A Working Mother Asks: Can We Please Talk About Working Parents Instead?

Another week, another spate of stories and “debates” about motherhood and working mothers and the right age to become a mother and on and on until oh my god, is there nothing else to talk about besides the ovaries and uterus of The American Woman? What about—just for funsies—the testicles of The American Man? After all, in a whole lot of cases, women are getting pregnant by their male partners. What say The American Man about the best age to become a father, or the ideal career path that fathers should take, or the struggle between financial security and a stable family?

I understand quite well that for many years—nay, decades—women have had a unique set of issues to contend with if they wished to have both children and a career. I also understand that while those issues have shifted over the years, there are still specific challenges to being a mother that earns a paycheck, whether she works outside the house or from home. But focusing just on the challenges and questions encountered by one gender perpetuates the notion that only this one gender needs to meet these challenges and ask these questions.

 Several years ago, before we had a child, my husband made a deliberate choice to take a lower-paying job in his field. Like me, he was highly educated, with an advanced degree and the potential to earn a high salary; and indeed, his alternative would have been a larger paycheck but also longer hours and an intense workload. But he was worried that such a career would get in the way of being a good father, so he made a choice to take a job that would work better with the demands of a family.

His story is not so unusual, but for all the hand-wringing that the combination of motherhood and work inspires, you’d think that no father ever gave a second thought to how to balance his own career and family. In fact, cities like Washington are filled with men making the same choices. No, not that “Washington,” where the politicians are.  The one behind it, where thousands of men and women accept the lower pay of government and non-profit jobs so that they can get home in time to cook dinner and help with homework. Funny how so many of the news stories and trend pieces always seems to focus on the other Washington, just the way they focus on very particular blocks of New York and San Francisco. And that’s to say nothing of the flyover country where my husband and I grew up, where both mothers and fathers routinely make career decisions based on what is best not just for one gender, but for the family as a whole.

Pushing a narrow view of mothers and paid work also promotes just one narrative, one way to look at a complex and personal decision. To make the conversation productive—not to mention interesting—it’s time to bring in the voices of fathers, not to mention same-sex partners. How children are raised; how adults work; what companies are capable of—these are issues that affect our society as a whole. So why aren’t more voices being heard?

About Sarah:
Sarah's first book, Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement, will be out March 2013. For more information, follow her on Twitter @saraherdreich, or check out saraherdreich.com.


  1. First subpoint: Womyn can have a penis, and men can have a vagina.

    I think you make excellent points about parents having to make a choice of a) whether or not to work outside of the home. This could be someone single, or it could be a couple making the decision. I admire your partner for choosing family over money.

    Subpoint b) viewing a stay-at-home parent as a necessity. Couples could be queer or “straight,” but it is a decision that everyone has to make, including dads:

    I think that all of my mothers (chosen, bio, steps, and in-laws) have opted for work outside of the home for pure necessity, but also because it brings them a sense of independence. I admire all of them for busting their butts to make sure that the family members had a roof over our heads and food on the table as kids. It is their independence and hard work that has inspired my “Freewomyn” name and attitude.

    • Section 8 housing and Income based housing are great resources for parents who want to spend more time at Home. Food Stamp programs, soup kitchens, Food Banks, ect are also excellent resources. Childcare Scholarship Programs for working families are also available. Governement cell phones are given to families with alloted minutes. Cars are also provided to working low in come families,as well as gas assistance, clothing, and other necessities. Unfortunately we’re dealing with the Patriarchal stigma of “welfare queens” who use governmental assistance programs. This stigma is designed to deter families from these programs to keep them locked in a grisly system of “butt busting” employment (or butt busting marriages). This is worthy of close examination as Gov. Assis. is a woman’s ticket to financial freedom. She can be both single and a stay at home mom (although part-time jobs are required for some subsidies like Secion 8 Housing Assistance for low-income families- I’m not familiar with their exact policy). These are programs that no one knows about or talks about. These are programs for families that are stigmatized to the point of invisibility. As a disabled woman, I was even unaware of my options until a disabled (and thus estranged) female relative told me. Although I would love the opportunity to work in a feminist field of Policy and Project development, caring for one’s family, breastfeeding around the clock into toddlerhood, is a blessing for my child. Unless you are a married, this opportunity is largely nullified without the usage of Government Assistance. so Spread the word!

  2. I am pro-choice activist in Oklahoma. I read Sarah Erdreich’s article re Crisis Pregnancy Centers and had some information to send to her but the address editors@feministsforchoice.com bounced. Can you send me her e-mail address. She can check out my credentials on my web site. Thanks.

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