Rosie the Riveter, the iconic young woman with sleeve rolled up and arm flexed in the famous portrait by J. Howard Miller, inspired many American women in the 1940s to leave the traditional domain of their homes. They filled positions that previously had belonged to men who were drafted or volunteered to fight in World War II. Rosie's "We Can Do It" slogan seemed to capture the spirit and ambition of many women as they entered the workforce and experienced the sudden expansion of career opportunities.
Since then, women have made impressive strides both educationally and professionally and, today, the career opportunities available to them are unparalleled. Women are now awarded more bachelor's and master's degrees than their male counterparts and receive nearly half of all doctorates and professional degrees.1 While these gains are very positive, it is unfortunate that society has convinced some young women to elevate a successful career above all else. In short, the emphasis on "girl power" and our career-glorifying culture have perpetuated myths that have caused too many women to overlook the value and merit of embracing another role: Mom.
Myth #1: Only uneducated women stay home to raise children.
A study by the Center for Work-Life Policy showed that approximately 40 percent of women take time away from their careers at some point in their lives, usually to raise children. The New York Times calls the trend the "opt-out revolution." Many of those who "opt-out" are highly educated and successful. A study of female college graduates from two prestigious universities showed that 57 percent of female students in Stanford University's 1981 graduating class had left the workforce while just 38 percent of Harvard Business School graduates in the 1980s are still in fulltime careers.2
Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse, senior research fellow at Concerned Women for America's Beverly LaHaye Institute, says the findings reflect an increasing trend among women in their childbearing years. "More and more women are discovering that a life where career is everything is not satisfying or fulfilling after awhile. They are also discovering that no one can take the place of a mother when it comes to their children; they are choosing to leave the workforce to raise their children themselves."
Myth #2: Staying at home to raise children equals career suicide.
Temporarily calling time-out on a full-time career doesn't mean a woman has to completely forsake her career and leave her ambitions behind. The Internet has revolutionized the career world, making it much more feasible for mothers to work from home; Many maintain part-time careers or become entrepreneurs. Such ventures give mothers the opportunity to benefit from the convenience, flexibility and supplemental income of a career without having to work in the office everyday. It also makes the transition back into the workforce a bit easier.
"For so long, it seemed like women had to choose to either have a career or be a stay-at-home mom, but modern technology offers women the opportunity to do both," said Rebecca Hagelin, conservative columnist and vice president of communications and marketing for the Heritage Foundation, to the Beverly LaHaye Institute. Hagelin, herself a successful woman with a distinguished career, temporarily left her career to start a home-based consulting business in the mid-1990s to accommodate raising three small children. It is a decision she does not regret. "My family is my priority," Hagelin said.
Today, in addition to working for one of the nation's most respected conservative think tanks, she writes widely circulated articles, pens a weekly column, interviews frequently on cable news and radio programs, and has published her first book, Home Invasion.
She said, "I encourage young women to think about finding a career they love, but also one which allows them to simultaneously be a mother and make their children top priority."
Myth # 3: "Having it all" is attainable.
The media love to glamorize working mothers. They often feature well-known and successful women, lauding them for maintaining demanding careers while "balancing" childrearing (the dependence upon full-time nannies and housekeepers is rarely mentioned). While the media tend to paint a picture-perfect portrayal of happy and fulfilled mothers with equally happy and fulfilled children, it dismally fails at exposing the shortfalls of trying to "have it all."
The truth is that juggling a demanding career and family life is frazzling and stressful: 60 percent of working mothers in America report that stress is the most critical problem they face.3 And it's understandable. The hectic nature of a typical workweek can be draining. Many women finish a long day at the office only to pick up their children from daycare, throw together a dinner, taxi children to music lessons or sports practice, and return to a mound of laundry before collapsing in bed and repeating the rat-race again.
This harried schedule is often at children's expense, leaving little time for meaningful interaction or activities. The constant tug-of-war between the career and family demands leaves many women feeling as if they are unable to give full priority to either.
Dr. Crouse says, "Clearly, something has to give and a family has to work together to make dual careers possible. What is seldom mentioned is that only certain career options are possible and, sometimes, that means considerable sacrifice. But, at the end of the day, the question is whether a couple is willing to sacrifice their relationship or their children for career success. Far too many couples have realized -- too late -- that they made that choice by not having the right priorities when making important decisions. Wise women recognize that they can't have it all at once; they have to acknowledge that if they are blessed with children, it is important to give their needs top priority."
Hagelin agrees. "Biologically, there are many seasons in a woman's life. A lot of women want to move quickly out of seasons, but instead, women should enjoy what each one has to offer. It is a privilege to be a mom."
Jackie Kennedy once said, "If you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else you do matters very much." While women are free to ambitiously pursue education and career endeavors, it is equally important that women declare a "We WILL do it" attitude toward childrearing, one that rejects the popular message of society, and instead commits to honoring the calling of motherhood.
Jessica Anderson, a senior at the University of Northern Iowa, wrote this as an intern in CWA's Ronald Reagan Memorial Internship Program. She is majoring in public administration, political science and music.
1. For additional data and analysis of trends, see the Beverly LaHaye Institute's, Gaining Ground: A Profile of American Women in the Twentieth Century by Janice Shaw Crouse, Ph.D.
2. "Women 'opt out' of Career Success," March 16, 2005.
3. Foreman, Judy, "Women Shouldn't Feel Bad About Feeling Bad," September 23, 1996.