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

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

She missed birthdays and milestones and couldn't pass certain stores in the airport without being hit with a wave of tear-inducing "mommy guilt."

Yet she was comforted by knowing that her sons were at home with her husband, Paul, who had a much more flexible schedule as an RN, for years working nights while staying with the kids during the day. He's the better "stay-at-home mom" anyway, Petersen said, because he is the more nurturing, gentle parent.

"Every person is unique and everybody has different strengths," she said. "Knowing myself, knowing my strengths, I think that being a stay-at-home mom my kids wouldn't thrive as much."

While their lives are slightly unconventional by some people's standards — Petersen's boys get their own breakfasts and turn in their homework days early because they have to get mom's help before she leaves for work-related travel — it's a system that they feel is best for their family.

Yet helping others see that is more difficult, Petersen said, adding that discussions about working mothers in her LDS Relief Society meetings (a women's church group) are "always interesting."

"I raise my hand and say, 'I think we're all given personal revelation. Isn't that part of the gospel?'" Petersen said, quoting herself. "'What if I happen to be one of those people who have had it strongly confirmed to me that I am doing what's best for my family, and that my family is well cared for?'"

For Jeanette Bennett, ensuring her family is well cared for also looks different than traditional "Mormon motherhood."

"I don't bake bread," she said, "and no one has ever asked me for a recipe; I'm just not that lady. I feel like I've come more to terms with, this is who I am, and I really am trying to do a good job of both roles."

"Both roles" means mother of four and editor of Utah Valley Magazine, which she and her husband, Matt, started 11 years ago.

In the beginning, the couple worked from home, dividing duties to ensure that both the kids and the business could flourish. As the magazine grew and moved out of their home, the couple got more creative in their scheduling and relied on babysitters a bit more.

Bennett occasionally worked from home, though she often felt guilty for working on the computer rather than building block towers. Yet, looking back, she's seen how the business has provided learning and income opportunities for her family that wouldn't have existed otherwise.

"I never said (work) is more important than family, because I don't believe it is," she said. "But I do believe there are women who can do both. It's not easy, but I think some women can. For me, I'm someone who wants to. I like to. I feel like it's part of who I am."

Other women, however, have chosen to leave high-paying jobs to stay home with their kids. Jane Clayson Johnson, for example, was at the pinnacle of a TV news career as co-host of CBS' "Early Show" when she decided to walk away. She had an apartment at Trump Tower, a limo that carried her to work every day, and makeup and wardrobe people who helped her get ready for the show each morning.

"Now I drive a mini-van," she told the Deseret News last year. "I clean my toilets. I drive the car pool — I show up with no makeup and drive the kids to school."

"...There have been occasions when I would be cleaning up yet another mess in the kitchen and I would look at the TV and see an old friend or someone I had known at CBS or ABC, and see them globe-trotting or covering a big story or interviewing someone interesting, and I would be there on my hands and knees and wonder, what have I done? (But) I wouldn't trade it, and I would make the same choice in the same way at the same time. No regrets."

But Johnson, who is a member of the Deseret News Editorial Advisory Board, understands that not every woman can make the choice she did.

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