Home Page
ABout Susan
Bosswoman Newsletters
Speaking Schedule
About Coaching
Business Woman
Professor Destressor
BossWoman ENews
Combining prosperous work lives and balanced personal lives
May 2004

My goal is to bring you news, insights, and information about leading a balanced and prosperous life.

    In this issue, you'll find:
  1. Moms and Work/Life Balance
  2. BossWoman coaching
  3. Up and coming workshops
1. Moms and Work/Life Balance

Motherhood. Erma Bombeck called it the world’s oldest profession. While mothers have been around since the cave days, the desire for work/life balance is a modern invention. From cave moms to colonial dames, women were too busy to even think about work-life balance. During this month, the month in which we honor mothers in the US, several studies on work-life balance for moms have highlighted some new trends.
Trend # 1 The Opt Out Era
There is no “woman’s issue” when it comes to work-life balance. In the history of the US, class differences have often pre- dicted more about how women handle their motherhood responsibilities than any other factor. Privileged women could choose to work outside the home or not because of the economic resources to hire servants for home and child care duties. Poverty level women have struggled and continue to struggle to make ends meet. Middle class and working class women have swung back and forth on a pendulum between being employed outside the home and staying home with children. The pendulum is usually led by changes in middle class women’s lives followed by those of working class women. (For the short course about how class status and economics have shaped US women’s exploration of work life balance see the Appendix at the end of this newsletter.)

In 2004, it seems that once again highly educated middle class women are asking themselves if they want to be away from their young children during the day. The answer: opt out of the competitive business and professional world for a few years to be home with their children. To live on one income temporarily, couples are saving ahead for some of the shortfall and lowering their standard of living to make up for the rest. Some couples are even incurring debt to be paid off later when the women return to work.

This trend may be more a media generated phenomenon than a real one. *October of 2003: “New York Times” magazine wondered if we are at the beginning of "The Opt-Out Revolution" with a wave of highly educated, high-potential professional women quitting their jobs to care for children. *March 2004, Time magazine argued, The Case for Staying Home: Why More Moms are Opting Out of the Rat Race.

In spite of all the hype, 72% of women with children under age 18 work outside the home.

Some of the media have reported on the implications of the opt out trend for women’s leadership opportunities. “Harvard Business Review” started the media buzz several years ago by publishing an article about the “Mommy Track,” the choices by women executives to take a pass on the fast track route to the C-suite in favor of a saner work schedule. In February, 2004 “Fast Company’ devoted its cover story to "Where Are the Women?" which (among other issues) debates whether women are as willing as men to make the personal sacrifices required to succeed in today's top jobs.

Only time and social science data will be able to tell whether the media hype is marking the beginning of a new trend. At least for now, the opt-out moms interviewed report being happier and less hassled than when they tried to do it all. If there is a trend it would seem that high-powered women are beginning to realize that while you can have it all, you might have it best by having it sequentially instead of simultaneously. Surprisingly, comparisons between moms in the home and moms who combine working outside the home with parenting show no differences in life satisfaction. In fact, some of the studies are reporting higher life satisfaction scores for the moms who try to do it all.

Advantages of this option: Even if women seem confused about how to bring home the bacon and fry it up, the research data keep showing a high correlation between the mom’s satisfaction and their children’s. “If Momma ain’t happy, then no one’s happy.” So any arrangement that helps Momma be happy is likely to be good for the whole family.

Disadvantages: Leave it to these high achieving women to make something simple like being home with children into something complicated and high stress. No stay-at-home mom wants her child to be understimulated and not be able to compete with the kids in day care who have a whole day of curricula to keep them busy. Co-authors of “The Mommy Myth,” Susan Douglas from the University of Michigan and Meredith Michaels from Smith College have labeled this phenomenon, the New Momism. The New Moms apply perfectionistic impossible standards to their mothering role. The writers observed that women are devoting their entire being to parenting. Enter: The Schedule.

