Moms Debate: To Stay Home or Work?


"I meet with women, every single week who have phenomenal educations, but they've taken time off to raise their families because it's a decision that they and their husbands made for them to stay home," Johnson said. "Now because of divorce, they have to support themselves. Even if they get a phenomenal divorce settlement, there's not enough money to go around. The reality is they have to work and the jobs that they're qualified to do don't pay very much."

Hope Crosier was educated at an Ivy League institution, but decided to stay home after her children were born. Her mother, Dr. Cynthia Mackay, said she is proud of her daughter, but admitted she does worry about her sometimes. When Mackay was 60, her husband left her for another woman, and Mackay said the only thing that saved her financially was the fact she had continued to work after her children were born.

"Hope is a very capable lady," Mackay said. "Divorce would be devastating for her, a terrible thing. But she would come through it stronger and she would cope because she's learned how to cope with a 5-year-old and 3-year old."

Where Is the Balance for Working Moms?

The panel was divided over several issues, but everyone agreed there were steps employers could take to make it easier for parents to remain in the workforce while raising their children -- flex time, child care and better parental lead. Flex time generated the strongest response.

Corey Jamison was so overwhelmed by her responsibilities as a single mother of three and a vice president for a consulting company, she was ready to quit her job. But when she approached her boss, he hired a home care coordinator for her -- paid for by the company -- to help out lighten the load at home.

"Most organizations are frustrated and talking right now about the war for talent," Jamison said. "We're saying if we go as individuals and say, this is what I need as a woman, to be engaged and productive in this workforce, and you don't want to lose me, here's what I need as an individual."

Johnson encouraged other working parents to push for flex time.

"There's so many different things that you can ask for, simple things like, 'You know what? Can I convert my sick days that I get into flexible days? If I could use that sick day to care for my child when my child's sick, or to take my child to the doctor.'" Johnson said. "Simple things. We don't necessarily have to wait for a huge shift in legislation or a huge shift in corporate policy."

It is easier for some working parents to get flex time than others.

"If you're a lawyer you can negotiate with your employer," said Kim Gandy, President of the National Organization of Women. "If you're a grocery store clerk, you really don't have that kind of flexibility. Rather than individual negotiation -- which would certainly work if you're high-powered and you have the power to negotiate -- but the rest of us need to work together to change the policies."

Gandy said that employers were initially "freaked out" about the Family and Medical Leave Act when it was signed in 1993, but have since realized it is good for business.

"But first they had to be pushed into it by legislation," Gandy said. "Sometimes you have to start with the law."

Wendy Sachs, authors of "How She Really Does It: Secrets of Successful Stay-at-Work Moms," said corporate women should pave the way.

Binkowski agreed.

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