Bond through life passages — 04 February 2006
Career and/or motherhood? The woman’s dilemma

Today, young women who are planning their lives wonder whether their personal goals may compliment or conflict with their future roles as wives and mothers.

The past forty years have provided many conflicting ideas and research findings regarding women’s roles.

Up to the 1960’s women’s roles were clearly defined. The ideal scenario for a woman was to find a suitable mate, marry and stay at home to raise her family. With the advent of women’s liberation, females were encouraged to get educated, seek careers and pursue work endeavors of their liking. Women were told that they are capable of most careers, even those which have been previously reserved only for men. This powerful movement, though very encouraging, caused women to reorient their self-view and redefine their personal and family roles.

Women entered the work force and struggled to achieve and compete with men. They also had children and juggled work outside and inside the home. As the rate of female employees increased to forty five percent of the workforce, research found that women also did the majority of the household work. The anticipated ‘women’s liberation’ only drove women into overwork and exhaustion.

Women and men’s relationships also became more strained. The new expectations placed on husbands to participate in more of the household chores and childrearing led to marital strife. Both mates felt overburdened and physically and emotionally taxed.

By the end of the twentieth century, a new wave of research and expert opinions advised women that their children needed them, not their childcare providers. Working women were encouraged to leave their careers behind and return home to be fulltime mothers.

Today, many highly educated and successful career women proudly trade their work positions for the title of stay at home moms. Some declare their intent to eventually return to work, while others pride themselves for the honorable sacrifice they are making for the sake of their children’s welfare. Women who choose to continue to work, or need to work, are regarded by some as less responsible mothers.

The pressure society places on women has its’ trickling effect on girls as well. Now fewer young girls dream of becoming scientists, astronauts or inventors and more yearn to be wives and mothers.

The new norms cause great ambivalence and unhappiness for most women. Working mothers report feeling guilty, frustrated and not accomplished enough in either role. Formerly employed women staying at home lament about not utilizing their full brainpower. They also fear that their husbands find them less appealing or interesting now than they did while the women were employed.

The higher rate of infidelity, marital conflict, and divorce has been partially attributed to women’s careers as well.

Some younger women question their path. Should they give up their personal goals, identity and dreams that may later be abandoned for their family? Should they forgo training for the careers of their passion? Should they postpone their aspirations until after their children will leave home? Should they aspire to primarily be wives and mothers?

It seems wise to separate women’s personal identity from their interpersonal roles. Men are not expected to be workers OR fathers, they are seen as capable of both. Though women bear the children, nurse, cuddle, and provide most of the nurturing of the young, their personal development need not be curtailed due to these anticipated tasks.

The healthier, happier, more enlightened and inspired a woman is, the better partner and parent she is likely to be. Encouraging young girls to define themselves in terms of their future relationship to their husbands and children is in essence programming them to gain their self-worth through others rather than in addition to their own accompishments.

If you are a single young woman, please consider:

• Defining yourself in term of your future role as wife and mother restricts your potential.
• Counting on finding the right mate, bearing children, and having the option to stay home are hopes, not certainties.
• Unless you are educated, trained and experienced you may only have one choice, which may or may not please you.
• Having the education, training and work skills helps you maintain a sense of self-sufficiency throughout your life, regardless of circumstances.
• Your choices about working or staying at home are best made with your partner, based on your circumstances and preferences and thus could not be made in advance.
• Developing your skills, talents and wisdom is a gift to you and to your future family.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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