Who dictated the hours and other output standards (papers published, patients seen, cases tried) to which we are held as workers? Why are these things, along with paltry family leave and the lack of daycare taken as a given?
Were we so anxious as feminists to play the game the men were playing that we neglected to question the rules-- to say, hey wait, I have a better idea?
Who benefits from this---families? children? men? women? corporations?
Why are we unable to do what Sweden, France, and the other Western democracies have all done to one degree or another- shorten working hours, provide high quality daycare, and generally acknowledge as a society the needs of families? It is truly disheartening to me. It is even more disheartening that the Sarah Woodbury Haugs of this world, while only too aware of their own dilemmas, do not see a societal role in resolving them. If we are all struggling with this issue, how can it be an individual issue?
The incompatibility of working conditions with family obligations in the United States is truly a problem that has no name.
—Deborah Mandell ’71
I could not have been more pleased to see an article about homeschooling in the recent “Balancing Children and Work” issue of the Bulletin. Among the articles by the various alumnae who are not “at ease with [their] decisions” (in the words of another writer), Sarah Haug’s stands out simply because the author clearly is at ease with her decision. How could it be otherwise? She is spending her years doing “the most important thing I can do in this life.”
Haug is representative of the large numbers of satisfied homeschool moms I know. (I’m nearing the end of my homeschooling career; our son is a college sophomore and our daughter will be applying for colleges in a year.) Over the years I’ve met many homeschool moms around the country, in person or electronically. I cannot name one who is not “at ease” with her life choice. In fact, we feel a profound gratitude that somehow we ended up on the path we did.
While I concede that in certain economic circumstances such a choice is not possible, I do not buy the argument that most families need two incomes; I know too many families who are homeschooling on small salaries. Most Bryn Mawr graduates are aptly characterized, in the Bulletin editor’s words, as working to fulfill a “creative and intellectual need...as much or more than an economic one.”
To all those mothers who are seeking creative and intellectual fulfillment, I heartily recommend homeschooling. It is profoundly rewarding. The depth and richness of the experience is difficult to convey, however. Learning outside of the imposed structure of grades, set curriculum, and time limits is a radically different experience for those of us who went through traditional schooling. Without tedium, children maintain their lively curiosity and intellectual vitality. When the kids reach high school a ge, there is plenty of time for them to become accustomed to the demands of traditional school, such as writing on a topic that someone else assigns or working for a grade in a subject which holds no particular interest for you. Homeschoolers are admitted to college (our son is only one of several homeschoolers at Harvard, for example) and make the adjustment without any more or less difficulty than other students. My son’s comment was that he had an easier time than his roommates in making good use of all the unstructured time and a harder time in figuring out how to “psych out” the teachers.
It’s not the academic aspects that deter many from homeschooling. Countless parents have told me, “I’d never have the patience.” I reply, “Would you like to learn?” While your children are discovering reading and writing, you will, of necessity, be learning to keep your patience and to become conscious of the true value of any given activity. Much of what is considered important or necessary in schools, for example, is not something you need to spend your time on at home. You and your children have the luxury of being in charge of your own time. Many more such “luxuries” await discovery in homeschooling. Rather than being limited or confined to the house, you have the whole world as your classroom. It’s an incredibly rich experience for both child and parent.
If anyone would like to know more about homeschooling, you can check the website I maintain for Massachusetts Home Learning Association
— Nicky Hardenbergh, ’68
I have just finished reading the Winter '99 Bulletin, with great interest and felt compelled to give my viewpoints on children and work. It's probably relevant to note that I wouldn't have had time to write it, and perhaps not even had time to read the Bulletin if my son didn't have chicken pox, which is keeping us at home. In these situations, I'm always concerned that you can only get essays from the people who have time to write them, and that those of us "doing it all" may b e underrepresented.
