Sunday, July 5, 2009

Can We Support Working Mothers?

I just read an article in Brain, Child magazine about a mother who let her 12-year-old daughter and her friend take her younger children and another friend to the mall. (You can read the entire article here: "Guilty As Charged"). The girls had taken a babysitting course and were used to being in charge and she dropped them all off at the mall with a cell phone and an appointed pick-up time. She was charged with endangering the welfare of her children. While I don't necessarily agree with her choice, I certainly understand it. And the charge seems extreme, especially given her description of the small town she lives in and the mall as a gathering place for families.

As she tells it, she was exhausted and when the older girls asked if they could go to the mall, she agreed as long as they took the younger kids with them. And there is the crux of the matter: exhaustion. Many mothers, including myself, make choices we may not feel entirely comfortable with later because we're tired. Or the children are tired. Or we're trying to do too much, like work and take care of the children, and pay the bills and do the laundry and negotiate arguments and make dinner and take care of the house and... the list is endless. I'm not saying that the husbands don't help, but the amount of time they spend on childcare and housework is generally acknowledged to be less than that of their working wives (except in the case where the husband is the primary caregiver.)

I once saw a mother leave her three young children in the car in front of 7-11 while she went in to buy drinks for them. I thought about calling social services for a nanosecond. Instead, my kids and I hung out with them for a few minutes. I saw their mother returning as we went into the store. I knew why she'd done it - to go with the kids would be a half an hour ordeal, to go in alone would take all of five minutes. They were right outside the entrance and she could see them for most of the time she was in the store. Did I think it unwise? Yes. A crime? No.

The saddest part of the Brain, Child magazine story was that the prosecutor was a woman and a mother who prosecuted the case with righteous zeal. Maybe she wouldn't have let her own daughter go to the mall. But I defy her to defend every decision she ever made with regards to her daughter. Especially as a working mother. We as mothers tend to be very hard on ourselves, but even harder on other mothers. I can't count the number of times that I've heard women negatively comment on how another mother parents her children. I've been guilty myself. But behind it all is my own guilt: are my choices the right ones? Have I done things that could be considered negligent? Do I yell more than other mothers? Do I spend enough time teaching my kids? Do they watch too much TV? Eat too much junk? Get enough vitamins? Am I selfish for wanting my own career?

I suppose what I'm trying to say is that parenting is not easy. Being a working mother is nearly impossible. Why can't we acknowledge that and be more supportive of each other?