See Mommy. See Mommy work. Work hard at your desk, Mommy. Work hard in the kitchen, Mommy.
It’s a simple but accurate description of the challenges facing mothers today, whether they’re working to chase down sales clients at the office or working to chase after toddlers in the backyard.
Then here come “The Mommy Wars” raging anew in the media, a seemingly never-ending debate about which of women’s jobs — in or out of the home — are “harder,” “better” or “most rewarding.”
We decided to weigh in with a few Top of Utah moms in various walks of life to find out what they see as their biggest challenges and rewards, from the home front to the corporate ladder.
At first, going to work outside the home was “more of a get-out-of-the-house type of thing” as Veronica Rojas adjusted to life in Utah after moving away from family in Arizona.
But just months after she started working, Rojas’ husband was laid off and not working for a time.
“Now it was more like a survival mode — I have to support my family in order in keep our home, in order to survive,” says Rojas, director of Layton’s Sunrise Montessori School.
Rojas, whose children are 15, 13 and 4, says she enjoys her job and believes working makes her time at home more productive because she keeps on a schedule to work everything in.
One point she insists on is nightly home-cooked dinners: “That’s the only time we have as a family to sit down and talk about our day,” the Layton resident says.
Biggest reward: Her 4-year-old son, Isaac, goes to work every day with Rojas, and she enjoys being able to watch him grow and learn at the school. “That kind of takes away a little of the guilt,” she says.
Biggest challenge: As the mother of teenagers, Rojas says she sometimes feels conflicted about working. “Part of me says, ‘Yes, stay home.’ ” She says she did make an adjustment to her work hours so she could be home before her older children get out of school.
How to make it work: Give your children responsibilities so everyone is involved in taking care of household tasks, Rojas says. If the whole family pitches in, the chores are quickly finished and then everyone can enjoy watching a movie together or getting ice cream.
What’s your lifesaver?: After a bad day, Rojas says having a “mommy timeout” — a half-hour alone in her room to read a book — is “like a heaven for me.” When the timeout is over, she says, “That’s when I can be a mom to my children again.”
When her two toddlers are hauling buckets of dirt into the house from outdoors or pulling up her flowers, April Duckworth tries to keep it all in perspective.
“They’re going to grow up and I won’t have these moments,” says the stay-at-home mother of Cole, 4, and Tyce, 2. “These are things to remember and then laugh about later.”
Duckworth says she’s chosen to stay home while her children are small, and it works well for her family.
“I feel like I’m more hands-on,” the West Haven mother says, in everything from nutrition to education. “I get to watch my kids grow; I’m there for every milestone.”
Biggest challenge: “You don’t get quite the positive reinforcement you get at work,” Duckworth says. “Especially with small kids, they can’t express gratitude very well. ... As a mom you get a snotty-nose kiss, or they pick all the flowers in your garden.”
How to make it work: Find a support group for stay-at-home mothers; Duckworth belongs to a local chapter of the MOMS Club — an international nonprofit organization made up of “Moms Offering Moms Support.” The club offers various activities every week, plus a network of moms to swap ideas on everything from cleaning tips to recipe ideas to parenting advice.
As Duckworth sees it, “So much knowledge is to be shared.”
What’s your lifesaver?: Morning workouts at the gym, Duckworth says. The kids can go along and play, too, while Mom gets to enjoy a Zumba class or work out on the elliptical.
“There are a couple of times where I’ll go twice in one day even,” says Duckworth, who explains women can earn free baby-sitting for volunteering in the child-care area. “Not often, but sometimes we all need a break from each other.”
As a part-time employee selling real estate and working at an art gallery, LeeAnn Ballard sees herself as a role model for her three daughters, ages 17, 16 and 5.
“I really wanted to set a good example for my kids and show them a good work ethic,” says Ballard, who has chosen to work outside the home for the past 14 years. “Extra money always helps, too.”
The choice works for her, Ballard says, because, “I’ve achieved balance with home life and work life — in fact I’d actually like to work more. Sometimes I feel I’m not busy enough.”
Biggest reward: “Just having a sense of accomplishment that I’m helping my family out and I’m doing the best I can to help create a better livelihood for my family,” she says. Ballard adds that she also enjoys planning events at the art gallery and seeing “something come to fruition that I’ve done to better the community.”
Biggest challenge: Coordinating everyone’s schedules can be tough sometimes, the Ogden mother says, especially when her work hours conflict with day-care hours for her youngest daughter.
How to make it work: “Spending quality time with your kids when you can is really important,” says Ballard, adding that it’s important to have a job that isn’t so exhausting that you have no energy left for your family at the end of the day.
And carving out time to play board games or eat a meal together is also important, she says, adding, “You’ve just got to keep that family bond — make sure they know you are interested in their lives.”
