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Musing for Meaning

The Working Mother

The Working Mother


If you really want to get a group of women reacting, make a comment regarding mothering. I should know, as what I thought was an innocent Facebook post recently got quite the conversation going.

There was this great image (great at least according to me) of a member of the Italian parliament holding her seven-week-old baby in a sling on her body while raising her hand in vote. I loved this image, since I felt it showed the fragile yet beautiful ability to be involved and impact the world while cradling one’s baby.

If you really want to get a group of women reacting, make a comment regarding motheringAnd thus began the stay at home vs. stay at work debate. Which, of course, gets translated into the good mother vs. bad mother debate. And this is where the claws come out. We can handle a lot, even a lot of criticism, but once you involve our children, watch out. Now you are dealing with Mama Bear.

Clearly, I am a working mother. If I wasn’t, you wouldn’t be reading this article. Or, for that matter. And, for the record, the fact that I work is not necessarily by choice. I work because I need to. Because I have to. Because our family depends on the support I bring. But . . . I love my work. And a part of me is quite grateful that I was never so fortunate to be able to choose if I wanted to be a stay-at-home mother. Since it was not an option, it was not something I needed to decide on, which definitely lessened the guilt. I was also blessed throughout the years with a flexible schedule. One that allowed me to nurse all four of my babies throughout my workday, and for the most part to always be home when they arrived back from school. I am aware that so many mothers are not able to do this.

I don’t think there is a mother in this world who doesn’t question if she is doing the best for her children. Every decision we make, we ponder and we worry. And no matter what we decide, we will always wonder if it was the right way to go. This applies to the women who have to leave their children to go to work, and the ones who leave their work to stay home. To me, a physically present mother alone does not a good mother make. A child also needs a loving, supportive, attentive, passionate mother.

A woman is called the akeret habayit, the foundation of the home. But that does not mean that her role is fulfilled exclusively when she is literally inside the home. It means that she is the home. That the home is always her focus, whether she is outside of it or inside of it. The Talmud tells us, “beito zu ishto,” that a man’s home is his wife. No matter where she is, she must create that home environment. A place where she feels at home and where she makes others feel at home.

We always question whether our actions are selfish or selfless. But I think we also need to look beyond the actions, to the motivations behind them. If I leave my baby to go to the gym in the morning, so that I can come home energized and healthy and focused, so that the time with my baby is then positive and loving rather than drained and resentful, I am being selfless. Sure, I am going to the gym, but I am going to the gym for the sake of my child. On the other hand, if I go to the gym when the kids get home because I don’t want to deal with them, and I am looking to escape helping with their homework, or because ultimately I care more about my body image and my workout than other needs, I am being selfish. It is not because I am going to the gym, but it is because I am doing it at the expense of my children rather than for the sake of my children.

We can never settle for what is comfortable, because life is not comfortableWe need to know ourselves; we need to know our strengths and our weaknesses, and then push ourselves and strive to do better. We can never settle for what is comfortable, because life is not comfortable. Life is about moving and growing and stretching. And as women, we have enough challenges. The last thing we need is more infighting. I think we put down others to feel better about our own choices or situations. If I chose to stay at home and give up my career, then it better be the best thing in the world for my child! In order for me to feel good, I need to make what you are doing bad.

But really? Is that what it is all about? Let’s dispel the myth. All mothers are working mothers. Some work in the home, some work outside of the home. But we are all working. Motherhood is work! But more importantly, let’s focus on what really unifies us, which is the “mother” part of the statement.

We need to make sure that our children are our focus. Our passion. Our goal. Does this mean we can’t find fulfillment and satisfaction and inspiration from our work? Not at all! But it should be for the sake of being a better woman and a better mother. Just as we know that our potential to love grows exponentially with each and every child (otherwise the big argument would be whether it is bad mothering to have more than one child, because then your love and time would have to be divided . . .), so too, let’s give women some credit. Our time, our energy, our focus and our ability can also grow exponentially.

We can be productive, involved, impactful women in society, in our careers and in the world at largeWe can be productive, involved, impactful women in society, in our careers and in the world at large. But it shouldn’t be in spite of our children, but for our children. And in the meantime, let’s stop judging other mothers, and instead focus on being the best we can be. We have no idea what another mother is dealing with, the choices she has to make or the circumstances behind her decisions. But you can be sure that, just like you, she is doubting herself and worrying if she is a good mother. And the last thing she needs is our criticism. She needs support, understanding and, when possible, a helping hand.

