The subject of this column won’t win me any popularity contests, but nevertheless, it deserves saying: I’m a big advocate of the Jewish working mom. I don’t mean the stay-at-home mom (SAHM) who picks up the daily debris left by her family, fills the fridge and plans the meals – although for sure, that’s work, too.
I mean the mom who has a job outside of the domestic sphere and who defines herself not just as wife, mother, picker-upper and chicken soup maker, but as a working woman in the world. There’s something to be said for putting yourself out there in the world, earning a salary – regardless of its dollar figure – and contributing to enterprise in some way, shape or form other than as a consumer.
‘How deeply satisfied can anyone possibly be with the thankless and repetitive tasks of picking up after a family?’
As a 45-year-old, I came of age in a society where women were encouraged to reach for the stars. “You don’t have to choose between family and work,” we were told. “You can do anything you set your mind to.” A third-generation working woman, I saw my mom engage passionately in her work, defining a space for herself and insisting on forging ahead, even as my father calmly suggested she let him be the sole breadwinner. “This is important to me,” she said, before running headfirst into the working world and establishing her own business. I saw how deeply her work satisfied her, how she was able to make a difference in her clients’ lives and how exciting it was for her to be out there as a working woman.
With a role model like that, it never once occurred to me that being a SAHM was an option.
But there are many educated women around me who had the privilege of attending university and who started their married lives in the workforce only to ditch it the moment their children were born. “This is where I need to be now,” they said, as they retired their working attire to a dusty back closet and became full-time diaper-changers and picker-uppers.
I agree babies need their moms, but in the blink of an eye, babes become school-going kids, and once they’re out of the house, there’s much less childcare involved during working hours. It’s then that those moms make a deliberate choice not to re-enter the workforce.
I can’t help wondering: when not working is a choice, what are you left with? How deeply satisfied can anyone possibly be with the thankless and repetitive tasks of picking up after a family? For women who went to the trouble of getting an education – a sign that at some point they had dreams of where that education could take them – don’t they owe it to themselves to fully travel the path?
Many smart, talented women today don’t have the pleasure of choice when it comes to receiving an education or working outside the home. So for those of us that do, I feel we’re obliged to celebrate the opportunities we have. That means using our skills and education instead of hiding behind the weight of domestic commitments like PD days, school vacations and volunteering and using these as reasons not to work.
For sure, there are many challenges when you’re a Jewish working mom: caring for a sick kid, getting dinner on the table in time, shuttling children to and from extracurricular activities and dealing with unfortunately timed PD days and Jewish holidays are just a few of them. There are ways to creatively work around the challenges, though, to find a balance between working and being a loving parent that don’t mean relinquishing a career.
I’m walking this tightrope myself right now – admittedly, some days more successfully than others. And I’ve watched carefully as others walk it without falling, so I know that with commitment and determination, it can be done.