I was just talking about first generation working moms vs. second generation working moms the other day with a friend, and I thought it would make an interesting discussion here: Did your mother work outside the home? To what extent have you adopted or rejected her systems in your own life as a working mother? On the flip side, if your mom stayed at home (thus making you a first-generation working mom), what systems or practices of hers have you most needed to overhaul? What about your partner’s mother — if she worked, have you adopted any of the systems their family had in place? If she didn’t work, do you feel like you’ve had to reset your partner’s expectations? (And another super fun question: Do you feel like you get pushback from your mother or MIL over different choices and different systems?)
For my own $.02, my mother has always been a stay-at-home mom, so most of the home workload (and a lot of the parenting workload, at least in terms of pickups/drop-offs, etc.) always fell to her. She’s never had a cleaning service, and she rarely hired a babysitter. My mother-in-law, on the other hand, has always worked, and I’m grateful for that because my husband has never expected me to do 100% of everything — he’s a very willing participant in the household balancing act, including sharing parenting duties and even things like laundry. Personally, I feel a lot of guilt over things my mom did that I just can’t do — being involved in the parent/teacher association, for instance — and I often feel like a bit of a rebel in playing the “do, delegate, or nope” game and having a ton of lazy mom hacks. (However, technically, I’m probably not a first-generation working mother — my maternal grandmother worked!)
What about you guys? If your mom worked, have you recognized, adopted, or improved her own systems for work-life balance into your own life? If you’re a first-generation working mom, how have you had to adjust the experience you had growing up to fit your own family’s lifestyle now?
Stock Photo via Deposit Photos / pxhidalgo.
My mom worked and was the primary breadwinner (although I assumed it was my dad till middle school thanks to larger societal messaging). Now, when I see how little my dad does around the house and in the kitchen, I absolutely do not know how she balanced raising two kids close in age, a high stress job, and a house without murdering him. The are both surprised by how much my husband does with regard to housework, cooking, and childcare, and I absolutely would not have it any other way- thank god expectations for dads have changed in some regard. Plus, I don’t have to work as hard as she did because I have an equal partner and I think that makes a big difference in my day to daya happiness level. That said, I don’t think I will have as much career success as she did. My husbands mom never worked and I think is also surprised by how much her son does, but I am the only daughter in law who works and I think they have realized how much more financially secure our family is as a result, as opposed to his siblings who constantly need money.
My mother was a pediatrician when I was young, and she had au pairs and nannies living in our (really small) basement to help when we were young. My dad was striving to make partner at his law firm, and I remember one or the other of them would sometimes bring the three of us to work in afternoons and evenings and stash us in an empty conference room to watch cartoons.
It’s funny, though — I have strong memories of being forgotten at school by an absent-minded mom, but as an adult I now realize that those incidents happened after she had stopped working to care for my younger sister (her delayed 4th). She started to seem more harried and less collected to me at that age, and I wonder if that was due to the mental health impacts of losing her professional identity.
I’m now a striving young lawyer with a small child, and whenever I am tempted to step back, I remember that I pay our mortgage, but also that it’s possible my mom was a better mom when she was happy and fulfilled.
My mom worked, and the times I can remember it affecting me were when I was older and wanted more independence, but still relied on her to drive me places. I recall being super annoyed waiting for her to pick me up, when all my friends with stay at home moms got picked up right away. I could have taken the bus, but I wanted to be able to hang out after school or walk around town. Same thing when I started doing sports – I got annoyed when she wasn’t at my beck and call to take me to practice or pick me up.
Honestly now I would throw money at this problem and get a babysitter to ferry kids around to activities. I think my mom didn’t do this because she worked admin jobs and didn’t have the extra money to throw at the problem.
I feel like a lot of the frustration at felt at her work could be solved now with (1) cell phones (to relay when one of us was running late or getting out early) and (2) public transportation or a paid babysitter chauffeur.
Mom's taxi service says
Having a toddler, I’m not exposed to this yet, but I wonder at what age parents feel comfortable sending their teen alone in an Uber… if ever. Is this something people are doing?
You can’t until they’re 18. I wouldn’t let a teen ride in a Uber alone anyway, even a teen I trusted to drive or take public transit. I have had way too many sketchy Uber and taxi experiences.
This. I grew up taking a city bus to school beginning when I was 12 or so. I realize that’s very scandalous today. But Uber seems much more dangerous to me because you’re alone with a (usually male) driver. The bus always had at least 3+ people on it, usually much more.
Mrs. Jones says
I have at least 2 friends whose 14-15 year-olds ride in Ubers.
Hop Skip Drive is a startup that is Uber for kids, where the Uber driver is a mom in a minivan. I think it’s only in SF and LA right now though.
Am I the only one who thinks this is creepier?
Myrna M says
Yeah, you probably are the only one. That was rude, too, in response to someone’s sincere suggestion.
Not a parent of teens, but my 14 or 15 year old cousins use it regularly. We live in Philadelphia proper and it is fairly normal for kids that age to use it. I wouldn’t go much younger.
There is definitely a plus with regard to teen independence in a good transportation system. Growing up in SF, I can recall exactly one instance of asking my Mom to pick me and another friend up (it was a bad situation pretty late at night and I panicked – she was literally my last resort; she was extremely annoyed).
My mom worked but, once my special-needs brother was born, she “steadily climbed her way down the career ladder” as she puts it, in exchange for more flexibility, shorter hours, etc. When I was young (6 and under) she was an equal breadwinner and I had a Nanny. Then she stayed home for a few years with my brother and gradually re-entered at much lower positions than she had before.
