by Jane Anderson, Columnist & Featured Contributor
[su_dropcap style=”flat”]I[/su_dropcap] BELIEVE ALL MOTHERS ARE MENTORS. Whether they see themselves that way, whether they work at a job they get paid for or whether they stay home and work without a paycheck, every mom sends a message to her children; she is always teaching. I was a stay at home mom for a while and then became a working mom, which is why this book was like a magnet to me. The author blends in-depth research of other families and her own personal experiences, pulling together data that confirms what I’ve wondered myself. Did being a working mom have an impact on my children? The answer is, “Of course.” Was it negative or positive? You know what? There is no conclusive evidence either way.
This book can’t say that kids turn out better if their moms work outside the home or not. What this book does is brings out the role of moms as mentors and brings in every aspect of mothering I could think of. There are a number of charts and graphs that apply percentages to answers from surveys taken from mothers, sons, and daughters to represent the impacts from their perspective. That’s all I’m going to say about the collected data. This book was a lot more interesting than the numbers. In the book the author, Pamela Lenehan, uses names of survey respondents to tell the story. I’m going to keep it all generic. Just keep in mind that the ages of the respondents are between 23 and 44 years old.
Work: My mother taught me my work ethic
We hear a lot about work ethic today. When kids saw their moms go to work every day, even when they were going through rough times at work, it sent a message. One young woman complained about her waitressing job, to which her working mother replied that she had talent and was resourceful. If she wanted to change things it was up to her to do that.
When working moms have participative husbands, their kids understand that work around the house is not his and hers. The work gets divided and everyone helps with it. Some moms worry unnecessarily and feel guilty about working, but kids interviewed commonly responded that their moms had no reason to feel guilty. Moms were projecting guilt onto themselves, not getting it from their children.
Childcare: My mother taught me many people love and care for me
Who will watch the children? Childcare is a challenge. It was interesting to read the stories of how ‘at the time’ individuals perceived the different avenues of childcare, always thinking that they might be better off using another option. They were worrying needlessly. Once the day care stage was past, there was little effect on which form of child care was used. Whether in-home, at a childcare center, nanny, or relatives, as long as the children were well cared for and felt loved, the long term effects were minimal.
Many who were interviewed had very positive things to say about their babysitters, day care providers, and nannies. They commented that they felt like their daycare provider filled an additional support role beyond mom or dad. They spoke of going over homework with their nannies and being able to understand it better.
The need for daycare decreases as the age of children increases. However, there is always a need for someone to be ‘watching’ the children. Working moms are aware that they need to have someone who can be flexible and stand-in for them when necessary. Children benefit from experiencing different environments and being cared for by other people. They learn from a variety of sources.
School Years: My mother taught me school is important
This was an interesting chapter because it emphasized the need for moms to stay involved even if their jobs consume their time. In the past, moms had to physically show up at school or maybe make a phone call to stay in touch with their student’s performance. Today, technology levels the playing field a bit, but it’s still necessary that working moms are not totally distracted from what’s going on at school.
Parents, whether working or not, have to stay aware of how their children are performing in school. Do they need extra help, are they completing their assignments, and are they handing them in on time? How are they getting along with other students, are they learning from this teacher? As pointed out in the text, this responsibility exists and no mom, working or not, is exempt from keeping their thumb on the pulse of how their children are faring in the classroom.
Family Time: My mother taught me family comes first
A predominant fear of working moms is that they have less time with the family. This is true because they have long hours away from the family. This creates an opportunity, though, to use the hours not at work to do special things and spend quality time with the family. Quality time means being with the family. Meal time together was consistently the favorite of all responders to the survey. Other activities included baking together, watching TV as a family, attending religious services, reading with parents, sports, being outdoors together, and here’s one that might surprise you – just talking. Remember that. Whether you are a working parent or not, your kids crave time with you and if you build the gift of your time into your routine, that is where the quality is.
Downtime: My mother taught me how to enjoy life
What I loved most about this chapter is that it gave so many examples of how life after work can be fun, rewarding, and create an interesting life for families. So many of us get out of work and run here and there as though programmed by an unrelenting to do list. Maybe it’s because as adults we have forgotten that it’s OK to enjoy life. It’s OK to bring relaxation into the equation. What do you love to do? One family enjoyed music so while they cooked and cleaned up the kitchen, they listened to music, sang, and danced all over the kitchen.
What can you do outdoors as a family? Transform the work that needs to be done into family time. Find a way to make days together a special time. When I was a working mom I started out doing all my housework on the weekend. Then I got smart and we all did some each day after work so that Saturdays could be used to do something fun. Saturday mornings I got up early and cooked meals for the next week and put them in the freezer so we could eat dinner earlier and clean up was minimal. It was so much more fun to read to my kids, play a game, or watch TV than cook and clean the kitchen. Working moms can benefit, as can their children, from doing things together and making them fun. It might not be easy to start, but as the author says – find a way. People at work don’t always find the fun in projects either.
