Mothers who choose to stay home
Census finds fewer mothers of infants in workforce - reversing a 25-year trend
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"Most women do not return to work easily, even though they love their careers and would like to find a balance," Reinhardt says. "They torture [themselves] about finding good childcare. They feel incredibly guilty for leaving their babies with another caretaker. They feel misunderstood by their employers and other employees."Skip to next paragraph
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Still, those who go back often find their lives stabilizing after a few months.
Some of these new mothers have observed women bosses whose heavy workloads prevented them from spending much time with their children. They want to do it differently.
For those who need or want to return to work, Reinhardt would like maternity leave to last at least six months. She expresses "serious concern" about the impact of corporate demands on parents and children. "The expectations in the workplace are absolutely stunning to family life."
More realistic hours would also help, Maschka says. Before she left her job, she routinely logged 50-hour work weeks. Her husband, a corporate real estate attorney, puts in 60 to 80 hours a week. Two careers, they realized, would leave no time for their family.
Yet many employers in professional fields demand the kind of hours her husband works, Maschka says. "Anybody who cuts back is not a team player, and is not considered for advancement."
Even in companies with family-friendly policies, such as job-sharing and telecommuting, a question remains: Do workers who take advantage of flexible options get marginalized?
"In most companies, you're taken off the fast track and you miss out on the plum assignments," Maschka says.
For those who stay home full time, economic issues can loom large. Paula Luksza of Framingham, Mass., who has worked variously as a journalist, a police officer, and a doctor's assistant, has been at home since her 17-month-old son, Jake, was born.
As she and her husband prepared to live on one paycheck, she wondered: "Where is the money going to come from?"
For now, Mrs. Luksza works part time at home, evenings and weekends, as a paralegal for two lawyers.
"What I bring in with these two jobs is not enough," she says. "Somehow, we scrape by. The whole financial situation is very difficult."
She plans to return to work eventually, but remains firm about wanting to stay home while Jake is young.
To call national attention to issues affecting women at home, Mothers & More has an advocacy department. Members are drafting positions on issues such as Social Security reform.
Similarly, Mothers at Home maintains a public-policy department to study political, economic, and cultural issues that affect mothers' decisions.
Women who do declare a timeout at work often eventually find other rewards at home. Brenda LeBlanc of Ashland, Mass., left a decade-long career in accounting when her daughter, Samantha, was born two years ago. "I went crazy for the first six months," she recalls.
When Samantha was three months old, Mrs. LeBlanc attended an alumni function at her college. As the only mother not working, she found herself almost apologizing for being home.
Now, thanks to a newfound confidence that has been developing since she joined a Mothers & More chapter, LeBlanc no longer apologizes. "When people ask me what I do, I say, 'I'm home with my daughter.' They ask, 'Do you like it?' I tell them, 'Yup, I absolutely love it.'"
Mury, too, expects her time at home with Xander to yield many benefits. "It will be an opportunity to ask myself, What are my passions? I know that God has given me a lot of gifts and talents," she says.
"I love being a mother, so there's passion there. I'm going to take some time to explore a bit."
Whatever a family's particular situation, Reinhardt and others urge parents to follow their own best leanings.
"Moms will be criticized for any choice they make - working or not working outside the home, and all sorts of other choices in parenting," Reinhardt says. "We need to clarify what feels right for us, and then protect ourselves from the inevitable criticisms from family, friends, and society."
For more information on at-home mothers' organizations: www.mah.org and www.mothersandmore.org.