It has helped my guilt some because, honestly, what I remember from being small and her working/earning more is the awesome trips we got to take and stuff we got to do together, it never bothered me that she was at work. She even had to miss some holidays (she worked in a hospital) but it never bothered me.
What I learned most from her, though, was what I needed in a partner. My dad has a niche job where he makes very good money but works from home and sets his own schedule. He hasn’t been to an office in decades and doesn’t really understand that you HAVE to go to work, you can’t “just tell your boss you can’t do a meeting that day”, etc. That makes things really difficult for her because he is not very helpful when it comes to things like appointments for my brother.
The biggest component to my success as a working mother is that my husband was raised by a working single mother. He can’t even imagine me staying home, to him OF COURSE my job is as important as his (even back when I made 50% of what he did), and OF COURSE he does half of the housework. The fact my partner was raised by a working mom has had more impact on my life than the fact I was.
“The fact my partner was raised by a working mom has had more impact on my life than the fact I was.”
THIS. It’s so true. I’m so grateful. That wasn’t something I was looking for in a partner but it’s absolutely essential, especially where he makes 5x more than me, but still treats my job as equally important. In fact, my job has less flexibility so he probably does more parenting than I do.
i have thought a lot about this too. i definitely agree that this would have been v helpful and plan to advise my daughters accordingly.
Not to start a #notallmen thing, but I will say my husband had a SAHM and now does more than 50% of our household chores. He has a strict 40 hour workweek and I am in biglaw, so he takes on more of the household stuff. His family is very traditional, but he is not. I dated him a long time before we married and was extremely clear that I expected him to be an equal partner and he was on board. Caveat is that we are just about to have our first kid (one month left!) so we haven’t crossed that bridge yet. I think it’s a good sign that he’s laid down the line at work that he will be taking the max 8 week paternity leave. Now whether we will be able to stand each other without each having our own work for 8 weeks is another question :)
Boston Legal Eagle says
Agree with this – posting more below but my husband also had a SAHM and he’s never expected me to take on more of the housework/childcare just because I’m a woman. For your particular situation, can your husband take part of his leave after you go back? I think it’s so so important for dads to do solo parenting, especially early on.
Sadly no, his paternity leave is technically taking-care-of-recuperating-mom leave, so it can only be taken the 8 weeks immediately after birth. I agree it’s important for him to have a chance to solo parent, though. He’s had exactly 0 experience taking care of babies, so I know it will take him a while to feel confident, but I trust he’ll get there.
+1 My husband had a SAHM and decided to be a SAHD because he thought someone should stay home with our kids and it certainly wasn’t going to be me.
I actually loved having DH home after birth, because we got to hang out so much more than when we are both working full time! We did a lot of listening to NPR and chatting about current events, and DH did a lot of housework and cooking – he brought me breakfast and lunch wherever I was, and we’d eat dinner together.
He didn’t do 8 weeks straight, though – he did 2 weeks straight, then intermittent (with some wfh included, and some straight up “vacation” time where we went on trips to visit family while we were both on leave), and then 4 weeks straight when I went back for around 8w total. It’s a bummer that you don’t get total flexibility on that, because it was great having him do a full month solo for my first month back.
Late to this thread but my husband took one week paternity post baby because my parents were also here helping and then did 7 weeks all on his own! I was so pumped that he took those 7 weeks solo though it would definitely been nice to have him around while I was still figuring everything out. But it is a trade off I would make again if I could have some post-partum help.
Agree. My husband largely had a SAHM and his cleaning standards are very clearly based on what she did — which was clean the house until it was sterile. So, it’s something we disagree on, to put it lightly.
aelle in aerospace says
Yes. My husband’s mother worked on and off, but she is also deeply mentally ill, and so his father was both the main income earner and the main parent for most of his childhood. As a result, my husband had very high expectations of what it means to be a husband and a father, and nothing and no one has enabled my career more than him.
“OF COURSE he does half of the housework.”
My partner doesn’t so much think I’M going to do most of the housework, so much as he…expects most of it will magically do itself. And then wonder why I get mad that I’m doing so many chores. It’s like he’s subliminally saying, “What’s the issue, babe? The trash fairy’s gonna take out the garbage later, no need to do it yourself and then get mad about it.”
My mother entered the work force for the first time when I was in high school and my father became permanently unemployed. Because she’d never had a job other than part-time work in college, her options were limited and she ended up working very hard in unpleasant conditions for very little money.
While working, my mother still handled absolutely everything related to the kids and the household. I grew up thinking that it was natural for the mom to have both total responsibility for and total control over everything, and it’s been hard for me to accept my husband’s “interference” in my domain. For example, I feel strangely threatened by his desire to participate in back-to-school night and parent-teacher conferences. I know he just wants to be an involved parent, but to me it feels like he is second-guessing my parenting ability because this is so obviously a mom function where dads have no place.
“because this is so obviously a mom function where dads have no place.” HUH??? Who are you saying thinks this, you?
Yes. I have no previous experience with men being involved in child-rearing or household management, and it’s threatening to have my husband trying to get involved in what I perceive as my area of responsibility.
I get, completely. My mom was a SAHM and did literally everything to keep our household running. That was the model I grew up with. Even when I desperately want more help, I have so internalized the idea that it’s “my responsibility” that is feels downright scary to let go of the reins a bit. I have no idea how my mom didn’t strangle my dad, but I do remember her being very, very stressed out when I was a child. It’s hard not to repeat that pattern, even with a partner who is willing to be involved.
