After you’ve made the decision to return to work following the birth of a child, you may still wonder, “Am I doing the right thing for my family?” and “How on earth do I make this work?” Now, The Working Mother’s Guide to Life sets out to offer you hundreds of answers to these types of questions, from nuts-and-bolts advice, such as finding top-notch child care and stress-free ways to manage your household, to more complex issues like separating from your child without feeling guilty and creating a rich, strong family culture that will thrive regardless of whether or not you are working.
Author Linda Mason—herself a working mom and founder of an award-winning company that cares for the children of working parents across the country—provides a reassuring, practical, and comprehensive guide based on interviews with more than 100 successful working mothers from diverse backgrounds. Here are countless strategies and tips from these experts on everything from household chores and returning to work with a newborn to finding communities of support.
• Building the Three Pillars of Success: A supportive workplace, a “partner-in-parenting,” and excellent child care
• Running a household, holding down a job, and thriving while keeping it all together—from getting food on the table to getting out the door in the morning
• Setting your priorities, including nurturing your family, satisfying your employer,
and taking care of your own needs
• Tips from caregivers on how to help your children blossom and grow in a variety of child care settings
|Publisher:||Crown Publishing Group|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||6.18(w) x 9.15(h) x 1.29(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
You're on Your Way
"Go Pick Up a Hoe"
Different Approaches to Working Motherhood
Petronila, my friend in rural western Kenya, sits in the shade under a small tree in a congested and lively marketplace in a small hillside village. It is hot and dry. Petronila's hardened, dusty feet are set off by the brilliant patterns and colors of her long skirt wrap and head scarf. Her round face is deep brown; she has a wide, bright smile. She readily breaks out into laughter, particularly with Westerners, who she feels often have odd ideas and notions.
Petronila and her husband, Moses, have eight children. They live in a small three-room cinder-block bungalow without plumbing or running water. Petronila squats to cook over a wood fire outside the back door. They have several chickens running in the back of the house, two goats, and a large, well-tended vegetable garden.
Petronila spends several mornings each week in the village marketplace selling her vegetables and crafts spread out on a blanket. She uses the money earned to buy needed items for the family and herself. She and the other women merchants are friends or acquaintances. She has known most of them since childhood. They have an easy banter. She and the woman next to her, Esther, like to tease and laugh. This morning they are laughing about their husbands' eating habits. They mimic their husbands, bent over their bowls of ugali, chewing and talking simultaneously.
As the women sell, barter, and examine one another's wares, children are seen everywhere. Petronila frequently nurses her youngest child, Litonde, who is two. Her four-year-old leans against her side. Her five-year-old is chasing his friend behind the market. Her children frequently run off, often with Litonde bouncing on a sibling's hip, to play with other children in the marketplace, all of whom they seem to know very well.
As I watch Petronila and her small village community, I marvel at how naturally blended their work and family life are. In fact, there is no sense of work life and family life. It is just life. Somehow, Petronila is raising eight children while engaging in the productive life of the community. It is natural and expected. There is no guilt. It seems uncanny to me.
Throughout all the hardship that rural Kenyans suffer, their communal structure gives them a great deal of support. There is comfort in the society of women and children. It is a hardworking culture that emphasizes responsibility and contribution to the family and community. All members of the village, male and female, young and old, are expected to contribute what they can through their labor.
I spent much of my twenties and early thirties traveling, living, and working in small rural villages in Africa and Southeast Asia. During these years, I became very interested in the life and customs of the women, particularly mothers. I was an active participant in their daily lives. I spent mornings with my Thai women friends in the village marketplace while they bartered, bought, and sold. I walked with them to a little pond where we squatted and fished, holding large "umbrella" leaves over our heads to shield us from the sun; I sat in the shade under their hut on stilts while they chopped, pounded, and prepared food for their extended family. I spent long afternoons in Sudanese family compounds while the women tended their vegetable gardens, wove baskets, fed and cared for their children, scrubbed clothes, and meticulously applied henna designs to one another's hands and feet.
Although the cultures vary, there is a strong common thread in the life of many third-world village women. Women play an integral part in many economies. They produce goods to sell in the local market. Many marketplace vendors are women. Families often live together in compounds of extended families where women work together to grow and prepare food, care for the children, produce textiles and crafts, and perform myriad other family-sustaining duties.
Throughout most of the developing world, there is no concept of a "working mother." Every mother works. In fact, it would be quite unacceptable for a mother not to be a productive part of community life. Children and women spend much of their day in close proximity. Babies stay with their mothers throughout the day. Family life and work life are blended in a very natural way. Children are cared for by a community of aunts, neighbors, older siblings, and their parents. They grow up observing and participating in the adult world.
Although our society thinks of the stay-at-home mother and breadwinning father as the norm, it certainly is not. In fact, it is a recent phenomenon of the last few generations. In the United States, child rearing has changed dramatically from one generation to the next. What had remained constant throughout history until recent times are variations of the model described above, one that was based on a productive extended family unit where work and family functions were integrated on farms and in small towns. In the industrial and postindustrial eras, men left the home and family farm to go off to factories and offices in the cities. Domestic life and work life became highly differentiated.
It would be wrong to idealize the developing-world model. Much of what I witnessed was constant struggle, deprivation, and severely limited options for everyone, particularly women. But is it possible for parents to combine working and parenting in a healthier balance? Could there possibly be a more integrated model as technology transforms the work world and people develop more flexibility in their place and mode of work?
As I spent much of my twenties living and working in the developing world, this view of an integrated work and family life became an important backdrop for me in my thirties when my husband, Roger, and I decided to have children, and we embarked on our own journey of combining work and family.
As I talked to Petronila about all these concepts, she laughed. It was just like a Westerner to waste time thinking and worrying about such issues. Petronila knows no other model. She told me, "You young American people think and question too much. Go pick up a hoe, girl, and get to work. That will help you with your questions." Petronila thinks that all our choices have just confused us. But then again, she doesn't have the luxury of choice.
I have picked up the hoe, and so have millions of my sisters in the United States, but it's a vastly different world than Petronila's. We have both the benefit and the complications of greater choices and control over our decisions. Women can decide whether or not to have children. We can have them and work outside the home or stay home. We can have children early or late in our careers. How women make these choices deeply affects the outcome.
Unlike many young women, I never visualized myself as a mother while growing up. I had a strong adventure-seeking streak, and spent my early adult years moving around a lot--living for periods of time in Europe, Africa, Asia, and different cities in the U.S. Roger and I worked together both on the Cambodian border and in the Sudan, where we ran refugee relief operations for people fleeing war and famine. With this work we lived in primitive, and at times harsh, conditions. Although we worked with families and children, I did not yet have any desire to have my own.
We finally returned to the States in our early thirties, wanting to take a break from this intense refugee work. Most of our overseas programs had been with young children, since they are the most affected by war and famine. Once back in the States, we decided to create an organization of our own, one that would focus on young children and have a societal impact. We started Bright Horizons, a network of child care centers, when I was thirty-two.
The start-up years were exciting, difficult, stressful, a real roller-coaster ride. It certainly wasn't the easiest time to have a child. But after a couple of years, Roger and I started to really want a baby. We were now well into our thirties, bathed in the world of babies and young children and early childhood education. We spent our days thinking about the quality, educational philosophy, and design of our child care centers. We were hiring teachers who emanated a passion for babies and children. We, ourselves, began to want a baby, and began thinking and talking about babies constantly. We knew that it was crazy to develop a company at the same time that we were starting a family. But what was the alternative? We just plunged in and somehow had the faith that we would figure it out. We didn't create a grand plan; we just took the leap.
I later learned through interviewing many mothers for this book that this approach is not typical. I had assumed that most working mothers think and act like I do. I couldn't have been more wrong. There is no one common approach to working motherhood; there is no one "right" way to be a devoted, effective mother. Wonderful mothers are mothering in different ways, reflecting their personalities, orientation to the world and life, and cultural and religious backgrounds. I found this liberating, since I never seemed to mother just the way my best friends were.
One of the first differences I noted was in style of mothering. I found that, in general, the working mothers I interviewed reflected one of four different styles: the Strategic Planner, the Camp Counselor, the Earth Mother, and the Passionate Spirit. As I describe each type, see if you can find yourself. Many moms fit squarely in one category; other mothers use a blend of styles depending on the situation or phase of family life. By understanding that there are many ways to be a good working mother, you may feel freer to find your own personal path.