Mothers who gave up promising careers


Kiryuin Satsuki from Kill la Kill

This article is an interesting look at the mothers who gave up promising careers to look after their families in the late 1990s.

It covers many different women who left the work force because the life of a working couple was too difficult to sustain, especially once children were in the picture. Some women are able to find fulfillment in their lives despite this in the form of volunteer or part-time work, to the detriment of their marriages, however.

A Woman's Stance

I wonder why the pressure is often placed on the mother to not work? Because she is the mother and naturally expected to care for the children whereas the father would only perform a subpar job in comparison? Women often switch to part-time work first, or are encouraged to pull out of work altogether to take care of children and the home which they would otherwise have problems juggling.

“ ‘All this would be easier if you didn’t work,’ ” [Sheilah] O’Donnel recalled her husband saying.

Yet without a sense of fulfillment, this often results in declination of their mental states. The researched women were all highly educated, and in high-powered and high-paying careers prior to their change.

While supremely confident and an intellectual equal with their partners before, they now felt as though they were in an unbalanced relationship. They were reliant on their partners for money, took care of cooking, cleaning. If hired again years later, they always earned less than they were making before, but were less ambitious in the jobs they wanted.

Many of the women I spoke with were troubled by the gender-role traditionalism that crept into their marriages once they gave up work, transforming them from being their husbands’ intellectual equals into the one member of their partnership uniquely endowed with gifts for laundry or cooking and cleaning; a junior member of the household, who sometimes had to “negotiate” with her husband to get money for child care.
Without a salary or an independent work identity, [O'Donnel's] self-confidence plummeted.

“I felt like such a loser,” she said. “I poured myself into the kids and soccer. I didn’t know how to deal with the downtime. I did all the volunteering, ran the auctions. It was my way of coping.”

[..] “I started feeling very devalued when I was with him,” O’Donnel said of her husband, “but when I was doing all this nonprofit stuff, I felt great.”

The Men's Fence

“I wonder what I could have done, having 12 years to sort of think about what I want to do. I sometimes think, Wow, I could have been an astronaut in 12 years, or I could have been something different that I’d really enjoy and that I never was afforded the financial opportunity or the time or the resources to enjoy. Maybe call it jealousy. Maybe envy. What could I have been in 12 years of self-discovery? I’ll go out on a limb and say: ‘I’d like to try it. It looks pretty good to me.’ ”

However there are views from the mens’ side as well who are envious of women being given the opportunity to take part-time work and flexible hours in order to tend to their children, or the opportunity to drop out of work altogether while they need to continue working in order to be the ‘breadwinner’. Women are given the years to self-reflect and see what they want to do perhaps later in life, whereas men are stuck in the endless ‘rat race’ — they too could have had the opportunity to reinvent themselves.

From another point of view, men lose out again as women can live out dreams of staying at home and taking care of children with their husbands’ support then return to the workforce when they wish. First men lose their wives’ attention when it is given to their children, and then again when they are focused again on work. Both are too tired to give the other any attention.

This doesn't go anywhere

That for sure is not the future I would want for myself. Admittedly, I’m not as ambitious, so I don’t see myself in a high-powered career, but no one would wish for a relationship breakdown in their future.

I’m not married, and I don’t have any children. The climate has also changed. Who can say how the experience could pan out for working or stay-at-home mothers today? Still the evidence is not supportive for women who want to have both their career and job — in fact the question is often which to choose? Can you have your cake and eat it too? Not usually. Either way, the matter of gender is always a pervasive one. And so is the matter of finances.

Out of any of this however, it’s the paragraph with Eisel’s comments that I have most issue with.

O’Donnel and Eisel agree the job drove a destructive wedge between them. “I look back on it as the beginning of the end of our marriage,” Eisel said when we talked by phone last month. “Once she started to work, she started to place more value in herself, and because she put more value in herself, she put herself in front of a lot of things — family, and ultimately, her marriage.”

A women should not value herself, should not place any worth in herself? She should not want to do things for herself but only for her family and her husband? Sounds like a sexist comment if I ever heard one.

Illust by 杉浩太郎, on Pixiv. Image not mine.