Yes, I’m working on it.
Both of my parents worked, but I was incredibly fortunate that they both worked jobs in education where they had the summers largely off — meaning that while I went to daycare, I didn’t have to go during summer break, which felt like an enormous win. I do remember hating daycare, but my childhood wish was simply that we lived close enough to take the bus home – I didn’t wish that my mom didn’t work.
My father is very enlightened in many ways and he does a fair deal of domestic work – cooked dinner a few nights a week, always did dishes when he didn’t cook, was a loving and involved father. That being said, I will never forget my mom observing once (when I was older, and with only mild bitterness) that whenever there was a child-related emergency, it always fell to my mother to deal with it, as “he never thought my work was as important as his.” Factually that might have been true, but it sucks to be treated that way as a foregone conclusion. As I have gotten older, I see a lot of learned helplessness, too – he refuses to go grocery shopping, depends on my mom for most meals, doesn’t do laundry, definitely leaves her to do most of the emotional labor like organizing stuff and birthday gifts and the like.
My MIL didn’t work for most of my husband’s childhood, but if I can raise my son in the model of his father, I will feel like I succeeded. He does easily half (if not more) of the work of keeping our home running and is also great at the emotional labor piece (I will never have to buy a Christmas present for his family, and most of the time he can help me with mine). The only minor similarity is that he cooks not at all, not even a little – but in NYC where takeout is so plentiful, that’s not much of a problem.
I was raised by a stay at home mom with a PhD and a “big” career up until kid #2 came along. Then she decided to step out of her job and focus on raising us kids, and, frankly, was a really awesome mom who derived a lot of joy from being able to be home with us. For a long time I thought I would follow a similar approach to things, but, life got in the way and I’ll likely be a single mom of one, and be a working mother with a nanny. My parents always emphasized that the money they had saved when my mom worked was HUGE for setting our family up to be financially ok and pay for college. So the main messages I internalized were that education is always valuable, whether you work or not, and that saving money and being financially responsible is more important than whether you work. That said, as life has gone on, I’ve also realized all the ways my parents got just plain lucky – they are still happily married, my dad never lost his job unexpectedly, housing prices in their area have gone up, etc, etc, and I sometimes bristle at their blithe ignorance that things don’t always work out even if you’re responsible. The money I saved back in the “saving up before I become a stay at home mom” days sure has been useful paying for a nanny, though!
“That said, as life has gone on, I’ve also realized all the ways my parents got just plain lucky – they are still happily married, my dad never lost his job unexpectedly, housing prices in their area have gone up, etc, etc, and I sometimes bristle at their blithe ignorance that things don’t always work out even if you’re responsible.”
This is very true for me too. My parents had an amazing, wonderful life and I’m so happy for them, but I also think because everything went perfectly for them they’re a bit naive about how often things can go wrong. Their parenting advice to me is often based on their lives, not on the real world.
I think white people of our parents’ generation had the easiest lives of any generation in history. Everything was just handed to them. In my family it isn’t just that our parents (really my in-laws) don’t get that the world is a different place now and doing “all the right things” isn’t enough to guarantee that you’ll get ahead. Comparing our life to his parents’ life is a constant source of dissatisfaction for my husband, too.
Just a reminder that generationally poor white people exist too. My family benefitted from white privilege, but everything wasn’t handed to them because they were rural factory-working people who had no wealth. There’s a prevailing story that this generation will not be able to surpass our parents’ generation because things are more difficult in the economy now, but that’s really a story about people who were already solidly in the middle or upper-middle class.
Anon at 2:25 says
Good point, although I do believe that it was easier for white people to move from the working class to the middle class back then. My FIL came from a culturally middle-class but economically working-class family, and had little trouble climbing into the very upper middle class. My mother was from a solidly blue-collar family and moved into the middle class by getting a scholarship to college.
I’m also from white rural working people with no wealth. But I think there’s truth to the statement above about our parents’ generation having one of the easiest times in history.
My dad worked second shift at the local factory and my mom was a secretary until she had kids, then stayed home. It wasn’t easy (we never went on a vacation and never got to be in any extracurriculars at school), but they still were able to buy a house and afford to feed us all. That’s a much harder proposition – today it’s incredibly difficult, even in rural areas, to feed 5 and pay a mortgage on one hourly salary.
Compare the average cost of housing to the minimum wage in the 1980s compared to now. In my hometown, my parents bought our 3bed/1.5bath house for under $10K in 1987 when minimum wage was $3.35. A similar house goes for $45K now and the minimum wage in my state is $8.25. My dad had to work a LOT fewer hours to afford the same house back then.
oh absolutely. this drives me nuts. and now many of them vote against paying taxes to support their local public schools and universities. the luck continues as they will rake in social security and medicare but i dont expect to have those available to me when i retire, thanks to them.
I realize this comment was directed at many people in a generation vs my parents in particular, but I did want to chime in that those things are completely untrue of my parents. They always vote to improve schools and libraries, and more than that, have basically become professional volunteers in their retirement. My mom seems to teach math to half the city now. And they do foster care. And teach gardening. And, and, and. I respect them a lot for how they’ve turned their retirement into trying to make things better for the next generation.
yes sorry was not directed at your parents. more at my parents’ friends.
My mom was single from when I was 4 until I was 12 and my father was not in the picture. She supported my younger sister and me by working as a legal secretary. From my point of view she had good work life balance in that she stuck pretty closely to a 40 hour workweek, had dinner with us every evening, and spent time with us on the weekends. She made the financial sacrifice of turning down most overtime opportunities so that she reliably got to spend time with us. We had a mixture of babysitters, before and after school care, and extended family care when she was working and we weren’t in school. For the most part this worked well, though the babysitters/summer nanny she could afford was not exactly the top of the line. She now cringes when I tell stories about the things our babysitter did/let us do. I understood that she was giving us the best she possibly could from a very young age, and even though we didn’t have as much as my friends I always appreciated her working to support us.
When she remarried she took a lower paying job with a nonprofit in our town so she didn’t have to commute into the city any more. I remember being worried about money, but it was admittedly nice that she had more flexibility at that point. My step-dad helped minimally around the house and did not take on a parenting role, so that aspect of my mom’s life sadly didn’t change dramatically.
I’m just about to have my first child. I jumped from being a child of a single working-class mom to being a HYS-educated lawyer with a very supportive partner, so things will be very different for me. I will try to emulate my mom in that I want to spend quality time with my kids while balancing my work load– but it will be a lot easier with my disposable income and my partner’s help.
My mom worked (in a prestigious, high-powered career) but had a bit of a unicorn situation. She took two years of unpaid leave when I was born and then worked part-time from home while I napped (as a toddler) or went on playdates (as an older kid) so I never went to daycare or had a nanny. She returned to full-time work when I was in kindergarten, but even then adjusted her hours to be home from 3-5 pm so I never had to go to formal after-care programs or be a latchkey kid. She’s one of those people who thinks her way is the best way, so she’s very critical of both daycares (your kids are neglected!) and stay at home moms (they’re financially dependent on their husbands!). It was hard when I was pregnant because she kept acting like all the choices I was contemplating were bad – she really wanted me to go part-time, which I would have loved, but is just not an option in my field. Ultimately we settled on a nanny for our infant daughter and my mom was satisfied with that compromise – it’s allowed me to continue in the workforce but our daughter has one trusted caregiver and gets lots of adult attention. I went to preschool at age 3 and my daughter will probably start daycare around age 2.
Even once my mom was back at work full-time, she did essentially 100% of the household chores – she scrubbed the toilets, cooked dinner every night, did the dishes. My dad took out the trash. Like others, I don’t know how she didn’t kill him or why she didn’t put her foot down and demand he do more. She was also the ultimate Pinterest mom before that was a term – homemade Halloween costumes, elaborate homemade birthday cakes and decor for parties, writing and illustrating her own children’s books, etc. Admittedly most of that was before she returned to work full time, but even as I got older, she was also super involved in my life, which I really appreciated. She led my Girl Scout troop, volunteered in my classroom, drove me to lessons for my sport an hour away etc etc. I have no idea how she made it work and it’s a daunting example to live up to, but I hope to try.
Both my parents worked full-time from the time I was ~2, my mom in public health, my dad as an oncologist. They were in public service/ government hospitals (not in the US), which meant they had relatively decent work-life balance. At the same time, we had significant help. My dad’s parents lived with us and we also had a live-in housekeeper. Honestly, that is so far removed from our reality here in the US (we live near neither set of parents and daycare 8-5 is our only childcare) that it’s not all that relevant, except that I am Team Childcare Without Guilt.
On the partner front, my husband’s mom was a SAHM while his dad bounced around a variety of jobs. Once the kids were mostly out of the house, MIL went back to school/ work and now has a career she loves. Amazingly, he and his brothers are all staunch feminists and genuinely equal partners at home – my theory is they saw their mom getting dragged around the country after their dad’s dreams and resolved never to replicate that in their own lives. (Plus there are 6 siblings; they each did their fair share of chores, something my sister and I barely had to do, so husband is better at cleaning than I am, though I’m tidier.)
Great topic! My mother worked an ~80% schedule (sometimes a bit less) until I was in college. It was great for our family — she could always help with extracurricular activities, volunteer in our classrooms, etc. A downside is that working part time did limit her career; in the twenty years since I’ve graduated college and she’s been working full time, her career has absolutely skyrocketed. I’ve discussed whether she regrets her decision to stay part time for so long, and she absolutely does not. She feels she had the best of both worlds: a professional career and opportunity to be actively involved in my and my sibling’s lives. Another downside was that money was tight growing up, with no room for outsourcing — and she did the bulk of the housework and 1000% of the emotional labor (like, I love my dad, but I’m not sure he would remember our birthdays if she didn’t remind him). But that probably would have been the case whether she was part time or not.
Her example helped me internalize that being a working mother is possible and even preferable. She made the whole thing look easy (from the outside; I’m sure it wasn’t!) and as a 70 year old she still has more energy than me. I’m very grateful to have had her as an role model.
Interestingly, my husband’s parents maintain very traditional gender roles, but my husband is one of the most mature, equal minded partners I can think of — to the point where I often look like the typical “manchild” that some women complain about. His mom seems baffled by how much childcare and housework he does — not in a judgey way toward me, more of, “wow, he cooks! whodathunk it?!” way.
CPA Lady says
My mom was a SAHM. She’s really really smart and hard working and I think if she had been born in a different time and place she probably would have had a very successful career. She was the only one of her 12 siblings to go to college (many didn’t even finish high school), and got a master’s degree in chemistry in the late 1960s, when women going into hard sciences was basically unheard of. She married “up” out of poverty when she married my dad, who was also smart and driven and an only child from a well off family. He joined the army and they moved every several years, which kept her from ever having much of a career. She worked in hospital labs, taught science, and did whatever she could find to do. She waited until her late 30s to have kids.
