At least 70 percent of mothers in the U.S. with children under 18 are working. In nearly half of all American two-parent families (46 percent), both parents work full-time. However, as Pamela F. Lenehan, author of My Mother, My Mentor: What Grown Children of Working Mothers Want You to Know says, there’s still a disconnect between the realities of modern parenting — not to mention modern mothering — and old-fashioned notions of what’s best for children. 60 percent of adults polled still think kids do better when one parent stays home.
Whatever the reason they work (most often economic), many mothers feel torn about pursuing their careers. Yet they shouldn’t, asserts Lenehan, and her book is a fascinating look at the reasons why. Lenehan, a former Wall Street executive and one of the first top-ranking women in the field, embarked on a diligent reality check on behalf of working mothers everywhere. To find out the true effect of mom’s job on the kids, she interviewed scores of adult children of working mothers, and surveyed some one thousand mothers and children.
The conclusion: children raised by working mothers tend to thrive. They graduate from college, have gainful employment, are in committed and fulfilling relationships, and have children of their own. They’re great at integrating life and work, and poised for a well-rounded adulthood with plenty of success. And, as Lenehan found out, they’re just as happy as the children who grew up with stay-at-home mothers.
My Mother, My Mentor is far more than a clinical gathering of data: it’s an affirmation of women’s ability to do everything men do. A combination of personal stories, fascinating data and insights, and practical advice. The author’s own experience of being raised by a working mother gave her a deep respect for the dual roles women often play.
She includes personal accounts by many of the adult children she interviewed. Some recall the loving relatives and friends who helped raise them, and how their mother created an extended support network of wisdom and warmth that enhanced their childhoods. Both sons and daughters talk about how they felt better prepared for the complexities of their own lives — from school to parenthood to careers — than friends who did not have working mothers. Some trace their own sense of confidence to growing up with a can-do mother.
Working mothers were able to provide invaluable career support and advice to their children, from clothing to resumes to office politics. They were sometimes the source of invaluable connections. As one adult daughter recalled, her mother gave her an incredible leg up when she was just starting her own career: “she knew a lot of people I could call and network with.”
Throughout Lenehan’s book, the data from the surveys deepens the observations of those she interviewed. And the author concludes with a chapter on ten vital nuggets of advice from working mothers and their children. This is hindsight at its best; a reassuring mix of commonsense and warmth from both mothers’ and children’s perspectives. Wisely, Lenehan includes actual quotes, which make for an intimate, personal read.
“Mothers need to believe in themselves and their choices. It is easy to doubt, so trust your gut,” one grown-up child of a working mother said. It’s a quiet but clear declaration that not only conveys a child’s pride in her mother, but also reminds us all that there is such a thing as women’s wisdom. Just because we apply it to a job as well as a family, it is neither diminished nor diluted in any way. In fact, it may just be that much better for everyone.
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