Survival Tips for Working Mothers: Young Professionals Say Planning Ahead Helps to Juggle Careers and Family Commitments

By Turner, Renee D. | Ebony, September 1990 | Go to article overview
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Survival Tips for Working Mothers: Young Professionals Say Planning Ahead Helps to Juggle Careers and Family Commitments


Turner, Renee D., Ebony


Survival Tips For Working Mothers

Young professionals say planning helps to juggle careers and family commitments

It was a classic dilemma for a working mother. Brooksie Williams, 33, was being considered for a high-powered engineering job, requiring extensive travel and long hours away from her newborn son and husband.

"I wanted to take the job," she says, "but it would not have been the best thing at the time. It would have been a big conflict with my family." As it turned out, the job went to a single man with no children.

Brooksie Williams' conflict over priorities is common among Black working mothers, who are perpetually walking a tightrope between fast-track careers and family commitment.

It's a delicate balancing act that can be upset by illness, another pregnancy, or a promotion. Something often goes wanting--household chores, social commitments, sleep and even romance. In some cases, career advancement or education is shelved for family well-being. But many of the nearly 3 million Black working mothers in today's work force are finding better ways to do it all--to have--successful careers and to be a supermom and superwife.

"Today's working mother can't totally be just a mother," says Barbara Guillory Thompson, a Dillard University sociologist in New Orleans. "Her husband needs care and understanding. He's going through the rat race everyday and wants affection. She still does more than 50 percent of the work to keep the household going. That doesn't leave much time for herself. But more families are recognizing the problem, which is an encouraging sign."

Like their mothers, contemporary Black mothers work primarily because they have to. "I have no choice," says Stanlee Mills, 41, of Los Angeles. She became more aggressive about her career development after a divorce eight years ago left her with house notes and the primary care of her two children, Stacy, now 25 and married, and Ernie, 17. Mills worked her way up from newspaper clerk to telecommunications specialist, driven by the notion that she "had to find a way to maintain the same lifestyle my children had been used to."

Even so, she and other mothers candidly admit their jobs give them more than a paycheck. "Work has been a great learning experience," says Mills, adding that it has helped her develop organizational skills, and it shows her children that nothing worth having is accomplished without hard work.

Some women say they simply do not make good housemothers. That's particularly true for ambitious college graduates, who consider themselves "trained professionals."

Brooksie Williams, now a purchasing buyer for a Rockford, Ill., aerospace firm, was so career-minded that she tried to return to work four to five weeks after having her son, Clarence III. "I ended up staying home six weeks, but it just about killed me. In fact, I was calling people at work to find out what was going on," she says. "At home, I was confined to my child, the grocery store, the cleaners, the bank and to waiting for my husband to come home."

Williams has since adapted to a career-mother lifestyle. "Once I recognized that I had a family and a career," she says, "I put family first and redirected my career around that."

Once a new mother begins working, the search for suitable day care tends to be her biggest nightmare. Juanita Middleton, 36, whose law offices are 43 miles from her home in Charleston, S.C., says she was uneasy at work until she was certain that the day-care center she chose near her office was right for her son, Stewart, 2.

"When you leave your child at a place and there is a big question mark about whether it is going to work out," says the attorney, "it can cause you to always think about your child at work. But I found a center that was clean, safe, with a friendly staff, and my son seemed to really love it."

Some working moms are opting to pay a relative to keep their child(ren), or to pay someone to stay at home with their child(ren) and to do housework.

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