Staying Home With The Kids

carousel, President Barack Obama makes a statement in the Grand Foyer of the White House in Washington, Monday, Feb. 1, 2010, CBS

Once upon a time, the image of the American family was television's June Cleaver waiting with milk and cookies for Wally and Beaver to come home from school.

That was then, and this is now.

Most American moms don't look much like June Cleaver any more. In the last 30 years, mothers have joined the work force in record numbers. Everywhere you look, you can feel the stress.

Mother Lauren Boyer says the hardest part of being a mom today is not being able to see her children.

"I haven't seen them in the morning, and then you know, I go to bed and I haven't seen them all day long," Boyer explains.

Any morning of the week, you'll see moms on the fast track - running as fast as they can to balance the job of being mother along with the demands of working full time.

CBS News Correspondent Mika Brzezinski says she is one of those moms.

Today, American women are more educated than ever before. In 1971, just 9 percent of the medical degrees, 7 percent of the law degrees and 4 percent of the MBA's in the United States went to women.

Thirty years later, women make up half of the Ivy League college population and get nearly half of the graduate school degrees.

But there's also another statistic that bears looking into. According to census bureau figures, more of those well-educated women are deciding that, instead of smashing glass ceilings across corporate America, they are needed elsewhere - at home with the kids.

The census found 22 percent of women with graduate degrees stay home.
At 11 a.m. every Wednesday, at the Savory Café in South Orange, New Jersey, new moms gather to swap tips on diaper changing and stories about breast feeding.

It's a scene that is becoming ever more common across the country, as more young mothers decide it's nice to have the choice, and then choose not to have it all - at least not all at once. It's called sequencing.

"I did that for a while, now I do this for a while, then I'll do something else," says Jessica Schwartzberg.

After graduate school, Schwartzberg spent eight years developing new products for the KraftFoods/Nabisco corporation. Then Hannah, her daughter, came into her life.

"It took us a while to have her," says Schwartzberg. "I just didn't want to miss any bit of it … I don't miss any of the smiles and giggles. I get to see them all."

And some mothers, like Nadine Kerstan, have no intention of returning to work at all.

"I think the idea of the '50s family may seem dated, but I think in a lot of ways, it's something that once the kids grow up, they'll look back and say, 'I'm really grateful that my mom was there for me,'" says Kerstan.

Seventeen years ago, when Joanne Brundage was forced to leave her job to care for a demanding second child, she felt that she had let down women everywhere.

"We came of age during the second wave feminist movement where we were told you can have it all, you can do it all, and by God you better," says Brundage.

But Brundage says mothers who quit today haven't failed feminism. Brundage founded a support group for women like herself. It is a group that has grown into a nationwide organization with more than 7,000 members. It is called Mothers and More.

"I think we can all agree that mothers are put to an impossibly high standard," says Brundage. "I mean, it's crazy."

A recent survey of more than 3,000 parents by Reach Advisors found that those crazy standards are causing a major shift in priorities among American mothers and fathers, too.

"What we found is happening with this current generation of parents is that it's no longer the traditional models that they're following," says James Chung. "There's a large segment of them trying to find other ways to make things work."

Reach Advisors President James Chung and his wife are a case in point. He has an MBA from Harvard, she a degree from Harvard Law. Both were on the fast track, working 60 to 70 hours a week until their son Conner was born. And both have scaled back.

These days, Chung works from home to have more time for his kids. His wife works four days a week for a major Boston law firm.

"We aren't used to failing," says Chung. "We decided, you know, that we simply weren't going to fail with our children to the extent that we could control that.

Last week, CBS Sunday Morning decided to do a little survey. We put out a call to the Maplewood, N.J. chapter of Mothers and More. The response was overwhelming.

Let's just say that every mom is an expert on work/life balance issues, with lots of opinions on their many different decisions, and no easy answers.

All the women at the roundtable said they made sacrifices to become at-home moms.

"I've made tradeoffs," said one woman. "Because you get something in return."

Whether it's a sacrifice, or a tradeoff, the mothers who attended the roundtable had to compromise.

Denise Stennett has two boys, with another one on the way.

"I worked 50, 60, 70 hours a week. There's no way I could have that career, that financial stability and maintain the life I have with my children today," Stennett says. "I think it's better for me. And that's a personal choice. It's all about making decisions that are right for you and your family. For another woman, maybe the answer is no. But for me, I made the right decision."

For Barbara Lawrence, the decision to keep working involves sacrifices of its own.

"I have two kids and I travel a lot," Lawrence says. "It was a nightmare in the first two years -- just a nightmare. Now, it's more like a bad dream."

And then there's Dana Bopp, who chose to have children on her own.

"I love working and I like them seeing me working and seeing me balance the calendar," says Bopp. "I have it all, except a husband."

Women are faced with all the choices, all the sacrifices, all the guilt, all the pressure to be successful in work and at home. Most mothers seem to feel that somewhere, something has to give.

Daphne DeMarneffe feels she has the balance about right. She was a practicing clinical psychologist before deciding to stay home with her three children.

In "Maternal Desire," she wrote about her experiences at home. DeMarneffe argues that both society and the feminist movement have ignored the essence of what it means to be a woman, the desire to be a mother.

"I felt there weren't real models for me in feminism and in psychology to understand this as a positive aspiration -- to care for my children rather than some kind of drawing back from achieving," says DeMarneffe.

The book, says Time Magazine, "could launch a thousand resignations."

DeMarneffe says in response, "I thought to myself when I read that, 'What I wanted was to launch a thousand conversations because this is really an invitation to think and talk about our lives.' We're at a historical moment where the pressure is on to find way to make this workable for people."

And what is workable for people, depends on who you talk to. It's all about choice.

For Kathryn Reilly, with a Master's degree and six years in the work force, being a full-time mom was much more satisfying, and fun, than she expected it to be.

She says, currently, it is right for her. "Ask me tomorrow if she's got a runny nose or if it's pouring all day and we're locked inside," Reilly laughs about how her answer can change.

For Lauren Boyer, working full time was the answer. "I've tried being at home full time and that wasn't the best situation for me personally," says Boyer. "I really enjoy the challenge of working. And the more work I do, the better mother I am."

And for Alana Kaplan-Munoz, with a four-year-old daughter and a Harvard MBA, working part-time for a company she chose for its flexibility is the way to go.

"I feel like it's a good deal on both ends," says Kaplan-Munoz. "I wish more companies would see it that way."

And so, to all you Mother's out there, and all the decisions and trade-offs you make every day. Here's to less guilt and more joy. Happy Mother's Day.

Jessica Schwartzberg says, "It was a great decision. I have no regrets, none, zero."
  • Rome Neal

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Follow Us

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.

On Twitter