Thursday, August 27, 2009


Some of you may have seen the discussion about being child-free or childless started by a blog post explaining the virtues of motherhood. I find that post very short-sighted even if we don't focus on how insensitive it is to many of us who want children very much but remain without.

See, the thing is, this post was written on a blog that is supposedly aimed at working mothers. Obviously I don't know what it means to be a working mother. But I do know what it feels like to think about what motherhood means for my career. I was raised by a single mother who taught me that I can do anything I want. Having a fulfilling career is important to me and part of how I identify myself. I'm a researcher. I still want to be even after we finally become parents. Yes, I want to add "mother" to the list of ways I identify myself. Very much so. But I don't want that be the end of my identity.

This is what I find problematic about this "Moms at Work" blog. The blog purports to be about the "precarious tight-rope act of balancing our jobs and family." But going through the last several pages of posts, very few are about balancing jobs and family. They are almost all about parenting. I'm sure working mothers appreciate these thoughts on parenting. But aren't there a host of issues about this balancing act to talk about outside of how to take time off when you kid gets the swine flu? Shoot, I'm not even a mother and I've thought about these things. I've had senior women (and mothers) in my field advise me to remove my wedding ring on interviews so potential employers don't view me as someone who will jump ship in a maternity leave. They did so because they (and me) have heard others describe new mothers as "less productive" and not distinguished enough if they need 7 rather than 6 years to fulfill tenure requirements. I've heard my sister wonder if her dream of going back to college means it will hurt her ability to give her children what they need. I know women who gave up exciting promotions because they just found out they were pregnant. Or give up new jobs because they needed the health insurance for their new baby. And I couldn't help but notice that my mother, while always respected by her employer, never saw her career take off until after I was out of the house.

These are the struggles women experience trying to balance work and family. I'm sure there are many others, including some of the logistical challenges like snow days and sick children. But these concerns are not the focus of the blog. Instead they focus solely on being a mother. Many of the posts would be of just as much interest to stay at home mothers. And if this was a blog aimed generally at all mothers, that would be just fine.

But the implicit message sent by the totality of posts on this blog is that the important part of being a "working mother" is the "mother" part. Their status as workers or professionals are not really worth mentioning. And that's what bothered me so much about this particular post ranting about women who are child-free. There are many wonderful things about being a mother. And women without children may indeed be "missing" those joys in life. But there are sacrifices that mothers have to make (and let's be honest, even with husbands who take on equal parenting duties, the sacrifices still fall mostly on women). And I'm sure women who are child-free would say that mothers are "missing" out on something as well. We call them sacrifices for a reason after all.

Life is about trade-offs. We make decisions about what is right for us. Child-free women, working mothers, stay-at-home mothers. All have to weighs the joys and fulfillment of one lifestyle with what they may be missing from another lifestyle. I hope all women are able to achieve the balance they want. Some women don't have a choice and find themselves in a category where they feel what they are "missing" all too keenly. My heart goes out to them.


  1. Great post, Missy -- someone could write a dissertation on this topic, it has so much potential for research (not it!).

  2. Your point is well made... to be a mother in this day and age equals sacrificing something. Even many somethings. It's too bad that the author of the post in question was so thoughtless in her wording. I think there is a response to be made to the militantly-child-free faction of our world, but her's was not the voice that should have been speaking it.

  3. Great blog :) I couldn't have said it better then Mrs. Gamgee :)

    Happy ICLW

  4. Very interesting to read and digest. Thanks for putting it into a blogpost.


    Well put! I worked for awhile when my children were younger, but they went to work with me, so I don't think I "qualify" as a typical working mother. Having said that, I believe there are a lot of sacrifices to be made. Not just for mothers, but for everyone. We sacrifice here and there to make things work better for us.

    I do hope, that nobody is missing anything after making their choice. And if they do, my heart goes out tot hem as well.

  6. I read the post that everyone is talking about, and quite a few of the comment and blog responses. You make excellent points about the complexity of balancing... well, life in general... in this day and age and economy. There's so much more to it than moms or not-moms and Ms. Hays' post really missed the boat.

    :: ICLW ::


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