click here to jump to start of article
  • Torah Reading: Naso
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​

Mothers at Work

Mothers at Work

Are we fulfilling our unique mission, despite the demands in our lives?


“Why Women Still Can’t Have It All?” The cover of the Atlantic article asks the question that has sparked debate throughout the digital atmosphere. Anne-Marie Slaughter, author of the piece that has gone viral, concludes that when it comes to the difficulties women face balancing work and family, the final answer is: “No, women can’t have it all” – unless great changes are made.

Slaughter, a Princeton professor and once a senior adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is being viewed as the contrary voice to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.

Some time ago, Sandberg proclaimed to all working mothers in America that it is time to be brave and step up to job opportunities. This 42 year old mother of two has lectured extensively, spreading her message that we must resist ‘leaning back’ in our careers. Just do as I do: leave the office at 5:30, eat dinner with the kids, bring the excess work home and you will be the perfect mom and career woman.

Sound simple?

Let’s be honest. Not every woman has the ability to leave work at the ‘right time,’ sit down to a deliciously prepared dinner, be in a great mood, and then continue on with work brought home from the office. I am not even mentioning homework, baths, emotional issues, and the husband/wife relationship.

In her article, Ann-Marie Slaughter shares personal revelations. She writes about a rebellious teenage son with whom she had little time to attend. She mentions workweeks spent in a different state than her family. She learned as her children grew older that there are times a mother needs to step back and focus on putting the kids’ needs first. Slaughter questions if her high profile job was truly doable.

Where does that leave us?

I feel as if today’s moms sweat to live. Always running, remembering someone’s needs, juggling after school programs and appointments, PTAs, pick-ups, drop offs, feeding both bodies and souls, wiping away tears, soothing hurts, keeping it together – and all this is without the burden of work brought home. We try to do the best we can and struggle sometimes to find the joy. We tell ourselves that “if we just make it through this work load or this child’s crisis, we will finally get it together.”

You can ask, where are the men in all this? Why is there an uneven domestic balance between husbands and wives? Why can’t the fathers just step it up?

Related Article: You Can’t Have it All

I don’t believe we would all agree on the answers to these questions. Each family lives with different personalities and needs.

What we can do is honestly ask ourselves if we are fulfilling our unique mission in the home, despite the demands in our lives. Women who do not work professionally are equally obligated to answer the question. I have encountered too many mothers who may be home in body but not in spirit.

Mothers, whether they have a career or not, are the strength and spiritual foundation of the home.

All mothers, whether they have a career or not, are called in Hebrew ‘akeret habayit’ – the strength and spiritual foundation of the home.

When Adam, the first man, is told that he is destined to die, he names his wife Chava, from the word chaya, life, because she is the one who gives life to all living. He sees within her the continuation of his destiny, the promise of life and legacy. The name Chava denotes spiritual life. Not only do women carry life within, but it is our sacred mission to give forth spiritual and emotional life as well.

This is the role of every mother in her home. We are here to guide, to nurture, to lead, to bring light into our homes. Women kindle the Shabbat lights and as we do, we pray that we ignite souls and maintain peace and spiritual balance throughout the week. We ask that we are able to teach and build character, moral values, and kindness.

We can do this better by acknowledging the fact that children need their mothers. Yes, of course they need their fathers too, but we are now addressing the special bond that exists between mother and child.

I recently met an adorable 10 year old girl who happened to mention that she is so happy to have her cat sleep in her bed. When I asked her why, she told me that her mother leaves to work before she wakes and comes home late each night after she goes to sleep. She is so lonely but at least she has her cat to talk to and cuddle with.

My heart hurt for this child. While I have no doubt that this mother feels torn and may be forced to work these long hours, I wonder about the price that is being paid.

At least, let us attempt to put some safeguards in place as we attempt to find harmony in our lives.

