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In Praise of My Working Mom

By Natasha Burton

Women today are encouraged to be and do everything: get a solid education and a great job; find a hot, yet sensitive, husband; add in some well-adjusted kids (before it's too late!); and of course, look fabulous in the process. As the phrase goes, we should be “having it all.” Yet, any working mom knows that these parameters are not so easily achieved. Last year, actress Gwyneth Paltrow famously revealed her struggle with this balance, when she told the Daily Mail she sometimes misses her kids so much while she's working that she cries in her trailer.

Like Gwyneth, my mom has worked in the entertainment industry since I was a baby. She racked up anywhere from 50-80 hours a week, so my parents could afford my private school. Unlike Gwyneth, however, we didn't have a nanny or a housekeeper or a cook. (Our brand of “help” equaled belonging to a carpool.) When my parents divorced, my mom found an opportunity to work longer and later on days when I was with my dad, allowing us to spend more time together on her days.

While I consider her to be an exceptional mother, our situation was the norm. According to the U.S. Census, 73 percent of mothers age 15 to 44 are in the workforce — and working is not so much a choice, as a necessity.

However, mothers' participation in the workforce has an immensely positive effect on their daughters, according to psychologist Lois W. Hoffman at the University of Michigan. After studying over 300 families, she concluded that "across social class, working mothers are more likely than full-time homemakers to value independence for their daughters." And because domestic duties are more evenly split between husband and wife, "daughters have less stereotypical attitudes about the competencies of men vs. women, and have a greater sense of personal effectiveness.” Working moms are more empowered, making them less depressed than stay-at-home moms, which creates a better home life for the whole family, Hoffman found.

On non-carpool days, when I was still too young to stay home alone, mom would take me back to the office, where I'd watch her morph into an artist and a leader who took great pride in her work. I changed too: Not just a kid anymore, I got to do my homework in an empty office with a real computer and swivel chair. I practiced my talking-to-grown-ups skills on various animators and art directors, who never failed to make me feel special (i.e. older). And they always gasped at how much my mom and I looked alike, which, as an awkward, braces-wearing middle schooler, I couldn't hear enough. But despite both the hard data showing my mom's career's positive effects and the work ethic she certainly instilled in me, what made (and still makes) her an excellent mother wasn't dependent on her working. In fact, I don't really remember too much about her working at all — even those nights she allegedly worked so late that she had to say goodnight to me over the phone. (Gwyneth, if you're reading, hopefully this will ease your mind a bit.)

From the time I was born, my mom's brand of parenting could be summed up in three words — kids come first — and, as a result, I remember these things instead ... The tea party book mom and I consulted to create elaborate teas for two. The rainy days we played hooky from work and school to go to Disneyland and wore Mickey Mouse ponchos around the near-empty theme park. The sewing machine whirring as I went to bed, while she worked into the night to create one of my many high school play costumes (most were so elaborate that they upstaged the ones worn by the kids in the leading roles). Our trip to Hawaii, when we learned to always wear a bathing suit on the plane in case the airline misplaces your luggage.

As a working girl myself now, I can't see how, physically, my mom juggled everything. (I get tired just thinking about it!) But, from her example, I learned that being a good mother is less about what you do or don't do — it's about the person you are. No matter how many hours she worked, I grew up knowing my mom was my mom, first and foremost. And that, to steal from Robert Frost, has made all the difference.

What do you want to thank your mom for?

  • Working moms are multi-tasking pros, and their sense of empowerment gets passed along to their daughters.

In Praise of My Working Mom
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