Every afternoon at 3:30 Jennifer and Ben's mother arrives at school in her expensive car. They hurry back to an immaculate home filled with evidence of their parent's success -- fine furnishings, plush carpeting, expensive toys, and a fulltime housekeeper. After the children change into play clothes, they say goodbye to their mother and set off on a prearranged program of activities. Their mother then drives back to work.
This is an extreme example of the new life style that many children now have since their mothers have joined the work force. According to the US Department of Labor, 54 percent of all mothers with children under 18 work, and that number is growing rapidly. By 1990 a sizable number of the 57 million women in the labor force will be working mothers, projects the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
What has caused the number of working women to increase by nearly 50 percent in the past 10 years? What is the effect of the higher percentage of working mothers? Encouraged by the liberation and exploration movement of the 1960s, women found new incentives to break away from traditional occupations. In spite of roadblocks such as a short supply of day care facilities or limited opportunities for promotion, they have paved new avenues in many fields. The abilities and contributions by women are now being recgnized in business, law, publishing, religion, and other careers.
The motivation to work as well as the effect of working are highly individual for each person. Whether she's a waitress or a bank officer, working may be her means of supporting her family or boosting its income, self-fulfillment, or escape from boredom. Yet a common thread seems to be emerging. Gloria Norris and Jo Ann Miller, the authors of "The Working Mother's Complete Handbook" recently described the "new mother" as one who has to juggle her job, her family , and her guilt. They report on a survey of working mothers which indicated they often worry about not devoting enough attention to their families because they're not around all day.
A mother's good intentions would want to make up for the lack of quantitiy time with quality time, but the problem remains that when juggling gets difficult, it's often the children who are dropped. Children are so flexible that they can wait while office, home, and other responsibiliities are completed. Or can they?
Guilt doesn't go away easily, perhaps because mothers don't need glaring statistics, such as the rising number of suicides among children, or the high rate of teenage pregnancies, to know how unsolved problems and lack of supervision can put a strain on children.
Advertising has help to create the image of the "superwoman" who kisses the children at eight, works all day, and dances all evening. Guilt strikes again for those who don't live up.
It seems about time that society responds to the trend of the day and works out some solutions.Support through providing flexible working hours, part-time employment, and highly qualified day care are among the steps in relieving the pressure on working mothers.
But beyond needing to help working mothers have better homemaking options, society seems to have forgotten how to support a time-honored occupation -- the career of homemaking. It is heading for gradual oblivion? Is our most important job, raising children, going to be a nonexistent career replaced by day-care specialists, baby sitters, and housekeepers? Will their standards and ideals match those of the parents? For parents and young people who are still choosing to be full-time homemakers, the job needs defending and defining. Maybe an announcement in the classified ads would help: Wanted: Full-Time Homemaker
Qualities: A genuine love for children is essential. Also, you need to have, or to cultivate, unselfishness, organization, compassion, resourcefulness, and a sense of humor. It's a job for those capable of watchful caring and cherishing their responsibilities.
Training: No training is required although work as a baby sitter, camp counselor, teacher, or other experiences with young children is helpful. You will learn by your mistakes and by reading what others say about child rearing. You should think about the methods your parents used and apply only what you value to this job.
Duties: A homemaker has to establish a place of refuge from the world for the family and a place of welcome for the world. The house becomes a home when it is filled with what you love -- such as beauty, order, cleanliness, peace, or famity traditions. The duties as teacher are daily. You will be responsible for the initial moral, spiritual, social, physical, and academic training of your children.
Payment: If you work at the job, you'll be paid with the feeling "I've done my best." The feeling of happiness within, not guilt, will be an intangible reward. A bonus of family appreciation may accompany the job, as well as happy, well-adjusted children. Your monetary payment? It's difficult to determine the value of a homemaker considering the number of duties you perform. On an hourly basis, a tutor would cost $6.50, a dishwasher $3.25, a child-raising expert $40, and a food buyer $12. Your services, if purchased on the outside, migh add up to $800 a week or $41,600 a year. Right now a homemaker's job pays in rewards which last longer than money.
Hazards: Fatigue is common due to the long hours. You must learn to make quiet time for yourself to read, study, or rest. Frustration is another common challenge. A sense of humor, perseverence, and prayer will aid you here. As with any job, learn through your mistakes, and seek help when necessary.
Time Off: Since you are your own boss, set up a work schedule. Organize your time so you can pursue your interests, continue learning, and even prepare for a future career.
Note: This job does not include loss of contact with society, but rather is an opportunity to strengthen the basis of society, the home. It does not include doing everything for your children, but rather teaching gradual independence, but rather teaching gradual independence. Spoiling, pampering, and "smother love" are a disservice to all.
Children can't put an ad in the paper for a full-time homemaker, but if we listen, we hear children asking for a consistent, dependable source of love. Jennifer and Ben are hungry for adult attention and quite sad if a day comes along without a planned program. It seems they'd be content with a lower standard of living or some other accommodation in exchange for more parental companionship.
Of course, children of nonemployed mothers may be just as lonely. The important ingredient is the loving attention childhood deserves. And still the best source of this comes from someone who sees the career of homemaking as an opportunity to unlock the potential in family members, and be there to support when the world is challenging and cruel. Many are eligible for this career, either full-time or as a dual career with a job. how many will recognize this as a privilege and work to be a success at it?
Tomorrow: Full-time homemakers talk about their career