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Musing for Meaning

The Working Mother

The Working Mother

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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 TheJewishWoman.org, 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 TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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Anonymous Phadelphua May 17, 2016

I was raised by a mom who had to work and I spent time in daycare but wasn't raised by a day care worker. My mother has a diverse geoup of friends and most for all her life. You can't swap out a mother for a paid employee at all. Mother's re irreplacable, it's as simple as that.
I find it odd that you feel my mom was trying to be a man because she wasn't. Any woman who works outside the home isn't trying to be a man. There many reasons why they have to. My mom made sure her main focus was me and our home life and that's what I'll do when my children come. I learned all there is know about being a woman from the only woman who could've taught me, my mother. When focus is where it should be it doesn't matter where we travel outside the home, we always will be there. Reply

Anonymous USA 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? Reply

Anonymous Fair Lawn, NJ 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. Reply

Karen Iowa City 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. Reply

MomM Orlando, FL via chabadrc.com 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! Reply

Karen Iowa City 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. Reply

Anonymous Fair Lawn, NJ 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. Reply

Karen Iowa City 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. Reply

MomM Orlando, FL via chabadrc.com 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. Reply

Anonymous Teaneck, NJ 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? Reply

Karen Iowa City, Iowa 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? Reply

R.S. January 14, 2012

To Anonymous in Teaneck Perhaps you missed the fact that the AUTHOR of the article is the EDITOR of two of the main sections of the site, including TheJewishWoman.org. Clearly Chabad hires women, appreciates their talents and believes in their ability to impact the world around them. After all, the Rebbe was very strong that women, while being the foundation of their homes, are also emissaries along with their husbands, impacting and influencing all those around them... Reply

Sarah Akhtar New York, USA January 14, 2012

To Anonymous: It's only in the '50s that many families could first afford the luxury of a stay-at-home mother. Jewish history is the history of mothers who earned to support not only their children, but the Torah studies of their husbands. Jewish women have always been earners as well as nurturers. Most of us who worked during our children's childhoods have done that out of the most pressing financial need, and not to glorify our egos, and most of us have felt daily pain, leaving our children in someone else's care, when we would have been thrilled to have the resources to stay home. Jewish grandmas have always watched grandchildren so their own children could feed and clothe the family. Reply

Alan S. Huntington, NY January 13, 2012

To anonymous in Teaneck: Really??? Would someone somehow tell anonymous in Teaneck (comment posted Jan. 12) that the middle ages ended a few centuries ago.
I don't remember reading that Chabads' publishing of an article implies endorsement of the info contained in it. In this day and age, can anyone possibly equate a woman working with "alternate lifestyles" issues?
Thankfully, woman in Jewish history did choose to get involved in activities outside the home, even when they had toddlers to take care of. Reply

Anonymous Teaneck, NJ January 12, 2012

Chabad was wrong to publish this article Chabad is wonderful at welcoming and tolerating almost everyone. But showing hospitality and tolerance is not the same as endorsing. Chabad should not be endorsing a way of life that puts the desires of mothers ahead of the needs of their children; that puts material gain ahead of spiritual nourishment; that rationalizes neglect as not only justifiable but beneficial! Chabad should know that the most important part of our education is from our parents - particularly from our mothers when we are young - and that we cannot receive this education if our parents are not with us. Chabad should know that the love and self-sacrifice we are supposed to show G-d is learned first through the love and self-sacrifice we show each other at home. Showing understanding and compassion for the challenges mothers face does not require approving every possible choice they make. Chabad should stand for mothering and the family ahead of feminism and materialism. All choices are not equal. Reply

Sarah Akhtar New York, USA January 12, 2012

Working Mother I worked up to my due date and returned to work when my three-month maternity leave ended. I breastfed my son for two years--he had formula when I wasn't home. My commute was more than an hour each way. I was so tired I thought I could not survive such exhaustion. But every night, usually after midnight when all the household work was done (my husband switched to the night shift so he could care for the baby during the day), I took my baby into bed with me, to cuddle and read to him. The baby figured out my schedule pretty fast and managed always to be waiting for me, for that moment when I was finally entirely free for him. Those fifteen minutes or so were the most precious of my day, That picture book, and soon enough the tiny finger finding each thing in it as I named it. I had to work, it was not a choice--my spouse was financially irresponsible. But every single night there was a precious moment, and I have its fruits, 21 years later. Reply

Siba's mom Johannesburg, RSA January 12, 2012

Support Often I get judged by working moms- I'm a stay-at-home mom. And all I want to say is- not all of us have our knives out to working moms. The visa vie is also true. We just gotta support each other. Both ends of the candle burn quite hot.
We criticise each other cause we wanna prove we have it tougher. All are equally tough, some circumstances are worse. E.g. I am not married, get no support from the father. But I knew what I wanted to do- and I did it. Reply

Danny Mmasri Modiin, Israel January 11, 2012

Motherhoods golden parachute " To me, a physically present mother alone does not a good mother make. A child also needs a loving, supportive, attentive, passionate mother."

The Golden parachute statement. Work for parnasa or whatever.Your decision. Just drop the "bull" on quality vs. quanity. It really is quanity in the end. And it, never "takes a village". Just one simple Aishet chail mommy!. Reply

Annette Fox Israel January 10, 2012

beautifully written. and a wholesome and pure perspective. Yasher Koach. Reply

Zehava Boston January 10, 2012

The Ugly Truth The author writes pretty words but the reality is often not that pretty. The reality is women leaving their newborn babies with a sitter when they are only 6 weeks old (this is a norm) and sometimes even earlier. The reality is that these babies are then cared for in a "group setting" with as many as 5 more children (not their siblings) because getting a sitter to come to your house costs the bulk share of the mother's wages. The reality is mothers sending their children to childcare even when they are not well and even giving fever reducer to the child with fever and sending to childcare because the mother is desperate and cannot take another day off of work. (I worked in a childcare center). The reality is women who work in stressful jobs for 8 or more hours a day plus a stressful commute and have nothing left to give of themselves to their children. Reply

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 TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.