Growing up, my parents encouraged me to pursue a career that would allow me to support a family on my own. My father stressed the importance of this because he was concerned I would become dependent on someone else. I totally agree with this sentiment. But at the same time, whenever I would discuss what career I wanted to pursue, my family brought up kids. I would hear comments, such as, “Is that a good career to pursue while raising a family?” I do want to have a family one day but I hate that my career choices are expected to revolve around taking care of children. I know my brothers want kids as well and yet they are not considering kids when selecting a career. But I still conformed to the idea. While career shadowing, I would ask how balancing family and the career worked, as it seemed to play a large role in how I thought. I cannot commit to being childless and I also cannot depend on a culture change by the time I enter the workforce.
I understand why our society is shaped like this. In America, women acting as the primary caregivers to children is a well known historical fact. As our society is shifting, we are in an awkward time where often, if a woman does work, she takes on a double shift, so to speak. She goes to work and then comes home and carries out the responsibilities of the typical stay at home mom. Women who have careers and families are often asked how they “do it all” because they are expected to do it all. The man may help out here and there with kids and household chores but doing so is not seen as his responsibility. Work performance for a woman with a second shift is hindered. The Survey of Doctorate Recipients found that married mothers of young children are 35% less likely to secure tenure-track jobs versus married fathers with young children. This statistic sheds light on how engrained women taking on the most responsibility is. The workforce assumes a woman with a child will not be as career focused as a man with a child. My microbiology professor told me that many years after completing her PhD she was informed by a colleague that she was almost denied because she was pregnant. During grad school her husband made the choice to be the main caregiver but that is not considered a possibility by most admission and hiring boards.
Everyday language is also a factor that shapes how we think and act in society. For example, saying, “Mothers have been delivering the incorrect amount of medicine to infants.” This is automatically assuming the mother is the only one administering medicine in families. People say these things without thinking and it perpetuates gender stereotypes about the responsibilities a man and woman should have. To create equal opportunity for women in the workplace, we need to change the conversation to be more accepting of equal roles in childrearing.
Some people are concerned about what having a working mom does to a family. Research by Kathleen L. McGuinn suggests that if anything, having a working mother has a positive influence on the family. Girls who grew up with a working mother generally earn more in adulthood and are more likely to take on leadership roles in work. Boys who grow up with a working mother are more likely to help out around the house and with the kids. On top of all this, women who had mothers who worked are more likely to spend more time with their kids as adults, even if they are working mothers themselves.
With that being said, it is okay to be a working mom or a stay at home mom. I would like to see our culture come to a point where parents are able to share work and familial responsibilities.