The Job of a Mother

Have you read this news story about the advertisement that has had many working mothers in an uproar?

If not, here’s the ad in question. It was sent out by a real estate firm, Costello & Costell0, in Issaquah, WA.

costello and costello real estate ad working mother

Offensive, isn’t it?

The back is even worse:

costello and costello real estate ad working mother

But frankly, I was even more offended when I read the “apology” that the Costellos issued. It said,

There are thousands of professional agents working in our area who are also dedicated mothers, including several members of our team. Our original hope with this message was to show the value of having a full-time agent in a competitive market, but we completely failed. We have the upmost [sic] respect for moms and working mothers, and we know that the job of a mother is far more demanding than what we do as real estate professionals. Again, we are truly sorry.

It was this line that made me grind my teeth: “we know that the job of a mother is far more demanding than what we do as real estate professionals…”

They entirely missed the point as to why their ad was so offensive.

I wasn’t offended by this ad because I thought they undervalued the job of a mother. I was offended by this ad because it very strongly implies that a mother can’t successfully run a business out of her home if she also has small children. It’s a slap in the fact to mothers who DO work hard, every day, to succeed as a mother and a businesswoman. It’s a giant middle finger to all the mothers who stay up late and get up early so they can devote hours to their businesses while the kids are still asleep. It’s a rude “F— you” to the mothers who do hire babysitters, or depend on relatives or spouses, or even their older kids, so they can attend meetings or perform other client-facing activities.

The Costellos didn’t devalue the job of a mother. They devalued a woman’s ability to be a success at more than just motherhood, and they implied that only people (or perhaps just men, apparently) who are able to devote 40+ hours outside the home can be a success at their jobs. They also seem to be under the impression that women who run a business from home only work “part-time.” What about the moms who work early mornings, late nights, and many weekend days — often putting in 40 hours a week (if not more) to their businesses, while using the daytime hours to cook, clean, run errands, change diapers, etc.?

These mothers work hard so that they can give their best to their clients and their families, and I’m willing to bet they work harder to do it than two guys in fancy suits with cushy offices, who (I’m willing to bet) never have to give a second thought to who is watching their children while they’re working. Based on the bright idea they had to run this ad, I’m guessing they either have no offspring at all, or they have spouses utterly devoted to the 24/7 care of their children. Working moms by definition don’t have the former circumstance, and hardly ever have the latter luxury (the vast majority of working moms with whom I am acquainted having spouses who work full-time as well).

Kids are expensive. Daycare is expensive. Both facts are why so many mothers have attempted to find a source of income that doesn’t require them to pay for daycare yet still contributes to the family finances. And there may be some mothers as caricatured in the ad who only make a halfhearted effort to make their businesses succeed. But in my experience, working moms who set out to run a business out of their home pour their heart and soul into it, and make an effort to give their clients the best work that they have, while also making sure that their children don’t suffer as a result.

It’s an exhausting life to live, but many mothers do it anyway, because they don’t have the luxury of being able to choose to parent full-time or earn money for their families – they have to do both just to be able to afford the basic necessities. And what doesn’t help is when companies like Costello & Costello seek to denigrate and disdain the work that they do. Perhaps they should reconsider their (ungrammatical) apology and start supporting working mothers instead of insulting them.

In Defense of Catholic Working Mothers

Le Messie by Albert-Ernest Carrier Belleuse
By Antiochus (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
“How can Catholic moms balance work and family?” asks Lea Singh in her article on culturewitness.com. Ironically, the author says she chose to stay home, a choice I completely respect, but it does make me wonder how she is qualified to write about something she’s never attempted herself. Ms. Singh’s thoughts on Catholic working mothers are misguided and hurtful to women whose vocation includes both motherhood and work outside the home.

As a mother who has chosen to work, I would like to counter her perspective with my own experience and insights.

I want to be clear: all moms work, and I am not trying to start a debate about whether stay at home mothers work harder than moms who work outside the home or vice versa. For the sake of this post, however, I will use the term “working mother” to refer to mothers who work outside the home in addition to their work of raising a family.

Singh lists the main reason she feels it is difficult for Catholic moms to balance work and family; namely, that Catholic women are supposed to have babies until our fertility runs out. She goes on to list some of the work/childcare arrangements that she feels are acceptable.

Her faulty NFP logic might lead an uneducated reader to believe that Catholic women are obligated to have as many children as they physically can for the duration of their fertile years (barring dire health or financial difficulties). However, this viewpoint is simply not consistent with Catholic teaching.

Then the author gets to the heart of it, the part that stings for many of us Catholic working mothers. She admits that Catholic teaching does not preclude the use of paid caregivers, but goes on to say:

“At the same time, it does strike me as not exactly in the spirit of Catholic teaching to have your children be raised by strangers so that you can both pursue your own careers. Working to bring bread to the table is one thing, but working for reasons of personal choice is quite another thing.”

First and foremost, paid caregivers are not strangers and they do not raise our children. As a fellow Catholic working mother said,

“Who are these parents who let ‘strangers’ raise their children, the parents who supposedly completely abdicate their primary role in their children’s lives? I’ve never met one, and I know a lot of families where both parents work. We, who send our children to daycares or employ nannies, choose our care providers VERY carefully. We do background checks, we interview them, we call references, we do trial periods to see if they complement our children’s personalities, and we try to involve them in our family life and become involved in theirs. Our ideal care situation is one in which the nanny or daycare worker becomes almost a member of our own family.”

Singh insists that there are “indeed psychological and emotional consequences to being raised by paid caregivers” but she does not cite any studies to back up this claim. In fact, many studies show just the opposite.

Secondly, Catholic teaching reaffirms that women who are mothers can work outside the home – and there is no caveat that working outside the home is only permissible if you need the income.

As Familiaris Consortio says:

“…the true advancement of women requires that clear recognition be given to the value of their maternal and family role, by comparison with all other public roles and all other professions. Furthermore, these roles and professions should be harmoniously combined, if we wish the evolution of society and culture to be truly and fully human.”

St. Gianna Beretta Molla
© José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / , via Wikimedia Commons

We need only to look to the example of St. Gianna Beretta Molla to see a beautiful portrayal of a woman who was a devoted wife, mother, and dedicated physician. St. Gianna and her husband Pietro had a paid caregiver, who helped with the domestic duties of their home and with their children. The Mollas were well-to-do, but always generous and prudent with their time and resources. St. Gianna considered her work her mission, as we read in Giuliana Pelucchi’s biography of the Saint. It is evident that St. Gianna felt that her work as a doctor was part of her vocation; she felt God called her to help others in addition to her primary vocation as a wife and mother. Harmoniously combining work and motherhood is not an easy task, nor is there a set formula to achieve balance. It’s something most of us working mothers are continually striving for. How blessed we are to have St. Gianna as a role model!

The author asks, “How different are you from your secular neighbors if your family looks like this: parents at work full time, small kids at daycare or with nanny?” I’d like to offer just a few examples of how we are different. We are at Church every Sunday, and we are involved in our Church community. We are open to having many children, if God chooses to bless us with them. When we are at work, we are living our faith by example to the best of our abilities. What would the workforce look like if there were no mothers? What would it look like if there were no Catholic mothers?

The author also claims, “As practising Catholics, it does seem to me that we should be setting a higher standard of childcare for ourselves, and that we should be willing to sacrifice more in order live out our vocations.” Really? Last week, my seven month old awoke at 3:30am and would not go back to sleep until 5am.  At 5:15am, my alarm went off; it was time to get up and get ready for work. This happens regularly while my husband works the night shift and isn’t around to help. Being a working mother is hard enough as it is, do I really need to hear a fellow Catholic mother tell me I should be willing to sacrifice more to live out my vocation?

Instead of telling other women how they should live out their vocations, why not offer to support each other in our different roles and responsibilities? I have friends who are both working mothers and stay at home mothers, and I respect each of their choices tremendously. I am also open to becoming a stay at home mother one day if God calls me to that. Just because I’m a working mother does not make me “anti-stay at home mother.” My vocation as wife and mother will always be primary; as I have already discussed, however, our vocations may also include that of teacher, doctor, nurse, etc. As a woman’s family grows and their circumstances change, she and her husband can discern whether God is still calling her to serve in that role.

Let’s stop treating career-minded Catholic mothers as if they are somehow harming their families. Let’s start acknowledging that God gives each of us unique talents and gifts – and we are each called to manifest those talents in different ways. All work, whether within or outside of the home, can be a means of sanctification. The path to holiness is not the same for everyone.

Noelle Kitenko is wife to Joshua and mother to a wonderful 8 month old baby boy, John Paul. She is a 2010 graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, where she earned her Bachelor of Science in Operations Research and Computer Analysis. She is currently serving her third tour of active duty as a Coast Guard Officer at the Pacific Area Maritime Homeland Security/Defense Division in Alameda, CA.

Making You a Priority

“What do you do all day?”

As a working mother, I rarely get this question. It’s most often posed to stay-at-home-moms, and it really makes no sense to me. Do the people who ask this question really have no idea of the massive amount of work it takes to manage a home, especially if you have multiple small children? There’s cleaning, laundry, meal planning, cooking, homework/homeschooling, home repair, yard work, paying bills… the list seems endless, and even if one parent stays at home there often don’t seem to be enough hours in the day to get everything done.

