Demographics Change, But Mom’s Love Is A Constant

By Donna Vickroy
The Daily Southtown, Tinley Park, Ill.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) When is comes to stories about women in business or stories about women in leadership, chances are there will be a discussion about work/life balance. While gender roles are blurring and dads are just as likely to help with homework or bath time, research shows that mothers still spend at least double the amount of time as fathers on housework and nearly that amount of time on child care.

The Daily Southtown, Tinley Park, Ill.

As she snuggles her infant daughter, new mom Vicky Koblick ponders both the promise of the future and the concerns that accompany parenting in the 21st century.

Koblick, 33, is well aware that her family’s lifestyle differs from that of her mother’s generation, changes brought about by economics, opportunity and shifts in gender roles and expectations.

She also knows that, despite the differences, children still, and always will, need love and understanding. And she plans to deliver in that area, with lots of help from her husband, Eric.

Like 61 percent of moms in America today, Koblick works outside the home.

“I am a nervous and anxious wreck over how I will be able to be supermom when I’m gone for 12 hours a day,” said Koblick, a data analyst for the federal government. “The pressures can be overwhelming. That’s why I’m so appreciative that my husband and I can work together as a team to raise our family and share these traditional motherhood duties.”

Koblick said her daughter will receive the same unconditional support and encouragement that she got from her mother, who stayed home during Koblick’s early years.

Sharing parenting responsibilities more equally, she said, will not only relieve some of the pressures of daily chores and household responsibilities, it will give rise to “better opportunities to give our daughter double the love and support in everything she does.”

According to U.S. Census Bureau numbers, there are 43.5 million women between the ages of 15 and 50 in this country who have children.

On average, today’s mom is a composite of ethnicity, socio-economics, educational status and marital standing. She is likely to be older than a generation ago, more educated and employed outside the home. She also may be single, an ethnic minority or in a same-sex marriage. And while her jobs on the homefront may be evolving to reflect today’s blurring of gender roles, the need for her love, devotion and understanding remain a constant.

On this Mother’s Day, we explore the changes and the constants and how both impact individuals, families and children.
Reflected in workspace

Let’s start in the kitchen.
Not so Mom can rustle up some grub, but so we can explore the connection between architecture and gender roles. Large, open kitchens are not just an aesthetic trend; they reflect today’s blurring of gender roles, said Jacqueline Battalora, adjunct professor of sociology at Saint Xavier University in Chicago.

With more mothers working outside the home, kitchen duties and other chores on the homefront are increasingly taken up by other family members, Battalora said.

This may seem like a new development, but it is hardly a new concept, she said.

Americans had big, open kitchens during pre-industrial times, from 1600 to 1900, when 90 percent of the population worked on farms, Battalora said. Back then, she said, families worked together; they were their own labor force.

“And there was incredible flexibility in terms of who did what,” she said.

The pre-industrial society home consisted largely of the big room, where everything was done in the open, together. Food was prepared, cooked and served.

By the 1950s, post industrialization had arrived, reshaping society as well as the architectural landscape.

“This era gave rise to what academics call ‘separate sphere’ ideology gender roles,” Battalora said. “Basically the ‘Leave It to Beaver’ family. He works, she handles the children. Gender roles were very defined.”

Because work was considered something men did elsewhere, at the office or factory, the home became a respite, with walls erected to block workspaces like kitchens and laundry areas.

“This is when the dining room emerged as sort of a separate space that had no visual connection to where the work was done,” she said.

Change, again dictated by economics, began to take place around 1970, when wages started to fall, even as costs increased, she said.

It wasn’t long before it became apparent that two adult incomes were necessary for a family to get by. This sent women into the workforce and, subsequently, men into the kitchen and laundry rooms to help. As barriers were knocked down in the workplace, so were physical walls in the home.

“Now we’re back to big, open kitchens. Because we have so little time with our families. Now we want that openness again so family members can cook dinner, do homework, all kinds of work at the same time in the same space,” she said.

Does coming full circle in terms of architectural styles mean moms and dads are on equal footing in the chore-sharing and child-rearing departments?

Under pressure
Katarzyna Blahusiak, an assistant professor of sociology at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, said although mothers today tend to be more educated and enjoy more opportunities in the workforce, they still face distinct challenges on the homefront.

