How will our parenting decisions today affect the adults our kids will become tomorrow? Molly Skyar, in open conversation with her mother, Dr. Susan Rutherford, views our parenting through a psychologist’s perspective.
Question: I’m so tired of people feeling sorry for me that I work full-time. How can I explain that it works for me?
DR. SUSAN RUTHERFORD: This is an age-old problem between working moms and moms who stay at home. I think both sets of women feel defensive about their roles.
As much as we may want to, women just can’t do everything for everybody and be everything to everybody, so choices have to be made along the way.
In these days some moms stay home to be with their children, some work part-time, and others work full-time. There are many valid reasons for each role, and there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with any of those choices.
MOLLY: This question was submitted from a reader in Los Angeles, California, and I can really relate.
When I was working full-time in a corporate job when my kids were younger I used to feel this way, too. Sometimes when I would say I work full-time, I would also want to add I still tried to be available for special events at the school, or maybe for after-school activities…
DR. RUTHERFORD: Yes, I think there’s a great need to say, “I work, but I’m still a Good Mom.” That’s part of the defensiveness you’re talking about, and it feels like it’s embedded into our modern mom culture on both sides of the aisle.
For women who don’t work, they may view themselves as less for not pursuing a career or contributing income to the family.
For those who do work full-time outside the house, there are the ever-present concerns about what’s happening at home while you’re not there. There’s no end to the guilt on both sides of the fence.
MOLLY: Is there anything this working mom can say when people ask her about it? Perhaps a canned response that might convey her feelings without sounding defensive?
DR. RUTHERFORD: I think the most important thing is to try not to get defensive about your choices, whatever they may be. This is easier said than done, of course.
The idea is to put a positive slant on whatever your reality may be. The positive slant could be something along the lines of, “You know I really love my work. It can be hard to make everything balance, but I’m a better mom for it.”
The whole thing is a big tradeoff. For some women, they need and want to work full-time, and they’re happier people and happier moms by doing it.
MOLLY: Of course, some women don’t have a choice in the matter, for they must work full-time to help support the family.
DR. RUTHERFORD: Generally speaking, I think women do the very best they can for their families and still often feel like they come up short. This may be an almost universal feeling for mothers.
MOLLY: What are the long-term consequences mothers who work full-time might experience?
DR. RUTHERFORD: The long-term consequences for women who work full-time in addition to raising a family is she may miss significant events in her child’s life, especially school events like holiday parties, performances, or ceremonies, because they are often held during the day on a weekday.
Unfortunately, I do think children –whether they mean to or not– store those memories. And, when they’re adults and in therapy, they’ll frequently talk about these childhood losses. I hear about these types of things a lot in my office with my patients.
MOLLY: Adults will talk about how their parents weren’t around enough when they were young?
DR. RUTHERFORD: Right. I’ll hear things in my office like, “My parents never came to one of my little league games.” Children whose parents consistently missed witnessing a child’s significant life events might end up with undesirable long-term effects.
MOLLY: How might this show up in an adult?
DR. RUTHERFORD: Often you see the effects in how they choose to raise their own kids. They might go overboard in the other direction to always be there for their kids, because they felt some loss of that as a child.
Or they might go to another extreme when they become parents themselves and not attend anything related to their children, basically allowing their children to raise themselves.
MOLLY: What about the long-term consequences for the mom who stays home?
DR. RUTHERFORD: For the mom who stays home, the long-term consequence is she might never be able to make up that time in her career. Typically, she’ll set herself back in terms of promotions and career trajectory. Hopefully that is changing, but I don’t know.
MOLLY: This I can attest to! It’s hard to get back into the workforce after taking time off to have babies.
DR. RUTHERFORD: Depending upon what kind of work one does, it might be impossible to get back on the same career path as before having babies. It’s hard for a mom to win from either side.
Molly Skyar and Dr. Rutherford publish “Conversations with My Mother,” an online resource for offering practical parenting tips and psychological insight into raising kids. Dr. Rutherford is a Clinical Psychologist in practice for over 30 years. She has her undergraduate degree from Duke University, a Masters from New York University (NYU) and a Doctorate in Psychology from the University of Denver. Contact – Website – Facebook – Twitter
© 2014 Molly Skyar
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