M. Samantha Kinsley
SPECIAL TO THINK & ASK
For most women in the 21st century, building and maintaining their career and managing a household is --not and option-- it is expected. The days of mothers staying home --while their husbands went off to work each morning-- are long gone if for no other reason than keeping living expenses covered.
The shift in family time at home is why mothers who work should find their footing, says a prominent Long Island psychiatrist, Dr. Lawrence Maltin.
Nivia Rodriguez, has been a New York City police officer for the past two decades. But for the past 15 years, she has been a police officer and a mother. Rodriguez, who is married to a Federal Corrections Officer, has two daughters: Ages 15 and 10. "Nowadays, two people have to work. I don't have that option that I am not going to work and be able to stay home with the kids." Rodriguez, 43, said her children are accustomed to her working, "they don't fuss or anything like that. I guess they're used to it, they've seen it since they were born," she said from her office in Brooklyn, NY.
Even though Rodriguez balances the hectic pace of a policewoman, she said, "You're always rushing home to pick them [the children] up from the babysitter or daycare; you have to start cooking right away so that dinner is early." But in between all the running around with her job and the kids' schooling and activities, she still finds time to talk to her girls just "to see how their days have been." Still, she added she's constantly busy because, "I drive my oldest everywhere."
Making that extra moment count with her girls however is likely what keeps their lives in check, said Maltin M.D., a psychoanalyst in Syosset, NY. Working both a career and a mother role is an arduous task, he said. "Holding down a career and mothering children is an extremely complex issue," with its success dependent upon "the particular personality of the woman and the child."
Maltin says, "There are women who can handle both very well. When they come home from work they have enough energy to interact with their children. And in that case it works well."
Diane Calabrese, 36, knows all about driving her son, Michael, everywhere. She is a full-time mom who takes her four-month-old son to work. Calabrese has worked as a client manager for the past five years at Benefit Management Solutions, an employee benefits consulting firm in Smithtown, NY.
"I work a four day work week, having Fridays off. I bring Michael to work with me two out of these four days and have been doing so since he was six weeks old. It's a challenge getting out of the house in the mornings, but we manage. The other two days, I work from home. We've looked into daycare, but we don't trust anyone with him and it's also very expensive," Calabrese said.
The price of daycare adds up too in between fighting inflation and an increase in state income taxes. The Child Care Council of Nassau on Long Island shows that a weekly range of price for childcare is between $175 to almost $300, with a mean of $235 for infant care. For older children the range spreads from as low as $80 per week to $300, for a mean of $180. Summertime recreational camps run as much as $450 per week.
Henrietta Thornton, who has worked as a librarian at DeVry Institute of Technology in Long Island City, NY, for the past four years, relies mostly upon her mother-in-law to care for her 10-and-a-half month old daughter, Priya. Thornton, 33, works Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Her mother-in-law watches Priya most of the time, but on occasion, and only with exception, Thornton and her husband, Arvind, can utilize his company's emergency daycare facility at Pfizer where he works as an administrative assistant. The limit however is four days in a row and a maximum of 20 days for the entire year.
Most working women have no choice but to find someone else to care for their children while they're at work. According to a study by the 2002 United States Census Bureau (the most recent statistics available,) 55 percent of women in the workforce had infant children. However, this percentage was down from a 1998 survey that found 59 percent of women in the workforce had infant children.
It isn't so much about "whether a woman works, but it's whether she is emotionally available," Maltin said, and the interaction and time she spends with her children when she comes home from work is what matters. The key to success for working mothers is the quality of interaction they have with their children. "You can be with your kid all day long but the nature of the interaction and the quality of time might not be there," Maltin said.
Both Calabrese and Thornton say they have not yet adjusted to a life of working woman and mother. "I don't think I'm adjusted yet. I'm very torn between trying to do the two real well. One or the other has to suffer. Even though he's [Michael] here with me at work, I do ignore him for the most part in order to get work done. Then, when I give him attention at work, I feel guilty that I'm not working," Calabrese said.
Thornton echoes the sentiment, "It still feels very haphazard even though we have a pretty regular routine. I think the problem is that I feel like I haven't got enough input into my daughter's care while she is at my mother-in-law's. In the back of my mind, I feel like there is going to be some future time when it will all be different, but I don't know how to make that happen."
What the future holds for these women and their children --a sampling of millions across the United States-- is a bit like a high-wire act. These women, their husbands and children are living in the here and now. For Rodriguez, whose children are older, she finds that when she's not working, she's driving her girls to different activities such as volleyball, basketball, and dance.
These mothers are doing a dance of their own as they step through the work-world and the household each day delicately juggling two jobs at once. There are ups and downs to being a career woman and a mother, yet Rodriguez, Calabrese, and Thornton all take their roles with great stride. "The best part about being a working mom is the showers!" Calabrese said. "It adds structure to your day."
Structure in one's day too could be exactly what some need when trying to balance the career and mother roles. Finding that balance has become almost another job in and of itself however. Maltin's advice for those who work is "to try to balance one's own needs and interests and the needs and interests of the children to be able to be responsive to yourself and to them." He said, "When mothers constantly sacrifice for their children it becomes unhealthy, because they might become resentful toward them and expect things in return from the kids."
This balance is complicated and difficult to achieve and it is so unique to each individual parent. For Thornton, "the most difficult thing so far has been working while I am still a nursing mom. I have to pump breast milk three times at work and four times at home every day in order to have enough for the baby for the next day while she's a her grandma's.
"If I have a busy day at work or have to do anything after work besides go home and pump, I don't have enough for the next day, and I have to use milk that I've pumped previously and have in the freezer. The problem is that I don't like using frozen milk as I'm trying to preserve that supply for when I go on a business trip later this month."
Maltin said that women should make sure they've struck "a balance between the two tasks and enjoy their work.
"The more nurturing a mother is toward her children, the better the situation." However, he added, "Other women who have to work may feel burdened and exhausted." Their situation becomes negative and their children suffer. Caring for their children is not something they enjoy doing, but rather, something they must do. "It's a task rather than something they look forward to and they only have so much energy to share."
The Big Top tent might not come down anytime soon for what might seem like a circus act for some working women, but at the end of the month, or the day, or even one's shift --at least for these three-- working moms all have one thing in common: In balancing career while climbing the ladder of success; they've earned their titles as police officer, librarian, client manager, and, most importantly to them, the title of "Mom."
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