She refers to the “second shift” or homefront duties that begin once a woman clocks out of her paying job.

Even though gender roles are blurring and dads are just as likely to help with homework or bath time, mothers still spend at least double the amount of time as fathers on housework and nearly that amount of time on child care, Blahusiak said.

One study found that while dads have a fairly easy time leaving family issues at the door to the office, moms who get so consumed by their work on the job that they “forget to think about their children” experience guilt, Blahusiak said.

And the struggles that come with juggling home and work are even more pronounced for moms who are single or are also tending to aging parents, she said.

But there are positives to today’s lifestyle, as well, she said. Technology has provided all parents with conveniences that enable them to stay more easily connected. And social media has given them easy access to support and ideas.

Both moms and dads today, she said, are spending more time with their children than in past decades, a feat made possible by the fact that many adults are now more inclined to sacrifice hobbies and time with friends.

On the downside, she said, spending too much time on Pinterest can make a mom who doesn’t pack fancy lunches or have a flare for bedroom murals feel inadequate.

Different challenges
Battalora said, “Now we’re in a neo-liberal, post-1967 economy in which wages have gone down. There’s sort of this anti-government, everything-should-be-privatized way of thinking, which has had dismal results around the globe for most people, except the 1 percent. They keep doing really well. In terms of economics, as a family unit, we’re not doing great.”

For the most part, working moms are experiencing a double bind. “You’re expected to be this worker that is based upon a male model of a worker, of someone who has a wife at home, and you’re expected to be available at home, too. If the child is sick, mom’s the one who will be called. If the child stays home, mom’s the one who will stay home with them,” Battalora said.

In addition, she said, “The whole model of the PTA system that worked (during the ‘Leave It to Beaver’ era), urging women, particularly white women, to volunteer, it has to be rethought because it’s just a declining reality even for white women. The PTA — it rides on free labor.”

In some respects the gender -role shift is a good thing, Battalora said. It means more women have more opportunities. It means more children get to see their moms in various professional roles. And it means greater acceptance of single parents, older parents and mixed-race parents.

But, she added, “We still have a long way to go.”

Battalora has a female partner. They have a daughter.

She said that while there’s a greater tolerance today for the single mom because there’s no place that she doesn’t exist in significant numbers, “I don’t feel like I can live anywhere in the Chicago area, that we would be accepted anywhere we went.”

“When we were looking for a place to live, there were really only two places that we felt we could choose from — Evanston and Oak Park,” she said.

“There’s so much work to be done,” she said.

All about the kids
Pamela Epley is an assistant clinical professor with the Erikson Institute, a Chicago higher-learning institution that prepares leaders in the fields of child development, education and social work.

Regardless of a mother’s age, income, occupation, ethnicity, marital status, sexuality or even socioeconomic status, children’s needs don’t change, Epley said.

Neither does a parent’s ability to help a child learn and grow, she said.

“I’m hesitant to even say the word ‘mothering’ anymore because what’s more important is being a good parent or caregiver. Whether or not it’s a grandparent or family member or a same-sex couple, it doesn’t have to be the mom as long as the caregiver is someone who really engages with the child, who tries to really understand the child,” she said.

Children need to feel that the caregivers in their lives are their secure base, she said. That security is what gives them the trust they need to begin exploring their world, she added.

A child is somewhat like a dance, she said. “As parents, we’re going to take steps forward and back, there are going to be missteps and we’re going to have to repair those. I hate to think parents don’t give themselves permission to do that.”

Though financial insecurity can take a toll on a parent, particularly if she is stressed or distracted by it, a lack of resources does not prevent her from engaging a child and giving him everything he needs to develop, she said.

All moms have the tools to be good parents, she said; the ability to provide love, understanding and engagement does not depend on socio-economics, ethnicity, education or marital makeup.

“I believe parents in general love their children and want what’s best for them,” she said.

Parenting, she said, “is really a constant study of your child — their strengths, needs, personality and how you can be most responsive to them.”

The same can likely be said for understanding motherhood, the definition for which is often presented in terms of statistics and descriptors.

But at the end of this Mother’s Day, and every day, Epley said, it comes down to love and understanding.

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