Photo from Mount Royal, Frisco, Colorado.

"That is happiness; to be disolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep." - Willa Cather

Saturday, 31 January 2009

Working mothers

Okay, so neither the running nor the dieting are going very well. I just finishing a two and a half hour run when I heard a snap near my butt. No turtlehead this time. Just a tendon that had gotten so tight it had to move. Now I've got sciatic pain so badly that I can barely walk. Since the marathon, I've had nothing but a slew of injuries.

And the scale said 51.0 this morning. So, those of you who guessed 2 weeks were (unfortunately) wrong.

So, I've decided to talk about something I'm a little bit more excited about. That's being a mommy returning to work. I started my "praktik" (or unpaid doctor work) last week in the Ophthalmology department. There are a lot of hoops to jump through in order to get paid here as a doctor, but I should start getting an income in March. Yes, the kind of "surgical resident" I was in the US was an eye surgeon (not an optometrist, grrrrr).

Anyway, a small part of me wants to just hang out with the Lorax and be one of those stay-at-home moms. Then I could run and swim and do as I please. Perhaps an easy and comfortable life. But I just could never do it; it is not how I was brought up. And being back in an ophthalmology department reminded me why I got a good education and how excited I am to start again.

But, according to SR, being a stay-at-home mom in the United States is just "normal." I remember him infamously saying to me before we started dating that he thought women should be stay-at-home moms (of course he just wanted to see my reaction). But can it possibly be true that it is "normal" to just stay home? Is America still so far from equality between the sexes? Or is his perspective biased?

I had to do some research (of course). It turns out that over 90% of Danish mothers work. While in the US, 58 % of mothers with children under the age of six work, and about 75% of those with children between the ages of 6 and 18 work. The percentage of working mother peaked in he US in the 1990's and plateaud since then.

Why the discrepency between the countries? For one, employees of daycares in Denmark have a long, formal training before they can begin to work. The public institutions are extremely successful in the social, emotional and intellectual development of children (so much so that in the paper today it was annouced that daycare will be compulsory for immigrant children). But in the US, there is no consistency in the quality of daycare. An NICHD study of early childcare showed that children who were placed in high-quality childcare settings had better language skills and social/emotional development than those who were placed in centers with poorly trained adults or a high number of children per adult caregiver.

Despite those findings, the US has not started following the Danish model. And the inequality between men and women in the workplace will thus persist.

Is the high percentage of working mothers in Denmark one of the reasons it's considered the "happiest" country in the world? I tend to think there's a correlation.

Running song of the day: We are Blind and Riding of the Merry-Go-Round byAlaska in Winter


Abbie said...

The argument for mothers in the workplace always seems to be a subject upon which everyone has an opinion. I think everything you wrote was interesting, but like the argument itself, it is subjective. For example, what specifies equality? What specifies happiness?

Does equality mean that each of us can do exactly what the other does? Does it mean that each profession has an equal number of each gender?

And happiness... that is so completely subjective that I won't even go there.

That said, I agree with parts of what you wrote. I currently stay at home with my daughter and would like to find a job that will allow me to get out a few hours a day but no more. I personally don't want my daughter spending 8 hours a day in daycare. For me, staying at home is not 'normal'. It's downright hard sometimes. I have a Masters degree and certainly there are many things I could do with it but I choose to stay home. Others choose to work. And each person makes their choice and deals with the consequences. I don't pass judgment because I know that not everyone can deal with being at home.

I think you hit a chord when you said that staying at home is "perhaps an easy and comfortable life". So many (my own siblings even!) think that being a stay-at- home mom is easy and hardly any work... all fun and tons of play. I think it couldn't be further from the truth. It's hard work (if you do it right), stressful, emotionally challenging and many other things.

I feel that as a society we have placed so much emphasis on fulfillment coming from working. The role of a mother who stays home (raising a human being!) seems to bear little importance compared to those who choose to work force. It's almost looked down upon and I think that's sad.

Brianne said...

I agree with Abbie, though I certainly have no problem with people that decide to return to work. (I do think that 6 weeks is too early though - ie. the typical American mat. leave.) I myself find it extremely challenging to stay home and hope to be able to find some part time work in my field, perhaps a few students, a few gigs in order to exit the mind-numbing aspect of child-rearing if only for a few hours a day. But I too don't want her to be in daycare all day. If I had the option of reliable and educational daycare that it sounds like Denmark has, perhaps I would feel differently.

