I was at Rutgers University on October 19th for the “What Mothers Want” conference and it was a mamapalooza of the first order. It’d be hard to say who was the more interesting – the experts and advocates at the mic or the totally engaged and informed audience. Everybody knew motherwork was hard, vital, and made unnecessarily more difficult by the way work and family life are currently structured. Research presented let us listen to the opinions of thousands of mothers as they considered what mattered most, what helped and what hindered them in their lives. The room was full of passion, pride, frustration and humor. Here is some of what I learned:
From Kathleen Gerson – We live in a time when attachment to the workforce over one’s lifetime will be fluid. People who grew up as women entered the workforce aspire to committed relationships where both work and childcare are shared. They believe families where all adults are engaged in earning and caring are better positioned to deal with the inevitable ups and downs of family life. If the functions of supporting the household and caring for the family are divided along gender lines, transitions are harder to navigate. Good mothering includes financially providing for the family.
From Melissa Milkie – About half of married parents experience difficulty in reconciling work and family demands. Those whose children appear to succeed socially and academically are more likely to believe they have balance, while those whose children struggle in school, or exhibit behavioral problems, are less likely to claim a balanced life. This is true without regard to the amount of time the parents actually spend with their children.
From Pamela Stone – Professional women were three times more likely than their male counterparts to interrupt their employment for “family responsibilities.” When they return, they frequently turn away from their former fields and enter lower paid, lower prestige sectors of the economy motivated by the desire to “give back” or pursue caring professions or social service. Becoming a mother has a profound impact on a woman’s values, priorities, and sense of identity. After a career hiatus, a mother often changes both her behavior and career aspirations. Motherhood exerts a powerful transformational effect.
Clearly the foregoing merely skims the surface. What we have here is a subject poised for extensive, profound study. The conference gathered social scientists and advocates ready to illuminate it with the high beams of their expertise. We hope to continue our discussion next year. Maybe you can join us!
‘Til next time,
Your (Wo)Man in Washington