We may never become that perfect mother. But the more we focus inwardly while striving to raise healthy and happy children, the closer we will become to the perfect mother for our children.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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Discussion (39)
September 19, 2015
Staying at home...
Are Jewish women given the commandment to not work outside the home? How does one do this? Does this mean that a woman is to be self employed only? What if she is single?
July 31, 2012
Except when very poor, mothers have generally raised their children themselves, not separated themselves from them. There is much work involved in that task, but they did that work with or near their children. The idea that women should do work away from their young children, regardless whether poor, is an historical exception, not the rule.
Fair Lawn, NJ
July 31, 2012
And furthermore... :)
For those who consider Stay-at-Homes to be somehow more "traditional", they're not.
Women have always worked. There was a period of time especially after World War II, lasting through the 1950s and 1960s and part of the 70s when it was fashionable to be a Stay-at-Home; so fashionable that it was even marketed in political and religious contexts as a moral imperative. But really, that period of time was just a blip on the historical radar and while there is some retro affinity these days for Stay-at-Home status, the fact is that working women are the real traditionalists in this story.
Iowa City
July 31, 2012
Choice to Choose -
@ Karen, Iowa City - I strongly agree. Thank you! @ Anonymous, Fair Lawn, NJ - I did not mean to say that staying home is a luxury. My point was that to have such a choice is in-itself a luxury. Many Mothers do not have a choice to choose to be either a Stay At Home Mom or a Working Mom. Many women don't even have a choice to work a part time job since that more often then not does not provide the medical benefits and a salary that is enough to live on. It is painful to see a mother dropping off her infant child at a daycare and rush off to work for the whole day because she has no choice but to work. I was fortunate enough to be home with my son for two years, however at this time if I don't work we will have no means to pay for our home, our bills, our car, etc. Altough I agree that it was the norm in the 60s & 70s - it was still more or less the same for single mothers. They were the nurses, the waitresses, the secretaries, the cleaning ladies - they had no choice!
Orlando, FL
July 30, 2012
"Staying at Home is Not a Luxury"
Nonsense, that's a straw mom argument, Anon in Fair Lawn. :) You're trying to make it sound as though working is all about maintaining a materialistic lifestyle-- that's a false argument given economic realities for very real people and, may I speculate, an argument that obviously comes from a person who has the economic privilege to choose to be a Stay-at-Home.
Iowa City
July 30, 2012
Staying at Home is Not a Luxury
Previous generations had a lower standard of living than we. They had fewer possessions and less living space. But until the 60's or 70's, almost all mothers stayed home to raise their children. It wasn't considered a luxury but a necessity, and many mothers did it despite having comparatively little in the way of material goods.
Fair Lawn, NJ
July 30, 2012
Re MomM in Orlando
This is an important point. It's not objectionable that some mothers choose to "stay home" (though I'm still not sure how it's legitimate to refer to one's self as a "stay-at home mom" when one's children are school-age) but what IS objectionable are women who make that choice and describe it as somehow morally superior, given that it's a choice only possible because of economic privilege.
Iowa City
July 30, 2012
Choice to Choose
Although nicely written, the article does not mention women who do not have the luxury to choose to be a Stay At Home Mom. I am a single mother working a full time job and commuting an hour each day - not by choice, but out of financial need. If I was given a choice, I'd have a part-time job while my son is at school and be home by 2pm when his school day ends. Unfortunately this is not a possibility. I envy my Stay At Home Mom friends since they can take their kids to a playground, park or library during the day while I am in the office. I respect all good mothers, working or not ...but I think that working mothers have it much tougher then those who are home during the day. I make sure that my child is well taken care of, the home is clean, the bills are paid and going to the gym in the morning, afternoon or evening is a luxury I can not afford as I have no time for myself.
Orlando, FL
January 22, 2012
Reject "feminism" that rejects women as mothers
The suggestion that supporting mothers as mothers is not "appreciating the talents of women" is as silly as it is pernicious. Is it appreciating the talents of women to justify the neglect of young girls? Is it appreciating a woman to tell her that working outside the home is more important - or even as important - as loving and educating her children? We do not appreciate women by insisting that they behave like men (and not even good men but men who put work ahead of family).

Karen is correct: there are mothers who work to support husbands who study Torah all day. I object to this practice as well, and for the same reasons.

Now I have a few questions for those who have posted from the other side: First, would you rather have been raised by a daycare worker or a nanny than by your own mother? Second, do you believe you can hire someone else to replace you as a friend to your friends? Why then do you think you can swap out a mother for a paid employee?
Teaneck, NJ
January 17, 2012
A question for the Teaneckian: what about this?
Mothers in Israel work because their husbands don't--in order to study Torah all day. What do you say to these working mothers?
Iowa City, Iowa
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Every situation we find ourselves in is a lesson waiting to be learned. That is what this blog is about. From the people I meet, the places I go and the experiences I have, stories emerge, each teaching me something that I hope you will find useful for your life as well.
Sara Esther CrispeSara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a non-profit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.