Needless to say, the 21st century provides a challenging situation for working mothers. Women who choose to develop and pursue careers while establishing families with children often find themselves in over their heads. These women are forced to keep up with their professional lives in addition to keeping up with maternal duties that have been set well in advance of the current era. Therefore, the rules that the women of the modern era follow are ones set up by those women who were strictly focused on being a homemaker and mother. Fulfilling the role of one’s career in addition to the job of being a mother is no easy task for the modern woman. Today’s working woman is expected to advance and fulfill the needs of her professional career in addition to keeping up with the old-fashion rules of the stay-at-home mother that had the ability to keep up with the expectations that were set for her. There are expectations of mother hood that make the balance of a professional career and capability of good mothering to be a conflict.
The novel, “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” provides a detailed account of a woman who is not only a mother but a professional who is focused on her career. It is evident from the very beginning of the novel that keeping up and managing both roles is no simple task. The woman who is working hard to manage her career and climb the corporate ladder is not let off easy when it comes to her duties as a mother. Many women, who work, tend to feel the pressure to keep up on their mothering duties, which include many of the old-fashion systems of mothering.
For professional women who have spent time and energy on their education and career feel extremely challenged when deciding to venture into the world of motherhood. Not only is the woman faced with keeping up on the professional front for all that she has invested in her career, but she is also wanting to be a good mother, which is a natural inclination for any woman. The problem is, how one balances this split of career and motherhood without taking away from one or the other. This is where the discussion becomes challenging. If one were to be good in her profession, she may need to keep all her focus on her career. Or, the woman who wishes to fulfil her duties as a mother is often facing the challenge of keeping up on her duties as a mom while still managing her duties as a professional.
Often time’s women have an idealized version of who they will be as they step into the role of motherhood, assuming the career is already something they have worked on establishing that can be maintained without trouble. No matter what the profession may be, a woman who is suddenly faced with motherhood never considered feeling incapable in her duties as a mother, which is extremely upsetting to new mothers. If a highly successful doctor is capable of managing her education through medical school and entry into the world of medicine, how can she not automatically be a great mother? Well, this is an ugly reality that many women face as they learn to juggle motherhood with their careers. Being a mother is something that comes without training or rules and differs based on the circumstances and personality of those involved.
After reading “I Don’t Know How She Does it,” one could see the intimate details of the challenges that motherhood could present for a working woman. For most women who continue to pursue careers while juggling motherhood and family life, many challenges that are presented by the narrator of the book are also present in real life scenarios. It is no easy task to allow others to take the place that a mother generally fulfills while allowing the same woman to continue on her career path without interference. This is a dilemma all too common for the modern 21st century female.
When a woman decides to continue forward in her career after having children there is a lot of guilt associated with the decision. The natural and common cultural expectation is to remain at home with the child and caring for his or her needs; however for a woman that decides to return to work at the end of her maternity leave, this decision can haunt her and come with criticism from her loved ones. Most people tend to assume that a woman’s job or role in life is to fulfill the needs of her children if she chooses to have them, so when she has children and continues to put her career in the realm of priorities, she is met with uncomfortable criticism. This criticism often lead the already confused and overwhelmed woman to feel worse about wanting to balance her work life with her role as a mom.
“I love the hotels with room service that appears like a genie and the prairies of white cotton that give me the sleep I crave. (When I was younger I wanted to go to bed with other people; now that I have two children my fiercest desire is to go to bed with myself for a whole twelve hours.)” This particular excerpt from Pearson’s novel may be all too familiar for women who manage career and motherhood. Needless to say, most mothers are quite sleep deprived and when the opportunity to sleep uninterrupted presents itself it is like winning the lottery. The only problem is that this pleasure comes with a cost attached to it- guilt. Guilt for wanting to sleep in a bed for 8 hours without getting up to change a diaper or stop for a middle of the night feeding. Many career women feel guilty for their break from motherhood when they can interact with adults and get a break from the challenging environment that is awaiting them at home.
Perhaps the problem is that women are still expected to fulfil all their home duties as well as their professions. If this same pressure was presented for men to keep up on their work life and transition to previously set full time expectations as fathers, would they feel similarly? When a mother is away focusing on her role as a professional she feels guilty about all that she misses at home with her children. There seems to be a “lose-lose” situation presented for working mothers that must be reframed. A perfect example of the struggles faced by mothers is delivered in Pearson’s novel when she mentions seeing her son’s new haircut that was done while she was out of town. When a child has his or her first haircut it is important for a mom to want to be present, but to have missed this and have it dismissed by her husband was extremely heart breaking. It is all these little things that make mothering and career life a huge dilemma for modern women.
Critics may question why “dad” is not involved when “mom” is gone. Well this is one of those situations where a woman or a mother feels “she knows best,” which discourages her husband/the father. Women tend to become controlling in their role as mothers and do not like the way their spouses. It is not always the man or spouse’s fault when the workload of parenting is not split in half to balance the duties of the mother because women tend to want things to go a very particular way. The pressure of doing things perfect as a mother is something that women impose on one another. The competitive nature of women, mother’s in particular, adds to the unfortunate pressures that exist for working women. The standards women and other mother’s set for one another creates undue pressure that makes the job of mothering even harder than it already is. Add to that the responsibility of managing a career full time while trying to keep up with one’s tasks as a mom and the situation becomes extremely difficult.
Maushart mentions keeping a sense of humor as one of the ways that mothers in modern times can cope with the overwhelming responsibilities that present themselves. However, a woman must be very established in her sense of self to feel capable of managing her career and home life without feeling guilty of letting one or the other slide. It is not easy to be perfect at anything and motherhood is definitely one of those things that no woman can sincerely perfect. Even the most focused, committed, tuned in women makes mistakes with her children, and to expect a woman who is managing a professional life while keeping up with her mothering duties is sure to face some obstacles that make her feel insufficient.
It is important that women empower one another in these roles that they play in life. A working woman should not feel that she must choose between her career and her motherhood, nor should a woman who opts to stay at home to raise her children feels as though she is missing out by not contributing to the household. A woman’s role in modern life has created a number of challenges for women of all ages, ethnicities, and socio-economic backgrounds. As O’Reilly mentions in her book “Maternal Theory: Essential Readings,” there is a dynamic that exists in being a woman that brings with it challenges that make all aspects of life a bit more difficult as can be seen in O’Reilly’s book. Women feel the need to be “jack of all trades” but that is not realistic and to place oneself in that paradigm is a situation that can become highly disempowering. Therefore it is crucial that a sense of comradery exist among the female gender to honor what each women can offer despite where she chooses to direct that energy.
Sadly a woman who chooses to continue in her career is extremely tormented by her lack of presence as a mother. The expectations of women on themselves and other women places an enormous constrain on loving the job of motherhood and finding utter joy in being home for to dedicate one’s life to their children. However, there are women who have spent years on their education and their careers and should not feel as though they are failing their children as a result of their decision to return to work after becoming a mother. Based on the reading of the three texts presented in this paper, it is crucial that women recognize the pressures they face compared to men. Supporting one another may be the best solution to this problem as more women advance to create environments that allow them to nurture their children and feel confident as mother’s while continuing forward in their careers. Women should be able to embrace the variety of roles they choose to play with support from both other women and men. When both genders support one another fully, the pressures begin to feel less constraining, which ultimately is in the best interest of all parties, including the children.
- O’Reilly, Andrea. Maternal Theory: Essential Readings. Toronto: Demeter Press, 2007. Print.
- Pearson, Allison. I Don’t Know How She Does It: The Life of Kate Reddy, Working Mother : A Novel. New York: Anchor Books/Random House, 2002. Print.