She quit working when I was born and went back to work as a math and science teacher after my sister went to college.
Unfortunately, my dad became an rx pill addict and alcoholic and started openly cheating on my mom, which really freaking sucked. I saw our family struggle financially as dad was the breadwinner and mom hadn’t worked in many years by that point, and we were just really stuck. My mom did absolutely everything around the house, managed our finances, took care of my elderly grandfather (my dad’s dad) who lived with us, etc. while my dad made demeaning remarks about her spending his money.
I had this burning feminist rage moment (though I would not have even known those words) at some point in my childhood, and decided that I would never ever be so financially reliant on a man that I couldn’t leave with a moment’s notice. And that’s what I’ve done. I have never wanted to work part time, to see my child more, etc. if it means that I can’t support her and myself. I love and trust my husband, but I will never forget what I saw my mom go through. And what I see a not-insignificant number of my SAHM friends go through too. I’m in this mom’s group on facebook and there is so much crap that SAHMs put up with because they’re stuck. My sister quit her lucrative science job to be a low wage barista when her husband joined the navy, and now stays at home with two young kids and doesn’t plan to go back to work until they’re in college. It absolutely boggles my mind. Different people have different levels of risk tolerance, though.
When my husband is present, he’s very hands on and involved in a way that my dad was not. But he has traveled or worked odd hours so much that I’ve ended up doing the bulk of parenting since my kid was born. He’s finally back to a non travel job, so hopefully we’ll figure out a new normal. We had to have a come to Jesus talk about emotional labor about a year ago, and since then he has really grasped that he needs to take initiative. I think seeing my mom’s situation really helped me have very little guilt or hesitation about being a working mom. It also gave me very little guilt about making pragmatic choices to help me stay in the workforce happily (things like using formula, sleep training, etc).
“[I] decided that I would never ever be so financially reliant on a man that I couldn’t leave with a moment’s notice.”
Me too. It hurts my husband’s feelings that I have an actual exit strategy, but he grew up in a stable, healthy family that never faced joblessness, disability, divorce, etc. I’ve witnessed too many worst-case scenarios to not plan ahead for what I’d do, just in case. It doesn’t mean I don’t love and trust my husband – I just have a hypersensitive survival instinct from watching what happens to women without options.
+1. My husband’s Mom openly says the same thing (“never be so reliant on someone else’s income that you cannot leave” – despite his parents’ long happy marriage) so I think he has internalized this concept and isn’t hurt by it per se, but he understands the fact that my drive is partially based in my psychological inability to “relax” and rely on him financially rather than in a “let’s get rich” or “I love my job” mentality. Long-term, two incomes has just been a much better strategy for our family because he got stuck midway through his career growth while I surpassed him. Our financial stability allows him to find the right next job instead of grinding it out at his dead end one until everyone’s unhappy, which is what I’ve seen happen many times in one-income families. Diversification applies to careers too.
aelle in aerospace says
Same. I was actually already dating my husband at the time my parents’ marriage exploded, and we had some very frank conversations about money very early on. We decided loving each other would mean setting up safeguards against behaving like a jerk in case we stopped loving each other. From the start, we kept separate savings and retirement accounts, to which we contribute equally no matter who is earning what.
My mom left the workforce when I was 2 and my brother was a newborn; dad was in a severe accident and required a lot of home-care around that time … he was also an alcoholic and they ended up divorcing when I was about 6. She remarried shortly thereafter to someone with some money, and never rejoined the workforce.
There is some tension in our relationship now that I am a parent. I credit this to two reasons:
(1) The things that she is really good at are not the things I have the time for / interest in as a working parent. I don’t have any interest in hand-making a Halloween costume – Target is fine. It hurts her feelings that I don’t try to do some of the same things for my kid that she did for me, and takes it as a personal rejection of how she parented.
(2) The lesson I learned from her was not, “stay at home parenting is a worthwhile and fulfilling life choice” but rather, “financial dependency sucks and can leave you stuck in a really bad situation.” I can’t really talk to her about my opinions on the topic without her getting super defensive. She’s proud of my professional achievements, but she also sees them as my personal efforts to NOT be like her, which are difficult feelings to work through.
It hurts her feelings that I don’t try to do some of the same things for my kid that she did for me, and takes it as a personal rejection of how she parented.
– this is my mom too.
Also my mom as well.
This is sad. My family is not overly demonstrative and I’m not sure I’d know if my mom felt this way. I hope she doesn’t. On the plus side, my mom still likes to do pinteresty craft things, and my kids have a ton of fun doing them with her. Halloween costumes are the one SAHM thing I really wish I could make time for. I like to sew, and I have such fond memories of picking out my costume from the pattern books at the fabric store. Every year I tell myself I’ll make it work this time, but I haven’t managed since my oldest’s first Halloween.
Boston Legal Eagle says
This is an interesting topic and something I think of whenever someone brings up “mom guilt” for working outside the home. I don’t really feel that ever and I think it helped that from as far back as I remember, both my parents worked and neither really fit the standard gender stereotypes (i.e. my dad cooks, cleans, had a more flexible schedule and my mom is not into crafting/baking/Pinteresty things at all, and didn’t really feel the need to be at all my school events) so I didn’t grow up thinking I had to be a certain way because I’m a woman. I also went to daycare and afterschool care so I have no qualms against those, especially considering our kids will be in much higher quality care centers than I went to. My husband had a SAHM but despite this is a completely equal partner/co-parent and probably takes on more of the childcare due to his more flexible work schedule.
