Work & Motherhood: Still Hazy After All These Years.

by Peggy Drexler


I've never liked the term: working mother. It says that I am some kind of sub-category; not a full member of the club. Maybe I'll feel better about it the day I hear someone called a "working father."


The label combines a bit of praise for super-human effort with a whiff of disapproval for the fact balancing work and family means someone is getting short changed.



I was on the front lines of that conflict for many years. Then one day, I simply declared a truce.



We've been at this whole women and work thing for several decades now. Impressive degrees, upward-trajectory jobs and cracks in the glass ceiling say that on a lot of levels, the promise of female economic emancipation is coming along quite nicely.



We have been to the mountaintop. So why are so many troubled by the view?



Working mother discontent is clear in the recent Pew study that found 60 percent of mothers would rather have part time jobs. You hear it in the furious debate that has raged since New York Times' Lisa Belkin first wrote about the "opt-out revolution" in 2003. "Why," she asked, "don't women run the world? Maybe they don't want to"



Almost five years later, we're still trying to figure ourselves out. Four major books have just hit the stands, attempting to deconstruct why mothers leave work, why they stay, and how they can come back - if, in fact, they want to come back at all.



The position on the right: women are leaving work to do what God and nature intended. This whole career thing was a feminist fabrication all along.


On the left: women executives are being pushed out by heartless, clueless, corporations that value productivity over parenting. A bit farther to the left is the argument that the longings of motherhood are simply programmed in like code during upbringing - mothers aren't born; they're socialized. The real barrier is not the glass ceiling of a corporation. It's the front door of the home.



Here is my contribution to the body of anecdotal evidence. Feel free to put me on a chart.



Since my earliest days, I wanted success as a researcher. I wanted to be in all the best journals. I wanted to discover great things and write books about what I learned.



I never even thought about being a mother. But then early in my 30s, it was all I thought about. Unlike today, that was the age when most women reached their go/no-go decision on having children. This was not a conscious choice. It was an emotional - even physical - need. Every tick of my biological clock sounded like a rifle shot.



We had a son. And much later in life, adopted a baby girl. And that whole world-class research thing? It's still here, and as insistent and time-consuming as ever.