The Working Mom Issue: It Depends

I recently lost my mind completely and went on the twitters.  Due to my folly, I caught a link from @DoubleXSci to this article at the LA Times about the science of being a working mother: The MD: What Science Says About Working Moms, and What the Heart Says.  I have read a skajillion of these kinds of articles in my lifetime.  This one tells us no worries!  Go on and be a working mom!

Searching for more definitive answers, researchers at UC Irvine combined the results of 69 different studies on the topic. Their findings, published by the American Psychological Assn. in 2010, were reassuring. With few exceptions, children whose mothers returned to work when they were young fared just as well as those with stay-at-home moms.

"The only negative effects were found with very intensive, full-time employment early on," says Wendy Goldberg, a professor in the department of psychology and social behavior at UC Irvine. "We have to look at other factors that affect child achievement and behavior. Maternal work isn't the whole story by any means."

I firmly believe that if decent childcare is readily available, no one's going to be seriously damaged if mommy goes back to work whenever she wants.  Daddy goes back to work on day 1 and somehow kids survive.  We rarely think about the consequences of that separation at birth, do we?

But two lines in the above quote get me.  "The only negative effects were found with very intensive, full time employment early on" and "Maternal work isn't the whole story by any means."  I would think not.  I would guess that whether or not you call your work a "career" and whether or not your work pays enough to keep you and your kid(s) from starving are two big, related factors, that might also tie into that intensive, full-time employment early on biz.  You might call what I am picking at here "class issues".

Here are some stereotypes we know and love:

1.  Welfare queens who just keep having babies so they can get a bigger check and stay home and not have to work.

2.  Hardworking middle class people who do their part and don't want to see their taxes go to support someone else.

3.  Women in science who have babies don't work as hard and want special treatment and extra credit for lesser quality work.

Take note that in theory, women are also included in "hardworking middle class people" but in practice deployment of the statement invokes an ideal of a nuclear family with hardworking man supporting wife and kids at home.  So, we can now start putting together rules for being a woman with kids:

If you are poor, you should not have kids, because then you will need the government to support you, and that is unfair to hardworking middle class people who do their part.  If you are poor and work, you can have kids, but don't expect childcare because again, that would be unfair to the hardworking middle class.  If you are poor and work and your kids are endangered because your part-time WalMart wages won't pay for adequate childcare, they will be taken from you because you are a bad mother. Also, try not to get sick, because health insurance? Ha!

If you are middle class, congratulations!  You have a hardworking husband who will take care of you and the kids, and of course you will probably want to homeschool the kids.  If your husband's salary is inadequate to support this lifestyle, he is not hardworking enough.  You may have to get a job to help out, but don't expect childcare.  That would be unfair to other hardworking middle class people.  Keep your fingers crossed that hubby does not die or divorce you. You may have insurance, but it may be mostly useless so again, try not to get sick.

If you are one of those career women, you should not be having children at all, just to pay someone else to raise them.  If you really want to have children, then you can't devote yourself to your career anyway.  So why hurt both your children and yourself?  Besides, if you have children, no one will take your work seriously.  Even if you get married and don't have children, people will be wondering if you might not just pop out a kid at any moment, confirming their suspicions that you are not serious.  Probably best to stay single.  Then they will just gossip about how you are an ice queen and frigid and a bull dyke and lesbian and ball-breaker and not a normal woman and need a good fucking and who would want to fuck you anyway.  It's not too late to think about becoming a nurse, or teacher, or even an executive assistant.  Then you can look for a nice man, settle down into a middle class lifestyle, and have some kids.  Try not to be poor, and try not to get sick.

If you are one of those career women who runs a company, you can do pretty much whatever you want because you will have lots of money and you own a company.  Not that it will be easy or that you will be universally loved or respected for it.  Just sayin', money=choice.

If you are one of those career women who wants to go into politics, you had better have children, and be prepared at all times to talk about (1) how important being a good mother is to you and how you have always arranged your schedule to be there for your children when they need you and (2) how having children will in no way ever impact on your ability to function as [fill in public office here] in even the slightest manner.

I think that mostly covers it.  Good luck!  Anyone with additional advice on how to be a woman with children, please leave a note in the comments!