I guess I’d be a third-generation working mom, since my maternal grandmother worked full time for the majority of my mother’s life (maybe starting around Kindergarten?) and my mom worked at least part-time, moving to full time when I was in high school? I’m the oldest, and she was getting her master’s when I was a baby, she started teaching when my youngest sibling was about 6mo. She didn’t move to a tenure track position until we were adults though.
My MIL was a SAHM, but her mother was a professor, and she talks fondly of the housekeepers and nannies who stayed with her. MIL is now our main childcare, and she does the things with the kids I don’t have the time or inclination for, like seasonal crafts and bird-watching. (DD1 is a bird person, who knew?) A lot of this is because she was left in a pretty rough financial place after FIL passed away, and with no real job history, she doesn’t have many options. MIL sometimes makes a ‘I don’t know how you do it’ type comment, which depending on the tone and my mood could be taken as ‘why do you do it’ but I usually deflect and move on.
DH is super supportive of my career (a shared goal is for me to make more than him, which we’re close to, even though he’s in a higher paying field) and does more solo childcare in a week than I do. But a lot of this comes from a more logical place than an emotional one, as we’ve seen the differences in our parent’s financial situations, and really want to be on surer footing.
Also, I was just recently thinking of my grandmother’s weekend routine, that she did not deviate from until she retired. On Saturday mornings, she’d drive to a grocery store that was not the closest, but was in the same little shopping center as the liquor store, drycleaner, and card store, and did all her errands in one shot. She had a cleaner come once a week, and did almost all her other shopping from catalogs. I feel like she had figured out a lot of things it’s taken me a long time to figure out myself.
This. I feel like catalogs were basically old-timey online ordering. Longer time to get it but you don’t have to leave your house. It’s my personal theory that this is why the Sears Wishbook was so popular at Christmas.
I feel like this question is more geared towards people whose parents had professional careers, but I’ll bite. My parents are immigrants from Central America. Both my mom and dad always worked, usually multiple jobs. My dad was killed in a factory accident when I was a small child. My mom worked as a housekeeper/dishwasher at a restaurant, and we shared a studio apartment. I learned a strong work ethic and frugality from her. My husband mom didn’t work, and I think he resents her for irresponsibly spending all the money they had after his (physician) father passed away.
I work full time in biglaw, and my husband is in banking. His mom tends to give me crap for my job and tells me I should quit and stay home and be a “good wife,” but my mom is incredibly proud of both of us for our professional accomplishments. My husband does not agree with his mom in the least.
Props! Your mom rocks and she is right to be proud of you.
OMG the “good wife” comment would send me into a rage. You are awesome and so is your mom.
I’m a third generation working mom – and not just third generation in the workforce, but third generation in STEM! My maternal grandmother was an engineer in the 1940s. She did leave the workforce when her two kids were very young but returned (as a college math instructor) when they were in elementary school.
Third gen working mom here. When I was younger my mom worked part time, so she was home from work before I got home from school. As I got older and was able to be home alone, she stayed at work longer. The biggest lesson I learned was “store bought is okay.” I never had homemade costumes. School birthday cupcakes always came from the bakery. Dinner was always frozen and out of a box (now, I make everything fresh and use a crock-pot, but that is a dietary preference. No hate on Stouffers.)
My mom worked. My Dad’s career was the priority but she always worked in a career she loved.
As a adult, the biggest thing I’ve learned is that it’s okay to not love the working mom thing all the time. When I was debating quitting and staying home, she was very empathetic in sharing her struggles with the same issues. It was an important factor in my deciding to continue to work as her career was such a big part of how I think about her identity that I would have felt sad for her to lose out on that to stay home with me.
Emily S. says
Really interested in this topic! My mom left the workforce between having my older sister and me and re-entered when I was in kindergarten. She was a teacher for her entire career, mostly at private or parochial schools where my sister and I were enrolled for the teacher’s discount and the same schedules (and culture). She really liked teaching and really liked being a SAHM in the summers. I really don’t know how she did it — my dad traveled for for work from Sunday to Friday for many years of my childhood, and we never had a cook, cleaner, daycare, etc. And this, of course, is before Amazon and Shipt! She has come around to being proud of me for being a working mom (perhaps because I earned a JD and the expectation in my family was that you got a master’s degree) but still said that she visits my SAHM sister because “she needs more help.” I try to emulate the good (she was always “present”), let go of what’s not my jam (I can’t sew, so homemade Halloween costumes are out) and thank my lucky stars that DH has rejected a good bit of his traditional upbringing to be more of an equal partner than his dad was. In summary: my mom had a pretty enviable work -life balance, but I wonder how much housekeeping and mental labor she did that was invisible to me as a kid.
Tangentially, I’m curious about whether our sisters and brothers and sister-in-laws do and what lessons about work-life juggling we take away from them.
Both my parents worked. When I expressed thoughts about becoming a SAHM, my mom was visibly uncomfortable.
More interesting to me is that my husband was raised by his father with no memory of his mom and no stepmom til he was in his twenties. This has really influenced how he sees gender roles in the household. It influenced me too. Because, honestly, I think that his father was a wonderful dad and also had an excellent, professional job that allowed him to provide for his kids. They lived in the suburbs, played lots of sports, vacationed. Very normal life. However, if his dad had died, his mother had no education or professional experience. Their quality of life would have been so, so different. This is one of the reasons why I continue working, despite our family being comfortable on a single salary. Morbid, I know, but true.