Many of the authors who wrote about balancing children and work felt that taking care of children had hindered their careers to some extent (although they all sounded very successful to me!). I would like to present the ways in which being a mother has helped me in my career. I was the last of 6 children in a forward-thinking family (Bryn Mawr mother, of course). I assumed all along that I would have a career of some sort, although I had expected that I would be able to take a few years off to have ch ildren. But things don't always turn out the way you expect. My father died while I was in college; I married a man who will never make a large salary; and my mother died when my daughter was 9 months old. I never saw that I had any option other than full time work, in order to support myself and my family. On the other hand, I never had any desire to stay at home with an infant for the reasons so well described by Irene Segal Ayers.
So I have always worked. I was working for a contract laboratory when Laura was born, and got all of 6 weeks maternity leave. Arthur was born while I was doing a combined residency/PhD program in laboratory animal medicine. Although I stayed home with him for several weeks, I was studying for prelims and preparing scientific posters, and never took any official leave. I finished my PhD in a record 31 years, and passed boards on the first try. Having children kept me sane, and let me remember that t here was more to life than school. I could go on about when the children were little: we had them in good home day care, bad home day care, good day care centers, bad day care centers, home with dad, and a couple of months home with mom when I was between jobs. The best situation that we encountered was the good day care center: they had other kids to play with, good activities to do, and didn't watch too much TV.
But what I really want to discuss is the school age years. My kids are now 10 and 7. They are both in public schools, and have a couple of hours in the afternoon when they are in organized programs. So actually, I'm not spending much less time with them than I would if I weren't working. But what do we do with that time? I greatly enjoyed extra-curricular activities as a child, and wanted to provide those opportunities for my children. To make a long story short, I am now the leader for my daughter's girl scout troop and the cubmaster for my son's cub scout pack.
How has all this affected my career? Well, I probably don't put in as many hours as some of my coworkers. Has this hurt me professionally? It's hard to say, since I was never one to work 12 hours a day. Has this helped me professionally? Absolutely. I can now give direct orders. After directing children to "go brush their teeth" it becomes much easier to tell an employee to perform a task. I can negotiate with people to get them to do what I want them to do, although their goals do not coincide with mine. The method that works with getting scouts to clean up their messes is also useful for getting favors from coworkers. After mediating discussions with ten 10-year-old girls, facillitating discussions among medical students is a piece of cake. I can plan programs several months in advance, and I am prepared with plan B, in case plan A falls through, or it rains on a camping trip. I can work on a shoestring budget, and have learned about fund-raising, something I had always avoided. I've learn ed some techniques to get people that aren't friends to work with each other. As a cubmaster, I have to "boss" several male den leaders, and am learning new ways to function in a man's world. Most important of all, I can now delegate responsibility: believe me, I don't want to be stuck with the job of cookie mom!
So I guess I'm here to say that it is possible to do it all. Well, not quite. I have put a few things on hold until the kids are in college, such as sleep and housework. A lot of the time the stress prevents me from enjoying myself as much as I would otherwise. On the other hand, the restful moments are truly golden: Listening to a sermon at church, and realizing that there isn't anything else I should be doing at that moment. Sitting around a campfire with the other adults after the kids have gon e to their tents. Going to scientific meetings and partying with old friends. Making silly faces at the kids during dinner. Reading bedtime stories, even though both kids are old enough to read their own.
The final point I'd like to make is that while motherhood and work can interfere and detract from each other, they can also reinforce and enhance each other. Because of my work, I have more interesting things to talk to my kids about, and I enjoy my time with them more. Because of my children, I have matured, and have been able to take on more of a leadership role at work. But they have also kept me light-hearted, and able to not take work too seriously. Most importantly, they are always growing and changing, giving me new perspectives on life both at work and at home.
—Charlotte (Charlie) Evans Hotchkiss '81
Charlote (Charlie) Evans Hotchkiss is a DVM/PhD, and is board-certified in laboratory animal medicine. She is currently an assistant professor of comparative medicine at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine. She and husband Mark have two children, Laura, 10, and Arthur, 7. She leads Junior Troop 48, and is Cubmaster of Pack 747.
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