Changing subjects, I too have been plagued by injuries. It's totally depressing, though I did manage to win a 7.6 mile race last weekend:0 (just against the females, of course a lot of men beat me.)

Anonymous said...

Staying home with one's child is a wonderful choice to have - if you have the luxury of choice. For better or worser, the vast majority of women in the USA who work outside the home do so not just because they feel more fulfilled if they work, but because of economic necessity. I do think that it is important to remember this fact and not couch the issue of women's working as a "choice". Those who have the choice, like Abbie and Brianne, are the lucky few.

Denmark's policies (and the EU in general) are so much more family and woman-friendly than the USA. Due to years of service I will be able to take a 6 week paid maternity leave when I deliver, but others in my workplace with less time on the job will have to take that leave with partial or even no pay. The USA is far, far behind when it comes to legislation that protects women and their economic stability.

No one should feel they have to justify either the importance of the work they do within or outside the home. We all do what we need to do to support ourselves and our families, and for so many of us, that means staying in the workforce full-time.

Anonymous said...

...and I meant "worse", not "worser"! I don't seem to be able to see my typos until I've published!

Cee said...

my mom was a stay at home mother and i know from watching her that it is not easy (last year she had an anxiety attack and fell into great depression- it was scary). i think its sad that society puts pressure on moms to work by telling them they are worth more or will be more fulfilled if they bring home an income. i am currently home with my baby while i finish school and i feel that pressure to "get a real job." if you ask me stay at home moms have the hardest job ever... so i think your categorizing of them is unfair.

i think each mom is best fit to determine what is best for her family. i might decide to stay home if my son needs me home but i would like to put my law degree to work sometime too. and i agree that not all people have meaningful choices when it comes to this matter.

Abbie said...

I agree with Enthused and her comment about Europe being much more friendly towards working mothers. Having nannied in Belgium, I witnessed that first hand as the mother of the children for whom I was a nanny worked part time but had excellent benefits and maternity options.

I will say that with my husband in law school right now and living off thousands of dollars of loans that my choice to stay home is sadly not because we have the money to do so but because I feel that it is the most important thing I can do for my daughter. That's not to say that I think anyone's choice, especially yours Sea Legs, to go back to work is bad. It's just not the choice I am making at this point in my life. But I still hope for that job or little something extra that will allow me a few hours out a day. :)

sea legs girl said...

Let me just revise what I said... parts of being a stay at home mom would be easy, but man is it HARD WORK to care for a kid/kids all day.

That's why it seems like a better system for people who are trained in daycare and enjoy it to watch kids while other moms work at what they're trained in and enjoy. It's better for the society, too.

I should also mention that all moms in Denmark have one year payed materntiy leave (so the most important time for mother child bonding still happens!).

olga said...

Yup, stay-at-home mom is hard. And mostly boring too, on daily basis, when all you have is a tot to talk to. So it makes it harder. And then there are house chores. And making you man, a bread-winner, happy. You know, I am not a home-mom, never was and wouldn't be able to. But I am all for it. In Russia the paid maternity leave is 1.5 year, and then they hold your spot for 3 years. In US - it's not that they can, or choose, to work, they have to. And it sucks, when the choices are made for you. Why still not that many works? Because work market sucks for female, AND because not only many day cares are not the best qualities, they cost a fortune, for many (for me being in academic science back when my kids were young) my whole salary covered day care. That's it. What's the purpose? Wouldn't a mom better stay home and take good care of her baby, and cook some, and clean some, instead of paying all she makes and then still cook and clean, but tired? Ever thought of correlation of fewer divorces and happier children back when we grew up (well, like some 30-40 years ago)? Besides that divorces were a "no-no", still, men felt they are MEN and are feeding the family, so they didn't leave their manhood and ego behind (and no matter how much feminism we instill, men can't check it out of their genotype), and women, well, served men better because they didn't have to work 40-50 hr/week and still be expected to do same stuff. Take it with a grain of salt, I am pretty feminist's, and try and tell me what to do. But I wish I could consider myself weird and the world would just revolve the way it was before. Truly, I do.

Anonymous said...

I agree, daycare in the USA is outrageous both in terms of quality (low) and price (high)! In my area, full-time daycare for a newborn can run as high as $1500 a month. I can't imagine how people of average income afford that, especially once they have more than one. At that point, it does make sense to look at how much that job really contributes to the bottom line.