Biggest misconception: “That kids are going to be brought up better and turn out better if the mom’s there all the time,” Ballard says. If a mother chooses to stay at home that is fine, she says, but if she is forced to do it and not able to be the best person she can be, “then it’s kind of a loss for the whole family.”
What’s your lifesaver?: Making time for herself, whether it’s going to the spa or the gym or taking a hike, Ballard says.
For Julie Kemp, the greatest reward and challenge of being a stay-at-home mom is the same thing — spending so much time with your children.
“It’s very rewarding to see your children change and grow and to be instrumental in their learning process,” says the South Weber mother of three daughters, ages 9, 6 and 1. On the flip side, she adds, “There’s not as much personal time for yourself; there’s also not as much interaction with other adults.”
But Kemp says drawbacks like not being able to make an uninterrupted trip to the bathroom are counterbalanced by moments like getting to hold a baby while she sleeps or having a child come find you just to get some love.
Kemp worked outside the home before she had children and again for a time after her oldest daughter was born. But she decided to stay home after she realized she was spending a third of her earnings to pay for child care and her extraordinary day-care provider moved away.
“It’s a choice — I feel very lucky to be able to stay at home with my children,” she says. “For some, it’s not an option in order to support their family.”
How to make it work: Find some way to interact with other mothers and children in your community, be it story time at the library or a neighborhood play group, says Kemp. Such involvement is not only important to your child’s growth and development but also to your own growth as a parent, she says.
Biggest misconception: Some mistakenly assume that women who stay home with their children are uneducated or under-educated and not able to hold a “real job,” says Kemp. Many women with college degrees make the choice to stay at home, she says.
She explains, “I’m not giving up a career; I’m choosing to add an additional career experience.”
What’s your lifesaver?: Having 38 other women — the members of her Layton MOMS Club — to call on when things get crazy, Kemp says. “That one-on-one personal connection with other people in your same situation — that’s life-saving,” she says.
The mother of two daughters, ages 10 and 6, Diana Windley has worked full time for 18 years.
“I enjoy the challenges the workplace affords me,” says the Goldenwest Credit Union vice president. “I really appreciate the opportunity for growth and building relationships, and the opportunity to have success in the business world. For me, I enjoy that.”
Whether they work outside the home or stay at home, all mothers make sacrifices, Windley says. When she isn’t at work, for instance, her focus is on her family rather than on having a girls’ night out or going to a book club.
“I don’t get to participate in as many personal hobbies and recreation as I would like to,” the Mountain Green mother says, but she adds, “There’s a time and a season for everything.”
Biggest challenge: Time — “Family, church and work eat up 25 hours of my day,” Windley says. She admits she’s a bit of a workaholic and says daughters Lauren and Jenna “give me more balance. They’re the reason to go home.”
Biggest reward: Windley says it’s the peace of mind of knowing she and her husband are able to provide their family with a good health plan and save for college and retirement. For herself, she says, “I really get a kick out of succeeding at work.”
How to make it work: Build a network of support people in your life, from teachers to day-care providers to friends and family. “Make all these people your allies in helping raise your children,” Windley says.
Also, when you’re at work, give it 100 percent of your effort, Windley recommends. Then if you need to ask for time off for a child’s school program, bosses will be very understanding, she says.
What’s your lifesaver?: Getting in a walk every morning, getting a good night’s sleep and eating healthfully keep things in check, Windley says.
Biggest misconception: The assumption that a working mother is letting someone else raise her children. “I’m raising my kids — I’m the mom,” Windley says. “I may have people help me with different things, but I’m raising my children.”
TAKING A STAND
Moms sound off on “The Mommy Wars” — the so-called tension between working mothers and stay-at-home mothers.
April Duckworth: “I think moms are juggling so many balls and you can’t juggle them all,” the stay-at-home West Haven mother says. “You have to pick and choose what you can do.” Duckworth says she tried working outside the home when her firstborn was an infant, but felt overwhelmed: “I really don’t know how full-time moms do it — they must have magical powers,” she says.
Julie Kemp: This South Weber mother compares the issue to another popular topic of debate — breast-feeding versus bottle feeding: “It’s not wrong to be a working mother just like it’s not wrong to choose to feed formula rather than breast-feed,” says Kemp, a stay-at-home mom. “It’s a choice that you make, based for the most part on your family’s situation.”
Diana Windley: Most women give their decision a lot of thought and do not make it lightly, says Windley, of Mountain Green. “I think we should be very careful before we say this woman should work and this woman should stay at home.” The credit union vice president adds, “As women, we need to support each other in the choices we make and not be critical — be understanding and help each other out.”
Veronica Rojas: Women are often too critical of each other, agrees Rojas, a Layton mother and school director. They need to choose whatever works best for them. “I have been blessed by staying at home and by working, and I have enjoyed both ends,” she says.
LeeAnn Ballard: “It could actually come from jealousy in a way — if you’ve never walked in somebody else’s shoes, who are you to say?” says the Ogden mother who works part-time.