While working moms outnumber the number of mothers that stay at home — with working moms making up nearly 72% of moms as cited by the United States Department of Labor — it seems working moms often get a bad rap.1 And the most shocking part about this is that the criticism and judgment of these working moms seem to be the worst from other moms.
Anne Hathaway’s role in “The Intern” as Jules Ostin, founder and CEO of a booming E-Commerce company, sheds light on this phenomenon when it displays Ostin getting bullied by other moms for being a working mom.4 The movie seems to imply that no matter what Ostin does for her daughter, she is still viewed as selfish and less maternal than the moms not working outside the home. It seems this stigma stems from the view that children suffer when their mom is working.
Reasons Why Moms Work
I grew up with a mom who worked part-time. She was a nurse, and I never questioned why she worked, nor did I ever feel like I was missing out on her. I just assumed women work because they need to. I remember the first time I had a friend with a mom who stayed home. I asked my friend, “So why doesn’t your mom work?” It seemed so strange to me.
Watching my mom work taught me that a mom can work and be an incredible mom. The two weren’t in conflict with one another. And I think for this stigma to be broken, moms need to take time to listen to other moms and their reasons for working. We assume every mother shares a story similar to ours, but that is not the case. Women work for different reasons, and here are just a few of the many:
1. I work because I have no other choice.
I think this reason is more common than so many people realize. It seems society has lost sight of the fact that many families cannot make ends meet without two incomes. And instead, we act like every woman has the option to stay at home. When I asked moms why they work, I was surprised by how many cited this reason. When considering that, isn’t it sad to think these women might be viewed as selfish for working when, in fact, they are solely working for no other reason than to provide for their children?
2. I work because I like measurable productivity.
“I love the problem solving, getting to know people’s stories and helping them achieve a dream. And I love the feelings of accomplishment.”
Motherhood is many things, but it is not a job with daily tasks that has many measurable results. You work on teaching manners but constantly have to correct them. You work on potty training, then your child has an accident on the floor (three days in a row). I am a stay-at-home mom, and this has been one of the most challenging things to adjust to. I love organization and efficiency. And there is often no way to guarantee either of those things in motherhood. And it can drive a person insane if you can’t find a way to work around that.
Therefore, some mothers work to feel a sense of immediate accomplishment. While showing patience to an unreasonable toddler deserves a major award, it will not give you as instant a result as finishing a big project at work for a client.
3. I work because I make more money than my husband, so he stays home.
Some women have careers that naturally bring in more income than their husbands — they are the breadwinners. Therefore, it is only logical when looking at the cost of life (and daycare) to have the person who brings in the most money be the one working. Society can often forget that just because a woman is a mom does not mean her career choice makes less than her husband’s.
I have mom friends who are attorneys married to teachers. Chemical engineers married to computer science majors. Pharmacists married to communication majors. Love does not look at career choices. We need to remember that. One of my friends, who is the breadwinner, often says she would love not to feel the pressure of being the breadwinner. But that doesn’t change the fact that she is.
4. I work because I like to feel like I am contributing to my family.
“I think that my daughter is learning that a woman can work, be a wife, and a mom. This is a very important lesson for her to learn.”
I’ll never forget hearing one of my closest friends tell me she will never not work based on her childhood experiences. Coming from a broken home with no father around, she said it was ingrained in her to never rely on a man. No matter how much she loves being with her children, she said she will always feel an equal need to maintain the ability to be independent of her husband and contribute to her family. In her perspective, mothers show love by giving back to the family. After all, her mother was the one and only provider.
Another working mom said her goal is to ensure her children see that a woman can be equal to men. And because there are still so many things in society that do not reflect this equality—unequal pay and disproportionate numbers of women in politics and CEO positions—she wants to make sure she displays that a woman can do anything that a man can do.2,3
5. I work because it makes me a better mom.
While some women feel that raising children is their calling, some feel they have other callings. Maybe some that are stronger. Living out our callings and passions makes us feel fulfilled, invigorated, and energized. But what happens when we don’t live them out? Many women feel sad and unfulfilled, so some choose to work. When staying at home, they do not feel they are using their gifts, which doesn’t energize them to be a good mom. But by working, they are invigorated to offer the energy they need to give their best to their children.
6. I work because I am not strong with children.
“I did not have the patience to do toddler-friendly activities.”
As strange as it seems to assume every woman is fulfilled from being at home with her children, it seems this assumption exists. And it isn’t true. You can love your children and still not feel your strong suit is toddler crafts, singing lullabies, and reading stories. You may struggle with patience, and you’ve never been someone who does as well with little kids. And you may feel this way because it’s true. Then, when you see others be so strong in it and see yourself able to use your gifts elsewhere, it may make more sense to work. And there is nothing wrong with that.
Sometimes, when I see how amazing my children’s preschool teachers are, I think it would be a disservice to those people not to have the ability to offer their love and gifts to children. It is THEIR passion! And they should use it!
This is just the tip of the iceberg in shedding light on reasons moms work. But even if it’s just a start, it’s important for building empathy and building up our fellow mom friends who work. If you are a working mom, please comment and let us hear from you!