I feel very, very fortunate that my husband will be able to stay home and care for our daughter while I am at work. Unfortunately, that's not reality for many women I know, especially some of my students (I'm a college professor at an urban university), who juggle work, school, and life as single parents while the men who fathered their children sometimes pay child support, and sometimes don't. Often, they have to leave their children in unlicensed and inadequate care - it's certainly nothing like Denmark's system, which sounds wonderful.

Maybe with this new administration we will finally get better social services (including health insurance, which we haven't touched on in this discussion) to support women and their children.

sea legs girl said...

Cost is a whole other issue which I'm glad you guys brought up. It is so sad that it costs more to have kids in daycare than what families can afford. Here the minimum wage is about $17 an hour, so even the lowest paid families can afford daycare. There is also support from the government here for daycare payment (ours is about half paid for!).

I'm not trying to make women who stay at home feel bad. I just think it is sad that in the US a lot of women don't have the option of daycare (monetarily) or they don't trust the system. The lower working rate among mothers in the US simply perpetuates inequality in the work place (along with wasting of women's education) and that is what makes me sad.

Abbie said...

I have to strongly disagree with your very last statements Sea Legs Girl (though I do agree with the monetary price of daycare and a distrust for the system). I think the lower working rate among mothers has very little to do with inequality. There are hundreds of thousands of mothers who choose to work in the US. Mothers who stay home I believe, do so mainly by choice, not because of inequality.

And I am hoping that I read your comment in the wrong way when you stated that mothers not working is a waste of their education. It is anything but that. I don't feel that staying home with my daughter is a waste of my six years of education. Anything but. My daughter has an educated mother who has traveled extensively and appreciates foreign culture, speaks two foreign languages fluently, holds a bachelors and masters in art related fields, appreciates music, reading and a healthy lifestyle. I would rather she be watched over and cared for by me than by someone who holds a "degree" in daycare.

The role of mother is one of the most important and if one is religious, sacred, roles women can have. The influence of a mother on a child is something that can never be replaced by anyone else. It is by no means easy and I know you know that too from first hand experience. But don't think that if you were to stay home with the Bois that your education would be a waste. That is almost an insult to motherhood.

Heather said...

I think that it's just fine to go to work but I don't think being a stay at home mom should be considered the easy lifestyle.

I stay at home. My husband travels. I get no help and have to manage a house and her 24 hours a day... okay, I get 3-5 hours on the weekend. It is not an easy lifestyle.

It is true though that for us it's cheaper for me to stay at home than to pay for daycare and associated costs with me working.

Nali's Mom said...

Have to jump in here - I am a stay-at-home mom of a 3 yo and currently 8 mo preggo w/number 2. I never expected to stay home. I fully planned to return to work but when the time came, I just couldn't do it. That's not to say that this was an easy "choice" for me or my family. It has required not only economic sacrifice but sacrificing to some extent my very identity. The loss of friends that I had primarily through work made the first 8 months extremely lonely. Now, I have a great base of other SAHM friends but it has taken time and work to build those relationships. I don't plan (neither can we afford) to stay home indefinitely perhaps another 3 years or so but nothing can replace this time w/my daughter (soon to be daughters). If you are "lucky" enough to work OR stay at home, I think the best indicator of your level of happiness is the support you receive from your significant other and friends. As long as they are there to support you, validate your choices and share your stress it'll make either decision easier and will help you be the best mom you can be.

And as an aside, if in the United States companies were more willing to retain their well-compensated employees by allowing them to go part-time for a few years as opposed to this all or nothing (don't work or 40 plus hours) then I think more highly educated women would make the choice to return to work. I live in L.A. - to work a 9hour day (which for me would be ridiculous w/a small child anyway) then commute 1 1/2 each way to work is not a "choice" I can afford to make right now.

mcd137 said...

Just another SAHM who had to chime in. I have a college degree (put myself through). I have had my own business, so I know from hard work. It has been my experience that being home with a 2 year-old and a 6-month old is Very.Hard.Work. Constant. Mind-numbing. But yet, I want to be here. I mean, what else is there, really, in life? Food, sex, and your babies. That was true for the cave(wo)men, and fundamentally it's true for us today. Oh, and crossword puzzles. Like those, too.

Stephanie said...

I couldn't afford to pay someone with my qualifications to take care of my kids, so I decided to do it myself. ;-)

Seriously though, I wouldn't have missed this experience for the world. Hand my kids over to someone with a degree in childcare? No way. I'm too selfish.