These days it seems easier for mothers to balance work and family and, as the Church teaches, fulfill their divine calling.
In the past, working mothers have been somewhat frowned upon not just in the LDS community, but in society as well. However, over the years this idea has evolved and become much more acceptable. The fact of the matter is the decision to work varies on a case-by-case basis. For a decision like this, there is no definite answer that applies to all, and a person may change their mind throughout the years.
For Laura Walker, professor in the School of Family Life and mother of two with one on the way, the decision to work and be a mother was not what she always had in mind. She did know before she was married and had children that she wanted a career, but after those steps occurred in her life she didn’t think she would be a working mother. But she said there was a different plan for her.
“The Lord made it very clear that much of what I’d contribute in this life would be through my work, and the path for me to work at BYU was made very clear,” Walker said in an email.
For Pamela Steenhoek, sales rep for a health and life insurance company and mother of five, the decision was made after being a stay at home mom for years. After 9/11, her husband lost his job and they needed some source of income to support their five children. So she went back to work in the beginning at a bank.
“You do what you have to do, basically,” she said.
Former Relief Society President Barbara Smith addressed this topic as early as 1977 in a Q&A in the Ensign. She stated the decision to become a working mother is an “individual matter.” She advised the women to prayerfully decide and list the advantages and disadvantages to such a decision.
So the question is how do young women who are working and have a family balance the two roles? According to Dr. Jeffrey Hill, author of “Harmonizing Work and Family Life,” the two shouldn’t be viewed as a balancing act, but as harmonizing. He referred to an article by Stewart Freidman in the Harvard Business Review, where Freidman said work and family complement each other and should not be competing. The success of family leads to success of work and vice versa.
Erin Holmes, professor in the School of Family Life and a mother of three, studies fathering and mothering as well as how outside factors influence parents, including working. She has learned two things that help harmonize work and family, as opposed to balance. First, she focuses on one task at a time.
“I learned this in graduate school when I was trying to write my dissertation and take care of my 2-year-old, Elena,” she said in an email. “One day I was sitting in front of the computer typing away, and Elena came over and chastised me. She said, ‘Mommy, it’s not computer time. It’s Elena time.’ The truth is, she was right. Instead of trying to do both things poorly at the same time, I am always trying to learn how to carve out time for both separately.”
The second way she harmonizes the two is by deciding which times of the day are best for each task. She has learned the best time to focus on her children is after work and her time is devoted to things like what to cook for dinner and helping the kids with schoolwork.
Walker has been able to find this harmony or, as she refers to it, synergy. Her home experiences help with her work experiences. She is able to use situations at home as teaching tools in the classroom. It provides real life examples.
There does have to be that balance, harmony or synergy, but all three women agreed that family needs to come first, and it is imperative to make sure the children are aware of how important they are. Steenhoek says as a working mom she values the time she has with her children and she doesn’t want her children to feel like “second class citizens.”
They all have jobs that allow them to have flexible schedules, making it easier to harmonize family life and work life. Technology has helped in this regard as well. Steenhoek is able to work directly out of the home because her company provides all the equipment — a computer and phone — in her home. Holmes said she found her best work time is when the children are sleeping, which prevents work from getting in the way of quality time with her children.
Working mothers are bound to receive criticism. Both Walker and Steenhoek, however, said they know there are judgmental individuals out there, but no one knows what path the Lord has in store for another.