11 responses so far

  • Sarah says:

    As a kid, how much time did you spend in "decent" childcare? Childcare is unfair in ways that have nothing to do with money; regardless of diligence, a lot of people are going to make the wrong decision when they land on a "decent" person/business to care for their kids, and I wish either parent would/could have opted out of work for me.

  • Dev says:

    I think the progressive degeneration of society, or loss good values, is not due to working mothers per se, but rather to something else, or 'several else'.

  • A. Marina Fournier says:

    Sounds as if the studies are blaming the victim, with no real upside: women are screwed, can't win for losing, whether staying home (with or without a home-based business) or in the workplace, save for female career innovators or entrepreneurs, and then, you're still suspect.

    Heaven forfend you should become disabled--a drain on the earnings of the middle class, don't you know--with or without insurance. Try living on SSDI! Of course if you had life savings, they will get drained paying for necessary care. If you have a home, and are thinking of home care, the mortgage & upkeep for the house, combined with the cost of rotating shifts of home care (licensed or not) will cost a bit more than a board and care. I'm speaking of my own sister, who had a stroke at the end of August 2008, and will never be able to live on her own, barring a miracle. She never had the children she desired, but they too could be beggared as years went on, with or without Medicare for their mother.

    Let's see, single mom is not mobile enough to work or live on her own, brain and neurological function diminished. She has some savings, but not much. No relatives nearby, so the kids get put in foster care, unless she has a document (AHCD?) to state what should happen to them in the event of her death or severe disability. Boy, is that a dismal set of circumstances.

  • Dev says:

    Listen, the structure of society is not good for any gender, age group or level of education or knowledge.

    There's an inverse correlation with work/income/purchasing capacity and work available for people in general. As population increases there's less work positions available and/or less income. So the economic system is insufficient for the present society.

    Just think that each year many go into adulthood, many graduate at different levels of the education ladders and there's a genuine need for self support, be it for family organization, or paying bills or student debt. BUT less working spots, or a few with a limited half life.

    That friction has consequences, it has little to do with working mothers, rather the issue is used for blah blah.

    • Thegoodman says:


      Your flawed logic of "too many people, not enough jobs" is a closed system where jobs are the only output. The input to that system, which you have ignored, is the fact that all of these people CREATE jobs. They buy stuff, they drive places, they live places, they eat things, they have kids, etc.

      And to compound your erroneous claim further, the retirement age of many Americans was set before the current life expectancy. If a person retires at 65, they have 20+ years of consuming ahead of them with essentially no job.

      Even the claim that efficiency and automation have taken jobs is false. As our ability to create things faster has increased, so has our ability to consume things. Technology hasn't displaced millions of workers, it has created millions of jobs.

      The real issue with "not enough jobs" is a government that fosters an environment that makes shipping jobs overseas cheaper than keeping them domestic. The only real benefactors of this type of environment are shareholders, company owners, and politicians who receive their support. While many middle class people own stocks, I would guess a majority of shareholders are of the upper class.

      You are blaming the victim for simply existing. People will exist and people will procreate, neither of these things are detrimental to an economy. However, when CEO pay gets inflated at a rate 1000% faster than the pay of the average worker, the consuming power of the populace will go down, which will create less job opportunites, which will create less consuming power, etc. etc.

  • Dev says:

    Limited money/currency limits any activity needed for society, so that in practice it just allows living for the maximum number of people it can accommodate. In any ideology or political system.

    That seems to be the problem.

  • greg says:

    Dev, that is not how it works. At all. You can have a fixed supply of dollars. It is not the ideal but it works fine.

    • Dev says:

      I am using the term 'limited currency' as a big umbrella term for one of the main components of the complicated economic system. It is a rate limiting step in the dynamics of the system, like a big enzyme complex for which one of the subunits is non functional, or if it does work it drives the system in a given direction. The end result in this case is accumulation of toxic assests, metabolites, end products, and the users at each step, or population, will have a hard time surviving at short or mid term. It seems a wasteful situation, odd at least.

      I'm no economist, but if you do understand the issue well, please educate the masses, so we don't waste the advances up to this century. There is a lot do, for good, and money it's limiting.

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