Working Moms Look Back with Mixed Emotions

By Maya Dollarhide Lucca. July 14, 2008

  • Story Highlights
  • Decision for moms to work or stay home is fiercely debated, rarely easy
  • Psychiatrist: Children who are put in day care feel a real loss
  • Author Dr. Debra Condren: Keeping yourself from your own ambitions can be "soul destroying"

(LifeWire) -- When Christine Durst, 45, had her first child in 1987, she received a package from her boss while recuperating in the hospital. But instead of a baby gift, she found something else: year-end tax forms to complete.

"My son lay sleeping in his bed next to mine while I toiled away in the middle of the night," Durst recalls. "I was the business manager. If I didn't do the work, it wouldn't get done."

She worked at that job until 1993, two years after the birth of her second child, a girl. Today, her children grown, Durst works from home. But she regrets missing those early years with the kids. "I felt tremendous guilt about being away from home, and I felt terrible about the stress I brought home from the job."

While Durst, of Woodstock, Connecticut, looks back with regrets, Karol Rose, 64, of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, doesn't. Rose, an executive with FlexPaths, a women-owned consulting business specializing in workplace flexibility, raised two boys while working full time, taking off only a few months when they were born. "I think my sons liked that I had a job," Rose says. "You know, too much focus isn't great for children, either."

Motherhood brings many difficult decisions, but perhaps the most fiercely debated is whether women should work outside the home, especially when their children are small. Whatever their decision, the choice is rarely easy.

Mixed messages

Both mothers who go back to work and those who care for children at home agree on one thing: A woman's decision to work outside the home is scrutinized by her peers and society in general. Even experts are divided on the benefits or risks of mothers working full time.

Debra Condren, author of "Ambition Is Not a Dirty Word: A Woman's Guide to Earning Her Worth and Achieving Her Dreams," says women face an impossible double standard.

"[Society says] we're bad mothers if we go back to work and that we're pampered or foolish if we stay home," says Condren, a psychologist and founding president of Business Psychology Solutions, a business coaching firm.

These mixed messages women receive can be unhealthy. "We end up being our own worst enemies," she says. Moreover, Condren adds, mothers who work and those who stay home often end up judging one another.

But Dr. Scott Haltzman, a clinical psychiatrist and an assistant professor at Brown University, says it's important that mothers focus on their children. "It's very clear to me, from what I've seen in my clients, that children who are put in day care, not raised by their mothers at home, feel a real loss," he says. "They feel the absence of those parents and it affects how they want to parent their own children."

Haltzman, who wrote the book "Happily Married Women: How to Get More Out of Your Relationship by Doing Less," says women suffer when they try to juggle career and parenthood. "If you have a conversation with women who have their pedal to the metal in the workplace and trying to excel at motherhood, you'll find that these women are juggling and they are exhausted," he says.

Besides his own research into marriage and motherhood, Haltzman also cites a study -- "What's Love Got To Do With It? Equality, Equity, Commitment and Women's Marital Quality," released last year by University of Virginia sociologists W. Bradford Wilcox and Steven L. Nock -- that found women are happiest in clearly defined and traditional marital roles.

Condren disagrees.
 She says women can balance career and motherhood, despite what she sees as media bias against working moms. "Each time the media reports an interview with yet another professional woman who has seen the light and taken time out for motherhood, everyone breathes a collective sigh of relief. Finally, this woman has figured out what's really important," says Condren. "But keeping yourself from your own ambitions, dreams and career goals can be soul destroying."

Can you have it both ways?

Barbara Curtis, 60, of Washington and a mother of 12, believes a mother's foremost responsibility is raising her children.

"I've been a single mom and I know there are circumstances where women need to work, but there are a lot of women who choose to work when they don't have to," she says. "They crave that attention and status a job gives them."

Curtis, whose blog,, is about her experiences as a mother, teacher and writer, thinks more women should stay home. "You have to cultivate those early years. The most important work in the world is raising children," she says. Moreover, "it takes a certain kind of maturity and self-awareness to be comfortable, because you don't get your ego stroked or awarded like you do on a job."

But other women say they wouldn't be happy or healthy if they spent every second with their offspring. Their solution is a mix of work and caring for their children.

"My brain would turn to mush, and I love being with my children," says Jennifer Cooper, 32, of Lawrence, Massachusetts, who quit her job as a scientist to raise her children, now 3 and 4. Cooper says she found the perfect solution: She turned her love for wine into a work-from-home job with the Traveling Vineyard.

