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

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

One reason is that the recession, and globalization, have changed the structure of the U.S. economy by increasing the focus on service, retail, food service and other white-collar work — traditionally jobs held by women — while more typical male jobs of manufacturing and production have become harder to find, Hernandez said, thus leading many families to switch the roles of breadwinner for an unforeseeable amount of time.

Yet despite the economic pressures, the cultural shift and the growing population of women in the workforce, most working moms say they still experience conflict — whether through the thoughtless comments of others or because of an inner struggle to find peace with their decisions.

And it is a struggle.

Nearly every woman the Deseret News interviewed for this story became emotional during the conversation — displaying the depth of feeling they have for their families and the worry they have about how their choices affect their loved ones.

Because they all want to be good mothers. They all want to nurture their children.

But many of them also want to work, and derive great satisfaction from their accomplishments outside the home.

It's a difficult, and intensely personal decision, and no matter what women choose, they ask for understanding. They want to be seen as individuals, judged not by some theoretical standard, but evaluated and appreciated in the context of their own situation, needs and desires.

"We're just people, just trying to do what we can to help our families survive," Abbott said. "Don't say you're sorry. Just treat me like I'm still the same as anyone else. My first priority is my kids, I'm just working so I can take care of them."

CULTURAL PRESSURES

There's always a little bit of guilt, working mothers will tell you.

Guilt that instead of making dinner or playing with finger puppets they're sitting in meetings or making phone calls. When they're at work, they worry about what they're missing with the children. And when they're at home, they feel guilty for neglecting projects at the office.

While the emotional ping-pong game is not unique to one specific group of women, it often affects Mormon mothers to a greater degree, given the social and societal pressures they feel to stay home.

For years, church leaders have strongly encouraged female members to stay at home and take care of their children, rather than compete in the work place. Single, divorced or widowed women who worked were to be the exceptions, not the norm.

While the church's focus on families and the importance given to the role of mothers hasn't changed, church leaders today acknowledge the challenging economic environment, which often requires individual family adaptation.

During the most recent LDS General Conference, Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles made this point quite clear when he praised all LDS women, and then offered specific counsel regarding employment.

"First, no woman should ever feel the need to apologize or feel that her contribution is less significant because she is devoting her primary efforts to raising and nurturing children," he said. "Nothing could be more significant in our Father in Heaven's plan. Second, we should all be careful not to be judgmental or assume that sisters are less valiant if the decision is made to work outside the home. We rarely understand or fully appreciate people's circumstances. Husbands and wives should prayerfully counsel together, understanding they are accountable to God for their decisions."

His comments address the concern that a growing number of LDS women are working outside the home for reasons that are often incredibly personal, and frequently unknown by anyone besides the woman, or the couple.

Yet, working mom Cherie Petersen still feels a bit of a stigma. She's not working because of economic necessity; she works because she loves it.

Petersen has been with ARUP Laboratories in Salt Lake City for 18 years, 15 of those years in a position that requires monthly travel. It hasn't been easy, especially when her two sons, now 14 and 11, were young.

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