Choices surrounding women’s work

Op/Ed:  Hilary Rosen created a firestorm by her recent comment about Ann Romney never having “worked.”   While Rosen has been criticized by many on both sides of the political agenda for this remark, one positive result is the conversation (again!) around the issue of women and work.  Is it possible that this will once and for all quiet the furor regarding the “choices” families make surrounding what should be called “work” of the most important domain, mothering?  Not likely, for political reasons as much as personal and family reasons.  

Ann Romney has definitely “worked,” regardless of the fact that her “work” has been mothering.  Although society does not put a required economic salary on such work, families who value their children (and all don’t, by the way) do not question the value of such work, even the economic value.  The recent price tag for the economic value of full time mothering is over $100,000 per year per child.  

While it seems that Ann Romney chose to make her work mothering instead of working outside of the family for pay, as a rich woman, it was a choice that was easy for her to make economically.  This does not mean that it was an easy choice for Ann Romney in other ways; we are not privy to Ann Romney’s motivations, or to her desires.  As a woman of privilege, we may choose to assume that (of course!) a woman of Ann Romney’s financial means would choose to stay at home and care for her children instead of working for pay outside of the home.  Is it possible, however, that given different circumstances, including if it were more socially acceptable for a woman of such affluence  to choose paid work over family work, that Ann Romney would have chosen paid work?  Possibly, but not necessarily.  At the extremes of the economic scale, our “choices” are often made for us, or at least we “buy into” a certain lifestyle, and with such, come certain expectations.

There is also the issue of religion. I think it is safe to assume that Ann Romney as a Mormon may have felt added pressure to maintain a traditional family structure, the best example of which is the man making the money to buy the bacon and the woman frying it up in the pan and caring full time for the children who eat it.

Women of less affluence do not usually have the same opportunities, and thus do not assume they can make the same choices.  If one is poor, and certainly if one is poor and uneducated, the “choice” to care for children full time (and yes, sometimes, or even often, these families are subsiding on government programs) is made for them.  Poor and /or poor and uneducated women can’t make enough money to pay for child care.  And women who are single parents or the financial head of household for other reasons obviously need to receive pay for their work, regardless of whether they would make the same choice if their circumstances were different.  

But what about middle class women and their choices?  Certainly when a family has two incomes, it is easier to afford a certain lifestyle.   But this “choice” to work for pay is different than the choice to work to feed, clothe and house one’s family.  While many argue that they “need” the money and that is why both partners in the family work for pay, when we dig deeper, we should admit that there are other motivations at work here.  These other motivations include; using one’s education for economic gain; personal validation; self actualization, and financial security concerns.  The last motivation listed, financial security concerns, is a realistic one, especially in families who aren’t rich.  One just needs to consider the divorce statistics and the ensuing financial plight of women who are divorced to understand the issue of financial security.  Then there is the recent and assumed to be long term unhealthy economy, the loss of jobs and the general instability in the world which further complicates the issue of the “choice” to work for pay or to work full time caring for one’s children.

Many choices we make seem simple on the surface, and some are, but not the choices we make regarding our families, or our lives in general; those are often complex.  The economic value of mothering is an example of choice that deserves much more conversation and analysis than the surface analysis given at times of political divide.

The “choice”  regarding “work” may be at least as important as the other “choice” subject, the one that gets much more attention during political campaigns.  And, these two “choices” are connected on some level, regardless of one’s political persuasion.

About the author: Patti Fralix inspires positive change in work, life and family through speaking, consulting and coaching.  She is the author of the book “How to Thrive in Spite of Mess, Stress and Less.”  She can be reached at