I grew up with a working mother. When I was really little – before I can remember, even – she took some time off from being a English teacher to stay home with me, and then my brother. But somewhere in there she got bored, or needed the money, or both, and she took a part-time job for a while as a proofreader, and then as a sales rep for a pharmaceutical company. Eventually, though, and while I was still in grade school, she went back to teaching, full time.
I don’t know when, exactly, I realized that my mom worked and a lot of other moms didn’t, but I do remember feeling proud of her from a very early age. When we would run into her teenaged students at the mall, or at a restaurant, they would always tell me how great she was, and how much they liked her class. And when I got to be in middle school, and she had moved on to become a reading specialist for remedial students, I used to help her grade papers, which made me feel grown up, and important, and which I used to brag about to all of my friends.
But of course, having a working mom also had its drawbacks. I was a latchkey kid, and for much of my childhood, my brother and I came home to an empty house after school. We’d watch tv and eat chocolate covered donuts, and on the many days that I forgot the key, we’d sit outside on the porch for a few hours, waiting for one of my parents to come home and finally let us in. (By the way, could you even imagine this scenario now????) And because my mom didn’t get home most nights until close to five, dinnertime in our house meant that we either threw a Hungryman or a can of Spaghetti-Os into the microwave, or we went out to Wendy’s, Pizza Hut, or the local Chinese restaurant in our neighborhood. I remember a friend telling me a few years ago that her mom used to have homemade chocolate chip cookies and milk waiting for them every single day after school, and I remember being shocked – shocked – by this. I didn’t know people really did that, I told her. I thought it was just something made up. Something that the writers for Leave It to Beaver had conjured from their imaginations.
In terms of juggling, my parents, I think, were way ahead of their time. My father was an accountant at a small, three person firm, and he more or less set his own schedule, which made it really easy for my mom to go to work every day. She had to be at school by 7 am, so my father drove morning carpool, and our neighbors brought us home in the afternoons. When there were school field trips that required a chaperone, my dad usually went, and instead of participating in Girl Scouts, I was part of a father/daughter group called Indian Princesses. And when it wasn’t tax season, a lot of nights, my dad would come home early and actually cook dinner for all of us.
Other kids’ mothers might have been teaching them how to bake the Christmas cookies that had been in their family for generations, or showing them how to put together dinner for four, or instructing them on the proper way to wrap a present. And I’m not knocking that; I wish I had family recipes to pass on to my children, it took me years to figure out how to get dinner on the table for my entire family, and I still can’t wrap a present without having to tape in extra pieces of wrapping paper to cover up the gaps where the gift shows through. But, I would imagine that working women who grew up with stay-at-home moms probably had a pretty steep learning curve that I didn’t have to conquer. Because I grew up with a model of working motherhood, I have an inherent understanding of how it works, and a comfort level with what’s required to keep all of those balls up in the air every day. For example, I don’t think it’s an accident that I’ve always gravitated towards entrepreneurial men. And when we were looking at preschools for my daughter, I instinctually understood that we could not send her to the amazing, coveted one that’s twenty minutes away, but that she would have to go to the one in the neighborhood, so that we could have a carpool. I’m totally okay with the fact that we eat dinner out several nights a week, and I don’t feel like I’m depriving my daughter of anything because I don’t have time to lead a Brownie troop. Whereas friends of mine who grew up with stay at home moms, definitely have more guilt about these kinds of things.
Now, I’m not suggesting that I’m a better mother than anyone else for having grown up with a working mom – far from it. But there’s no question that having a working mother affected me, and shaped my future. For me, working and having a career was like going to college; there was never any question or discussion about it – it just was what I would do. And so here I am. I work. I juggle. I married a guy with a flexible schedule. I rely heavily on takeout. And hopefully, my kids are as proud of me as I was of my mom. Hopefully, they’ll never find out that other moms are waiting for their kids to get home from school every day, with plates of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.