Emotional Health

Dr. Ford on Emotional Health: The Illusion of “Having It All”

In today’s world, a mother’s isolation can lead to loneliness. While there is no emotional relationship as intimate as that between a mother and her child, women are often separated from other adults, especially during their children’s earliest years. Women who go back to work are often surprised to find how much they value interaction with peers as part of its appeal. Again, societies with more integration between generations and/or community support do not isolate mothers they way we do.

Another benefit of working is the intellectual challenge. While tending children is rewarding, it is hard to keep it “interesting.” Many women find that the isolation of staying home with children all day is intensified by the lack of stimulation or challenge. While motherhood and parenting satisfies a deep creative urge, on the one hand, the day-in-day-out experience of caring for a child—especially a younger one who needs to have life be predictable and somewhat routine—can be frustrating and dull.

There are many ways, of course, to address this, but the fact remains that most women have limited choices. Financial constraints often require them to make difficult decisions in which no ideal balance can be achieved. The upshot for most working mothers is that they feel they don’t “have it all”; what they have is two full-time jobs. What they have is “too much” . . . and we have a long way to go before a comfortable choice is available to all.

One of the challenges women face today is to become more accepting of other women’s choices, recognizing that some women who have children have to work, some women who have children want to work, and other women really are fulfilled by staying home full time. In so many communities across America, the women who can afford to stay home often shame women who do return to work, instead of sharing their good fortune by including these working mothers in social activities—and perhaps including the working moms’ children in activities with their own kids.

Women who stay at home often say that they don’t want to “take care of some other mother’s child while she has made a decision to work,” thus marginalizing these children unnecessarily. Women are often the harshest critics of other women who make different choices.  Perhaps “having it all” could begin with nonjudgmental support from all women for the choices that all women and mothers make.


Join the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • D. A. Wolf January 23, 2015 at 3:42 pm

    Excellent piece. Also worth noting — for single parents, in particular single mothers (women already at an earnings disadvantage), the challenges can become overwhelming. An infrastructure that assisted in some greater (and more affordable) way would help relieve some of the emotional, logistical, and financial burden. And these needs do not end when a child hits age 5, as after-school programs to extend childcare are not a given between 5 and 10 or 11.

    Moreover, while we are having more discussions about work-life options and flexibility provided by employers, we cannot forget the roughly 42 million 1099 workers (“independents” / freelancers) who are not likely to be able to take advantage of any advancements in the traditional employment arena.

    We have a long way to go; at least we’re talking about it. Eliminating the shame associated with any choice or set of circumstances will surely help.

  • ellen sue spicer-jacobson January 22, 2015 at 1:18 pm

    I agree! Women need support for whatever choices they make, whether it be part-time work, full-time work, or neither. A full-time mom IS a job, but can be isolating, as noted.
    With choices come decisions. Weigh your decisions with all the facts you need before jumping into something for which you are not prepared.
    Women who have to work often wish they could stay home and many who stay @ home would rather be working. Both can create issues when supposes and children are in the mix. Part-time worked best for me, even though I could have used the money full-time would bring, but the latter was too stressful.
    We finally had a store where we lived above it & the kids helped after school That worked!