Holidays & Vacations: My mother taught me they matter
“Creating memories and honoring traditions happen in everyday life.” We all love traditions, don’t we? As children there are things we look forward to that we can attach our memories to. Children of working moms seem to love holidays and traditions even more than children of moms who stay home. One question on the survey asked respondents to rank favorite family activities. Of them within just a few percentage points were family vacations and holiday traditions. There were other activities listed like visiting relatives, dinner out, and attending sporting events, but by far the two highest ranked were family vacations and holiday traditions. And it mattered very little if the respondent was of a mom who worked or was a child of a stay at home mom. Your kids want to spend time with you, vacation with you, talk with you, and they love creating traditions and memories with you.
Mentors: My mother taught me that I need many mentors
How often have you heard someone say,
My child needs to hear this from someone else, because he/she won’t accept it from me?”
It’s common and that’s where the African Proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child” bears its truth. What the survey revealed came as no surprise. Teachers had the greatest impact as mentors in children’s lives. Whether academically or in life skills, teachers and other mentors (the village) can reach kids when parents cannot.
Grandparents also played a substantial role in making a child feel loved, accepted, and valued. I will share the content of this one graph because I believe, especially today, that grandparents play a significant role in the lives of children from their birth to adulthood. The chart refers to Grandmothers as Mentors in these roles: Gave me confidence. Taught me skills. Provided a positive role model. Broadened my perspective. Made me feel loved. If you are a grandmother or grandfather, you have a place in a young person’s life. You can fill a need that others cannot.
Sports: My mother taught me sports aren’t just for athletes
Working mothers discovered a good alternative to childcare as their adolescents no longer wanted or needed traditional daycare. This opened the door to structured, participative, after school activities such as athletic programs. Sports has advantages for students as well as working moms. In fact, though the sports programs might be a convenient way for students to learn sportsmanship and new skills, it is also a way for families to connect and also to connect with community.
Playing sports teaches strategy, leadership, listening skills, and teamwork. Through sports, children also learn confidence, poise, and to respect diversity. It’s true that regardless of the mother being at work or at home, children who play sports learn these same life skills. However, moms who work recognize, “athletics and extracurricular activities can provide another way to be a part of their children’s lives.”
Life Skills: My mother taught me to deal with people and problems
Mothers have to be very deliberate in teaching their children how to conduct themselves. This is especially true when children are being cared for by others. Some traits identified in the survey which is the basis for this book, draw out qualities in working mothers that were absorbed by their children, Honesty, ethics, the golden rule, kindness, compassion, how to make friends and the importance of preserving relationships, and being genuine. These traits not only served these children during their school years but they stayed with them as they started their careers. “Our job as mothers is to build the confidence children will need as they go out into the adult world.” It’s important to keep the lines of communication open – even if you think children aren’t listening.
Careers: My mother taught me how to get a job
I appreciated this chapter for the discussions on how working moms prepared their children to find a career they would love. One respondent said her mom “taught us business terms at breakfast.” I guess that’s more helpful that reading the back of the cereal box. Another young man said he learned from his mom that he had to make himself marketable. From working moms came the importance of being well prepared when interviewing and how to use the power of networking.
Success: My mother taught me to be successful
I’ve always been a bit skeptical of the word success. How do we know when we’ve reached success? As it turns out, many of the grown children interviewed for this book struggle with the same perception of success. Reviewing the answers showed the factors for determining success varied slightly between genders and whether their moms were working moms or stay at home moms. The four factors ranked were 1) having a partner for life; 2) having children; 3) financial success; 4) successful career
It’s interesting that being comfortable in relationships, being happy with choices, and following their passion are things we all want. As one respondent puts it,
Finding a definition of both personal and professional success is hard to pin down.”
Money doesn’t top the chart, but being financially independent was one measure of success. One mom talked about success this way,
I consider my children to be very successful. They are making the right decisions and the right times. They ask for advice instead of refusing it. They have an increasing amount of resiliency and can rebound from disappointments.”
When I started this book I didn’t know what to expect. Would it be slanted toward working mothers being better at the task of childrearing than stay at home mothers? Or would the opposite prove true? In fact, what I enjoyed most about this book is that it was completely objective and reading the answers given by grown children was encouraging. Moms have raised children to maturity and they can be as proud of their offspring as they are, in turn, proud of their mothers. Whether working or stay at home, moms have the influence to change lives.