She works a few evenings a week when her husband is home and spends days with her children. Cooper plans to continue her wine business when the kids start school, but she'll never go back full time. "Some of my friends have their kids in day care and they only get to see their children for a couple of hours a day," she says. "Looking back, I don't want to have missed a moment of their lives.

"My parents had to work to make ends meet and I missed having them at home. I don't want to have regrets."

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Balance, Balance, Balance...Wow, what a concept to discover, believe, and DO.
Bottomline: it is a shame that we as women have to argue over whether or
not we should stay at home with our young children; Why do we fret over such things? Could it be the media?Highly likely!!! How many times have you walked past the newsstand and see the 40 something mom on the front of a magazine with flat abs, toned arms, and a toosh in the place it should be and you feel you should look just like her at 40 something. It is the same media that has our young daughters believing they are too fat/thin, too ugly, too busty/not enough, too bootylicious and our sons taking steriods to be better athletes or to have fab abs...Stop believing all of what you read and see and go inwards and find what really matters to you (I mean really find that inner peace) and then you can become the true person that God sent you here to be. If you find it to be a stay-at-home mom, then stay at home and QUIT criticizing those who wish to work and likewise for those who wish to work.
I am neither for nor against staying at home or working, I just know what is best for my own sanity.
On the other hand, go outside of yourself for a moment and consider if you had to be a single parent by choice due to an affair, death of your spouse,or loss your inheritance, it appears this argument would be moot as you would have no choice but to work. After all, you never know if such a traumatic circumstance will be encountered and if you've have not found your internal peace you'll struggle with your identity until you go to your grave. Do you really want to leave this earth with such a guilt laden mind either way staying at home or limited time with your children?
I've found that young children are resilient and as long as the quality time is given to them, albeit the last 2 hours of the day they will grow-up just fine and will be quite proud of their working or staying at home Mommy...
We really need to collectively start supporting one another on whatever decision we women have to make and "dawg on it" get the men involved, by all means necessary (if there is a spouse). You don't see the men arguing over this but where the next game of golf will take place or who will host the next poker game. If only?????!!!! Hell, they probably just consider us the da*n babysitter and they go on their happy ways to play their games. But guess what, we could be happier and carry less guilt, if we just listen to the Dr. and B-A-L-A-N-C-E! OH and make our spouses the babysitter every once in a while. A healthy mom physcially, spiritually, and mentally produces the same in her children!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! No matter your final decision.

"A healthy mom physcially, spiritually, and mentally produces the same in her children!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! No matter your final decision." Whew! Right on, Sister! Hear, hear. Sincerely, Debra

I felt depressed as a stay-at-home mom, complicated by an abusive husband (ex!). My child and I both did better when we were involved outside the home.

There's no cookie-cutter answer for this debate. However, a mother who is healthy and happy is a far better role-model for her children --whatever the family structure and style may be.

"My child and I both did better when we were involved outside the home." Yes, because we break the isolation so many women feel when we're cut off from people who can give fresh feedback, support, advice, humor, joy, and inspiration. Sometimes we need a sounding board. Sometimes we need the simple but powerful adrenaline rush of being in the company of other adults who are passionate about their work. I've seen thousands of women over the years (and I experience this phenomenon myself) who say they had to drag themselves away from their desks or homes to attend a Women's Business Alliance meeting that was on their calendar. Unfailingly, no matter how tired or how busy they are going into the meeting, they always leave feeling fired up--and very glad they made themselves take some time for themselves. Our children can only benefit when we tend to our own needs first versus putting our own needs at the bottom of the priority pile, to be tended to only after every one else's needs have been met (because all too often, our turn never comes).

Having children is nothing...bringing them up is everything..and how can you do that if you spend 8 hours at work, 2 hours cooking, 2 hours bathing and dressing, 8 hours sleeping, 1 hour driving etc ...Who is instilling values in your children, listening to their problems, wiping their tears or sharing their joys? It is simply insane to pretend that they are just as well off without the nuturing of a fulltime parent.I gave up an amazing job as a film producer to parent my daughter. I accepted this and the subsequent lack of money, with the only condition to myself being that I would study every subject that interested me during the many hours waiting for her outside school or at ballet etc over the years. My daughter turned out great - and I ended up very educated. She is now doing her Master's degree and I am back at work, content, earning money, and making up for lost time with no regrets.

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