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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

"Every woman makes her own decisions about her life based on her circumstances and her own desires," she said. "A lot of women don't have a choice. Their situations are different and they can't do what I did. Sometimes these choices come with judgment. I don't ever assume judgment of any other woman's choice."

Abbott's smile never fades as she scans carts full of potatoes, mayonnaise, Pepsi, orange juice, eggs and Twizzlers. Her friendly chitchat with shoppers is accented by the beep of her cash register and the continual chirping of the overhead speaker with calls for a manager on aisle 14 or 6.

"Whatever you are, be the best you can be," she says, on a rare pause between customers. She has learned to be happy with what she's doing, but it's still an imperfect situation.

"Even if I were at a job I liked, I'd still feel bad being away from my kids," she says. "That's just who I am."

Abbott has worked, out of necessity, most of her married life. She was pregnant and married by 19, but as children number two and three came, she insisted to her husband, Blair, that she needed to be at home, rather than taking incoming calls for Sears Teleservice.

Though she was a stay-at-home mom, home changed frequently as they bounced around the states and even over to Germany for Blair's deployments. After he was injured and went on disability for several years, she returned to a string of jobs that included a receptionist and a substitute teacher.

She started working full time at Macey's two years ago when Blair's company went through layoffs, and now that the couple is divorcing and she has custody of the kids, she's finding herself as the primary breadwinner once again.

"It's overwhelming," she says, her eyes filling with tears. "I'm worried about paying the bills. I'm worried that I'm not going to have enough time with my kids."

Sixteen-year-old Morgan has stepped up to fill in when mom's not around, especially to help with David, who has Asperger's syndrome, but she admits she doesn't like her mom in the workforce.

"I like it when she's here," the teen says simply.

Abbott would love to stay home and be the traditional mother who bakes cookies and spends time in the garden, no matter how old fashioned that may seem.

"The moms who get a job because they want a break from kids, I don't understand that," she said. "I would much rather be hanging with my kids than be here (at Macey's). I guess I get a little irritated that (other women) would choose to leave their family. But if that's what they enjoy…" her voice trails off. "I just don't understand."

NO ROOM TO JUDGE

If every child is different, then so is every mother, and any attempts to describe "the perfect mother" just end up promoting damaging comparisons and even depression.

Far too many mothers, especially working moms, already feel that despite their best efforts, they're failing, or at least falling short of what society, their neighbors, or even their family members expect. And whether those expectations are expressed or merely imagined doesn't matter — it's still not the support these women crave.

Janet Frank remembers a few comments from relatives that were meant to be kind, but came across as slightly cutting.

There was, "Oh, your children just want to be with you so much," and "It would be so nice if you could stay home." But what Frank, spokeswoman for Intermountain Healthcare in Utah County, heard was: "You never spend any time with your children because you're working."

Frank has worked since she finished college, going from a newlywed who was excited to use her degree to a single mother who had to use her degree to support herself and her young son.

Even after she remarried, Frank kept working — continuously grateful she had gained skills that she could use to support herself and her children.

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