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Jewish Journal

Material Instincts

Many mothers struggle to balance employment and family to help cover bills.

by Gaby Wenig

March 27, 2003 | 7:00 pm

Every day before Dina Goldstein (not her real name) leaves the house to take her two young children to day care and herself to work, she grabs two bagels and two boxes of orange juice. After buckling the kids into the car, she gives them the bagels and the juice, and they eat breakfast in the car on the way to school.

"I just don't have time to get them ready, myself ready and feed everyone before I leave the house," said Goldstein, who works as a religious day school teacher.

Like Goldstein, many women find maintaining a family and a job overwhelming. With over 75 percent of women in the United States between the ages of 25 and 54 working outside the home (according the International Labor Organization), it is very likely that at some point most women will have to do both things concurrently. While women choose to work for a variety of reasons, for many in the Jewish community, a woman's employment is not a matter of personal fulfillment but of financial necessity.

With high tuition fees, synagogue dues and mortgages in the Jewish neighborhoods, maintaining a presence in the community is difficult to do on one income alone -- meaning that the husband is no longer the sole breadwinner in the family.

But many women find that their careers give them not one job but two -- their paid employment and their nonpaid work inside the house, which seldom diminishes with the onset of employment. Few will say that the feminist ideal of "having it all" is viable unless certain sacrifices are made. Finding ways to produce calm out of the chaos requires innovation, skill, organization and lots and lots of help.

"The 'superwoman' is a myth," said Tova Hinda Siegal, a Pico-Robertson midwife who is on-call seven days a week while raising her six children. "It's tremendously tricky to try to do everything."

One of the ways that some women try to balance both job and family is by finding careers that allow them to work from home, which gives them close access to their family while still enabling them to bring in some extra money. While there is not necessarily the same kind of career advancement available to those who do not work in an office, many say that the sacrifice is worth it.

"It's a hugely satisfying feeling to know that I can be there for my kids when they need me, because I know how stressful it is for a mother in an office when her kids have an odd day off," said Judy Gruen, a mother of four, Journal contributor and  Pico-Robertson writer on domesticity.

Other women make sure that their husbands are picking up the slack, and that paid help in the house is not a luxury, but a necessity. "I think it's more important to have part-time help in your house than to buy new clothes," Siegal said. "People who are working should not be fighting with each other over who does the laundry."

Siegal also said that it's up to a woman to train her husband to do his share of the work.

"I think you have to tell your husband, 'No, it's not a good idea to sit while I'm in the kitchen cleaning up,'"she said.

"In our house we made a rule that whoever cooks does not have to clean up," she continued. "That is an equitable division of labor. I also think it's fine that a mother gets up in the middle of the night to nurse her babies, but in the morning, the father should get up and take the baby out for a few hours and let her sleep. The husband should not feel that when he does something he is doing his wife a favor. Both need to feel that they are contributing to the family's welfare."

Even with a spouse's help, keeping your household together requires careful organization for it to run efficiently. Esther Simon, a Santa Monica mother of seven and a professional home organizer, said that there are a number of things one can do to help this process.

"You need to create a clutter-free home, where everything has a place," she said. "You should also have a family calendar day planner where you write down what you want to do each day and what things need to be done during the week, and then you work out what things can only be done by you and what things can be done by someone else. Only you can give love to your child; someone else can wash the floor."

Simon also suggests laying out all your children's clothes, preparing breakfast and putting backpacks by the door the night before to minimize the rush in the morning.

There is one upside to trying to do everything. "Working and taking care of a family definitely keeps you out of trouble," Siegal said. "You just don't have the time for anything else."  

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