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The 'working mother' conundrum

I was an ambitious young woman, and even after my life turned away from journalism and into academia, and then onto the slow PhD track with motherhood, I remember standing roundly pregnant before my class of German students and asserting in no uncertain terms that I would be back at work 'of course' at the latest 6 months after my baby was born. And I remember their awkward silence and puzzled looks, and I was puzzled by their puzzlement. … until our baby was born, and until I began to realize their question was 'why would you actually choose to work when you are allowed to stay home?'.  Behind it was an assumption that life was friends and family and hobbies and work was something to fit into that bigger picture. Wow, has the culture changed in 15 years.

True or untrue?


"Just being there when you turn around. That is the cardinal virtue of the perfect Mum."


from "Three Junes" by Julia Glass

I had the greatest luck to be giving birth in Germany, where a 3-year maternity leave with job security was guaranteed. And to have a midwife, as does everyone, no matter where they give birth, who came to our house every day, and who gave me confidence to relax and really trust in the experience of becoming a mother.

Though this is not the reality for many women in the information society world, it seems that women are not asking the right questions anymore. Rather than moving in the direction of 'more work for everyone at all times', we should be moving in the direction of 'more balanced life for everyone', mother and father, male and female.

Parenting vs. work time

by Ann Kathrin Scheerer

"The denial and blurring of different concepts of time play a role in the discussion about fulltime childcare. There is "mothering- or parenting-time" and there is "work time" and they don't fit together at all. Mothering time is characterized by repetitions and reoccurring rhythms, an orientation towards a perception of eternity which the mother gives to her child as an irreplacable and subjective experience of confidence and reliability. ... Work time is linear, goal-oriented towards appointments and points of time. It is also 'unmotherly' in the sense that it lacks understanding. It doesn`t care about needs for dependency and individually sensitive acts of separation. It is directed towards moving ahead. The wish and the necessity to early-on integrate mothering time and work time has always needed a flexible and sensitive welding of these two distinct worlds." [view source]

Scheerer, Anna Kathrin, "Krippenbetreuung als ambivalentes Unternehmen,"

Thus, this page is devoted to figuring out how to combine the bonding and the connections children need with the demands of both earning money to afford our particular level of comfort and remaining lively and fulfilled emotionally. 

"The besetting problem in childcare research has been - and to some extent still is - a problem of over-simplification. The question that dominated the field was "Does separation from mothers into child care do children harm?" This question has been asked many times in different ways, countries, settings and samples, and with different degrees of scientific rigor. No clear scientific answer has emerged because the issue was not as simple as the question suggested. Which child and mother? When and for how long? Which care setting and caregiver? And by what definition of harm? …

Nowadays of course, most childcare researchers do realise that it is not only the fact of being separated from mothers that matters to children but also issues of the quality of that experience: how the separation is handled and what happens to them while they are being cared for by others." Focusing only on group size, staff:child ratios and caregivers' qualifications (features that can be regulated by government) do not tell the whole story. "When quality of care is measured by those means alone, a lot of children in 'good' settings don't do as well as would be expected, and a lot of children in 'poor' settings do better. We have to take into account subtler processes and interactions that are more difficult to regulate."

Children's characteristics matter .… Maternal sensitivity - keeping a child in mind, and being responsive to them without being intrusive - often shows up as the most important variable in a child's development." [view source]

"Context and purpose of the FCCC study", Families, Children and Child Care,



My good friend M. just recommended this book, along with relating that her mother and her sister's mother-in-law (so, the two grandmothers) were taking monthly turns nannying for her sister's new baby.



Paris Je T'aime, loin du 16e

Sometimes, a scene can equal a million words...

In his step-by-step desciption of a small group of mothers and babies he observed regularly, Robert Coles describes the 'moral archaeology of childhood', where the first interactions lay down the patterns for growing children. "But really, I kept thinking to myself. ... I find myself realizing that the best moments we had as disciplinarians, Jane and I, were those when we had plenty of time to handle the difficulty, the challenge, plenty of time to give of ourselves to our children, to make clear our reasons, to let them know why we objected to something and why we weren't of two minds on the matter, and so wouldn't budget. ... But several women in that room had memories of the long hours they gave to work, the scarce time available for their babies. Phrases such as "quality time" struck them as hollow. [view source]

Coles, Robert, The Moral Intelligence of Children, p.78


In German Offices, a Dearth of Mothers

"Despite a battery of government measures and ever more passionate debate about gender roles, only about 14 percent of German mothers with one child resume full-time work, and only 6 percent of those with two. All 30 DAX companies are run by men. Nationwide, a single woman presides on a supervisory board. ... Very few countries approach 20 percent female representation on corporate executive boards. But while Swedish executive suites have 17 percent women and the United States and Britain 14 percent, in Germany it is 2 percent -- as in India, according to McKinsey's 2010 Women Matter report." [view source]

as part of a series by the New York Times called "The Female Factor" at, tellingly published in the Suddeutsche Zeitung's New York Times reprint Monday issue. July 11, 2011, pg.1

Interesting in the above article is not whether ultimately motherhood and full-time corporate careers are a good match but rather that the article does not even question this assumption. While there is much research calling into doubt the efficacy of 70-hour work-week corporate careers (for both men and women) in a healthy lifestyle, the New York Times article assumes full-time work to be the holy grail of modern womanhood. It relies on statistics, more easily found in survey forms of tax and employment than are literary and emotional explorations of livelihoods. Statistics are handy to compare superficial situations in different countries, but such numbers tell very little about the real life decisions women make. And they don't allow us to understand the decision-making processes that might allow, for example, part-time work to become more acceptable in the corporate world.