Whether you are a career or stay at home mom, let us embrace the sacred spiritual role that we have been given. If you cannot be there when your kids get home, at least pick up the phone and call them. Don’t let a child walk through the door and assume that you are too busy to even think about him. Tell him how much you love him, take a moment and ask about his day; let him know that you will be home soon. When you do finally return, I know it can be tough to put a smile on your face, but your smile warms his soul.

Never have a child believe that you are disinterested in his dreams. You wouldn’t believe your child’s joy when he sees your blackberry or computer turned off while trying to catch up on his day. Sing the Shema, complete your night together with a bedtime prayer and kiss. Even older children need a few quiet moments with you; never doubt the value of your presence. And be sure that each week, no matter how difficult the days have been, your Shabbat is a delicious time for family to reconnect.

At the end of the day, we are mothers first. Isn’t this our greatest legacy?

June 30, 2012

Give Tzedakah! Help create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.
The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 23

(12) Heather, March 3, 2013 10:01 PM

Children are our future

This is a difficult topic...but as someone who grew up in a 2 person-working family, this is a subject that I very much relate to. I firmly believe that children need a mother at home. That being said, I've heard many arguments & I sympathize with the desire/need for a woman to have a career whether it is for one reason or another. However, I believe that should not be at the expense of the children. Women & Men do have different roles, though society today would say otherwise, I believe it is the man's responsibility to provide for the family & the women's to care for the children & husband & provide a nurturing & loving family environment. I had a friend who unfortunately lost her husband at a young age & had 2 small children to raise alone. She too was very concerned how to provide for them as they weren't well off financially & she wanted to raise them with values. She found a way to do so & still be a stay-at-home mom. My point is that there are many options & it is possible to do this & not go broke. One day those children will be grown & you won't look back & reflect on your great career, or all the money that was earned, but rather how your children turned out. It is a challenging economic time for many, but that also means there are opportunities. I do think that the burden for provision should be on the man though, it is something that needs to be discussed within the marriage. Children are our future & it is so important that they grow up being loved & nurtured & taught the Torah & given every opportunity to be all they can be.

(11) Anonymous, August 3, 2012 12:27 AM

The "Need" to work

First and foremost, I am a wife to my husband and a mother of two small children. My husband is currently working on his degree so that he will be able to go out and work for our family. In the meanwhile, I am the "breadwinner," financially supporting the family. I agree with many of the previous posts, "don't try to be superwoman" and "why have children if you aren't going to be home with them." However, I find it mildly hurtful when the wonderful "stay at homers" make blanket statements about those of us who need to work to support our families. Am I to quit my job and go deep into debt for the happiness of my children, so that I am not an absentee parent? Or should I continue to work and daven that my children understand that this is for their benefit and that when I have the chance, I will be home? Does this make me a terrible mother who should not have even had children, because I do not stay home with them (as another poster stated)? Please, help me understand your points of view on us mothers who are working to support our families but "work long hours" and "are absentee parents".

(10) Anonymous, July 3, 2012 2:31 PM

Please do NOT forget about the fathers! Also, we need to be mindful of the fact that in many single parent families (either through divorce or widowhood) the parent has no choice BUT to work long hours. Finally, each family is different. We only need to look at what works best for our own families. To examine/judge what other women amounts to nothing more than lashan hara.

(9) Debbie, July 3, 2012 2:02 AM

Don't try to be superwoman.

I'm concerned about the 1 person who's being neglected the most, and that's the mom. She's generally spreading herself thin to be everything to everyone, and she's unable to nurture herself. When we live our lives constantly in high-alert mode, we are stressed out with no respite and the result is adrenal exhaustion. This is a BIG danger to our health, and prospects for longevity, not to mention the question of how will we keep the flame lit in our homes when our own spark is so weak. Don't be superwoman. Be good to yourself, live a balanced life, and you will be available to be an inspiration to everyone around you.

Betty, July 3, 2012 12:31 PM

Hats off to you Debbie !! I fully agree with you and unfortunately I don't understand why women feel they have to be super human.Because they show they can do it all, more and more is dumped on them.

See All Comments

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.

  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment