in the last 10 years found that only half of those with children were in the workforce… a study of female graduates of Yale currently in their mid 30s to late 40s found that 90% of men and 56% of women were in the workforce. (from a class handout)
  • Poor Women/Rich Women and Child Care - One theory is that society in general, and in particular wealthy women, divide “spiritual” and “labor-related” aspects of child care. They might work outside the home or go to tennis lessons (as we saw from Trey’s mother on Sex and the City!), but while they read to their children before bed, they don’t partake in the “menial” tasks such as cleaning and laundry, and instead hire someone, usually of lower class and often of a minority race, to take over those tasks. Women make up 90%, and women of color make up 30%, of this work force – with the tendency of low wages, high turnover, and sometimes unsafe/exploitative working conditions. At the same time, mothers who can’t afford not to work must drop off their children for child care (unless her paycheck would be basically the same amount as the child care cost, in which case, it might not be worth it, and we would have to talk about welfare). Although there’s the issue of choice here, there’s still the question of whether these women are selling their children short, or whether we should even be asking that, considering that (most) babies have fathers as well… isn’t it their responsibility too?
  • Nannies, or as they once were, “Mammies”, may sacrifice time with their own children for the sake of their jobs caring for the children of their boss or “mistress”. This can cause pain and bitterness for the nanny’s children… for a poignant picture of this, read Thrity Umrigar’s book, The Space Between Us. (She’s an English professor at Case!)
  • Despite the fact that the U.S. touts its family values, many other countries make it far easier for women to become parents by providing child care, more maternity and paternity leave, and flexibility for working from home. Some of these things make it possible for women to be better employees, and some make it possible for women to be better mothers. So is this pro-family values, or anti-family values? Either way, they are options that allow women to make choices. The truth is that other nations often take these steps to incentivize population growth… the U.S. doesn’t really have that problem.
  • Some people suggest that women’s tendency to work in caretaking roles should be valued to a much greater extent – without women to care for and nurture children, where would our society be? They suggest a subsidy for this type of work to reflect its valuation as true “work”. At the same time, I don't really see how the market can work that out.
  • With all this coming up, I came across two articles - one about the emergence of Househusbands and another about the positive aspects of Young Motherhood, both with unique and interesting perspectives on the matter!
  • I can't say that I have any official positions on these matters - only that I see and understand a variety of angles and that everything pains me. I hate the feeling that one day I will probably have to make choices between being a great employee and a great mother. It makes me just want to do one well, for fear of being stigmatized as a “lazy worker” or making choices that limit my child’s opportunities. And then, that’s just if I want to be an average 40 hr/week worker. Can I ever be a true leader? Start my own nonprofit? Run a business? Run for public office? Are these realistic choices or do they foreclose the possibility of being the kind of mother I want to be? Why is having a family the norm – is it an acceptable choice to be married… without children? Will it limit my life experience… would it be in line with my faith? Do I want to work for fear of the possibility of not living up to my career potential, or do I want to have children because I fear failure in the workplace? I am feeling all these things. Okay. Time to pick up the pieces of my scattered brain.

1 comment:

  1. I read this post way too late so I don't know if you'll even see this comment. Having to face the same decisions as you put forward in your post, I think the only place to find an answer that will work is in God's Word. God has gifted you in many ways and if He provides children for you and joe, i know He will provide you a way to give your kids 100% while still being able to use your gifts the way He wants you to. motherhood is an honored position in the Bible and God will pave the way for you to bless your children and to be a good steward of your gifts. right now i'm a little confused about our situation because i want to be able to be a mother, but at the same time we've been looking everywhere and finding a job for eric is so tough right now. i highly value motherhood, but at the same time i'm wondering if i'd be wasting my time spent in school. but if you think about it - depending on how many kids you have, they grow up eventually and there's still time to work after that. my mom went to school for music, worked for a little while as a secretary, stayed home to raise us and now she's teaching piano. so although she didn't use her schooling right away, she got there eventually while being able to raise her kids :) there will always be opportunities to use your gifts and talents, but your kids only grow up once and after that it's over. i know that it's different for everyone because some women don't have a choice (i might not even have that choice lol), but if i am presented with the option i would stay home b/c i would know that i would regret it if i didn't. i've received way too many "retirement" emails at work saying that a woman is retiring to finally spend time with her family. in most cases, the kids are gone and have their own lives now. you wonder if those women have regrets now that it's all over. anyways, i'll be praying that you feel peace over all of these decisions!