Seventy-five years after Rosie the Riveter declared, “We Can Do It”, American women are still struggling to find a work/life balance. Rosie may have been talking about the war effort, but her iconic image left an enduring legacy of feminism and female empowerment.
There is no doubt women have helped to shape the landscape of the American workforce. However, many women stopped asking themselves, “Can I do it?”, and are instead asking themselves, “Should I do it?”
According to US Census Bureau statistics, there are 104 million women ages 25-50. Those women represent 30% of the female population. These are the women who are simultaneously building their careers and their families. That’s a sizeable segment of the American population, though, according to research by the U.S. Department of Labor, the number of women working outside the home is trending downward.
There’s no question the days of the traditional family with dad off to work and mom at home vacuuming in heels and pearls are long gone. Though men have stepped up to support their partners, the bulk of domestic chores still tend to fall on women. A 2014 Kaiser Family Foundation poll of adults aged 25 to 54 in the United States found that, when asked why they had left the workforce, 61 percent of women cited family responsibilities, compared with 37 percent of men. In addition, a growing number of families are headed by single moms, making juggling parenting and supporting the family an even greater challenge.
Clearly, finding a work/life balance is a complicated issue with no easy answers. Jennifer Eileen, mother of three, recently went back to teaching full-time. When asked what the greatest challenge has been, she said, “While my husband is grateful for me working as a backup should his job suddenly go kaput, we are all strained by the lack of time and disorder that has become our life. I feel frustrated that I can’t do a great job at either (parenting or teaching) because I’m stretched.”
Along with increased frustration, moms on both sides struggle with their decision. If they stay at home, they often feel guilty for not contributing to the family’s finances, while those who work struggle with guilt for not spending enough time with their children. Tina Weiler was a stay-at-home mom when her daughters were young, but went back to work when they started school. She says, “My biggest struggles as a stay-at-home-mom? Overwhelmingly and hands-down: Am I doing enough?” Trina Putnam worked from the day her son came home from the hospital. “I spent a lot of time when they were younger feeling guilty that I had to work when I wanted to be playing with my kids.”
The one thing everyone should agree on is that all moms work. Period. Whether they commute to an office, waitress at Denny’s, play with Legos, or spend their days drinking endless cups of imaginary tea, all moms work and it’s not a competition.
At the end of the day, stay-at-home-and working moms have the same goal – happy children. Nicole Coghlin, therapist at Bayridge Counseling Centers says, “Kids aren’t affected negatively because mom works. They are affected negatively if there are no fun, happy memories to reminisce about. I always make sure that when I am home it’s family time and am present with the kids not just in the same room as them.”