Today I received an email from a woman concerned about the use of the phrase “working mother” for a Mama Renew group we are hosting for mothers who work “outside” of the home. Here is my response – and I welcome your thoughts and perspective as well. This is not an easy topic!
To Mama Renew,
Re: Offering a Mama Renew group for “working mothers”
er … all mothers are working mothers.
I don’t draw any distinction between paid or unpaid in my definition of working or not. Most mothers are working unsalaried in roles which prop up the rest of society and don’t deserve being classified as non-working. It is definitely a tricky classification but getting it wrong risks alienating a whole section of women who are mothers.
Agreed! The work of motherhood is real, and the lack of economic recognition of women’s contribution to society as mothers is a major issue.
Thank you for writing – I struggled with how to phrase this over & over again, seeking to phrase it in a way that would honor the very real work that we All do as mothers. While I could have denoted “mothers who work outside of the home”, this phrase suggests that those of us who are self-employed and work from home, are not “working” or do not have “real jobs” – and in today’s marketplace self-employment – both part & full-time – is a major component of women in the work-force. Adding to the complexity is those of us on mat-leave or between jobs, struggling to discern the next best step as women and mothers. Our culture has not yet allowed for language that can capture the essence of women’s work – within and outside of the home.
I am writing this as a woman who has been self-employed and worked 20 – 40 hours a week from home on my business throughout the 9 years of my children’s lives, while also managing to be at home with them full-time. From the perspective of a mom who has worked “outside” the home, I am aware that mothers who are balancing “outside” work & the work of motherhood do have unique perspectives on the themes that Mama Renew addresses, and thrive when they can be in a circle of women struggling with some of the same questions.
For many women who return to their employment after having children, there is a sense of isolation that emerges – we go to work, we go home, and opportunities for building community with other mothers can be hard to come by. This upcoming Mama Renew group was organized on the special request of a few mothers who do work full-time outside of the home and were feeling a strong need for community with others facing similar questions.
Words are powerful, and can hold very different meanings depending on the reader. Interestingly, while we can all agree on the very real work of motherhood, just as the phrase “working mother” can be alienating to some mothers who work within the home, phrasing all mothers as “working mothers” can also be alienating to those women who are employed outside of the home and do not see their reality accurately reflected in the wider use of the phrase.
I wish I had an easy answer. I wish our society had better ways to acknowledge and support the work of motherhood, as well as the experience of those of us who are employed beyond the work of motherhood. I wish there were economic recognition both of the work of motherhood, and to support women who either choose or need to work “outside” of the home with quality daycare options and flexible schedules and job-shares. Mama Renew was created to nurture each of us in our unique journey – with the hope that taking some time & gaining perspective on our lives and choices we can all move forward in a way that truly honors who we are and nurtures our families.
Gratitude to the woman who took the time to share her thoughts. I now invite all of you to enter into this conversation. What is your experience of the term “working mother”? I also welcome any further suggestions you may have on phrasing that would better honor the full spectrum of the work of motherhood.
About Sarah Juliusson
Sarah Juliusson, founder of Mama Renew, is a gifted facilitator and writer on the journey of birth & motherhood. She brings two decades of experience supporting families through pregnancy, birth and motherhood to her work. Sarah is mother to two growing boys, a playful crafter with cloth & wool, student of traditional food preservation, and a diva at heart. Join the conversation on http://www.mamarenew.ca & on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/mamarenew