Deedee DeBartlo, mother of a toddler, sometimes fudges the truth about her work to stay-at-home moms. She downplays the hours she spends at the office, or says she does it because she needs the money.
"There's a lot of pressure to live up to this role model of the perfect mother," the New York City literary publicist said.Working mothers are hardly a novelty or a rarity. Yet however many strides they're making on the job, many working mothers - and other Americans - are still grappling with a deep ambivalence about their roles at home.
A study of 1,000 mothers and 1,000 children released Wednesday by the Whirlpool Foundation reveals many of the conflicts that women such as DeBartlo feel. In interviews, children also revealed an ambivalence about what role they should choose as adults.
"Women are redefining what nurturing means; nurturing is both economic and emotional," said Colleen Keast, former president of the Whirlpool Foundation and organizer of the study. "But women have to be more comfortable with this new idea of nurturing."
One of the greatest changes in home life in recent decades has been the entrance of women into the work force. In 1970, fewer than 40 percent of mothers with children under 18 worked, compared with 68 percent today.
Nearly half of working mothers contribute more than half of household income, according to Whirlpool's survey. And 20 percent - primarily single mothers - contribute 90 percent or more of the family's earnings.
More than two-thirds of women - and nearly equal numbers of stay-at-home and working moms - say that good parents help support the family financially. Such support was deemed just as important to good parenting as spending time with children, the survey found.
Yet even if they work, women also shoulder most of the burden of housework and child care. While the gap between men's and women's contributions at home is shrinking, working women still do most of this "second shift" after they get home.
Such domestic work, in part, reflects women's continued devotion to family life despite their entrance into the work world.
The Whirlpool study found that working moms spend 32 hours a week doing household chores and 28 hours a week caring for children - in both cases only seven fewer hours a week than stay-at-home moms. The mother also remained the primary emotional caregiver to children whether or not she worked.
"This study dispels the myth that mothers who are working care less about their children than those who stay at home," said Ellen Galinsky, president of the New York-based Families and Work Institute.
Yet with all they do, many working women still feel they fall short. More than 70 percent say they'd like to spend more time playing with their children, compared with 58 percent of non-working mothers.
James Levine, author of "Working Fathers," argued that to some extent women scramble to do so much at home - and always feel they fall short - because they feel pressure to keep control of the domestic arena.
"Their identity is still hooked on how does the house look, how do the kids look," he said. "Dads' identity is still hooked on whether they're making it in the workplace."