In 1950, the Cold War was heating up, Perry Como’s Hoop-Dee-Doo was No. 1 on the music charts, the Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book was a bestseller, and women were minor players in the American workforce. A half-century later, things have changed a bit.
The Cold War symbolically came down with the Berlin Wall, Hoop-Dee-Doo has been replaced by Hip-Hop, diet books outweigh cooking literature, and American women have firmly established themselves in the labor pool.
Women in the workforce have multiplied from 18.4 million in 1950 to 69 million in 2004, according to Bureau of Labor statistics. As of last year, women make up 46.6 percent of all workers, compared to 38.1 percent in 1970. The dramatic increase has not only changed the job environment but the family model as well, creating the culture of the working mother.
Balancing work and family really wasn’t considered part of the American fabric before the 1970s and received little media attention. Now it’s an issue that millions of women tackle every day. From late-night feedings, to bedtime stories, to dressing kids for school, mothers have to tackle the traditional roles of child-rearing and family obligations while maintaining vital positions in the working world.
The real evolution of the working mother has become more defined in the past five years, as the balance between work and life have almost become one entity. The skill of multi-tasking has become more of an art form. An invaluable tool that working mothers have been forced to master.
As the idea of the working mother has become more intertwined with society, the business side has been forced to adapt. The workplace has been redefined as some companies have decided that it makes good business sense to provide arrangements for working mothers that were unheard of 20 years ago. Flexible hours, the ability to work part-time, family leave, on-site childcare and other advantages that benefit working mothers have become commonplace in many companies.
However, one common theme that hasn’t changed is the psychological factors surrounding the working mother and what the impact is on the family. Guilt is often a side effect associated with many women who take on the dual role of mother and employee. Some experts maintain that the working mother environment – which forces more children into daycare – has had a detrimental impact. But most research shows that has not been the case. A study done by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development showed that a child in daycare was no better or worse off than a child who has a stay-at-home mother. Not surprisingly, the main factors found in the study showed that what influenced a child’s development were the family’s environment and financial status.
Another major development during the age of the working mother has been a shift on the role fathers play. The days of the 9 to 5 dad who went out with the buddies after work while his wife handled all the family responsibilities have become a distant memory. Many fathers are taking an active and equal role in everything from raising children, to doing housework, to fixing meals. A recent study by the Families and Work Institute found that fathers in their 20s and 30s are spending an hour more per day with their children than fathers did 25 years ago. More dads are changing their work habits as well, going on paternity leave or cutting down to four-day weeks so they can fulfill traditional duties that mothers would normally take on.
The one universal truth about being a working mother is that it’s hard work. But there are ways to control the chaos of balancing work and family.
An obvious first step is to map out a schedule. Time is precious for a working mother and a routine will smooth out the rough edges of a hectic day. In the morning, if the kids are old enough to dress, eat and basically fend for themselves, let them. Take the time for yourself and organize your day. If the children are younger, make sure you wake up in plenty of time to get yourself ready before focusing on doing all the necessary tasks for the kids. Don’t try to be a superhero. Keep things basic.
When working with a husband, divide responsibilities and compromise on which ones work best for each spouse. And when it comes to the husband, don’t forget your relationship with him. A job, kids and household can be an overwhelming force. It’s critical for the survival of the marriage to schedule time for each other. The same applies to a single working mother. Use friends, relatives, nannies or babysitters to take a break and enjoy your life outside the home.
In the past half-century, the workplace has experienced major changes through technology, labor laws and communication. But by sheer numbers, nothing has altered the way America works more than the impact of the working mother.