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

Published: Sunday, June 26 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

"I've always felt like I was blessed with talents, and I've been lucky enough to have jobs that let me develop those talents," Frank said, her voice choked with emotion. "So even though I've had to go to work, I've always gone to a job that I've really loved. (That) means I can go to work, I can enjoy it, I can feel like I'm contributing and then come home and be happy, and be what I need to be to raise a happy family."

A soon-to-be published study, "Depression Risk among Mothers of Young Children: The Role of Employment Preferences, Labor Force Status and Job Quality," found that "the impact of working for pay or staying home on women's risk of depression depends on mothers' preferences and on their job quality," according to a briefing paper on the study prepared for the Council on Contemporary Families.

Mothers in high-quality jobs report fewer depressive symptoms than women in low-quality jobs, even if they don't want to be there. And stay-at-home moms generally exhibit depressive symptoms only if they want to work for pay.

"The study is also important because it reveals the inaccuracies of arguments that all women should work for pay or that all women should stay at home," researchers wrote. "It's not as simple as these one-size-fits-all arguments suggest. The actual situation, desire, and job quality all matter."

Rebecca Calderwood has a great, high-quality job as a middle-school counselor in northern Virginia, but as great as it is, it's still not the stay-at-home mom job she really wants.

Living outside of Utah, Calderwood says she doesn't feel the external pressure that she believes exists in the predominantly Mormon state, though there's plenty of emotional turmoil within.

"I feel the pressure that I'm not where I should be," the 31-year-old mother of two says. "I thought all growing up, I'll get my degree, then have kids (and stay home). I don't know that anyone else is judging me, but I'm really hard on myself."

Calderwood's husband, Shaun struggled to find work in today's economy, but finally got an offer from the federal government. The only catch is he's still waiting for his background check to clear, and it's been nine months. So he works a few nights a week at a restaurant and caddies at a golf course on the weekends, watching 3-year-old Ella and 8-month old Amelia during the day while Calderwood pulls in a consistent paycheck.

"For both of us, he's always wanted to be the primary breadwinner and I've always wanted to be the one at home," she said. "We talk about that a lot, how our roles are reversed right now, and the strain that puts on our marriage and our family."

"It's hard," she continued. "It's probably the hardest our lives have ever been. But I guess we just try to appreciate the blessings."

Walking into the kitchen at 4 p.m., Abbott and the kids are greeted by the smell of slow-cooking meat — ribs she tossed in the slow cooker at 6:40 this morning.

The ceramic cooking device is her best friend, she confesses, because after a long shift at work, there's usually not much energy left for cooking.

As the kids shed their backpacks and head for the fridge, Abbott asks them about the laundry.

"You guys could be really helpful and fold it for me," she tells them as she starts scrubbing potatoes. "I'd be so happy I might even let you watch TV as you fold it."

They mumble their agreement and head downstairs, arms laden with clothes.

Emotions are a bit heightened lately, ever since Abbott served the divorce papers and moved herself and the kids to her parent's house, just a few blocks away. Though she's in a comfortable place, she's admittedly frazzled as she waits for the court to decide who gets the house. In the meantime, the kids go home to see their dad after school and on the weekends.

At 4:29, Abbott coaxes David upstairs to start his homework, and with a freshly sharpened pencil in one hand and a cheese stick in the other, he finally begins.

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