As one member of the Catholic Working Mothers Facebook group quipped in response to a discussion about this question,

What do you mean what do they [SAHMs] do?! They do everything we’re desperately cramming in on the evenings and weekends with no time – plus, you know, all that childcare. You know exactly what they do; it’s everything we need more time to do.

The flip side of this question is one that I am asked frequently, especially in the aforementioned Catholic Working Mother’s group: “How do you find time to get it all done?”

The short answer is: I don’t.

That’s the plain truth of it. Something always suffers. It’s just a matter of prioritizing. Every evening, when I look at my long to-do list, I identify which items are the most important, and try to tackle those. Everything else has to wait.

Meals and clothes are what I focus on. We need to eat and we need clean clothes to wear. I try to keep up with meal planning but that’s a work in progress. The laundry gets done but it doesn’t always get put away. But we have food to eat and clean clothes to wear.

Then there are a few other essential tasks depending on the day — the garbage truck comes early Thursday morning so the trash and recycling need to be taken out Wednesday night, for example. We need our trash hauled away on a regular basis so that gets bumped up on the Wednesday task list.

Other housework goes by the wayside. For example, my floors are constantly dirty. With an active, mobile toddler we’ve had to pay a bit more attention to the state of the floors, but luckily my ten-year-old still thinks sweeping the floor is fun (she likes to pretend she’s Cinderella). I’m teaching her how to mop, too. Sometimes the rug in the living room gets vacuumed; sometimes it doesn’t. There is generally clutter everywhere. I try to spend time each weekend decluttering but it feels like shoveling snow in a blizzard.

It's a metaphor. I'm the house and the snow is my to-do list...
It’s a metaphor. I’m the house and the snow is my to-do list…

I’ve implemented daily chores for my older kids (10, 7, 5) and I have my 3-year-old pitch in where he can. This is helping to keep the mess level somewhere above “Department of Health Violation,” which is a pleasant change of pace, but I have a toddler who loves making messes (and he’s in that delightful “let’s throw random objects into the toilet” phase) so it’s a constant work in progress.

So what do you do when you feel like you’re drowning in work and there aren’t enough hours in the day? It’s all about prioritizing. Top of the list needs to be your own self-care. In many households, regardless of which parent works outside the home (or even if both of them do), the mother is the spoke that keeps the wheel of the household turning. If the spoke cracks or breaks, the wheel crashes to the ground.

I’ve found Jen Fulwiler’s tips for survival mode helpful to working moms. Specifically:

1. Don’t let your sleep suffer. Easier said than done if you have babies or toddlers (or older children who don’t sleep well), but it’s so important to make sure you’re getting as much sleep as you can manage. Lack of sleep magnifies problems and makes everything seem a thousand times worse, and it doesn’t do anything to improve your work performance, either. I usually go to bed shortly after the kids do, even if it means leaving housework undone. Sometimes during the work day (weather permitting) I might sneak out to my car and take a quick power nap, if I didn’t get decent sleep the night before.

2. Don’t neglect your spiritual life. Again, easier said than done, especially when the thought of going to Mass with your frequently rowdy and misbehaving children causes you to break out in a cold sweat. But we can’t do this alone. God will give us the strength to keep going but we need to remember to ask for it. Even if you take the entire day to say the rosary, one Hail Mary at a time, that’s better than nothing. Even just a, “Lord, please help me through this” at a difficult moment. I may not have the time to read an entire book about theology or the saints, but I’ve signed up for a Daily C.S. Lewis e-mail so I can fit a little spiritual reading into the day.

3. Fit in quality time with your husband. It’s so important to take time to connect with one another, especially after a hectic day or a busy week. Date nights out on the town every week would be awesome, but we don’t have the time or the budget for that. So we’ll spend an hour watching something on Netflix before bed, or just talk while we have a glass of wine. If we have the luxury if a little extra time, we might play a board game together.

4. Make your load lighter. Can you afford to hire someone to help with the housework, even just once a month or once every six weeks? Do it! Has someone offered to watch the kids so you can have some “me” time? Take them up on it! I know many moms struggle with guilt when they try to fit in “me” time, saying that they already feel so bad that they are away from their kids while they’re working. And I understand that. At the same time, while we love our kids, being a parent is stressful. We need to take time to recharge our own batteries or we’ll completely run out of energy at a certain point. Even if it’s just 30 minutes at a coffee shop or 60 minutes at Adoration, find time for you. Every day would be great but that’s often not realistic, so at least once per week. I like to shut myself in my bathroom with a bubble bath, a glass of wine, and good book for 60 minutes of uninterrupted bliss.

Find something that works for you and make it a priority, just as important as the cooking, the laundry, and getting the garbage out every Wednesday. You are important – your mental health, your spiritual health, and your physical health. If one suffers, they all will, and that means your family suffers by extension.