Blending motherhood and working: Moms work by choice — and also out of necessity

Published: Sunday, June 26 2011 1:16 a.m. MDT

Alyssa Abbott says goodbye to her daughter Morgan as Morgan runs out the door to catch a ride to school in Spanish Fork, Wednesday, May 18, 2011.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SPANISH FORK — The clock in the dimly lit kitchen reads 6:30 as Alyssa Abbott heads downstairs to wake 12-year-old David.

"We need to get up if you want to eat breakfast before school," she says, gently shaking the sleeping bag, which appears to contain only a head of tousled brown hair.

By 6:42, David is up in the kitchen, where 16-year-old Morgan is already finishing a waffle and her Spanish vocabulary sheet and 14-year-old Broden is putting on his shoes.

As David, whose left pant leg is halfway tucked into a bright green cowboy boot, tries to coax the last drips of syrup from the bottle, Morgan races out the door to her carpool.

A few minutes later, Abbott and the boys are off to the bus stop. From there Abbott usually rushes to work.

But not today. Wednesdays are her day off.

Which means instead of spending eight hours ringing up groceries at Macey's in Spanish Fork she'll go to the bank, meet with her son's teacher and figure out odd discrepancies on her credit report.

Not the fairy-tale ending she envisioned as a little girl.

For some women, employment is an escape, a social network and an outlet for creative passions and energies. But for Abbott, who's about to be a single mom, it's just another reminder that she's not where she wants to be.

"I really always just wanted to be a wife and mother," she said. "But life doesn't always happen the way you want it."

Abbott is not the only mom scrambling to make ends meet by juggling a job as well as laundry, dishes, dinner, homework, trips to the mall and Scout camps.

In the United States today, among mothers with children under 18 years of age, 71 percent of them are working, the highest number on record. In 1975 it was 47 percent.

While those numbers refer to mothers who punch a time clock or pull in a paycheck, any mother will tell you that motherhood is its own job — minus the public recognition, office perks or paid holidays.

In the early 1800s, nearly all women had to be "working moms," raising chickens as well as children, and laboring alongside their husbands and children to keep the farm and family going.

Over the years, as men began leaving the farm for the city, women increasingly fell into a new role of staying home and "inculcating values in (their) children to help make them successful in the new marketplace," said Kimberly Hernandez, a U.S. social historian and visiting instructor at Utah State University.

But being a "stay-at-home" mom was a middle-class luxury, as working-class mothers, approximately 25 to 30 percent of women at any given time, often worked part-time or even full-time jobs to support their families.

Today, 58 percent of families with children have both parents working, and in homes where only one parent is employed, it's the mother in 20 percent of the cases, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

While many of those women work because they want to, grateful for the opportunity to blend careers with child rearing, others, like Abbott, work just to put food on the table and pay the rent.

They're part of the growing population who discovered that even before this lingering recession, families needed two incomes to survive. The recession just made it worse.

But even if the recession ended tomorrow, it's unlikely that the number of working mothers would drop dramatically, experts say.

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