Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Tradeoffs of Being a Working Mother

Rabbanit Rosenberg of Migdal Oz
A while back, I criticized a Jewish Action cover story that seemed to extol the virtues of the working mother without addressing any of the costs to the mother herself, to her family, and to her children. I even sent the piece in to Jewish Action hoping that they'd publish it as a response, but they cut it down to a short letter. Oh well.
I thought of my comments when reading two related news items over the past week.
The first, in Hebrew, comes from the Tzohar conference on parenting that took place in Jerusalem this week. At the conference (which I did not attend), Rabbanit Esti Rosenberg, the head of the women's Beit Midrash in Migdal Oz, admitted that the hours she put into her work did in fact take a toll on her family and impacted on her as a mother. She said,
”הרבה פעמים אני אמא פחות טובה בגלל שיש לי מחויבות לעבודה שלי, לתפקיד שלי כראש מדרשה. אפשר לתת לזה הסברים וצידוקים אידיאולוגיים, אבל זו המציאות“
Often I am a less good mother because I have obligations to my work and my job as the head of the Midrashah. I can offer explanations and ideological justifications, but this is the reality.
I come not to criticize Rabbanit Rosenberg. Far from it. Rather, I think she deserves a great deal of praise simply for her willingness to tell the truth. Of course serious work obligations take away from a parent's ability to invest time in her (or his) children. Yet, in the frum world we somehow feel that we can't admit the truth. Rather, women are supposed to be able to do it all: family, kids, work, laundry, volunteering, hosting others for Shabbat - all without skipping a beat. Sorry, that's not how it works. Time invested in work means less time for doing homework with the kids. We might not like to admit it, but that's the truth. Rabbanit Rosenberg's seminary is known in Israel for its liberal bent, and its focus on teaching Torah Shebe'al Peh to women at an advanced level.  I hope that readers of this article don't attribute her confession to her liberal attitudes towards women's Torah study. It's really not relevant to this discussion. It matters not whether you're the head of a women's study program or an office manager or a checkout clerk: if you're working, then you're not at home, no matter how much you'd like to be.
Her comments resonated with me as I read another article - this one in the "paper of record".
The article, "Coveting Not a Corner Office, but Time at Home", describes the work-life of Sara Uttech, who has managed to find work that allows her to work from home each Friday, and also allows her to attend every one of her sons' baseball games. While society is pushing women to set aside family considerations and focus primarily on work, women seem to have a different idea. According to the Times,
Unaccounted for in the latest books offering leadership strategies by and for elite women is the fact that only 37 percent of working women (and 44 percent of working men) say they actually want a job with more responsibilities, according to a survey from the Families and Work Institute. And among all mothers with children under 18, just a quarter say they would choose full-time work if money were no object and they were free to do whatever they wanted, according to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll.
By comparison, about half of mothers in the United States are actually working full time, indicating that there are a lot out there logging many more hours than they want to be. 
On average, mother's don't want to be working more, but working less. They're looking for careers that will help them make ends meet, but also allow them a family life as well.
And while the OU might not admit it, I'm pretty sure that Orthodox mothers feel the same way.