  • Mondays and Wednesday 10:00-12 - kiddie soccer.
  • Tuesday 9-12 am - the “moms’ group” where the moms of similarly aged children hear speakers (usually child psychologists who don’t have children) talk about good child rearing.
  • Wednesday – 10-11:30 “gym and swim.”
  • Thursday - “play group” where the moms of similarly aged children observe their children’s play so that they can compare their children’s development as being ahead or behind the other kids in the group.
  • Tuesday and Thursday afternoon – after naps, phonics flash cards and classical music training.
  • Friday - “Mom’s morning out” where the moms drop off their children at a church basement program for two hours. Then the moms work out at the gym for an hour and attend a stress management group to talk about how there is no time for themselves or their marriages and how they are worried about what they will do when they try to reenter the job force.
  • Saturday and Sunday – themed and catered birthday parties at expensive exotic places such as the parrot house at the zoo where all the kiddies get stuffed parrots to go with their exotic parrot hats. Also catching up with household tasks such as alphabetizing the spices and color coding the Tupperware lids. The standards seem as competitive for being the best mom at home as they are for the mom climbing the corporate ladder.
How to enjoy this life style choice:
  1. Make the decision after carefully weighing the pros and cons and deciding how you want to get the most out of this time in your life.
  2. Make tentative plans but guard against the tendency to overprogram yourself and your children. Allow the kids to have more free play time and yourself to be less tyrannized by all the “shoulds.”
  3. Schedule regular time away from the children for yourself and for you and your husband.
  4. Instead of worrying about your reentry, accept that adults are going to have three to four major careers. When it is time to plan your reentry, hire a career coach to direct your exploration away from worrying about what to do and into a productive discussion of whether your former career is still viable or what new ways you can repackage your skills.
Trend # 2 Mini-moms
For working class and poverty moms, the luxury of the stay-at-home choice is seldom a possibility. In fact, in spite of the above trend, 72% of mothers with children under 18 are in the work force. According to Time magazine (March 22, 2004), that is up from 47% in 1975 but remaining steady since 1997. Working women with unemployed husbands has risen to 6.4% of married couples. For many single moms there is no other adult bringing in income to allow the break from continuous employment. For some of these moms the search for affordable day care has led to the trend of having older siblings particularly girls care for younger children during the moms’ work hours.

The “mini-mom” arrangement as it is called by Dr. Lisa Dodson, researcher at Boston College, and Dr. Jillian Dickert of Brandeis University examined how low-wage families survive and how youth in high schools prepared for economic survival. Their research, “Girls’ Family Labor in Low-Income Households: A Decade of Qualitative Research,” was published in the May Journal of Marriage and Family, identifies the role of the daughter who, of necessity, takes on the role of child-care provider and assistant housekeeper.

Advantages of this arrangement (I hesitate calling it an option):

  • Low-income families with mini-moms may be more bonded and more loyal.
  • Many of the girls are much more mature about social responsibilities than adolescents in higher-income families.
  • It saves the cost of day care.
  • The commitments to their homes and to younger brothers and sisters undermines the mini-moms’ education and social development outside the family.
  • The research suggested a tendency for this arrangement to encourage early marriage and pregnancy. The heavy responsibilities at home impede the girls’ chance to focus on their own development. As a result they are more likely to carry poverty into the next generation.
Suggestions about this life-style:
  1. Bigger societal issues are at work here. Low wages for moms, lack of social support for families, and the obsolescence of welfare causes lower class moms to make upthe shortfall on their wages through the unpaid labor of their daughters.
  2. One temporary adjustment might help, namely, that of sons taking some responsibilities for the younger sibs. In an interview with the National Conference on Family Relations, Dr. David MacPhee, from Colorado State University speculates that it may be possible for sons to care for siblings in a responsible manner, and asks if boys’ risks for getting into trouble might be reduced if they were encouraged to spend more time with family obligations.
Trend # 3 Low Powered Careers
One question middle class moms who do choose to work outside the home while parenting small children ask is how high powered they want their careers to be while they have children at home. A study by “Catalyst” found that 1 in 3 women with M.B.A.s are not working full-time compared to 1 in 20 for males with the same background. Women are leaving the work force to start their own businesses at twice the rate of men in part, they say, to have more control over their lives. Marian Ruderman co-author of “Standing at the Crossroads: Next Steps for High-Achieving Women,” says “Women have been telling us that their career and leadership development experiences are distinctly different from men and that they do not want to simply adopt the traditional masculine model.” Yet, she says, “Women lack models for an understanding of how to be a successful woman manager, while having a life and obligations outside of work.”
Trend # 4 Work-life Balance is Not Just a Woman’s Issue
According to data from the Families and Work Institute, the combined work hours for dual career couples have increased from 81 hours a week in 1977 to 91 hours in 2002. For married women the decision to opt-out or gear down is usually a couple decision. The family time studies continue to show no gender differences about answers to the question, “If you could have more money or more free time from your job, which would you choose?” Seventy to eighty percent of both men and women say they would choose the time. Some men become the at-home parent while others take their share of parenting responsibility. In some homes things must be very unequal because the use-of-time studies still conclude that women do 2-4 hours more house and child duties than their husbands. We will know the world has changed when men who leave business meetings early for after-school pick up are no longer sent off with ‘Oohs and ahs’ by women coworkers as if the dads are performing heroic duties.
My own bias is that women (and more men) will continue to struggle with the question of how to combine parenting and work responsibilities until the US world of work gets a bit saner. System changes are harder to make but will offer more options:
  • Part-time work
  • Flexible time (this one is already happening)
  • On-site day care or day care centers in office complexes
  • Telecommuting (this one is also happening).
Maybe the next generation will finally figure all this out.

