The dilemma for women who are mothers is about how much time and energy they will give to their children and how much they will keep for themselves. Though more women are working outside than they were way back in the 70’s, the questions still remain. How much do we give away and how much to we keep? Before the Women’s Movement of the 70’s nobody asked those questions. It was assumed that women would be mothers and that that role would be fulfilling enough by itself. Until women began to speak we didn’t really understand that they wanted and needed more out of life than caring for husbands and children. I became a mother in the early 70’s but I always knew that I wanted a chance to pursue a career as well. At that time I was bucking the trends. “Working” moms were definitely suspect and the children were closely inspected for signs of neglect. I mean really!! My own mom was ambivalent. She didn’t teach me to be a housewife. I never learned how to cook or clean until I had my own apartment and taught myself. But after the boys were born she was indignant that I was still working. She hinted not too subtly that I was not being a good mother. Yet I knew from her example that giving up her teaching career to become a wife and mother was a terrible loss and a huge sacrifice. Her years of teaching were the happiest of her life. She never taught again after marriage. At that time women were required by law to quit when they got married so they wouldn’t take the job away from a man! But when I was in high school she got to substitute for 6 weeks for the high school Latin teacher. She was the only person in Kenton, Ohio who had the necessary background. It was the happiest that I ever knew her to be. So deep in my heart I knew her pain. I knew that I couldn’t give up my career as she had done. That being said I gave a great deal of time and energy to the task of being a mother. My days were long—7am until 11pm with one 45 minute break. I supervised homework and attended soccer games. I made costumes and cupcakes. I read stories and said prayers. I get tired just thinking about it. Would I do it again? Yes. Would I do it differently? Yes. Do I regret not spending full time on a career? Yes. Am I proud of my children? Yes. So my conclusion is that the decision to mother is not an easy one. It is fraught with ambiguity. But like any difficult but freely chosen work it is worth the effort.
Dr. Ellen Toronto is a licensed clinical psychologist/psychoanalyst in the state of Michigan.Like this author?