Early fulltime childcare in Germany

by Ann Kathrin Scheerer

"…Whether Krippe (fulltime daycare in a "Kinderkrippe" means children from eight weeks to 2 1/2 years of age) is good or bad depends entirely on the individual case, on the people involved and the quality of their relationships with each other. One can find fulltime daycare - of course offering care in small groups - that leaves an impression of a holding, calm atmosphere that is oriented towards the needs of the babies and toddlers . However the impression can vary again, depending on whether you visit the Krippe in the morning or in the afternoon. And one can find Kinderkrippen - and this is rather the norm under current conditions - in which you get an impression that due to the miserable conditions - and I`d like to be frank here - something malevolent is at work." readmore logo



'Mommy Track' Without Shame

By Virginia Postrel

... American women have actually established a modus vivendi. Most continue to have and raise children and, in greater numbers than ever before, to combine motherhood not just with jobs but careers-vocations in which they make long-term investments and.... [Go to the Wall Street Journal]

But Will It All Make Mommy Happy?

By Janet Maslin

"There are all these new books out there portraying Asian mothers as scheming, callous, overdriven people indifferent to their kids' true interests," Amy Chua writes. She ought to know, because hers is the big one: "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," a diabolically well-packaged, highly readable screed ostensibly about the art of obsessive parenting. In truth, Ms. Chua's memoir is about one little narcissist's book-length search for happiness. [Go to the New York Times]

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

I actually enjoyed this book, although I thought I would hate it. She certainly paints a vivid picture of a certain section of US society, and only time will tell how she and her daughters manage adulthood together. Perhaps she will write a sequel.

Why children should be raised by mothers, not tigers

By Madeline Levine

... It is easy to imagine an endless stream of either kudos or invectives directed at Chua for her provocative ideas about child rearing, which include not only humiliation (she actually calls her daughter "garbage" when she is disrespectful), but also punitive threats, oppressive rules and restrictions of all sorts. But as a clinical psychologist, my question is: What does the research on child development show about the way that parenting styles affect children? [Go to the San Francisco Chronicle]


Many Women at Elite Colleges Set Career Path to Motherhood

by Louise Story

Cynthia Liu is precisely the kind of high achiever Yale wants: smart (1510 SAT), disciplined (4.0 grade point average), competitive (finalist in Texas oratory competition, musical go to the New York Times

"Some of us don't have time to turn each moment with our kids into a seminar! I'm standing at the stove, I'm late with supper, my daughter has worn me down with her activity, her endless activity, and all I want is for her to be still and eat her supper, while I cook ours, my husband's and mine. But no, she's determined to push all the buttons. Oh, I know she doesn't think that way! She's just being a normal kid of a year and a half. Well, I'm just being a normal, exhausted working mother. ... [View source ]

quoted in Coles, Robert, The Moral Intelligence of Children, New York: Random House, 1997, page 76


Time Bind

"I've worked for Amerco for fourteen years. Financially, I've always had to work. I've had no choice. But I just can't imagine going through what I went through again, working full time and raising two kids. It's just been too hard. There were so many things Dolores and Kenny couldn't do or have. Dolores doesn't get ballet lessons unless I find another mother to drive -- and they expect you to take your turn, but you never can because you work. Kenny can't go to Boy Scouts. He was in Boy Scouts two years ago, when they had meetings at five at night. But this year, Boy Scouts begins at three and ends at four-thirty, so he doesn't get to go. Those are the things you feel bad about. I'm just glad they're grown up now." [View source]

Hochschild, Arlie Russell, The Time Bind: when work becomes home and home becomes work. pg.134


Studying and parenting

Maria Amelia Viteri: "Throughout my education in Ecuador, I did not experience a particular division of work, study and childcare, and I saw the separation of the intellectual (mind) versus the physical (body) discussed by Evans and Grant in Mama, PhD (2008) as rather foreign. When I conducted interviews with Colombian refugees in Imbabura, Ecuador, Simone played with their children. At the publishing company I worked at, she would suggest her favorite games be included in the Teaching English as a Foreign Language book series. As my child and I entered the US, I visualized us once again as a team. Thus, my Ecuadorian background allowed me to create alternative spaces where Simone and I could continue sharing and learning together, which other students did not always imagine as a possibility for themselves. Simone accompanied me through fieldwork, 2004–08, with Washington DC’s Latino LGBT population—at points facilitating my development of social relationships in the field—and it became a learning experience for us both."

Adelaide Lusambili: "There is a common perception that children rob parenting grad- uate students of essential time for completing research, writing papers and attending classes. However, coming from cultures where social and recreation time is highly valued, we both took care to esbalish a balance in our lives—a balance in which our children were integral. Family time became recreation time, as we cooked traditional meals and visited parks, libraries and museums with our kids, taking regular (and necessary) breaks from the challenging academic world. We believe that this balance, enabled by our children, allowed us to have healthier lifestyles than many of our PhD colleagues." [view source]

Viteri, Maria Amelia and Lusambili, Adelaide, "Parenting as an International PhD Student", Anthropology News, March 2009, pg.4


Interested in more? Here are other articles:
work-life balance US
psychology North America
Germany child development

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