Susan Robison

Susan Douglas & Meredith Michaels. (2004). “The Mommy Myth.”
Marian Ruderman & Patricia J. Ohlott. (2002). “Standing at the Crossroads: Next Steps for High-Achieving Women.”

2. BossWoman Coaching

About the publisher: Susan Robison, Ph.D. is a professional coach, speaker, author and seminar leader. She loves to coach women who want improvement in:

  • work-life balance,
  • career transitions,
  • building your business or practice,
  • time management,
  • increasing productivity.
If you are feeling stuck on the way to your ideal life, give Susan a call for a complementary half-hour coaching session.

She provides keynotes and seminars to business and organizations on the topics of:

  • leadership strategies for women,
  • relationships,
  • work-life balance,
  • change.
She offers her audiences a follow-up coaching session because she knows that workshops don't work.

Contact Susan for your coaching, speaking, or seminar needs at Susan@BossWoman.org or at 410-465-5892.

3. Up and coming workshops

Susan will present two continuing education workshops for coaches on a Caribbean cruise this August. Open to coaches for credit. Contact Susan for more information.

Now booking fall 2004 and winter 2005 workshops. Look for announcements across the summer.
Appendix: A Brief Historical Perspective

  • 1850-1900+. Agricultural period. Farm moms worked on the farm and in the home while their husbands did the heavier work in the fields. Most farms were “mom and pop” or multigenerational businesses. Women’s equal rights were becoming an issue. Women of privilege adopted the parenting customs of wealthy Europeans who used live-in nannies to care for the children. This freed the lady of the manor to manage the servants and the large estate and to provide the social support for her husband’s career development.
  • Late 1800’s, early 1900’s. Industrial revolution. Towns grew around factories and some families moved to the towns and cities in search of work. Women at home often sold arts and crafts products out of their homes. Office work including secretarial work was man’s work because operating a typewriter was considered to be too technical for women.
  • 1900’s-1930. Manufacturing era. Factories and offices employed more people than farms. Typing, nursing, and teaching became women’s work – usually for single women. Working class women worked in the factories under sweat shop conditions. Middle class women worked outside the home until the birth of their children.
  • 1930-40. Depression era. Moms sought paid employment to supplement the uneven incomes of their husbands. Many moms were full time home managers. Small families were the norm. Although women had finally achieved the right to vote, economic conditions restricted the options of women.
  • 1940-45. WWII. With so many working age men part of the armed forces their wives went back to the factories and offices. Large businesses provided day care on site to encourage work life balance for their employees. Moms could lunch with their children and take advantage of on-site retail stores to do their errands before taking the children home for dinner.
  • 1945-1965 Post war. Many middle and working class moms returned to the homes to make room for the men to take over the jobs. A boom of babies were born. Prosperity was attainable for all but the poverty.
  • 1965-early 80’s. Women’s movement. While working class women experienced enough prosperity to stay home with small children, middle class college educated moms with school age or preschool age children at home began to explore returning to work. Sometimes these choices came out of a quest for self-fulfillment, other times for a higher economic standard.
  • 1975-90. The two-paycheck family. Working class women, not wanting to be marginalized in their quest for the good life, began to look for non-traditional jobs in the trades where pay was monitored by the union and discrimination in wages were actually less likely than in the business and professional world. Middle class moms try to do it all – executive positions and perfectly kept homes. Day care was not available and moms struggled to find some stay-at-home moms who did day care in their homes. Gradually child care centers sprung up and became industrialized. In my daughter’s working class neighborhood in Austin, for example, there are four brand new chain child care centers strung out along a section of the nearest busy street.
  • 1990 to present. New trends in work-life balance. Daughters of the baby boomers have reacted to their observations of moms’ stress and distraction and want some changes.
© Copyright 2004 Susan Robison. All rights reserved. The above material is copyrighted but you may retransmit or distribute it to whomever you wish as long as not a single word is changed, added or deleted, including the contact information. However, you may not copy it to a web site without the publisher’s permission.

3725 Font Hill Drive
Ellicott City, MD 21042
Office: (410) 465-5892
Fax: (410) 465-5967

Home |  About Susan |  Programs |  Newsletters
Speaking Schedule |  About Coaching |  Clients
Business Woman of the Year
email: Susan@BossWoman.org
Copyright © 2024