Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

5 Iyar 5762 - April 17, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family
Career Women or Housewives?
by A. Ross

Pesach is over. The married children have left, some taking everything with them and even stripping the beds, others forgetting bottles under the bed and numerous pacifiers strewn in hidden corners of the house. The unmarried children are back at school, yeshiva or kindergarten and the house is clean and tidy again. Now the mother is free to continue to be a housewife at a more leisurely pace, and to enjoy the babies if there are still some left at home. Or she can go back to work.

In my experience, and not only personal experience, it is almost impossible to be a perfect career woman and a perfect mother. Both are full-time jobs. I know full well as I am writing this that, there are many readers whose hackles will rise and who will argue fiercely that this is not the case. They will assure you that they can carry out all of their duties to perfection. [Readers: a challenge. Any takers for a rebuttal?]

Going to work for the sake of bringing in much needed money is not at all the same as being a career woman. A teacher who works for several hours a day and then forgets about the job can be a very good mother, providing that she is well organized. Many women cannot just switch off from one job to another. If they have left a sick child with a baby-sitter, it is a rare woman who can forget about the child while she is at work. Similarly, if there is some problem at work, one cannot just go home and forget about it. Most women are not made that way.

A teacher who insists on further training or studies for a second degree in order to enhance her salary or to gain prestige when she has a houseful of young children may not be doing the right thing at all. In Israel, in particular, there is much stress laid on improvement courses to gain further qualification [on the one hand, with half school days for kindergarten children and girls]. Extra qualification makes a person eligible for higher wages and in years to come, the pension will be correspondingly higher, too. A young woman who has a job in the computer world and wants to make a career of it, has to spend time improving her skills. Is she doing the right thing?

Studying for these courses when there are children at home demanding attention is very difficult indeed. Studying at home or attending classes once or twice a week is bound to lead to tension. Admittedly, it is fun, relaxing and/or stimulating, to sit with friends and discuss methods of teaching, or various developments in the hi-tech industry. Every mother has experienced the crying baby who will refuse to settle down when she wants to go out at night. Babies must have a sixth sense that tips them off. When this happens, a mother learns to cope with it or turns up at a wedding very late. Perhaps it is a particular shiur she wanted to attend and Baby decided otherwise. But when she is enrolled in a course, a mother cannot decide not to turn up on a regular basis.

Is there a certain stigma in our society to being `just a housewife'? In the same way as people ask a girl who has just gotten engaged, "Where does he learn?", she may be asked five years hence, "What do you DO?" A housewife, or rather, homemaker, is working at a full- time employment, 24 hours a day. Babies call for attention at very unsociable hours. It is a strange phenomenon that many homebound women feel that they have done nothing at the end of the day. But they have been doing high-quality chessed all day! Cooking, laundering, cleaning, all for the sake of their husbands and children, for their Jewish home! In between, they have been doing hundreds of other things while looking after their children.

However, there are many women who feel that they just cannot stay at home, even if they know full well that by the time they have paid a baby-sitter and a cleaning woman and perhaps a few private teachers for their children who need help because Mother hasn't time to help them with their homework, they will be left with very little change. I know a young mother with four small children who works as a nursery assistant. While she is changing diapers and wiping noses `at work,' someone is doing the same thing for her two babies. Still, she feels that she has at least achieved something at the end of the day [or month].

There is one definite advantage in going to work when the children (and the mother) are young; she will still be active and qualified in some field. If a woman has been at home for twenty years without working, it is quite difficult to compete when she feels she is ready to go out again to work. Times have changed and methods have changed.

My own vacations did not always coincide with school vacations. There were the days when the children came home from school and each one exclaimed, "The house smells different when you haven't been out to work." They were right.

Many children, although definitely not all, look better cared for and are more content when Mother is at home all day. I am not discussing mothers with one small child, where both may be better off with a few hours a day away from each other. A child, especially a first one after the age of two, may even benefit from the discipline of someone who is not quite as indulgent as Mommy.

Being a housewife dedicated to bringing up a large family does not mean that a mother can never go out, or that she is a slave to her children. It is almost essential for an intelligent woman to get some adult conversation once in a while, away from the wonderful children. But why employ someone to do your whole job for you? Several women who unfortunately had to wait for several years till they had their first children are not prepared to miss out on the joy of watching them develop.

In the end, it all depends on your priorities.


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