A century ago, the vast majority of women did not work outside the home. Even for women who graduated from high school or who had professional experience working in clerical or professional jobs, nearly all of them, once they were married, left the labor force and became homemakers. The big change occurred during World War II, when millions of men went into the U.S. military, leaving the labor force. Millions of women replaced them in their traditional male jobs. After the war, most of these women returned to their previous roles as wives and homemakers, although a significant minority remained in the workforce.
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s gave rise to the second wave of the Women's Movement. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a landmark legislation that outlawed racial segregation in public accommodations. Other legislation and presidential executive orders created reforms such as affirmative action and equality of opportunity in employment. These laws not only targeted racial discrimination, but also gender discrimination. In other words, the Civil Right's Movement and its sacrifices created the context for the advance of the women's rights movement. In the 1970s and 1980s, women's organizations like the National Organization for Women [NOW] lobbied to improve equal opportunity for women to advocate job equity, reproductive rights, childcare, to oppose gender stereotypes and to advocate equal pay. There was a dramatic increase in women working outside of the home. "In 1970, about 43 percent of women aged 16 and older were in the labor force; by the late 1990s, the labor force participation rate of women had risen to 60 percent. Though still well above the rates that prevailed throughout the 1970s, the 1980s, and much of the 1990s, the participation rate for women has receded slightly since 1999, to 59.4 percent in 2006" (Charo & Rones, 2007, p.1).
Women have attempted to integrate work and motherhood since the beginning of household and family life. There are more than 83 million moms in the United States and roughly 61 percent of moms in the United States work. "In today's labor market, seven out of 10 mothers are in the labor force, compared with five out of 10 in 1975. Working moms account for almost one-fifth of all employed individuals, and nearly three-fourths of employed mothers usually work full time. Mothers who usually work full time also spend more than 2 hours each weekday performing active childcare, cleaning house and preparing meals. In addition, nearly four out of 10 mothers who work full time perform volunteer work at some point during the year" (Utgoff, 2005, p. 3).
As society and the economy continue to change, more women returned to work right after maternity leave. Several reasons explain why women return to work, ranging from families being dependent on two incomes, being the primary breadwinner for their children, to the fear of a recession (U.S. Department of Labor Women's Bureau, 1993). A third factor is that many women want to work outside the home because they desire to achieve through professional careers of their own.
My experience is similar to millions of other middle-class professional women. Throughout my life, I have been strongly committed to pursuing professional goals and a career. These goals always have been the top priorities of my life plan; but all of this changed with the birth of our first child.
Prior to our oldest son's birth I was a workaholic. I worked more than 10-hour days and responded to work-related e-mails on the weekends. My life was my job; and work came first. I skipped family functions and sorority meetings to perform work related tasks. I sacrificed my personal and social life to advance my professional career.
Maternity leave gave me time to collect my thoughts and prioritize my life. Before returning to work, I decided to modify my work schedule in this manner: 1) changed my work hours to 8 a.m. - 5 p.m., in order to pick up our child from daycare, 2) found a daycare facility where I could monitor our child online, and 3) made a firm commitment to leave work on time every day.
I had fears of returning to work -- fears of not being able to juggle my new life and fears that my supervisor and co-workers would not understand my struggle to maintain a happy medium. And, although, I am an extremely good multitasker, having the responsibility of taking care of another human being is a huge deal. Sleep deprivation, diaper changes, dressed in burping clothes and pacing up and down the same hallway ruled my whole universe. I was a changed woman.
7 Tips on Finding a Balance Between Work and Motherhood:
1. Raising children only comes once in a lifetime.
2. Be proactive and creative. Many supervisors are open to considering creative solutions when they are presented, but will not be so conscious as to offer them unasked.
3. Absolve yourself of "mommy guilt." You are doing the best that you can.
4. A desire for a career does not make you a bad mother, nor does a desire for work/life balance make you a bad employee.
5. If you have a partner, ask them for their help and unconditional support.
6. Find a community of mothers who also work outside the home. So much mom support is based on the stay-at-home crowd, and while some of our issues are the same, some are very different.
7. Even if support and a listening ear is all this community can offer, it can be helpful to know that other women are experiencing the very same issues that you are.
My transition back to work after having our second son, was easier for me because I had previously made adjustments to help my work-life balance. Moms can find a balance between work and motherhood. Kiss guilt goodbye, and, instead, think of ways to make work, work for you. Ask your supervisor about the possibility of telecommuting, working a compressed workweek, or job sharing. Make your workdays more pleasant. Personalize your office space with photos. Spend a few moments each day to take a virtual vacation. Take the annoying things off your to-do list first, before going to lunch. Exercise. Or, wear something that makes you feel and look good. There is nothing like transitioning from maternity clothes back to your regular clothes, or buying a new "power suit" to add to your wardrobe.
1993 Handbook on Women Workers: Trends & Issues (1994). Washington, D.C. : U.S. Department of Labor, Women 's Bureau.
Charo, E. & Rones, P. (2007). Women in the Labor Force: A Databook. Department of Labor: United States of America, Report 1002, 1.
Utgoff, K. (2005, May). Labor Market Data. Speech presented before Joint Economic Committee for United States Congress: Washington, D.C.
Excerpt from SACRAO Journal published article,Working Moms: Finding a Balance Between Work and Motherhood, volume 23, pp. 5-10.