Working Moms: A Balancing Act

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Blue skies, white picket fences, 2.5 kids, moms who baked fresh apple pies, and breadwinner dads that came home to their loving families after a long day's work -- this has been an iconic American Dream: simple, idyllic and affordable.

That dream has certainly changed -- women today rarely have time to stop and smell the roses (much less the fresh, baked apple pies) as they struggle to have careers and families.

According to Carol Evans, founder and CEO of Working Mother magazine, it's not about deciding between staying home or working.

"We're way beyond that argument," she said. "Seventy-one percent of all mothers in this country work today. And frankly, if a lot of them decided, 'Well, hey it's a lot easier, I'll just stay home,' the economy of this country would come to a grinding halt."

When Elizabeth Vargas departed from her anchor desk job on "World News Tonight," she reignited the ongoing debate about work and home.

"20/20" wondered why so little progress had been made on issues like paid maternity leave, affordable child care, and flexible work schedules. After all, it seems like at election time every politician is a working mom's best friend.

Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., author of 1993's landmark Family and Medical Leave Act, says despite past promises from politicians, the government has done little to improve the situation.

"Every time I try to get a nickel more for child care or additional support for these things, I run into a stone wall," he said. Not just from the current administration, but also from "their allies in Congress."

The Juggling Act

"20/20" spent time with three mothers who all worked for family-friendly companies, and who found that even with that advantage, it was still a struggle.

Martha O'Connor, a management specialist at Verizon and her husband, a National Guard recruiter, spend an astronomical amount on day care for their two young sons.

O'Connor said her day-care bill was her single biggest expense. "[It's] double what my mortgage is."

Likewise, Kate Cronin, a married executive at Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide and a mother of three kids, says a lack of flexibility means America's kids spend too much time on their own.

"Everyone wonders, 'Gee, what's going on with the youth of America?' What's going on with the youth of America is the parents of America are out working," she said.

And Michelle Porter, a divorced mother of two working for Carnegie Mellon University, still remembers how frightened she was just telling her boss she was pregnant.

"I was very nervous, and I didn't know how they would react," she said.

Furthermore, for millions of mothers the choice to stay home ended the day it took two incomes to support their households.

"20/20" interviewed several other working moms who shared their insights.

Lynn Scott, an executive in the music industry and mother of three, said she found it insensitive when people told her, "'Well, you need to quit. You should quit.' And then I say, 'OK. So then what happens? Who's going to pick up my financial 50 percent?'"

Earline, a carpenter and mother of two from Harlem, N.Y., said that she knew of "women who are working two minimum-wage jobs and they have children to take care of."

Looking for Some Sympathy

Nisha, another working mother, said, "I'm not trying to be a superhero here. I'm just trying to find the balance."

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