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Working Moms: Life on the High Wire

Working Moms: Life on the High Wire

Both the tightrope man and the working mom make it look easy.


It may take one to know one. I can always spot a working mom, especially one with multiple children. If she's in the supermarket, she's the one still in her business suit purposefully stuffing every available nook and cranny of the grocery cart. If she's in a business meeting, she's the one surprising her male colleagues with her consensus-building techniques. "How did we reach a resolution so fast?" the male CEOs wonder, oblivious to the mediation skills of the working mom in their midst.

Of course, a career woman who is also a mother doesn't talk about her children in these high-power surroundings. She hesitates to openly display her feelings of loyalty to her family, as this might reveal where her priorities lie. More often than not the working mom wants to prove that she can be as great an asset to the corporation as any other worker. In fact, a working mother might argue that she brings unique tools to the workplace. After all, the skills she uses to institute a new operations policy at the office are the same skills she has perfected to get her kids into the habit of putting their dirty clothes down the laundry chute.

Working moms are not only in competition with men in the workplace; they are also competing with other career women trying to rise beyond the glass ceiling. Other women have the advantage of being unencumbered by family pressures so that they can single-mindedly apply themselves to their work. As self-assured and purposeful as a working mom may seem, she always has a certain preoccupied look about her, as if there is some distraction that only she is aware of. Her expression is not unlike that of a high-wire artist carefully balancing himself as he adroitly places one foot in front of the other, gazing forward, never down, with a determinedly confident smile. Both the tightrope man and the working mom make it look easy. But just imagine what they feel in the deep recesses of their hearts when there is any glitch in the routine.

She commissioned the state helicopter to fly her home when she learned that her baby had a medical emergency.

Take the very public example of Lt. Governor of Massachusetts, Jane Swift. Ms. Swift campaigned for office while expecting and gave birth two weeks after she was elected. She campaigned on the principle that her new baby would be an asset, not a liability, in her performance of public duties. Now the Massachusetts government could show itself a bastion of family values in actual practice and not merely in political rhetoric.

Ms. Swift recently had to do a bit of explaining to her constituents, however, in response to certain liberties she took with public funds. What egregious deeds did she commit? She commissioned the state helicopter to fly her home when she learned that her baby had a medical emergency.

On the one hand, we are talking about public funds here so prudence is in order. On the other hand, I have been in a similar situation; on the way to a board meeting, hundreds of miles away, when I learned that my nine-year-old was about to have an emergency appendectomy. So, I can really empathize with Ms. Swift's taking the fastest and most accessible means of transportation home.

Commentary on National Public Radio purported that Ms. Swift got what she asked for because she had made her family such a prominent campaign issue. While the people of Massachusetts may care about family values enough to elect Ms. Swift as governor, they are not willing to share the Lt. Governor with her family.

Let's face it, working mothers are held to a higher standard.

Let's face it, working mothers are held to a higher standard. It really doesn't make a difference if they've chosen to make a working career a part of their life because they need the income or because they need the emotional or intellectual sustenance that work outside the home provides, or for any other reason. Like the hire-wire artist, they had better watch their balance.

A course in public administration might be a first step in organizing the competing needs of office and children. Actually, many of the working moms I know could probably teach the course. I have a friend who is a computer software engineer, who takes three lunch hours per week to volunteer in each of her children's classrooms. That way, the kids are more understanding when Mom just can't reschedule her meeting to catch them in the school Book March for which she spent hours the night before sewing costumes.

My internist has her staff schedule a few minutes in between each patient so she can pump breast milk for her third baby who is with her "stay-at-home Dad." "I feel like Elsie the cow," she admitted to me recently. Is it possible to keep up the nursing and work full time? It's complicated, but most of the working moms I know will make accommodations at work, without jeopardizing the quality of their performance, so they are able to give their kids what they need.

Many working moms, like myself, feel their kids are their greatest accomplishments. Who wants to squander such precious assets – and who wants to deal with the guilt?

March 31, 2001

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 4

(4) Lorraine Cohen, May 9, 2001 12:00 AM

An excellent commentary on the working woman!

Knowing Lisa, she is a very loving and caring mother as well as a very competant administrator and is also an asset to the community!

(3) Zachary Kessin, April 26, 2001 12:00 AM

A bit about Jane Swift

A few things about Jane Swift who is now "Acting" Governor of Massachusetts is and expecting twins shortly. First of all you should know that Mass does not have a house for the Governor to live in, she is expected to live in her own house. Which in her case is in the far western end of the state, and she is the first Governor from the western part of the state in almost a 100 years. Swift's brother does live in boston and she does stay with him some
nights. Her Husband stays at home with hr daughter.

Unlike most working mothers Jane Swift does have a member of the state police to drive her to and from the office each day (its a 2hr+ drive for her) I personaly think they should just get her a Helicoptor, a Robinson R44 which seats 4 could be chartered for not too much money and could land right on her farm and make the trip in a little over an hour.

Actualy my main problem with Gov. Swift is that she tends to say things without thinking which is not a good thing to do when you are in public office. I hope she does a good job both with the Commonwealth and her children.

(2) Cara Altman, April 9, 2001 12:00 AM


In reference to Lt. Governor of Massachusetts, Jane Swift, using the government helicopter to get to her sick child: What if a male Governer had done this? I would certainly expect a father to rush to the side of his sick child. Would he have been critized for combining family and career?

There exists such a double-standard. If a dad takes a job that pays better but requires more time away from family, society says that he's making a sacrafice to provide for his family. Let a mom do that. She's accused of having mess-up priorities. I could give many other such examples.

I love my kids as much as any other mom, but being home with them drove me to a terrible depression. No one accuses my husband of being a bad dad for working, but I feel that I must justify myself.

(1) Lisa Scheer, April 1, 2001 12:00 AM

Work or Welfare ?

I have to work. I have a disabled child to support. I am always one paycheck for homelessness. If I don't work we don't exist. I work full time. My daughter and I wear thrift store clothes. We freeze in the winter. My daughter hates me because I don't make enough money. I had to move out of my previous apartment as the rent was increased to an unbearable amount. We now live in an area that is depressing to me. My daughter is the only Jewish person at her school, and she also hates that. The kids there have teased her about being Jewish. We have no saftey net, so when I miss work due to illness which is frequent between my daughter and myself, I lose pay and we eat mac and cheese for a week. Thank G-d, my daughter qualifies for Medicaid insurance, or she would be in worse shape. I went to college for this? To live as a pauper the rest of my life? So I have to work or we's be living on the street.

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