The statistics are enough to make you believe in Superwoman. Remember her—the idealized (and often maligned) 1980s woman with a baby on her hip and a briefcase in her hand? Her image may be tarnished, but the full-time career woman who is also raising children is still out there—juggling, balancing and trying to make it all work. And i n America, at least, she’s still getting very little help. While other industrialized countries count the length of fully paid parental leave in months—like Norway (about 10), Vietnam (six) and Brazil (four)—the United States stands alone in not requiring employers to offer a single day of paid parental leave following a baby’s birth or adoption [ilo.org, 2013]. Nonetheless, more than 70 percent of U.S. mothers with children under 18 are in the labor force; in 2014, more than 40 percent of mothers were primary breadwinners [catalyst.org].
Among two-parent families, the most common arrangement is for both spouses to work [U.S. Census report, 2014]. And a growing number of working mothers say working full time is better than working part time (32 percent in 2014 vs. 20 percent in 2007). For these families, it’s no news that paid child care can be as dauntingly expensive as a college education.
Behind these stark statistics are the real stories of mothers whose time may be as strained as their nerves and their household budgets. When we asked Smith moms on Facebook and LinkedIn to share stories about their own work-and-family balancing acts, the response was swift. Dozens of mothers—some in the thick of it, some reflecting on bygone childrearing years—offered ideas both practical and philosophical. One even created a syllabus for an imagined course on Working Momhood. High on many lists was gratitude toward partners who share the workload and toward other moms who share the journey. We also heard praise for inanimate lifesavers, like slow cookers, mail-order meals, online shopping and bathroom doors that lock.
The response was so large we decided that your answers would not be part of the story; rather, they would be the story [see “Home Office, Meet Job Office. Play Nice,” and “Pick 2: Motherhood, Career or Sanity” on the sidebar to the right.] Plus, President Kathleen McCartney writes about how views of motherhood affect public policy (see “Working Moms Deserve Better)” and we share an excerpt from Riché Barnes’ book, Raising the Race, exploring how African American women are redefining motherhood and careers. This is not a debate about the relative merits of mothers working outside the home. It’s a glimpse into the lives of Smith women who (whether they intended to or not) are reframing the famous Superwoman question from “Can she have it all?” to “Can she make it all work?”
SAQ, Winter 2015–16