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May 9 2011

When Work Was the Great Divide

By at 11:00 am

Let's talk about moms and work

It’s been interesting for me to note that the Great Debate and Great Divide among young mothers of this generation is about nursing. And you gals can sure get excited….(and nasty!)

In my day, it was working (outside the home) moms vs. (working) at home moms. (Not to be confused with a whole new category: working-from-home moms.)

What was often forgotten was that we were all full-time moms, and that we all worked.

I remember going to annual dinners for the employees of the firm at which my husband worked when we were young parents. It was a large prestigious business in New York and I was frequently asked, “And what do you do?” When I responded that I was at home taking care of my young children, I always sensed a slight disdain and an immediate loss of interest in anything I might have had to say. The good thing was that each year, as my husband climbed the corporate ladder, I seemed to get a little more interesting. Also, more people had to be nice to me.

There was real tension and divide between working-outside-the-home moms and working-at-home moms. A minefield was driving carpool. Many of the working-outside-the-home (w.o.t.h.) moms apparently thought that the working-at-home (w.a.h.) moms were brainlessly enjoying mahjong, bridge, and TV soap operas at home all day. So we were regularly imposed upon to pick up extra shifts of carpool duty and to be “understanding” if the w.o.t.h. moms were late or delinquent. I finally just had it with a w.o.t.h. mom who was consistently late having her child ready for pick-up or picking up my child on her driving day, excusing herself because she “worked.” When I finally protested, she said, “Well, carpool’s not the most important thing.” I spat out, “Well your kid should be the most important thing. And your commitments should be the most important thing. And that means that our kids have to get to school ON TIME.” She literally did not speak to me for years after that. And I honestly don’t remember if she shaped up.

During those years I and my w.a.h. friends spent much of our time involved in volunteer community work, shlepping our kids along as we worked and they played together. We made good use of our fine educations, skills and talents as we raised money, ran programs and generally kept the local community organizations going. We did fundraising and development, ran dinners and conferences, created educational programs, supervised paid staff and did everything necessary to keep the shuls (synagogues), schools and mikvah running.  We made “friendly visits” and shopped for the homebound and drove cancer patients to their treatments as volunteers for the bikur cholim (organization for the sick.) The work was inherently valuable but, because we were not paid to do it, this work, as well as our full-time on-site parenting and, most distressingly, we ourselves, were often devalued by others, particularly w.o.t.h. moms.

These days, having the choice to be a full-time w.a.h. mom is a distinct luxury and, understandably, it is hard for many community organizations to find volunteers. That’s too bad on many levels.  I learned things and gained skills that I would not have otherwise, if, immediately after graduate school, I had entered the profession for which I was trained. But I also learned other lessons that I could teach my children: that the best work is not necessarily the one for which you get a paycheck; it is the one that lets you learn and stretch, stimulates your imagination, takes advantage of your talents and teaches you skills. The best kind of work contributes positively to the community in which you live, and makes you feel productive and good about what you are doing. And all work which fits that bill, paid or unpaid, should be respected.

But the most essential  lesson  is that, for all of us moms, the most important work we will ever do, no matter what our style or our schedule, is raising our children to be good, decent, self-actualized people who will be as proud of us, what we do and who we are, as we are of them.

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on Kveller are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

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