(HOST) As Mother’s Day approaches, commentator Cheryl Hanna has been remembering what it was like to grow up with a mother who worked – and some of the things about that experience she has now come to appreciate.
(HANNA) My sister and I were were latch-key kids – children who let themselves in after school with the key tied around their necks and then waited for their moms to come home. It was really a derogatory term used in the 1970’s to make women feel guilty about choosing to work.
But my mom, like the vast majority of women, had little choice. She was divorced and not independently wealthy, and child support enforcement in those days was nonexistent.
I used to think that my mom’s working life was glamorous. Each morning she’d put on a suit and do her hair and make-up and always looked so beautiful as she rushed out the door. Sometimes we’d drive past the Ford World Headquarters where she worked. I assumed she spent her day in a swanky office doing really important things. As I watched the feminist movement unfold on television, I imagined that my mom, too, was out there chipping away at the “glass ceiling”.
But there were things about having a working mom I didn’t like. Our house was always a mess, and my mom wasn’t much of a cook, so we relied on frozen food and take-out for many of our meals. During the early eighties when there were lots of lay-offs in the automotive industry, she’d come home stressed out and sometimes in tears, afraid that she’d be the next one to get a pink-slip.
Yet thirteen year old girls have a way of showing contempt, not compassion, for their mothers, so whenever life seemed hard, I’d blame all my problems on the fact that my mom worked.
In hindsight I realize that being a secretary in a small cubicle tapping away at a typewriter, in the days before sexual harassment and equal pay laws, was hardly glamorous. Her’s was a job, not a career, and like many women, being segregated in the pink ghetto offered little personal fulfillment.
She never talked about balancing work and family. Balance, to her, would have been a luxury. She made the best of things, one day at a time.
And she always insisted my sister and I find a profession. She used to open up the World Book Encyclopedia on a regular basis, point out Harvard, and demand that I get all “A’s” so I could get accepted.
It was that relentless commitment to a better life for her daughters that has made my experience as a working mother vastly different from my mom’s. I have a career that’s empowering, and on occasion, glamorous. I have a husband who loves me, and who loves to cook. I have employment rights and enough security so I can look beyond one day at a time.
Sure, my house is always messy and I don’t really cook. No doubt when my daughter’s thirteen, she’ll blame her adolescent angst on her working mother too. I just hope that I can help make her life as meaningful for her as my mom did for me.
Cheryl Hanna is a professor at Vermont Law School in South Royalton.