My mom was a professor. She returned to work full time after I was born, then went part time three years later when my sibling was born. Stayed part time until sibling was in kindergarten before going back full time. I barely remember the part time years, but know it meant we didn’t need full time childcare so I attended a part time preschool rather than 7:30-5:30 like my own kids. Because both my parents were professors, they had fairly flexible schedules and usually did not both teach during the summer. My mom was not very interested in research, and that meant she almost always got home before my dad in the evening, did stuff with us kids on weekends, etc, while my dad worked.(we always had college student babysitters to ferry us to swim team etc., But from when I was 12 we we’re otherwise alone in the afternoons, which was fine.) She was more interested in her teaching work. Taking all that time part time and focusing on family vs research meant she got tenure years and years after my dad and never got promoted to full professor. I’ve talked with her about it some and don’t think she regrets it. I did think about this as I made my own post kids career change from boutique litigation firm to in house jd preferred role– I wanted time with my kids evenings/weekends, even if they’ll be in full time daycare. My spouse’s mother also worked but part time for most of the time, mostly for the benefits as his dad’s a solo practitioner attorney. His dad was not very involved in parenting when the kids were little, and my spouse is emphatically the opposite. His dad has commented that he regrets not being more involved and thinks my spouse is doing it right.
Just an anecdote about grandmothers– neither of mine worked a traditional job. My paternal grandma helped Rin a seasonal family business so she worked her tail off every summer but not at all otherwise. My other grandma worked prior to marriage, then quit the moment they got married because that was the cultural expectation. She has recently (in her 90s) said she can’t believe she quit, as my grandfather could barely support them at that time. Interestingly she lectured my mom a lot about working, daycare, etc, but a generation later is totally fine with me working and using daycare. Guess she saw we turned out ok!
my mother was a SAHM when my much older sisters were little and then went back into the workforce (working full time for my dad) when i was a baby. i dont ever remember minding her working. she was frequently very late to pick me up and relied on some ppl to drive me around that i did not love but i dont remember connecting it to her being in the workforce. that being said she was always home by 5 with a homemade dinner on the table by 530 and never worked weekends or traveled for work.
my sisters frequently commented that i had nicer clothes, better vacations, etc. than they did growing up, so i think that the financial freedom my parents gained when she started working (her work enabled my physician father to start his own practice) steered me into a serious career.
my mom’s main advice was to make sure we could always support ourselves, and choose a career where we could be flexible — work part time, take a few years out of the workforce — if we decided we wanted to when we had kids. i have three sisters and none of us managed to make this work. bc it’s not usually possible.
she died when i was in law school so i never got any hands on advice about balance. nice to hear from the other moms indirectly on here.
oh, re maternal grandmother. my grandmother quit working when my mother was born in 1942 and my mother described her as miserable as a SAHM. my mom was an only child and did not remember her mother ever playing with her, and my mother could not wait to start school and get out of her very boring apartment. so even though my mom was a SAHM for many years there was never an attitude in my house as SAHM being the model to aspire to.
What an interesting conversation! I haven’t had a chance to read all the comments, but will add mine:
My experience is very similar to Kat’s. My mom quit her job to be a SAHM when I was born. We did have a cleaning service at certain times during my childhood, but generally my dad worked odd shifts in a hospital and made $$, and my mom did everything else. She was involved in the church, school, and neighborhood communities + a Pinterest mom before that was a thing. It didn’t work out super well, because my parents got divorced when I was in middle school and my youngest sibling was about 6. At that point my mom went back to school to change careers (the technology of her 1st career had changed enough that she really couldn’t re-enter) and become a teacher so her schedule would still roughly match ours. Custody arrangement was something like one weeknight and every other weekend with my dad; my mom still had primary custody. She backed off from doing All The Things, but still shuttled us to extracurriculars, etc. I watched my siblings after school if she wasn’t home yet.
I also feel really guilty for not doing all the things my mom did. She is totally supportive of me continuing to work, and reminds me she did those things because she didn’t have a career outside the house and needed to find ways to talk to adults. Objectively I know that, but my version of momming looks really, really different than how I was mommed, so I’m constantly fighting a nagging feeling that I’m doing it wrong.
My grandmothers also stopped working outside the home when they had kids, but one was (still is!) a seamstress.
My husband’s mom owned a small business and his grandparents were primary childcare. His parents divorced when he was in elementary school, and had joint custody, so he always saw both of them balancing family and career. He is a very equal partner, and values my career (probably more than I do, honestly), which I really appreciate!
My mom had periods of time as a SAHM, but mostly worked. My grandma also worked outside the home, does that make me third generation?
I think the bigger factor in my house is that my husband grew up with a working single mom, and he helps carry the household and is amazing with our kids.
It’s great to hear that things have worked out in your household. I have heard that some men who grew up with single mothers do little around the house because they grew up watching their mothers do it all.
My parents had 5 children in 7 years. They both had full-time law careers. I am one of the happiest people I know. They didn’t do a lot of typical parent things. Didn’t make lunches, didn’t cook meals, didn’t watch us play sports, didn’t clean house, didn’t help with hairstyles, etc. my grandmother lived with us and did many of those things. But it was clear to me that my parents loved us “like crazy”. It left me with the opinion that who cooked & cleaned is not what defined parental love, in my case. How much they care for you made the difference. It allowed me to work, be married & raise a child and not sweat the small stuff or stereotypes. My choices & experiences are not going to fit everyone, but I think there are an infinite number of ways to be a working parent and be happy & satisfied.
Frozen Peach says
This is deeply fascinating to me. TELL US MORE, UNICORN.
aelle in aerospace says
This is fascinating to me. I hadn’t really thought about it, because in my mind I had a SAHM, but now that I think about it I’m probably a third generation working mom. My dad’s mom stayed home and raised 6 kids, but my mom’s mom owned a snack shop and I think worked as a secretary of some kind while mostly singley raising 5 kids (her husband died when my mom was 10). My mother worked nights when I was growing up, but switched to a SAHM when I was 9. She briefly went back part-time when I was in middle school and my youngest sister was in school, but she decided it wasn’t worth it and switched to permanently stay at home. Now that all her kids are grown, she’s started her own floral business. My MIL worked until my husband was born and then was a SAHM.
In my mind, I never thought that I would be the working spouse. In my younger years I was always attracted to similar type-A high-achievers that would never in their wildest dreams consider slowing down for a family, and I love babies and kids and thought I would be happy to do that. My husband is very much a type-B personality and didn’t really love his job the way he used to. So he stays home and I get to keep doing what I love at a very high level that fortunately pays plenty for us to be comfortable. I feel very blessed, but I also never imagined this is where I would end up. My mother secretly confessed she was glad my husband was staying home because she thinks that is better than daycare (a comment I do not at all understand given that I went to daycare – and that I objectively have no issue with daycare and think there are positives and negatives to both arrangements, but whatever). My MIL lost her ever loving mind when my husband told her he wanted to stay home and 2 years later I still don’t think she’s over it, but she at least tries to be supportive in her own way and usually shuts up when he points out that he’s just making the same choices she made which she thinks were good choices and his choices shouldn’t be viewed differently.
Wow! I am surprised at all of the working moms here! I grew up with a SAHM & a dad who traveled extensively for work. Most of the kids I grew up also had SAHM — it was definitely the norm when was younger. (Which is making me question — am I old?)
I have commented about this before on here. Since my mom didn’t work, she took care of everything related to the house & kids. Her house always was (and still is) spotless. She gets bored or angry & rearranges/redecorates rooms in the house because she has no other outlet. She taught us how to clean, but not how to maintain the house — since she did that when we were in school.
My sister & I both work full time. My mom doesn’t understand what it means to be out of the house for 10 hours, 5 days/week and still have to do the house things. When I had a house cleaner, she commented “Didn’t I teach my girls how to clean?” When I got this awesome new convection/speed cooking microwave oven which will cook frozen chicken breasts in 20 minutes she said “Well, I see how that works for /your/ lifestyle….” She doesn’t mean it maliciously, but it is hard not to take it that way. She doesn’t understand why I don’t decorate more for holidays… who has time for that?
I agree with comment above about internalizing having to do all of the house work/child care. It took a long time to realize that I wasn’t a “failure” because I hired help cleaning or because my husband took the kids to the doctor instead of me.
Thank you for this topic – reading the responses has been so interesting! I do think we are sometimes a product of our upbringing. For me, what I saw with a SAHM who was financially dependent on an emotionally abusive breadwinner is that I will never let that happen to me. She cleaned and cooked from scratch every single day. My spouse is wonderful – we share all the household chores and staying home with the kids when they are sick. And, although it is hard with a toddler and a baby, I love being a working mom. I’m challenged at work and feel like I’m setting an example for my kids that they can accomplish whatever they want. And, I’ve let go of all a lot – I buy rather than make halloween costumes, buy rather than bake treats for school and we eat a lot of Trader Joe style meals. My husband takes the kids to some dr appts and doesn’t ask the questions I would have asked. But that is cool. Let it go and breathe. Please note that there is no judgment for those who do stay home. This is just what is right for me. I’ve also been fascinated by my mother’s response to my lifestyle. Instead of being happy that I’m financially independent, have a career and also a wonderful family life she seems resentful and has even commented when I complain about being stretched thin that I want to have my cake and eat it too. And she seems to think that because my husband does his share I have a lot of help and have it easy.
I am 4th generation working mum: Great-grandma was a single mum, grandma was a widow, my mum divorced when I was 4. The three of them were entrepreneurs with small businesses, which meant working from home or flexibly, income was just about right to live with no luxuries. Like them, I have usually worked less than full time and I have outsourced the hardest home chores, and childcare. My husband takes a good share of the home responsibility and I have no judgemental thoughts about him doing things right or wrong. Difficult to convince him at the beginning for us to pay for cleaning and some of the cooking, but he realised that it buys time, reduces stress and ensures we eat healthy. In my view, housekeeping is a job itself, so working at an office and also doing the housekeeping is like working two shifts. I recognise juggling work and life can be stressful at times when the baby sitter is off sick, or taking a work call with a toddler around you, take time off work because of daughter being sick, and arriving in the evening to deal with homework. However, being dependant on a husband can be economically risky: what if he loses the job, divorce, death? Also, how is my pension going to be built up? Taking a career break means you lose your network and experience which makes it more difficult to get back to work. So I live up to my female ancestors who proved all is possible.
By the way, I have a lot of respect for women who stay home, the job is to deal with all sort of unexpected situations, with uncertain/low pay in most cases, and fulfilling expectations of many close family members, I found it quite hard over the short periods of time when I have not been working. In my view, to “work” is easier as long as you have your life organised.